Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Looney toons

I've been reading about the cartoon mess, but am late in blogging about it, so whatever I have to say has presumably been said. But, oh well:

As wrong as the response in the Muslim world has been to the offending cartoons, I also find the delighted response to them to be more than a bit creepy. If the entire free world were simply delighted that a newspaper in Denmark had the guts to run anti-Semitic cartoons, despite ample Jewish protest, that would be creepy, right? Well, the protest has gone well beyond, well, protest, but that doesn't make the cartoons themselves any more laudable. Unlike Andrew Sullivan, who believes offending as many people as possible is the key to freedom, I believe that there can at once be freedom to offend and a certain amount of restraint--coming from individuals, not the government--keeping different groups kind to one another.

Which is more or less the stance of this solid Haaretz editorial on the scandal. But one point in the piece does not quite help the argument:

The publishers argued that they have the right to publish these drawings, in the name of freedom of expression and to protest the self-censorship that Europeans are imposing on themselves with respect to Islam. But even freedom of expression - noble though it is - requires limits. Jewish communities worldwide, and even the official Israeli government, have always been sensitive to, and protested vigorously against, anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish publications throughout the world.

The limits to expression ought to come from individuals, not from governments or from fear that the result of one's expression will lead to worldwide rioting. But that's neither here nor there. What's interesting is that of course Muslims are going to be, as Jews are when the tables turn, "sensitive to, and protest[ing] vigorously against," propaganda meant specifically to provoke them. A Muslim is not going to look at one of these cartoons and think, gosh, I should condemn suicide bombing and all other forms of terrorism, so that the Danes will like me more. An article might accomplish something along these lines, but a provocative cartoon will not. So Muslims have every right to be upset. It may seem like oversensitivity, but when similar cartoons were produced at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, Jews could hardly have been accused of overreacting, and... right.

But...I am confused by how the same side in this fight is testing free speech by running Holocaust cartoons and meanwhile saying, in effect, that free speech is limited to that which does not offend. Which is it? Much like the simultaneous argument that Zionism=Nazism, but that the Nazis were actually a benevolent bunch, here is one of those contradictions that manages to obscure whatever the point was in the first place. Would the ideal situation be a more PC European press? Or a good fight in which the Muslim world "wins" by producing the more offensive cartoons?Wasn't the Holocaust-denial trend making the rounds before the cartoon riots?

What strikes me the most is how ridiculous the methods used by the so-called enlightened West, that great civilization, Western Europe in all its progressive, post-modern glory. While rational arguments do exist against Islamist terrorism and making women cover themselves from head to toe, how is the battle being fought? Nasty cartoons and pork soup. Us-against-them style, so as to make whatever moral superiority the Western argument in the freedom-versus-terror struggle ought to have all but disappear.

A tangential note, one presumably not discussed elsewhere: Boycotts are the story of the day, with Danish cheese suffering the most. And in Europe, at least in some places, foods labeled "made in Israel" are presumably so labeled so as to be avoided. At the Fairway supermarket on the Upper West Side, this is, I'd imagine, not what's going on. The Israeli foods section is located in that tempting area near the checkout, just before the pre-register chocolate array. So of course an impulse purchase was in order. I bought more zatar than I figured I'd be able to finish in months, then realized this stuff is more addictive than I'd imagined, and goes with--no, improves-- absolutely everything. And while it seems like the sort of thing where a little would go a long way, that is not the case, and about half of the massive container made its way onto one Greek salad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one of the most profound comments was heard on CNN during a film of riots in Afganistan showing riots about the cartoons. When the reporter was asked if the rioters had seen the cartoons he said no since they were illiterate they do not read newspapers.