A rupture in the world

You can see the Mohammed cartoons here, at least as of this posting. They ran in a newspaper that is repeatedly described as right-leaning, with ties to neocons. Mostly they seem to be the cartoon equivalent of grabbing your crotch and saying “I gotcher Prophet Muhammed right here.” Most telling may be the cartoon in which a figure stands in front of a blackboard with Arabic writing, translated in the caption: “Jyllands-Posten’s journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs.” In another, a Western man in a turban — most likely the cartoonist — holds up a crude stick figure drawing, as an orange with the label “P.R. stunt” lands on his head. If there’s any significance to the falling orange, it’s lost on me, but the meaning of both these cartoons is clear — this was a deliberately provocative stunt, and the newspaper knew it. This gets into basic freedom of speech questions — do you have the freedom to shout fire in a crowded theatre? Or maybe more appropriately, do Nazis have the right to march through Skokie, Illinois? Does the Klan have the right to hold a rally in an African American neighborhood? In a free society, the answer to the last two has to be yes. But just because you can be an asshole, it doesn’t necessarily follow in every case that you should.

Not that anyone could have been expected to foresee the irrational intensity of the response. Which brings us to the second half of the story: bugfuck crazy religious fundamentalists who riot and burn down embassies over a fucking cartoon.. Some thoughts on same from Josh:

An open society, a secular society can’t exist if mob violence is the cost of giving offense. And that does seem like what’s on offer here. That’s the crux of this issue — that the response is threatened violence and more practical demands that such outrages must end. It’s back to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses (which, if you’re only familiar with it as a ‘controversy’ is a marvelously good book) — if on a less literary and more amorphous level.

The price of blasphemy is death. And among many in the Muslim world it is not sufficient that those rules apply in their countries. They should apply everywhere. Perhaps something so drastic isn’t called for — at least in the calmer moments or settled counsels. But at least European governments are supposed to clamp down on their presses to heal the breach.

In a sense how can such claims respect borders? The media, travel and electronic interconnections of the world make borders close to meaningless.

So liberal mores versus theocratic mores. Where’s the possible compromise? There isn’t any. On the face of it this gets portrayed as an issue of press freedom. But this is much more fundamental. ‘Press freedom’ is just one cog in the machinery of a society that doesn’t believe in or accept the idea of ‘blasphemy’. Now, an important cog? Yes. But I think we’re fooling ourselves to reduce this to something so juridical and rights based. I don’t want to imply this is only a Muslims versus modernity issue. I know not all Muslims embrace these views. More to the point, it’s not only Muslims who do. You see it among the haredim in Israel. And I see it with an increasing frequency here in the US. Is it just me or does it seem that more and more often there are public controversies in which ‘blasphemy’ is considered some sort of legitimate cause of action — as if ‘blasphemy’ can actually have any civic meaning in a society like ours. Anyway, you get the idea.

Much, probably most of what gets talked about as the ‘war on terror’ in politics today is a crock — a stalking horse for political power grabs, a masquerade of rage and revanchism, a running excuse for why we’ve made so many stupid decisions over the last five years. In some cases, on a more refined plain, it’s rooted in intellectual or existential boredom. But beyond all the mumbojumbo about how we’re helping ourselves by permanently occupying Iraq and running the country’s finances into the ground, there is a conflict. There is a basic rupture in the world.

… August has more:

Are the cartoons freedom of speech? Well, yeah. 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. Instead of saying “these are controversial but we uphold a standard of free speech, regardless of ones personal tastes,” they claimed that people getting outraged were simply being ridiculous. Le Monde made this their cover today- they might as well have printed “dammit, we LOVE mocking Arabs and fuck you if you don’t!” as the headline.

This isn’t South Park, where there’s actually some concept of social mores being challenged or questioned. Agree or disagree with various South Park episodes (like I do), there’s an intelligent justification for most of the racial humor in that show. There isn’t any here. The cartoons were drawn for one single purpose: to attack Muslims and provoke their ire.