the Danish cartoon affair

I'm not quite ready for a proper essay on the subject, but an American mod-orth lawyer, Donnie, whom I met in Jerusalem (and debated for over an hour about premarital sex*) emailed an opinion-seeking query. Let's see what we thinks:

The whole thing is atrociously foolish on both sides. Adam writes (see Ester's comments, Feb 5th, for some excellent analysis and some more by me) that it's just plain inflammatory to frivolously print such things. It's not as if the cartoons are particularly funny or trenchant or meaningful--they're not worth destroying property over. Add to that a population without hundreds of years' worth of exposure to/inoculation against the grating slights of a free press, and make that population predisposed against The West, and take away their economic stability, and throw a bunch of extremist demagogues into the mess, and this is what you get.

Now there's very little that I would, say, burn books or trash buildings or kill for; I'm not strongly attached to symbols as sacrosanct and therefore demanding defense. I'm more interested in fixing real problems of actual life. This goes for the Anne Frank/Hitler cartoons that have been proposed. If anything the concept is so trite that it shows the whole situation to be a mere exercise in poking sticks in each others' metaphorical (and emotional) eyes.

So really the issue is the rage and violence. Were they needlessly provoked? Yes, and the stupid newspapers should say sorry and stop printing the stuff. Freedom of the press is one thing, but once you know you're really hurting peoples' feelings (not to mention their flags and embassies) you have to make good. That doesn't however in any way justify the response, and I can't fully understand it except to condescendingly say that the young men of the Arab world are itching for fights. Whether that's cultural or political or personal or religious (I think not the last) isn't clear to me.

The actions taken by some governments (reducing diplomatic contact etc.) are appropriate, and the heads of Muslim states are justified in expressing their people's anger, but the destruction and mayhem routine is a tired and pathetic exercise in alienating the educated, both among their own societies and abroad.

...Donnie wrote in his email, also,
I'm in touch with some Danish teens that came to one of my classes in Jerusalem a few weeks ago and they say that they can't leave the house with any overt Jewish symbols about them.
I don't quite understand the relationship of the [Danish] Jews to this problem. Do they fear anti-Semitic violence against them, and from whom? Has anyone heard about specifically anti-Israel or anti-Jewish actions taken by the rioters?

Over on Ester's comments I mentioned that I think the cartoons aren't very interesting or thought-provoking. Does it matter that they were commissioned to prove a point about free press? They don't seem to be saying much else than 'nyah, nyah.'

*whether or not we were going to have some, that is


Anonymous said...

I think the point of the original publication had to do with the effects of islamic intimidation on free speech regarding religion (what, other than personal taste, is the difference between cartoons and _The Satanic Verses_?). The question that was raised was whether liberals, in their desire not to offend extremists who have a penchant for burning flags and resorting to street violence, would simply resort to self censorship. Sensitivity has its merits, to be sure, but it shouldn't be confused with fear of provoking extremists. Why should criticism of islamic extremists be somehow out of bounds in polite society? Because it isn't done within many islamic societies? But that's their problem, not a sign that the Danes should saddle themselves with the same limitation. Will liberals self censor? The answer is apparent in blogs entries like yours.

Rebecca said...

wait, anon, i'm really not sure if you're saying that i do, or don't, self-censor.

the difference between the cartoons and the satanic verses is pretty dramatic. rushdie uses the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him, and i mean that) as a character to draw a larger, defter picture of the modern world than is imagined or hinted at by the cartoonists in question.

Anonymous said...

So, because Rushdie is a better artist and can "draw a larger, defter picture," he has the right to annoy islam, but a hack cartoonist doesn't? The hack is supposed to recognize his inferior talents and be sensitive enough to shut up?

I'm saying that the liberal tendancy so far has been toward self-censorship. Wouldn't want to inflame islamic extremists because they resort to actual flames, their feelings are so hurt.

Rebecca said...

well, i can't make a blanket statement about rushdie's talents--what i meant was that he had a point other than just 'annoy the towelheads.' some taboos, i think, are meant to be broken; other ones have actual meaning, at least to some people.

it's not about the cartoon hack 'shutting up' but rather coming up with something more useful than 'ooh, muslims are violent!' ...for example, i think the best cartoon of the bunch is the "we've run out of virgins!!" one.

but i want to talk more about whether it's condescending to chalk this all up to antidemocratic repressive desperately poor societies, whether the Western governments are really hypocritical (vis-a-vis occupations, e.g.) as the BBC interviewee said this morning.