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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Email from a Staffer…

Posted by on February 11 at 18:00 PM

Dan emailed me earlier to ask if I was mad about this and this. I sent back this email, which he’s asked me to post:

From: Eli Sanders

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2006 17:39:07 -0800

To: Dan Savage

Well, I am looking forward to my Stranger-financed trip to Beirut, but yes, I think “a tad racist” is a pretty strong charge to throw around. And I think the argument that I’m condescending to the protesters really twists my words, with the intention of making “colonialism” (and me) into an easy punch-line.

Of course I don’t believe Nasrallah and the like are really mad about colonialism. They’re demagogues, opportunists who are well aware of the long-standing frustrations in the Arab/Muslim world (some of which have to do with, yes, colonialism) and are tapping into them to draw a crowd and increase their own political power. And maybe it’s condescending to believe that the crowds they draw are largely uneducated, unemployed, angry Islamists, but it’s usually true in these situations. Or, in the case of (U.S. backed) Saudi Arabia, they’re people who don’t have a lot of choice but to toe the line of people like the Saudi cleric who’s quoted in that AP article you posted. All of which makes looking at the literal content of the crowds’ complaints a waste of time.

You think the way to deal with an angry mob led by religious demagogues is to stand in front of the mob and shout Fuck You. I think it might be better not to give the demagogues so much easy ammunition in the first place, and also to remedy the situation that now provides them such a large group of alienated, angry people to prey upon. That’s where we disagree. The rest we agree on.

And back to Beirut for a minute… The Stranger did send me to a tense place in the Arab world once: Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. And I don’t think that story shows much sympathy on my part for dopey liberals. It’s pretty clear, though, if you spend time in a place like Rafah, that the underlying social and economic conditions, and the unresolved political issues, and the perceived indifference of the West, all make it very easy for Islamic fundamentalism to take hold, and that we ignore all of that, and focus on outrage about cartoons, at our peril.


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God DAMN your hot when it comes to puttin' them words together. I can just shut the fuck up now. Can I suck your dick?

In the Pinot-unsaturated, harsh light of morning, I can see that my attempt to introduce some levity into an overserious discussion falls totally flat. Sorry. I am, after all, happily married and contented to suck only on my husband's dick.

Now, we're off for mimosas and more aphrodisiacs. Serious bidness.

Hey Eli, I think I like your take better than Savage's, as best as I can tell.

I'm really sick and tired of people blaming protestors for violence. Sure some people are getting out of hand, but they are religious zealots who saw pictures of their most honored prophet with a bomb on his head. Kind of makes sense for them to be angry. I just wish that the Danish government (which unfortunately is controlled by the right right now) didn't come out with a statement recognizing the important issues and assuring the Muslim community that they are not the views of the Danish people as a whole.

It seems to me that the best leaders are the kind that step up and say the right thing to make their citizens feel better, even if it means apologizing for something that wasn't their fault. A good president could have stood up in a symbolic location and said "What I think of this newspaper is that it is reflecting the views of a very small group of anti-Muslim cartoonists, and not the views of our people as a whole. I for one am glad that Muslim people have chosen our country to build their new lives in, and I respect their religious traditions and their commitment to preserving their cultural heritage. This is a very serious situation, but I know that through careful dialogue we can come to an understanding of this problem, and work to create a better society through peaceful coexistence of religions. This paper may have been playing on the ignorance of its' readers to sell papers, but their characterizations of the Prophet are dead wrong, and should not be received as accurate depictions of the man or his legacy. Because of the laws protecting speech in this country, the Danish government cannot outlaw this kind of speech, but we as Danish people should be able to state clearly and forcefully that such racist and dismissive depictions of revered religious figures is wrong and should not be tolerated. I am calling on the editor of the paper to resign and to make a public apology for this blatant act of agression against our Muslim citizens. I also call on the editors of papers around the world to show restraint regarding this issue, only showing these cartoons if they are balanced with remarks from Muslim scholars and/or leaders from the Muslim community."

I can't BELIEVE so many people are falling for this whole cartoon-representation-of-Mohammed stuff. Muslims riot, burn embassies. Westerners line up and sermonize about ironic violence and the First Amendment.

Shut up! Are you kidding? Are you really going to play Islam vs. The First Amendment? Conservatives hate Muslims, now the liberals do to?

You are ALL getting worked, children!

Dear Stranger Editors,
You KNOW they are defensive about their religion. Leave them alone! Stop provoking them! And shame on you for using the pretext of the First Amendment reprint the cartoons and continue to taunt them. Of course they are rioting, how did you EXPECT them to react?

And don't don't don't start in with that "well, they hate-speech us all the time and they.... and they..." Do you hear yourself? You expect them to react like YOU.

Well, they're not you, you stupid, stupid, ethnocentric pieces of playground shit! Stop being so surprised that you don't understand their reaction. First you join the taunting by reprinting the cartoons, and then you rationalize, "wull, those people should undershtand." Shut up! Leave the Muslims alone! Reprinting the offensive cartoons is NOT the higher ground!

