02/05/2006: In the wake of the Danish cartoon brouhaha....
the deluge doesn't seem too far off. Josh Marshall has a thoughtful post on why this problem isn't going away soon:
A number of readers have written in this evening and explained that the source of Muslim outrage is not that Muslims are being stereotyped as violent. It is that there is a specific and deeply-held taboo in Islam against graphical portrayals of Mohammed. You're not supposed to draw pictures of Mohammed, to put it quite simply. And you're especially not supposed to draw pictures that are insulting of the religion or portray him in sacrilegious ways.Read the whole thing. And make sure to follow the pointer to this New Yorker piece on the recent Hamas electoral victory in Palestine.
I know that. I already knew it. I know the whole backstory.
In isolation, in the abstract, it's certainly a taboo I'd want to respect, or at least not needlessly offend.
But all of that is beside the point. An open society, a secular society can't exist if mob violence is the cost of giving offense. And that does seem like what's on offer here. That's the crux of this issue -- that the response is threatened violence and more practical demands that such outrages must end. It's back to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses (which, if you're only familiar with it as a 'controversy' is a marvelously good book) -- if on a less literary and more amorphous level.
The price of blasphemy is death. And among many in the Muslim world it is not sufficient that those rules apply in their countries. They should apply everywhere. Perhaps something so drastic isn't called for -- at least in the calmer moments or settled counsels. But at least European governments are supposed to clamp down on their presses to heal the breach.
In a sense how can such claims respect borders? The media, travel and electronic interconnections of the world make borders close to meaningless.
So liberal mores versus theocratic mores. Where's the possible compromise? There isn't any. On the face of it this gets portrayed as an issue of press freedom. But this is much more fundamental. 'Press freedom' is just one cog in the machinery of a society that doesn't believe in or accept the idea of 'blasphemy'. Now, an important cog? Yes. But I think we're fooling ourselves to reduce this to something so juridical and rights based.
I don't want to imply this is only a Muslims versus modernity issue. I know not all Muslims embrace these views. More to the point, it's not only Muslims who do. You see it among the haredim in Israel. And I see it with an increasing frequency here in the US. Is it just me or does it seem that more and more often there are public controversies in which 'blasphemy' is considered some sort of legitimate cause of action -- as if 'blasphemy' can actually have any civic meaning in a society like ours. Anyway, you get the idea.
Only in the simplistic worldview of the Little Green Fascists is this problem easily solved.
Len on 02.05.06 @ 12:10 PM CST