Skip to comments.Drawing Conclusions--WHAT THE CARTOONS HAVE REVEALED.
Posted on 02/08/2006 10:59:36 AM PST by SJackson
aybe you remember, back in 1989, the controversy over Piss Christ, a piece of art by the now fashionable artist Andres Serrano. He himself had been living on a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and his brave break-out work (a crucifix immersed in urine) was hung in various public museums and was debated and mostly defended by the high culture elites until it became part of the canon. So much part of the canon that I suspect almost no one any longer blanches or even blinks when he sees the image anywhere. Then you may remember that other and later cruddy art work, by Chris Ofili, the Afro-Brit winner of the Turner Prize, Holy Virgin Mary, in which the medium is ever so daintily catalogued: "paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins, elephant dung on linen." Coming after Piss Christ, it did not cause so much of a stir. Still, these experiments in testing public tolerance for the visual representation of the mixing of human and animal excretions with the divine constituted, at least in my view, the ugliest battle in the culture wars. It was started on the left, and it was the left that won it. And I'm not sure it shouldn't have. Yes, the First Amendment ... and all that. You may dislike what it protects ... but protect it, it must.
I was reminded of these episodes by the riots now spreading here, there, everywhere over the twelve cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed published in a privately owned Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, last September. Some of the illustrations are a bit goofy, some much more provocative. One depicts Mohammed's head with an ignited bomb protruding from his turban. In any case, for the rampaging mobs of Muslims this may be more a theological contention than a political one. Muslims are just plain forbidden from depicting the prophet. So, let them not depict him. But Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists are not prohibited, and I assume that the Danish cartoonists were not Muslims but Lutherans (an overwhelming majority of whom assert that they do not believe in God) or from that cool breed of Scandinavian rationalists. Another cartoon shows the prophet greeting some martyrs at the entrance to heaven, and he shouts to them, "Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins." When you compare the most offensive of these caricatures to the vile and inciting images of Jews routinely shown on government-owned television all over the Muslim world (forget about the ugly role of caricature in the long history of Christian anti-Semitism) you wonder what all the fuss is about. OK, Bill Clinton doesn't wonder. He's referred to them as "these totally outrageous cartoons against Islam," although I myself doubt whether he's ever bothered to look at them. Is he for free expression or for that sloppy multiculturalism that forbids you from raising anyone's hackles? This is the liberal's dilemma. By the way, a European-Arab website--in retaliation, I suppose--has just put out a cartoon showing Anne Frank and Hitler in bed.
As far as I can tell, no American newspaper except The Philadelphia Inquirer has reprinted the cartoons. This has left those who still depend on the daily gazette in the lurch. They don't know exactly what the papers are writing about and why precisely Muslim mobs are so agitated. Of course, television hasn't shown them either. And TNR won't publish them. Should we? We certainly are not obliged to run them: Just imagine the geshrei if a pro-Zionist journal did run them. We wouldn't in any case: It would only bring more people into the circle of peril. If you're really interested you can find them on the web on your own. (The San Francisco Chronicle's online edition has a link to them and the right-wing FrontPageMagazine.com has a very informative and intelligent article on its site, fully illustrated.) I just don't recall whether any of the newspapers or news weeklies reproduced Piss Christ at the time of that controversy. (And I'd appreciate it if any readers can tell me.) The present American media black-out is consistent with the Bush administration's huffing and puffing: "We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive." Maybe the media execs were thinking about whether our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would be in more peril if American press outlets reproduced the cartoons. It seems that the Islamicists believe that they cannot simply disagree vehemently with those who offend them. They seem incapable of simply opposing. Killing--or threatening to kill--seems to be a reflex with enough of them to make militant Islam a danger. As Saturday's Guardian pointed out, a demonstration "led by the extremist group al-Ghuraba ... marched to the Danish embassy in Knightsbridge carrying banners calling on Muslims to 'massacre' those who insult Islam and chanting: 'Britain, you will pay, 7/7 on its way'." Why exactly threaten England with another bombing? As far as I know, no British periodical has run the cartoons even as an act of solidarity. So why, in fact, are people who so openly menace the English populace allowed to walk free on the streets? This is not free speech. This is rank intimidation--and, given 7/7, there is, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a clear and present danger.
But a few newspapers in other countries were neither docile nor frightened nor conscientious. There is, after all, some fraternity among journalists. The Times reported that the cartoons had been reprinted in Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and Hungary, in addition to France and Jordan, where the editors responsible for the decision were summarily fired by their papers' owners. That Jordanian is one hell of a brave person. In Damascus, where the Syrian police-state can prevent virtually anything from happening, mobs burnt the Danish and Norwegian embassies with impunity. In Beirut, thousands of seething Muslims stormed into a Christian quarter where the Danish consulate is situated and brought it down also. Lebanese security arrested 76 Syrians, 36 Palestinians, 25 suspected Syrians without papers, 36 Lebanese, and 12 of unidentified nationality. In proto-Palestine, of course, mobs sacked many European offices, even though most of them have functioned--to Israel's despair--as eager partisans in the Palestinian cause, even (with a wink and a nod) partisans of Palestinian terrorism. According to the AP, Mahmoud Zahar, a leader of Hamas, the landslide winner in the recent Palestinian legislative elections, told Il Giornale that anybody responsible for publishing the cartoons should be put to death, and complained that "We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet, and here we are demonstrating peaceably." Peaceably, indeed--if burning offices is considered peaceful. In the Arab town of Nazareth in Israel, hundreds turned out to vent their anger. Rage and bloodlust were on display elsewhere in the Muslim world. Here's the Islamicist equation: Blow up Jews, Israelis, unfavored Iraqis, Hindus in China, Christians in Indonesia, tourists in Egypt, ordinary and uninvolved people riding the trains in London and Madrid--good, very good. Draw some tasteless cartoons--bad, no, terrible, candidate for murder.
