Monday, February 06, 2006

They Came for Bugs Bunny, and I Did Not Speak Up, Because I Was Not a 'Toon

I don't care who you are--Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Hare Freaking Krishna. If you get this incensed over a damn cartoon (or movie or TV show for that matter), you've lost all claim to being anything but, as Peter O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence put it in Lawrence of Arabia, "A small people, a silly people, barbarous and cruel."

19 comments:

James Lincoln Warren said...

I don't think there's ever an excuse to riot. I remember the riots in L.A. after the cops' acquittal in the Rodney King case. It was horrifying. But that doesn't mean that the anger itself was unjustified. Likewise the current rash of rioting in the Islamic world.

Mob behavior and rioting is a constant in human history. During the Byzantine Empire, the Emperor Justinian was nearly deposed because of a sports riot over a chariot race. Anybody who goes to a high profile soccer match is taking their lives in their hands. We all know this.

Knowing of the human predilection for mass mayhem given any trigger, the publication of a clearly sacrilegious cartoon was not only offensive and ill-considered, it was outright provocative. Horrific wars have been fought with the perception of sacrilege at their heart.

It was not "just a cartoon". That's like calling Simon de Montfort's famous phrase when asked how his army should differentiate the heretics from loyal Catholics at the seige of Carcasonne "a one-liner". ("Kill them all and let God decide.")

It was deliberate demeaning of one of the world's great religions calculated to enrage and polarize the world public.

James Lincoln Warren said...

Of course I meant "mob behavior and rioting are a constant ..."

Just because my grammar sucks don't mean I ain't no good at writing.

JD Rhoades said...

It was deliberate demeaning of one of the world's great religions calculated to enrage and polarize the world public.

So was "Life of Brian", but people didn't burn the British Embassy.

I'm not saying they don't have a right to be pissed off. But burning an embassy is barbaric way to go about expressing it. Let' em organize a boycott, like our own religious loonies.

James Lincoln Warren said...

You probably don't remember the record burnings in the sixties when John Lennon observed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. That was scary, although it stopped short of riots.

I am second to none in my admiration of John Lennon. But it was a stupid thing to say.

"Life of Brian", BTW, actually made a point of letting the audience know from the very beginning that it wasn't about Jesus, if you remember the first scene. At least the Monty Python crew attempted to say that the movie wasn't intended to be sacrilegious, that it wasn't making fun of God so much as it was of people. The cartoon was a deliberate affront to an entire religion.

I'm certainly not defending religious loonies, and I'm not saying that the Syrian mob had a right to burn down the Danish embassy, and I agree that the civilized thing to do would be to organize a nonviolent protest. But publishing that cartoon was like firing up a cigar in a Mexican fireworks factory.

David Terrenoire said...

I'm old enough to remember the Lennon comment, and old enough to remember people who had no idea what Lennon really said, or cared to learn what he meant, use that comment to trash rock and roll and the growing youth culture of the time. And I say fuck them.

I'm offended every goddam day. I'm offended by that dork's mullet. I'm offended by that 98-pound yuppie mom behind the wheel of a three ton SUV, chatting on the phone. I'm offended by this nation's obsession with sports and celebrity. I'm offended by people who slap a yellow ribbon on the rear of their gas-guzzler and think that's supporting the troops. I'm offended by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Johnny Hart, Touched By An Angel and anyone else who reduces one of the world's great religions to crap and platitudes. And I'm offended by cynical politicians using fear and anger to gain power.

The cartoons deemed the most offensive were not even published in the European newspapers. The Imams pulled those truly offensive cartoons out of their collective ass to incite the mob and the mob followed like the good sheep they are.

If muslims wish to be treated with respect in a secular society, they must learn that my right, as their neighbor, includes being able to offend them and their religion without fear of having my house burned or my family killed. To grant otherwise is to inflict their theology on me, and I'm not about to let that happen without a fight. I don't let fundamentalist Christians dictate what I can say, so I'm not about to let fundamentalist muslims.

Islam, once the protector of science, math and culture, has slipped into its own Dark Ages and is desperately in need of an Enlightenment.

Cartoons, even provocative cartoons, don't justify barbarity.

David Terrenoire said...

Just in case you're wondering what these holy men thought justified this riot, here are the cartoons published by that Danish paper:

http://www.faithfreedom.org/Gallery/Mo_Cartoons.jpg

JD Rhoades said...

