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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Toon Wars

Posted by on February 11 at 13:11 PM

In our comments section, David writes…

For the record: freedom is good — very, very good. Religious fascism is bad — oh so very bad.


Don’t you think that burning embassies and threatening to behead cartoonists and demanding restrictions on free speech do more to “drum up anti-Islamic sentitment” than printing a dozen cartoons?


That’s good to hear, David, but because your posts make you sound as if you believe the exact opposite.

And Eli & David: It’s seems highly condescending—hey, maybe it’s tad racist, tinged with some of that dreaded Orientalism—to insist that Islamic protesters aren’t angry about what they keep claiming to be angry about, i.e. the Danish cartoons, freedom of expression (which covers the freedom to offend and freedom to blaspheme), and the refusal of Western governments to assure them that it will never, ever happen again. I don’t see how insisting that they’re not angry about what they keep telling us they’re angry about is somehow more respectful than taking the protesters at their word.

And their words go like this:

“Defending the prophet should continue worldwide,ā€¯ Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, told the crowd. “Let (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice, (President) Bush and all the tyrants shut up: We are a nation that can’t forgive, be silent or ease up when they insult our prophet and our sacred values.ā€¯

“Today, we are defending the dignity of our prophet with a word, a demonstration but let George Bush and the arrogant world know that if we have to … we will defend our prophet with our blood, not our voices,ā€¯ Nasrallah added… Nasrallah said there would be no compromise before Denmark apologizes and the European Parliament and individual assemblies in Europe pass laws that prohibit insulting the Prophet.

Note that Nasrallah has nothing to say about colonialism. Perhaps Eli and David need to dash over to Beirut and explain to Nasrallah that he’s really upset about colonialism, not freedom of expression or a few drawings of his supposed prophet. Let us know how that trip turns out, guys.

CommentsRSS icon

I'm afraid this may be the last chance I have to spar with you for the weekend: my husband and I are off to wine and dine each other for early V.D.

If I have claimed that protesters are not angry over cartoons, I misunderstood myself.

I think it would be a little closer to the mark to say that colonialism, propping up fascist regimes, destabilizing popular ones etc. helps us understand why it is so easy to provoke fanatics into a blind rage with nothing more than cartoons, or for that matter why the fanatacism exists so abundantly in the first place.

Is this the part where you accuse me of blaming the cartoonists again?

Dan, after this Slog entry, you have no right to accuse others of racism.

Hm. Interesting. I didn't write that Slog entry.

Give 'em hell Dan.

Keep up the good work, Dan.

It's condescending and dangerous, David S., to over-explain the root cause of people's behavior until you can firmly blame yourself. Dangerous because every day, people everywhere suffer through trials of humiliation, lack of respect, difficulty in making ends meet, random frustration at the behavior of strangers (if not The Stranger), etc. The vast, vast majority of these people react with decent humanity, taking out whatever anger they have in healthy (and healthy-ish) ways, and we should all be glad about that. To exempt a group of people from this expectation because world-historical forces have been against them is absurd. World-historical forces have been against most people throughout most of time. (And those have been real forces with concrete effects; not tepid political cartoons that are themselves a response to violent threats.)

Then there's the condescension, which is critical in this case. As Dan says, those running rampant over embassies and innocent journalists are telling us exactly what's pissing them off -- the graphic representation of a religious figure. If they wanted to riot and threaten journalists' lives because of the several-generations effects of colonialism, it might be more interesting for those of us who read the New York Review of Books, but it would be a different circumstance. I feel like someone is being threatened for humming a Beach Boys song in public, and some fringe on the left continues to insist that it's really about the price of exported corn.

The United States has supported autocratic regimes all over the world: Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. Yet, only people from North Africa and the Middle East seem to be pissed at us and determined to kill us.

My take on this anger is that it has nothing to do with colonialism, or even insulting Islam. Slowly, but surely, Western culture is starting to creep into Middle Eastern culture. Women are starting to see what it might be like to have some rights. I think this scares Middle Eastern Muslim men more than anything else. Things are starting to change and there's nothing they can do about it, so, they get angry and resort to violence.

