Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.That he can't see anything more to religion is well, his business. He also gets to the heart of this whole matter of "offensiveness"
The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.But then, the classic, rabid Hitchens also emerges:
It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger.I guess it takes a certain kind of dense obstinacy to wilfully equate Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger with the "exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers."
But, as Relapsed Catholic points out, I'm not going to ask that he be beheaded. :)
I have many thoughts on this fracas. Most of which involve a grudging acknowledgement that maybe Samuel Huntington's prognostications are self-fulfilling. I am quite appalled at the Vatican's official response.
The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religion.Excuse me? I would certainly hope it does include that right. Because nowadays, "offense" is equated with "criticism." There is a difference between desecration and criticism. And one of the cornerstones of a democracy is the freedom to criticize anyone, including the religious establishment. Of any religion.
And really, is the response really equal to the provocation? Worldwide street demonstrations? Riots? Trade boycotts? The burning of embassies? Burning the Danish flag? [As someone pointed out, it has the Cross on it. I'm offended! Let me find some infidels to blow up ...] Threats of violence? How puerile and adolescent can people get?
And I'm sure there will be some who will say, "well, this is the West's fault. Look at how Muslims have been treated. This is the result of colonialism. Of imperialism." Fie, I say! A pox on your kind! May your tribe ever decrease! [Ah, but then -- that's being done too, right? Just look at Europe's birthrate.]
Roundups of the controversy:
Sign and Sight [Via . GrArts & Letters Dailyeat set of links on the right hand side]
CaNN [Via Relapsed Catholic]
And, definitely go see the cartoons themselves.
[All that said, a few more thoughts. I think it's equally puerile to display the offending cartoons on one's website, as the last link suggests. And also, I wonder if those who are so sympathetic to the sense of offense that Muslims feel at this, i.e. some corners of the secular Western establishment, the State Department, those who've sacked editors over this, will be as sympathetic when, say, the offended party consists of conservative Christians? Then, will everyone become champions of free speech? And those on the Christian right who seem almost delighted that the Muslim world is playing up to every stereotype in the book, will they stand for the freedom of expression when dealing with offensive, nay, desecratory material that is anti-Christian? Such as this. Or this? I wonder.]