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shouting fire in a crowded theater, Piss Christ, Der Sturmer and other speech issues - Sisyphus Shrugged
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shouting fire in a crowded theater, Piss Christ, Der Sturmer and other speech issues
A few things you may not know about the danish cartoon controversy, if you've been reading the same stories I found on Google News

A right-wing danish newspaper printed a number of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (I am, naturally, not linking to any of the papers whose stupidity set this off). According to the paper, they were exploring the effects of muslim activism on self-censorship. Islam, historically, has been against representational art, and pictures of Mohammed are a big, big taboo as they're thought to lead to idolatry. Caricature is considered blasphemy.

Some of the pictures commented on the paper's inflammatory intentions, while some were, given the intrinsic insult of the assignment, suprisingly respectful. Amongst the others: Mohammed with a lit bomb in his turban, Mohammed with devil horns sticking out of his turban, and Mohammed informing terrorists that they had to stop blowing things up because Islam has run out of virgins to reward them with in heaven.

The talking point of the moment is that the cartoons were mild, not intended to be interpreted as anti-islamic statements and merely a comment on freedom of speech. That is, of course, utter bullshit, as prominent liberal organizations the Vatican and the ADL agree. The ADL, by no means an apologist organization for radical islam, compares the cartoons in matter and intent to antisemitic caricatures in the muslim press, which is a fairly strong statement coming from the ADL. Both agree that the speech should have been suppressed.

That last, of course, isn't right either.

On the other side of the debate, we have the people represented by the Danish Prime Minister, who believes that the matter is purely a free speech issue and (despite the urgings of 22 former danish ambassadors) has refused to meet with diplomats from muslim countries accedited to Copenhagen to discuss the issue in late December.

This again is bullshit. It is in no way a restriction of anyone's freedom of the press for the head of government to say that the country, while supporting the right to free speech, condemns the racism and religious bigotry expressed.

It was still a primarily diplomatic wrangle, though, until two Norwegian evangelical Christian magazines reprinted the cartoons a week later with the stated intention of making a comment on Islam and terrorism (are you beginning to notice a common thread amongst the free speech enthusiasts here?) and all hell broke loose.

Well, not all hell - arab groups called for a boycott, there were threats against the newspaper that commissioned the cartoons, protesters burned flags and fired bullets in the air, and islamic countries recalled their ambassadors.

No, full-metal hell didn't break loose until various newspapers in Europe, giving reasons ranging from support of free speech (see above) to anti-religious principles (France, of course), went ahead and reprinted the cartoons again. One brave soul printed them in Jordan. He's been fired. The boycott, largely a pipe dream before last week, is now severely damaging danish industry.

Meanwhile, the original newspaper, which apparently has more sense than the Prime Minister does, acknowledged that although the publication of the cartoons was completely legal, they were offensive, and apologized for causing offense. European leaders (with, of course, the exception of Denmark and Norway) have pointed out that while free speech is a basic human right, the material printed in this case was deeply offensive and to be condemned.

By this time, of course, the culture warriors of the anti-islamic right had succeeded in attracting enough attention to their antics to draw the attention of the violent extremist wing of the muslim world.

So now embassies are burning and (while mainstream islamic leaders condemn the riots) there is lovely juicy footage of islamic mob violence on every station and in every newspaper just as the effort to escalate against Iran ramps up.

Quel coinkydink.

If you want a real educational experience, go look at the Google hits for this, and read what the LGF wing of the blogosphere has to say about it, and how few facts about the situation they give you (among other things, they uniformly suggest that the boycott and the violence have been going on since the original publication of the images in September rather than since late December or mostly in the past week).

If you want another educational experience after that, Google what the same sites had to say last week about free speech in the matter of Cindy Sheehan's tshirt.

If you want to break your heart, Google for what they have to say about rape and asking for it.