Dammit, Dan, I was with you all the way up until "religious fascism". I am so sick of otherwise level-headed commentators using the word fascism in the wrong context. Fascism is not, as is so commonly used in America, a word that describes authoritarian dictatorships. Stalinist Russia was an authoritarian dictatorship, but it was not fascist. Fascism is the merger of corporate and state interests, period. In the example of Middle Eastern fundamentalism, corporations and wealthy individuals have very little to do with the power of the imams. In those cultures and in sub-cultures within otherwise secular democracies, the hallmark of the offending zealots is not fascism, it's fundamentalism. Of course, it's easy to get confused about this because we see fundamentalism wedded to fascism here in the United States, so we think they're the same thing. They aren't. So please try to use fascism in its clearest context, that is when you're describing states that take power and wealth away from individuals and communities and give it instead to wealthy elites. I think the good professor's "14 points of fascism" has done a lot to confuse this issue, because his points made perfect sense in the context of authoritarian dictatorship. The 14 points are really attributes that can be ascribed to any out-of-control centralized state apparatus that using terror and militarism to control its people and isolate dissenters.

Fascism is alive and well all around the world, but let's not blame a few religious zealots for it. Its origins lie in the posh clubs and mansions of the super-rich. They are the ones who create the divide between rich and poor. The imams simply exploit it to draw deeper religious strength from their communities.

It's been driving me crazy that rich, white commentators in America have been pasting the leaders over there with this label of "inciting violence". Our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are inciting violence. What these guys are doing is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing over here, doing their level best to awaken their people to a spiritual crisis in their communities. Their spiritual brethren have been insulted and their prophet lampooned. They have legitimate beef. Now, if more prominent Muslim clerics and officials were to speak out in defense of free speech and against violent responses to cultural offenses, of course this thing wouldn't get so out of hand. But that simply isn't the climate that exists for Muslim leaders right now. They have to represent for their constituents strong respect for the prophet's saintly character. If they let something like this go, they would lose the respect of the people.

Personally, I think it is wrong to directly assault someone's religion in the way that these cartoonists did. The editor of the Danish paper sounds to me like a right-wing jerkoff who just wanted to tell the Muslims in his community to shut up and sit down. Reminds me a lot of the media in Martin's time. You should have seen some of the cartoons about him. Of course, Martin and Coretta were committed to nonviolence and didn't choose to make a federal case out of every offense. But for a world community of Muslims who are terrified that their house will be searched next and that their kids could be kidnapped by secret police and never returned, they don't see the point of nonviolence.

And also, it's important to keep in mind that the vast majority of the demonstrators are nonviolent, just like demonstrators in nearly all demonstrations (speaking as a man who has been to plenty). Many of the deaths were shooting deaths caused by state police or paid security forces shooting into crowds and killing people needlessly. We can't really blame those deaths on the protestors, since they are the result of repressive regimes that don't like public displays of outrage.

I think that if Islam is to achieve the kind of modern character that Christianity has developed (at least in the industrialized world) it has to go through growing pains like this. One by one, leaders in the Islamic world will change their minds and come to respect secularism and the free exchange of religious ideas between cultures. Until then, however, we can expect to have these sorts of outbursts from time to time. It certainly doesn't mean that we have to always call every outburst by Muslims a "clash of civilizations". I mean, honestly. Do we call Christians backward and violent because Fred Phelps harangues the family members of dead gay soldiers? I don't think so.

Let's stop being so frigging poltically incorrect and accept that Muslims are scared sh*tless that we are coming to destroy their entire way of life and steal all their resources. We've seen this movie before, with Africans, African Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, Palestinians and so on. Anytime you insert a degree of heightened paranoia by inserting an army of heavily armored shock troops into someone's country or allied nation, there is bound to be some backlash. That's what this is, and it should be understood. I just wish Stranger writers weren't so caught up in their own boutique causes and actually understood that the oppression brown people feel in this world is orders of magnitude worse than the oppression out gay men face in Seattle. I know, everyone's issues are important, but colonialism is sick, it's bloody, and it hurts everyone in different ways.

Thanks for letting me rant, and I hope you guys get a frigging clue and actually embrace the Muslims we have here in our community and maybe even let them speak for themselves once in a while.

Jeff Richardson
Education Director
America in Solidarity

"...the merger of corporate and state interests, period"?

Fascism, according to the dictionary:

A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

your posts make you sound as if you believe the exact opposite

That would be a problem with reading comprehension. Not my fault.

dash over to Beirut and explain to Nasrallah that heā€™s really upset about colonialism

I've had silly right wingers suggest I go get myself beheaded in Iraq appeasing terrorists. This seems about on par with that kind of playground baiting. I'd prefer to take you seriously, because a part of your argument has merit. Oh, well.

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