(Note: Before reading this post, please consult the very serious Deonandan.com disclaimer.)
Sigh. Finally finished writing a short story I started weeks ago. It is officially a month past the due date, but what the fuck.
I told myself that while I’m in India, I would not blog about anything unrelated to my trip. That meant that my traditional topics –war, terrorism, the fool in the White House, etc– were supposed to be off limits. However, my time here has overlapped with an important global crisis: those dang Danish cartoons. As I mentioned, there were riots in Bangalore just before I got here, all in response to the cartoons.
For those not in the know, Darth Vadum proudly reproduces the cartoons here. As you can see, some of them are innocent and innocuous by Western standards, while a handful really are racist swill. Whatever. I’m not here to critique the quality of the cartoons. Rather, let us look at how the debate has been framed by the Right, as a battle between “freedom of speech” and “intolerant islamofascism”.
Right wing bloggers and pundits have been quick to jump on this issue as an example of how Muslims are intent on curtailing everyone’s civil rights, especially that most cherished right, the one of free speech. This is a disingenuos argument. For one thing, there is a common misperception of what “freedom of speech” really entails.
Some of you may recall the mentally deficient poster to this blog who caused me to temporarily suspend commenting functions. He continued to email me, insisting that I was being censorious and “Rumsfeldian” by not permitting him to post. See, people, “freedom of speech” means that each of us can say whatever the fuck we want (with some caveats, which I will discuss below). It does not compel anyone else to publish what we say. I, as the blog publisher, was in my right to allow or prevent content on my site as I saw fit; I was in no way curtailing stalker boy’s right to wail away elsewhere, or his right to get his own blog. (This analysis gets more complicated at the national level where media becomes consolidated and the number of publication opportunities diminishes; but that’s a topic for another time.) In short, only governments can truly censor, because only governments have the power of criminal law at their disposal.
Having said that, the Danish editors were within their rights to publish whatever the heck they wanted to publish. However, do recall the basic axiom of ethical behaviour: we are ultimately ethically responsible for the reasonably forseeable consequences of our actions. To cite a cliche, if you shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre, it is reasonably forseeable that the consequences will be panic and maybe injury or death. It is your right to scream “fire!” or whatever else you want, but you are legally and ethically responsible for the consequences. (In most places, the law goes further and criminalizes this act, with the assumption that it will almost always lead to injury.) And if your free speech includes lies about a person, be prepared to face the litigation which is a reasonably forseeable consequence of your speech.
The editors who published these cartoons are ethically responsible for the consequences of their decision, since any fool should have guessed what was going to happen. It was also within the rights of the cartoonists to make the cartoons, however offensive some of us might find them, and to submit them to the editors. Responsibility falls upon the editors for ultimately publishing them. So I will always defend someone’s right to say whatever fool thing occurs to him, and I will also defend the right of a publisher to grant or deny the publication of any material provided by a contributor; but I will also insist that the speaker face the consequences of his speech, and that the publisher face the consequences of his decision. And yes, that means that I am opposed to so-called “hate speech” laws, since we are either free to spout our thoughts or we are not; I err on the “are” side.
So the poor Danish editors are scared now? Well, what did they expect? Boohoo. It was all reasonably forseeable.
Given that dire consequences were pretty much inevitable, let us examine why the editors woud have chosen this path. Many suggest that their choice is a reflection of the growing rightist, anti-immigration sentiment in Denmark. When Europeans talk of anti-immigration, they really mean anti-Muslim, since the European underclass is made up in large part by North Africans who are mostly Muslim. They are like Mexicans in the US, arriving to do the low-class jobs the locals don’t want to do. Denmark, in particular, is experiencing a wave of anti-immigration, anti-dark skin intolerance, led from the top down by its fire-breathing rightist government, and supported by its echo chamber media.
A popular past time among the right wing media in both Denmark and the USA is Muslim-baiting. They publish extremely insulting content generalized to an entire race, culture, religion and civilization, that they would never reproduce for a more powerful or influential group. Examples from the USA: Mark Steyn writing that the Islamic world is “economically, militarily, scientifically and artistically irrelevant” or Ann Coulter calling for the mass conversion to Christianity of entire Muslim nations, or Coulter again using the offensive term, “raghead” to describe Muslims. Do you think these kinds of characterizations would be tolerated in Western media of any other group, race, religion or civilization? Keep in mind that Steyn and Coulter still maintain influential positions in the media world, despite their clear racist tendencies.
In a childish response, an Iranian paper is soliciting entries for the best Holocaust denial cartoon, which they will publish. As stupid as this sounds, maybe it’s a good test of the Rightist claim to simply be defending free speech. Let’s see how many of them print the Holocaust denial cartoons without disclaimers, irony or opposing commentary (as was done for the anti-Muslim cartoons).
But here’s the thing. Many of you will secretly say to yourselves, “what’s the big deal?” Terrorism perpetrated in the name of Allah is a real thing, after all, which makes it fair game for political lampooning. Okay. I’m a fan of lampooning everything and everyone, so I guess I agree. But remember when Catholic priests were being prosecuted left and right for molesting youths under their charge? Remember that? Why weren’t the Danish cartoonists drawing pictures of Jesus buggering little boys?
Oh, I can hear the gasps out there already. Well, think about. As much as Islamist terrorism is real, so was buggery in the name of Christ. Let’s say that an Iranian decided to draw a picture of Jesus ingling little Bobby, halo and all, and that the pic was picked up by hundreds of newspapers around the world and reproduced on thousands of blogs, how do you think the so-called Christian world would have responded? More to the point, would these Danish editors have published them, being, after all, the great defenders of free speech that they are?
Of course, as I said above, the editors are free to pick and choose what they wish to publish and censor. So what is my point? It is simply this: claims that these editors are heroes of free speech are bullshit. They would likely choose not to publish Jesus buggery cartoons for fear of offending one group, but clearly delighted in publishing anti-Mohammed cartoons because it would offend another group. Their motivations have nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with a racist compulsion to insult Muslims and to incite their predictable violent response.
And, right on schedule, the Muslim street gave them what they wanted. Stupidly, stupidly, stupidly, these riots play right into the hands of the neocon set. I will never condone such pointless, random rage. But, really, what else can they do? Protest? Write to their politicians? What a laugh.
So, Danish cartoonists and editors, what the fuck did you expect?