Don't hold back, David, tell us how you REALLY feel.

James: if they'd burned copies of the newspaper, or burned the editor in effigy, or whatever, all well and good. That's perfectly within the bounds of protest. And I'll grant you, the cartoons were offensive, even though I'm not sure how they were supposed to know the Generic Arab Stereotype Guy in the pictures was the Prophet, peace be, etc.

But destroying an embassy and threatening human life is way beneath civilized behavior. I don't see how being offended, even highly offended by someone who does it deliberately and with malice aforethought, justifies turning into Genghis Khan.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Was it irresponsible? Yeah, I think so. But I have to wonder if the Danes even had an inkling that they might get this reaction. I think this has surprised everyone, including the people throwing the molotovs. Is this truly a reaction to the cartoon sweeping through the community, or did it start as a political play by people looking for a way to lash out at the West?

...I agree that the civilized thing to do would be to organize a nonviolent protest.

Considering the environment, and the people involved, I don't know if they could have organized a nonviolent protest. I'm not disagreeing with you, I just think it was inevitable. If it wasn't this, it would have been something else.

James Lincoln Warren said...

How many Muslims do you guys actually know?

I never suggested that "destroying an embassy and threatening human life" was in any way anything other than uncivilized. My point is that it is irresponsible, at the very least, to perform an incendiary act that can predictably lead to rioting. In my view, printing a cartoon which criticizes an entire religion, especially a religion that considers itself under seige, was pouring gasoline on the flames.

I have Muslim friends who are as horrified as anybody at the savagery in the Middle East. They do not believe that the Qu'ran justifies terrorism. They do not deserve to have their Prophet mocked.

But more to the point, the printing of that one cartoon was patently antagonistic to a population that is known to react violently. Of course there is no excuse for a riot. But there isn't any excuse for setting one off, either. It is naiveté at best and criminal negligence at worst not to have anticipated such a reaction.

Denmark is one of my favorite places on Earth, and the Middle East is my absolute least favorite. The Danes are among the most tolerant and courageous people anywhere. I don't think most Danes are so naive that they were caught completely off guard, and the Danish populace is certainly not to blame for an editorial cartoon. But somebody willfully made the decision to print it.

As far as the Lennon/Jesus thing, I think the same reasoning applies. David is absolutely right that Lennon's remarks were twisted and misinterpreted -- but what resulted from his comments was ugly and could have been avoided if he'd kept his trap shut. Honestly, I don't believe John Lennon intended to offend anybody, unlike the cartoon. Both cases, however, demonstrate lack of prudence.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., observed that the First Amendment does not apply to the man who cries, "Fire!" in a crowded theater. From where I stand, that's exactly what the cartoon was.

David Terrenoire said...

James,

I have to disagree. I understand what you're saying about needless provocation. But a cartoon, no matter how vile, does not rise to the level of Holmes' famous caveat. It is art. Not great art, maybe, but it still deserves the same protections. As writers we have to stand up against this type of blackmail, otherwise we hand over Salman Rushdie and anyone else who says anything that might be deemed critical of Islam by an Imam who may or may not be sincere in his offense. That was what I was getting at with the Lennon analogy. It doesn't matter what someone says or writes or draws, there are cynical leaders who will use anything to their advantage, regardless of intent. Because of that, we have to defend our secular culture from being held hostage to any religion's notions of what is or is not offensive. To do otherwise is to give up a hard won right to free speech.

I'm not arguing in favor of irresponsible speech. If I'd been the editor, I doubt I would have run this stuff. If I'd been the editor of Hustler, I wouldn't have run that Falwell cartoon, either. But not because Falwell would be offended.

To second guess what a volatile Imam might find offensive is to hold your art hostage to an ever-moving set of principles.

If I put a bumper sticker on my car that pisses off my neighbor, and he shoots me, that shouldn't stop my neighbors from expressing their opinions via their car bumpers. That's bowing to a bully's threats.

And for the record, I know four muslims, two rather well, and no, we haven't talked about this so I don't know what they think. But I would tell them the same thing I've told you. I don't respond well to threats.

James Lincoln Warren said...

I'm not arguing in favor of irresponsible speech. If I'd been the editor, I doubt I would have run this stuff.