There was a joke going around when Salman Rushdie had the (thoroughly inexcusable) fatwa aimed at him that he was using his time in hiding to work on his next book, "Buddha, You Fat [rude anglo-saxon noun]" Dave Barry, on the other hand, back when he was still funny, wrote a piece about nature documentaries where he imagined the producer, seduced by the prospect of highly salable attack footage, gravely intoning "Now we're going to see what a shark does when you poke it in the testicles with a cattle prod"

Free speech means that you have the right to express yourself. You even have the right to be protected by law from people you've offended who want to express their offense in illegal ways. It does not mean that if you act like a dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun] you're really a brave warrior for truth and the rights of man or anything but a really, really dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun].

Congratulations, o culture warriors of the right. You've gotten the deep offense and the highly-telegenic violence you wanted. You must, although resembling them closely in many other significant ways, be much happier than pigs in shit.

You know, I'm really fascinated by the discussion I'm seeing, both here and around the internets, about this subject.

I find particularly interesting how Good Liberals are ignoring the fact that state-sponsored islam shares quite a lot of ideological space with the extreme millennialist right-wing corporate christianity that's in bed with our own ruling party. Women, speech, individual rigihts - lot of common ground there. If you recall, they were the only religious leaders who wanted us to go to war.

US foreign policy has been the single most influential factor in building the political structures of the islamic world, and we didn't give a shit about it as long as the oil kept coming and we were given the russkis whatfor. We installed the House of Saud, the House of Saud funded wahhab. We installed the Shah and we propped him up when we knew him to be every bit as noisome as Saddam Hussein (who we also installed and propped up and sold lots and lots of arms to - fun fact: he was developed as an asset by the CIA under the senior George Bush). We funded the Taliban and taught them to fight. We were perfectly OK with the governments we supported in the region ruthlessly shutting down free speech, and we were perfectly OK with the people of those countries being kept ignorant and poorly informed about the world.

Just as the right and the (koff) "credible" center are willing to pretend that our own homegrown extremists are valid voices and adjust our laws and what we teach our own children in public schools for them as though they represented mainstream religious thought because their preachers tell them how to vote.

it's a bit precious for us to turn around and deplore the way people who have lived their lives in a world we built and maintained think about us. If we had given a shit about them at any time in the last sixty years this would not be happening.
ahhhs. -- hmmm?
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luxetumbra From: luxetumbra Date: February 5th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
Thank you for the summary. Have read so much disinformation about this, it makes me sick.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 02:38 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
I was listening to Market Watch in the car last night, and they had a woman from a danish company tallking about how long it had taken them to build a market in the muslim world, and how it had been decimated in the five days of the boycott.

So when I read all of those stories today about the boycott that had been going on since the pictures were published, I decided to do some homework.

Amazing what a different picture you get if you search for stories from before January.
otherdeb From: otherdeb Date: February 5th, 2006 02:23 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
Why are you insulting pigs in shit by making even this remote a comparison?
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 02:39 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
Not as if it would do me a bit of good. The people driving this thing strike me as bacon cheeseburger leviticans.
selinakyle47 From: selinakyle47 Date: February 5th, 2006 04:43 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
I can understand why Muslims might find the cartoons offensive, but at the same time, when I think of the recent Bloody Mary episode on South Park, it's difficult to be sympathetic to the more violent protests and requests for apologies.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
After everything that's happened in the last few years, do you really think that extremist right-wing Christians (I have to give them the title, because honestly it sticks in my craw to refer to them as small-c christians) have been reticent about calling for the deaths of people who they feel are insufficiently respectful to their religious beliefs?

Pat Robertson owns one of the biggest large-C christian communications networks in the world, and he calls down the wrath of God (or secular murderers) on people who offend him practically every month.
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fengi From: fengi Date: February 5th, 2006 06:40 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
Let me phrase these remarks as someone who has passed out deeply offensive "SUV Drivers for Christ" flyers at a pro-war rally.