And then AND THEN Bruce Bawer is going to tell us that the Muslim minority is going to bully us into submission. I can't believe you put your name on that shit, Mr. Bawer. I am ashamed for you. Stop pretending you are afraid they are going to change our system, and just admit that you hate them.

You have the protection and a responsibility to the First Amendment. You have the right to insult and provoke whomever you want. But that doesn't make it right.

We will defend the First Amendment because we believe in it; it makes us strong. And we should use our First Amendment freedom of speech to say that publishing caricatures of someone else's prophet is EXTREMELY TACKY.

Dear Muslim rioters,
You should stop rioting now. They want you to riot, so that more of us will hate you; and if we hate you, they will have a pretext to invade Syria and Iran.

I am sorry that this is so ugly and offensive. Right now, it is our First Amendment freedom of speech that is allowing them to offend you. But please believe that that same First Amendment freedom of speech is the only weapon we will have when they try to expand the war against you.

John Patrick, is your post a joke?

If no, proceed:

Wait, once more, are you joking? OK. Fine. Look, is it ok for me to admit that I DO hate people who burn buildings and kill innocent people because a religious figure is drawn? Because I do. (I've never seen the term "ethnocentric" used less convincingly as a pejorative than it was in your post.)

To reiterate a point made by others -- but not directly enough, I think -- how would you feel if Christians in this country started bombing cable television headquarters because South Park made fun of Jesus? If you wouldn't write the exact same letter that you did above, substituting Christians for Muslims, please tell me why.


I think you summarized the difference between you and Dan Savage really well:
"You think the way to deal with an angry mob led by religious demagogues is to stand in front of the mob and shout Fuck You. I think it might be better not to give the demagogues so much easy ammunition in the first place, and also to remedy the situation that now provides them such a large group of alienated, angry people to prey upon. That’s where we disagree. The rest we agree on."

At the risk of belaboring that seemingly irresolvable difference, isn't the best approach to stand in front of the mob and yell "fuck you"? The solution you offer sounds like appeasement. Drawing parallels to the Nazis has become trite, but in this situation the parallels practically draw themselves: isolated, unhappy people, easy answers centered upon hate and intolerance, bullying scare tactics, and Europe’s hope that this unhappy minority can be dealt with peacefully. Do you think appeasement of extremist Muslims will be more successful than the appeasement of extremist Nazis?
That question sounds insincere, but it isn't. I don't believe that history always repeats itself. But I am worried that if we do not tell the mob "fuck you" we will only empower the extremists, making their solution of violence and intolerance all the more attractive.

Sandy, my own perspective is that liberal Westerners don't have much to gain from escalating a holy war. That's what the jihadists want: holy war. They want to provoke all the anti-Islamic sentiment we can muster, which they will use as a recruitment tool.

Muslims make up about a fifth of the world population and it's the fastest growing world religion.

I'm all for "defeating" fundamentalism, whatever that might mean. I think anything that escalates a holy war, in the most general sense, works in favor of fundamentalists. I don't think the opposite of "escalate the holy war" has to be "appeasement."

A lot of Muslim voices are condemning the actions of the extremists, just like they did in the days following 9/11. Those are the voices with whom we must stand in solidarity. We should be grateful to befriend reasonable, intelligent, loving Muslims, and ask them to stand with us against fundamentalist threats.

Some of those Muslims say "publish the cartoons, I don't care." And some of them say "I find some of the cartoons deeply offensive." Thumbing our noses at "Islam" and saying, "get over yourselves," in my opinion, doesn't serve our own interests.

If we disagree, fine, but that doesn't mean I hate freedom, or that I favor censorship, or that I want to appease terrorists.

Eli is right on, as usual.

Once again, the narrow focus on abstract liberal principles like "freedom of expression" is used to distract us from more material issues of military and economic power.

We're being duped into thinking this is important, that this is exactly the sort of issue where we need to take a stand, and so are the muslim rioters. We are all being duped.

The same thing happens in the US. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference whether Britney Spears' guest appearance on Will & Grace is aired. It's a distraction from more substantive issues. This kind of moronic culture war crap plays right into the hands of religious fundamentalists, be they Islamic or Christian.

But from time to time it's important to say "Fuck You" to fundies. Otherwise they not only think their shit doesn't stink but also that they think that nobody thinks their shit stinks. So fuck the fundies.

Eli, you continue to bring it. Thanks for being so smart and eloquent. Keep up the good work.

Dan & Eli; Don't you work in the same office? Why do you have 20 pages of your argument on the SLOG?

What am I missing? Don't we presently have a fundamentalist religious leader who invaded a Muslim nation, and is threatening several others? Don't we have daily shit like Coulter blathering threats daily based on what Muslims are saying? WE'RE FUCKIN' BLOWING THEM TO OBLIVION, THEY"RE TOSSING ROCKS! You're really all pissed off at some dumbass cartoon fucking protest? With our monstrous level of disregard, of course they hate us.

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