Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Update on the Danish Cartoons

Just a reminder that the cartoons about the prophet Muhammed published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten are still an issue in Europe. Brussels Journal brings us up to date on current happenings as all of Europe piles on.

I thought the cartoons were in poor taste, but the over wrought response is beginning to drive me to the other side. Demeaning cartoons and art about Christianity are not rare, so what the heck is special about Islam? If you can insult the one religion you can sure as heck insult the other. It is required, in fact, if you want to demean religion per se. So why hold back?


truepeers said...

Heck Chuck, there is no difference: demean Christianity and for the Christian it becomes a test of his religion of forgiveness and forebearance; demean Islam and for the Muslim it becomes a test of his religion of...

Anyway, to be sure, this is no longer an issue having anything to do with the cartoons themselves. With the EU and the UN and others trying to demand some kind of grovelling apology, it is nothing now but an issue of our ability to express ourselves freely without being pounded into dhimmitude by the worldwide forces of righteousness.

Can you believe what you are reading here?

Meanwhile, the UN has taken its action against Denmark a step further by asking the Danish Prime Minister for “an official explanation.” Doudou Diene, a Senegalese investigator appointed by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour, has asked the Rasmussen government to respond to the question: “Do the caricatures insult or discredit?” Copenhagen is expected to present the UN its “official view” on January 24.

Diene emphasized that the UN are taking the matter very seriously because, he says, “Islamophobia is the greatest component of discrimination within Europe.” Earlier on, the Canadian Arbour had stated in a letter to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference that the cartoons were “an unacceptable disrespect.”

-let's be clear: they want to outlaw insults and shows of disrespect if those who are being dissed include among their number violent types who might cause trouble. Insult a peaceful organization or religion: no problem. Another round of Mormon jokes? No problem.

Anyway, a lawyer should have some standard or test for "unacceptable disrespect". I propose that Louise Arbour call on me if she needs a demonstration of total (nonviolent) disrespect in words and images. Canadians take note: this woman is now on our Supreme Court and will presumably be passing judgment on future cases having to do, inter alia, with hate crimes. If this isn't a reason to vote the Liberals, along with their judge-selecting proclivities, out of power on Jan. 23, then I really don't know what is.

This is deadly serious, Chuck. Deadly serious. European civilization, what's left of it, is really hanging in the balance.

truepeers said...

I am enough of a Canadian patriot that I felt guilty as soon as I ranted against one of our Supreme Court justices. I felt compelled to provide further explanation...

Louise Arbour has of course been involved with International Criminal Tribunals, prosecuting war criminals from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. So she would probably say to me: I know full well what can happen when demonizing of people is allowed, so politely shut yer trap.

Now leaving aside the question of whether these Danish cartoons were serious acts of demonization - and I don't think they were, given the nature of Islamophobia and Islam - the question remains whether the history of events like the Rwanda genocide provide a basis for ever making it illegal for people to publish what we might agree were highly disrespectful cartoons.

This raises the key anthropological issue of the relationship between representation and actual, physical acts of violence, a relationship that I feel is widely misunderstood. While it is true that organized acts of violence against demonized groups is not possible without representations encouraging such (just as no human organization of any kind is possible without applicable representations), it is also true that representation generally acts to defer our violence. Indeed, at the most basic level, this is exactly what it is for.

THe very core of our humanity is our ability to represent ourselves and in doing so to defer and alter our natural, biological, propensity to war over limited resources. Free speech implies a faith in signs, and in ethical relationships founded on signs, signs that are substituted for purely biological conflicts over the things we cannot all simultaneously have.

Representation, our ability to speak freely and to have our speech verified by our fellows as good, is a gift from god, whatever god is, because it provides human communities with their humanity, their ability to to organize themselves around pacifying signs instead of around natural hierachies in purely biological struggles for the precious things of nature that cannot be multiplied as can the signs of free speech.

Representation defers violence because it provides us new ways to organize ourselves and hence to trade and distribute resources in relatively non-violent ways.

However, what acts to defer violence also acts to build more complex human societies that in turn become much more capable of organized violence, and this is the paradox we need to unfold...Denmark is sufficiently sophisticated that it could build nuclear weapons and kill millions of its enemies, but it is precisely because it has such inherent capabilities that it is also the kind of well-organized culture that a non-violent Danish Muslim need not seriously fear, at least at this stage in history...

Representation will always create a relationship between self and other, no matter how much "binary thinking" is denounced in the name of multiculturalism, etc. The trick is to learn how to respect the other, not to deny his existence as one's other (and such respect must be earned and will require all sides engaging in some criticial and frank conversations about such things as ethics, group behaviours, and their religious origins...)

The postmodern vogue of denouncing binary thinking usually does more to exacerbate tensions, thanks to its own unacknowledged reliance on the most crude binary opposition of all: that which purportedly distinguishes hegemonic oppressors from everyone else.

Free speech can always set the stage for violence. But we would be more violent - we could not survive - without it. The question is whether the attempt to control speech will do more to build up tensions in systems without safety valves to let off steam, or whether it will do more to defer violence.

The liberal tends to the utopian and thinks that the problem of conflict and violence can be avoided by proper regulations. But in fact it is best avoided, to the degree we can ever defer our inevitable conflicts, by maximizing human freedoms. Denmark has already gone far enough down this road of freedom that we need have little fear that they are about to turn genocidal. The attempt to bottle up speech there will have much more disastrous effects than allowing people, immersed in very real human conflicts in daily life, to mediate this tenstion with some verbal and visual criticism of each other.

A negative outcome of attempts to control speech is especially likely if the nation - the political unit best suited, in concert with other nations, to maximizing human freedoms - is being circumscribed by post-national bureaucrats in bodies like the UN or EU. This is a sure recipe for conflicts getting to the explosive stage.

We need freedom to survive and limiting it is only justfiable when we are on the very edge of violence, a clear and present danger to others.

ex-democrat said...

tp - that comment really deserves to be a post of its own.

truepeers said...

Has anyone in the UN called on the *President* of Iran for an "official explanation" of his (presumaly official) calls to wipe Israel off the map?

Pastorius said...

Who cares if you think they are in bad taste? Bad taste is allowed in a free state.

I'm surprised at you. This is one of the smartest sites on the web.

I revel in America's greatness as well as it's bad taste. Bad taste is the exhaust of freedom and creativity.