I also say this as someone who sat through an attempt by the Chicago city council to ban Jean Luc Godard's Hail Mary from being shown within city limits. One of the first things to be tossed out by the thuggish city councilman - who openly threatened the gay lawyer from the Chicago Artist's Coalition - was the idea of "respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual". The claim that free speech is oppression is the first bastion of totaltarians.

I object the right wing trying to equate the violence in Syria with protests and boycotts, or use the extreme reactions to trash Islam in general. There's a difference between that, however, and making apologies for religious fundies trying to censor free speech or claiming violent reactions are anyone's fault but the fundie nutbars who chose to react that way. It doesn't stop being free speech just becaues The Wrong People are questioning ideology in a provocative way.

So when I read this: "It is in no way a restriction of anyone's freedom of the press for the head of government to say that the country, while supporting the right to free speech, condemns the racism and religious bigotry expressed." I really question it.

In nations where all media is state sponsored or subject to strict government censorship (i.e. countries which criminalize criticism of religion) one might expect the government to apologize for what the press does because it's in control. In this case it made no more sense than expecting New York City or Chicago to apologize to Christians for Kanye West's Rolling Stone cover, or George Bush to apologize for Ann Coulter (even though he and coulter are ideologically similar).

Just as it's horse hockey when the Fundies claim the Book of Daniel is part of some wider conspiracy by Gay Secular Humanists to oppress them, any implication these papers intended to make Muslims look bad by provoking extremists into torching a consulate and justify military action against Iran is equal bull pucky. I mean, by this "freedom of speech but watch what you say" notion, since Cindy Sheehan knew (or should have known) some patriots would find her shirt deeply objectionable, she was not "anything but a really, really dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun]."

This incident is also being used by the religious right to further the notion that ALL religion is off limits to satire or questioning. For every Little Green Footballer using this to trash Islam, there's a religious leader who's going to say "That newspaper was wrong to be deliberately disrespectful, just as Rolling Stone was..." I mean, this is obviously one of the reasons why the Vatican (which has actively tried to censor many things) weighed in.

When I read condemnations of: "all that hurts individuals in their beliefs or their religious convictions" and "as a powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual", I think, "Ah, so you've all changed your minds and the War on Christmas people was right?"
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
Have you seen the cartoons you're talking about?

Are you familiar with the status of muslims in danish society?

Seen Mr. van Gogh's film, have you?

Extremely deliberate offense was given by one of the country's largest papers. Think for a moment what the reaction in freeperville would be if the Times publishes cartoons of Christ in a dress at a leather bar having sex. Then the head of the country not only would not say he didn't approve of what was done, when it started to escalate to the level of an international incident he refused to speak to</i> accredited ambassadors to his country from other nations they have diplomatic and commercial ties with. You think that was support of free speech and not a political gesture?

Comparing any of this to "the war on Christmas" (in which a propaganda network with a Holiday Party set up boycotts so nobody would be watching the White House melt down) is cheap and shoddy and really, really beneath you.
craigp From: craigp Date: February 5th, 2006 07:58 am (UTC) (linkie thing)
good article - thanks for bringing this to light.
aberranteyes From: aberranteyes Date: February 5th, 2006 01:06 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

"There is no point in saying less than your predecessors have said." -- John Simon

Free speech means that you have the right to express yourself. You even have the right to be protected by law from people you've offended who want to express their offense in illegal ways. It does not mean that if you act like a dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun] you're really a brave warrior for truth and the rights of man or anything but a really, really dumb [rude anglo-saxon noun].