Then we're in close accord. I'm not in favor of censorship, either, nor of bowing to threats. (Although if I ever wake up with a horse's head in my bed, I think I'll take the hint.) I agree that the newspaper and cartoonist were within their rights, in spite of my reference to Holmes. But I still think they made the wrong choice and should be held accountable--not by government trial, nor by burning down embassies, but in the court of public opinion.

JD Rhoades said...

(Although if I ever wake up with a horse's head in my bed, I think I'll take the hint.)

I'll make soup.

I still think they made the wrong choice and should be held accountable--not by government trial, nor by burning down embassies, but in the court of public opinion.

Cna't argue with that. It is possible for both groups to be wrong.

Is this truly a reaction to the cartoon sweeping through the community, or did it start as a political play by people looking for a way to lash out at the West?

An excellent point...although "we're mad at America, let's burn down the Danish Embassy" is not a way to be taken seriously.

Hardluck Writer said...

The Danish newspaper solicited and printed the cartoons as a gesture against what it perceived as a tendency to avoid criticizing Islam for fear of retaliation. Let's call the Islamic world's reaction for what it is: fascism and hypocrisy. Arab newspapers routinesly run the most vile anti-jewish cartoons and articles imaginables. Jame, remember that next time you try justifying oe rationalizing this behavior.

JD Rhoades said...

The Danish newspaper solicited and printed the cartoons as a gesture against what it perceived as a tendency to avoid criticizing Islam for fear of retaliation.

How's that workin' for 'em?

James Lincoln Warren said...

Arab newspapers routinesly run the most vile anti-jewish cartoons and articles imaginables. Jame, remember that next time you try justifying oe rationalizing this behavior.

In the first place, I never justified or rationalized vandalism, arson, and riot. I condemned it and agreed with its characterization as uncivilized. My point wasn't about them, it was about us.

In the second place, whatever Arab newspapers run is not relevant. I've seen the virulently anti-Israeli cartoons published in the Middle East and they sicken me. They're not much different from Nazi anti-Semitic cartoons. Nevertheless, Anti-Arab racism is just as racist as anti-Jewish racism.

Are we going to allow ourselves to compromise our own values? Isn't that a primary goal of terrorist warfare?

Isn't the point of "Novus Ordo Seclorum" that religion should not be the yardstick of civil justice? Singling out an entire religion as "wrong" is just as much a religious judgment as singling out one as "right".

But mainly, why tease a dog you know will bite? Why provoke those fanatic enough to take to the streets and destroy their own cities? That's just stupid and cruel. We should be smarter, especially if we're the civilized ones.

James said...

I suppose the problem here is that there's very little Christian equivalent to what's happening here, but I'll try.

Okay... posting these cartoons would be equivalent to publishing photos of the infamous "Piss Christ," and then wondering why Christians would be outraged. Or worse yet, denying Christians the right to be outraged.

Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are verboten. That's it. No arguments, no exceptions. So doing so, and shoving it Muslims' faces for no real reason -- and, truly, there's no reason for what's happened -- is genuinely asking for trouble.

Hardluck Writer said...

>> Depictions of the Prophet
>> Muhammad are verboten. That's
>> it. No arguments, no
>> exceptions. So doing so, and
>> shoving it Muslims' faces for
>> no real reason -- and, truly,
>> there's no reason for what's
>> happened -- is genuinely asking
>> for trouble.

It may be verboten by Islam, but it's not verboten by the European and Western societies that are publishing the cartoons. The reaction from the Islamic extemists and certain Arab governments amounts to fascism - no way around it. If you do anything we don't like, we'll incite our people to attack you. One editor at a Jordanian newspaper wrote an editorial criticizing the rioting and violent reactions to the cartoons and within an hour he was fired by orders of the Jordanian government This type of bullying behavior by the Islamic fascists is nothing new. For years western reporters operated in fear of the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza strip - if they took the wrong photos or reported the wrong stories, they were at risk for a beating or worse. James, don't kid yourself about the political forces at work here - you've got governments and militant groups organizing, orchestrating and fueling these riots to send a loud and clear message to the free world.

James said...

Dave, I'm not kidding myself at all when it comes to Muslim extremism, AKA Islamofascism. I wrote a whole book about it.

The thing is -- and Salon did a great job of pointing this out -- the publication of these cartoons was an act specifically designed to provoke a negative, even negatively violent, response. To do so knowingly, and then to blame the respondents for the situation that arises is lunacy.

JD Rhoades said...

If you insult my religion, and I burn your house down, what would be lunacy is me trying to use your insult as a defense.