The Danish predicament is especially excruciating. Denmark has a deep commitment to freedom of the press, and the population is exceedingly disquieted by Muslim impingement on its distinctive way of life, socially tolerant, if also a bit xenophobic. Yes, the Danes assert, minorities have rights. But majorities do also, and among them is the right to survive with their culture and norms not being under siege. The whole of Western Europe is right now in the midst of discovering this truism, and other countries' political and cultural norms--those of France, Belgium, Holland, for example--are more imperiled than are Denmark's. Still, the Copenhagen government is center-right. The cartoons expressed something of the sentiment of its supporters. But, being an advanced economy in a globalized world, it has other interests, capitalist interests, and these interests have been pressing the government to try to propitiate the Muslim world and particularly the Arab sector of it over the cartoon incident.
Boycotts against Danish companies are underway wherever Mohammed is officially revered. There are interdicts against Danish products. In Egypt, what go for supermarkets have announced a ban on Danish commodities. There is an epidemic of ostracism, not only of the Danes but the other Scandinavians who had absolutely nothing to do with this episode. ARLA, one of the largest dairy producers in the world and the makers of Lurpak butter, has been particularly hard hit, and it has already laid off hundreds of workers at home. Lego is on the taboo list. So is Novo, the main producer of insulin. (Only Arab polities and Arab companies would put a hex on an insulin manufacturer. To hell with those who suffer from diabetes.) A.P. Moller, perhaps the world's hugest shipping company, like the other targets of the trade boycott, also has felt tremendous pressure. Of course, it, like its partners in trade pain, has attempted to rechannel that pressure on to the ruling party in Copenhagen to pacify the Muslims, to yield and pray for quarter.
But the European polis is not altogether controlled by the big corporations. The Europeans still have an attachment to their liberties, including their press liberties. And the incident of the cartoons that offended the Muslim minorities of the continent and the Muslim majorities elsewhere has not been, will not be, the only matter to provoke them. Europe and the countries of Europe will not take instructions on how to run a civil politics or how to preserve their culture from those whose habits have not yet caught up with the Magna Carta or the Declaration of the Rights of Man. This episode will inevitably harm Turkey in its bid to enter the European Union. More important, it will deepen the alienation of Muslim and Arab immigrants and their families from those amongst whom they live, still as a minority. They will have no one but themselves to blame. They did not keep the social contract that was both implicit and explicit in their arrival--not that they had larger birth-rates but that they increasingly do not seem to grasp the most elementary of democratic transactions: Give berth even to that which you dislike. The very essence of liberal society is the willingness--OK, the doleful willingness--of its members and constituent groups to be slighted.
FYI, the source is listed as National Review Online, however the link is to The New Republic...
Thanks, I'll ask to have it corrected.
He seemed receptive but could only pass the suggestion "up the line."
No one that I can recall ever said that the "art" should be illegal to produce. And no one rioted over the issue.
You know, since the combined output of all the middle east (taking out oil) is less than that of Finland - these boycotts can only go so far - they don't make anything and must purchase most of their goods from someone.
Well, obviously someone, somewhere, sees some kind of connection that is hidden from non-Islamofascists....
"But it flatly is not fair that you can bash Jesus but you can't praise him."
Time to look for and buy Danish products.
What do the Danes make that we sell over here?
As Johan Goldberg pointed out in his latest article ... the Muslim boycott of Danish goods will have no impact at all on the sale of Danish hams ....
baby back ribs.
"So, let them not depict him. But Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists are not prohibited, and I assume that the Danish cartoonists were not Muslims"
Have you heard the Muslim spokesman who said he demands that "new rules" be established in Europe that make everybody play by Muslim standards? Gimme a break! Sounds a little bit like the homosexual activist civil-rightsers right here in the US of A...
Yes, and thank God for the internet. Aside from the blatant cowardice implicit in that statement it is inaccurate as well - peril shared is peril diluted. But check this one out:
But the European polis is not altogether controlled by the big corporations. The Europeans still have an attachment to their liberties, including their press liberties.
Nor is the American polis. And it isn't corporate control that is the issue here, it is the self-confessed cowardice of the author that is the issue.
The American press gets a big, fat zero from this pen. I am absolutely appalled at its craven submission and at its desperate intellectual backflips such as this author's to blame Bush or the corporations for it.