Or, as my homey August Pollak put it, "Of course you have the right to print shitty, racist cartoons that serve no purpose but to inflame Arab sentiment and make racist right-wingers feel good about themselves. You have the right to show a black man hanging from a tree or a buck-toothed Asian, too. But in any of those cases you don't have the right to feign petty self-righteous faux-amazement that people got upset about it."
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 05:26 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

Re: "There is no point in saying less than your predecessors have said." -- John Simon

Good for him.
redbird From: redbird Date: February 5th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
When did the Vatican become a "prominent liberal organization"? When the head of a major religion says that free speech does not, or should not, include the right to insult any religion, that's not liberalism--that's part of the long tradition of privileging religion over nonreligion, and organized religion over people with religious impulses but no church.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
I was being sarcastic. The common freeper dichotomy is liberal / atheist / terrorist sympathizer / antiwar / not "pro life" --- conservative / religious / wanting to kick some muslim butt / prowar / "pro-life"

Another massive dichotomy is Christian but a supporter of Israel for various foggy reasons having to do with Revelations (Charles Johnson and his genocidal puppet show are up for best Jewish blog, despite the fact that, well, he isn't) / not wanting to kick some muslim butt For God.

Obviously none of this has anything to do with what God wants, or what the religion actually calls for. I'd be willing to bet that if you were to ask most of them, they'd tell you that the last Pope supported the war. It's truthiness. They know The Truth, so the facts just have to be adjusted a bit.

You know, people only look at the separation of church and state as a government issue.

Politics has an impact on the church, too, and it's doing real damage. Religious people in this country are getting played (for crying out loud, look at those Abramoff emails and Ralph freaking Reed) and when it comes to a principle they're not willing to give up for political expediency they're going to get run over.

And I'm going to hurt for them, but my throat is a little raw from screaming at them to get up off the tracks because a train's coming.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: February 5th, 2006 03:22 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

Also most people are ignoring the fact

that the Danes are supporters of our war - and *not* to the best of my awareness, *reluctant* supporters dragged in by their leaders who they can't get quit of and who they are engaged in a resistance campaign against, like the Brits. They have troops over there, *and* they weren't marching in the street or engaging in civil disobedience about it all along.

So it has to be considered in the context of A) our Fools' Crusade, which has been marketed as such with much winking and nudging and official denials; B) Europe's own problems with colonialism and exploitation of immigrants, which long predate the War, and C) Denmark's in particular, where all the way up to the Queen herself apparently has long talked about "the Muslim problem" and if the whole Danish population had shown the Zero Tolerance for bigotry that, frex, some of the US communities have towards Nazi Parades that Dave Niewert hs writtn about, it might have been defused and turned into a lesson in tolerance.

Instead they did what the faux-naive cheerleaders like von at ObWi are doing, dug in their heels and said we think you're a bunch of subhumans who we can exploit and ought to and you should just take it and be grateful that we let you buy stuff from us and work for us on the cheap.

At least the Orangemen don't pretend not to know what they're doing when they march through Belfast, (Oh my, were you offended? I'm sorry you're so irrational and tempermental, dear) or do any Claude Raines impressions when the shitstorms break. (Although the Neo-Nazis in the US often do, I've noticed.)

Thank you for writing this & getting it up btw - I have a long piece about 1/3 done, but my computer keeps dying and freezing and needing to be nursed slowly back to life every couple hours.
From: elikrei Date: February 20th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

Re: Also most people are ignoring the fact

(I am an American who's lived in the UK for five years now.)

their leaders who they can't get quit of

Excuse me. The British had a general election in May 2005. They reelected Labour. This to me suggests that they had the opportunity to decide no, we opposed the war on Iraq and want a different government (for example, the Liberal Democrats), and didn't. Yes, the people who protest get a lot of attention - but it's hard to anti-protest. You don't get great big marches of people saying, "I agree with the government's policies!"

Now, I'm not arguing with the fact that there's a lot of anti-Iraq sentiment here - but it just annoys me that the Brits are doing the long-suffering act about Labour's Iraq policies when they could have simply voted them out of office last May. Fair enough, I groan about Bush - but I can't deny that clearly the US, on balance, wanted him back. So why do people try to deny that the British chose to reelect the government that took them to war?
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jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

There are lots and lots of schools of thought in Islam.

I suspect all of them agree that a picture of their prophet announcing that he supports terrorism but there are no muslim virgins left is offensive.

Orthodox jews are offended by things that Reform jews arent. Episcopalians are OK with gay rights and snakehandlers aren't.

Religion is funny that way.

Shame this thing was broadcast over and over until the hardcore fundamentalists got hold of it.
bradhicks From: bradhicks Date: February 5th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
Came in by way of metaquotes. You can leave out the left/right thing. Being from the tiny remaining Progressive faction of the Democratic Party, I'm also an absolutist on the subject of freedom of speech. As I said in the letter I shot off to my local paper about this, "I fully support freedom of religion. But in this case, the offended Muslims are demanding a right that we do not grant to anyone else, either, and that is a right to veto things written, drawn, or published by people who are not of their faith. Nor do they extend this veto to people whose faith might be offended by what their authors, artists, or publishers produce. They may feel that they are entitled to this veto because (as is obvious to them and to no one else) their religion is right and everybody else's religion is wrong. The rest of us will not, and must not, concede that point."

Even the religious right in this country didn't put out multi-thousand dollar bounties on Andres Serrano's head, or burn down city hall in his home city for not having stopped him. Which means that, to all appearances, there are tens of thousand of Muslims in Europe and the Middle East who are much more dangerously theocratic and dictatorial than Jesse Helms, Pat Robertson, and Richard Reed combined.

When a Danish newspaper editor found out that those murderous theocrats had so intimidated even non-Islamic artists in the most secular and free-press country in Europe that none of the ones an author had contacted, none of them, were willing to collaborate with him for an honest, respectful illustrated history of the life of Mohammed, that was a legitimate subject to commission a news article on. I've seen the "offending" cartoons, and they are all fair commentary, in my opinion, on the subject of the news story. This, not the cowardly stance that America's corporate-owned newspapers have taken (hardly any of them have had the guts to take a stand either way, and most of them haven't even printed letters from their readers on the controversy), is good journalism.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 08:30 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
didn't know I was metaquoted (and good name, btw)

I don't believe I said anywhere that the paper didn't have every right to do what they did. So did the two fundamentalist newspapers that were spoiling for a fight and the french paper that wanted to prove that they have no respect for religion (not my construction, by the way, theirs) and that poor bastard in Jordan who wanted to let everyone see what the fuss is all about.

I sincerely disagree that the cartoons were appropriate or responsive to the unwillingness of extremist muslims to allow respectful images of their prophet to be published. I sincerely disagree very much particularly in the case of the three I described. They were intended to be inflammatory and offensive and to express ugly stereotypes and they did everything they were intended to do.

That they had a right to publish even the most offensive of those images does not make the act of publishing them less contemptible.
quick fact check - (Anonymous) - Expand
agreed.. - (Anonymous) - Expand
necturus From: necturus Date: February 5th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
US foreign policy has been the single most influential factor in building the political structures of the islamic world, and we didn't give a shit about it as long as the oil kept coming and we were given the russkis whatfor. We installed the House of Saud, the House of Saud funded wahhab.

In fact, the House of Sa`ud has been around since the 18th century, and its relationship with the Salafi school of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab goes back to its earliest days.

Until World War I, the Ottoman Empire kept the Sa`udis confined to Nejd, in central Arabia. After the war, in which the British expelled the Ottomans from Arabia, the Sa`udis were allowed to conquer most of the rest of the peninsula, creating the modern Sa`udi kingdom. While it's true that since World War II the Americans have been the kingdom's chief foreign sponsors, they did not create it.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 5th, 2006 09:06 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)
I didn't say we invented them. I said we decided they were going to be the leaders we recognized for their country. They were hardly the only contenders. Just the ones we liked the best.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: February 6th, 2006 01:29 am (UTC) (linkie thing)


(to your update I mean)

And the word is mokita.

(Oh, and the operating principle is - the one that's bigger and badder than IOKIYAR, because that xenifies it handily, puts it all on those Others so we don't have to worry about our own beams or splinters - It's Different For Us. It's Okay If It's Us.)

CIA has finally belatedly realized that they don't come out smelling like roses and are recently heatedly denying that they had anything to do with the nascence of Al Quaeda, too.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 6th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC) (linkie thing)

Re: Word.

Yeah, well, tell it to Dana Rohrabacher.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 6th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

I never thought....

I would find myself on the opposite side of so many issues with so many liberals these days. I guess my primary reaction for my support of those journals is that I spent my life up to age 15 in a place where there was no such thing as freedom of speech and the government pretty much dictated what you heard and what you said. It has given me a permanent allergy to "approved" speech, and it seems to me that's what this is devolving into.

The whole thing also reminds me of the Skokie incident of 1977. I lived in Chicago then. It taught me that freedom of speech is worth defending only if it works across the board. "For me but not for thee" would not be freedom of speech any longer.

While I agree that those newspapers were absolute jerks and were playing to a brutally reactionary base (the dank, paranoid basement of European thought), I still say they have a right to say it. I also believe that Muslims have a right to boycott products from those countries and hold protests, etc. You can fight speech with speech.

jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 6th, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

Re: I never thought....

I'm not disagreeing with any of that. They absolutely had the right, and they absolutely have the right to be protected from any threats they face in consequence.

What bothers the hell out of me is the profound disingenuity of the spin on this - newspaper prints picture of the prophet for the sake of free speech and wacko muslims go nuts. Those pictures were a very deliberate insult to a major world religion and they had to be flogged all over Europe for months before there was a violent reaction.

From: (Anonymous) Date: February 6th, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC) (linkie thing)

Norway has condemned the cartoons

You write:

Meanwhile, the original newspaper, which apparently has more sense than the Prime Minister does, acknowledged that although the publication of the cartoons was completely legal, they were offensive, and apologized for causing offense. European leaders (with, of course, the exception of Denmark and Norway) have pointed out that while free speech is a basic human right, the material printed in this case was deeply offensive and to be condemned.

In a situation where lives are potentially at risk, it would be helpful if you would try to get your facts right. Norway's prime and foreign minister have been saying exactly the above the entire time.

In fact, even the Danish PM has long since taken exception to the cartoons, expressed regret that feelings were hurt, and said he would never have printed them were it up to him.

Other factual inaccuracies: the Norwegian reprint was by one, not two, evangelical magazines (incidentally, with a readership of 5,000) and took place on January 13 this year, not "a week later." Also, the editor's stated intention was similar to Jyllands-Posten, i.e. not to "make a point about Islam and terrorism" but to make a point about free speech. You are of course free to speculate about his real intentions, but that's just that.

Sirocco (http://sirocco.blogsome.com)

P.S. By the way, posting comments to your blog is a time-consuming process. But you knew that.
jmhm From: jmhm Date: February 7th, 2006 03:06 am (UTC) (linkie thing)

Re: Norway has condemned the cartoons

If the norwegian (or danish) governments had said when all this started that they have no control over speech in a free society but that they condemned the substance of the speech, things would not have escalated to this point, but they didn't. They said cool stuff like "I'm sorry you feel offended"

Any seven year old knows that's not the same as saying you have cause for offense, but muslims aren't all that popular in Denmark and Norway, are they.

They acknowledged that the language was offensive when they had a gun to their heads. Great freaking precedent there.

Another evangelical magazine published the images online, as it mentions in the links, which you clearly didn't read.

As to the timeline: odd that the Washington Post said just yesterday that the cartoons were published in Norway three weeks ago, isn't it? A little over a week after the PM refused to meet with the ambassadors?

Other than that, I'm sure you have a point about my reading comprehension and skipped homework.
ahhhs. -- hmmm?
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