Sunday, February 5


The “funny papers” aren’t so funny if you happen to live there, as so many of our fellow blogizens do. So when one of the potted intellectuals at Daily Kos undertakes a study of Danish cartoons, rest assured it is no laughing matter.

But first, any comments that might possibly be offensive to a blood-crazed Salafist cleric must be prefaced by the mandatory Statement of Moral Equivalence:
What we should remember as this story unfolds is that the tensions between religious sensitivities and free speech is not limited to the borders of Europe and the Muslim world. Within our own borders, we have repeatedly witnessed the protesting of art by religious groups who perceive the works to be blasphemy. Perhaps the starkest example of this occurred in the late 1990s with Chris Ofili's "The Virgin Mary".
Uh huh. Remember when the Sunnyside Baptist Church of Louisville kidnapped the British ambassador and threatened to cut his head off, because of that picture with the elephant crap on it? How Marines were called out to stop embassies from being burned, and dozens of governments called emergency meetings, and tens of thousands of enraged Episcopalians armed with golf clubs took to the streets? You might have missed this if you were watching a liquor store robbery on FOX News.
Should the restrictions or sensitivities of a specific faith--whether it be Christianity or Islam or whatever--act as a muzzle on freedom on expression? Even if the artist is not a believer of that faith? What level of deference--if any--should artists accord to religious considerations? The recent controversy is just another chapter in this debate, a debate all nations have engaged in--and a debate without a clear answer.
If this were a book report, you’d know damn well this kid didn’t read the book. First of all, all nations have not engaged in this debate. Cuba couldn’t care less. Those who have engaged in it, though, have come up with some pretty clear answers. But enough of this apathetic relativist Gerber food. Diarist scorponic now steps up to the soap flakes box, and what he has to say will rock your world:
"Freedom of expression," in Western political philosophy and law, has a very precise meaning. It means freedom from government sanctions or restrictions based on the content of speech. [emphasis in the original]
Okay, maybe that’s not so amazing to you, but if you’re a member of the Reality-Based Remedial Civics Class, this comes as absolutely mind-blowing news. In only two sentences, scorponic advances a Theory of Free Speech that is eons ahead of leading leftist intellectuals like Senator Patty Murray. And there’s more.
But the bigger point is that the paper's defenders have tried to conceive of "freedom of expression" as the freedom to say what you want, however idiotic or insensitive, without being subjected to non-governmental sanctions, such as criticism or boycotts. Sorry, that isn't "freedom of expression."
Never mind which side scorponic is on. In principle he’s absolutely right. He’s only slightly off, in that mistaken notions of free speech are themselves free speech. But what he means to say is that criticism is not the same thing as censorship, and boycotts do not threaten free speech. The APPLAUSE light is now lit.
So, if "freedom of expression" means freedom from content-based governmental restrictions, then there is no question whatsoever that Jyllands-Posten's freedom of expression to print the cartoons has never been threatened, in even a minor way. So let's take that off the table.
Scorponic’s understanding of how “free speech” works in Europe is somewhat incomplete. In the European Union free speech is definitely on the table, and its defenders are holding a pair of nines at best. But let us not pick nits.
[The Danish government] would have lost absolutely nothing by agreeing to meet with Danish Muslims and Arab ambassadors to discuss the situation, all the while making clear that it would not and could not take any punitive action against the paper. This would have cost the government nothing and would have gone a long way, in my opinion, towards defusing the situation early on and avoiding the current crisis.
Like Horatio, I’m more of an antique Roman than a Dane. But I have no idea what I could say to any Arab ambassador that would “defuse” a hundred thousand seething Muslims. What is the ambassador supposed to do, push a button and remotely detonate them? Scorponic obviously has no notion of how such a discussion is supposed to proceed, let alone how it would magically dispel the situation.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that all or even most fault lies on the Danish side. It doesn't. What this episode has revealed, yet again, is the irrationality and hatred at the heart of hard-core Islamic extremism. But is that a lesson any of us has not learned by this point?
Wow. Who says you can’t learn anything from trolling LGF?
So, for me, this is not so much an issue about "freedom of expression," properly understood, which has never been in doubt, but about what responsibilities people have -- in terms of mutual respect, civility, sensitivity, etc. -- when exercising their rights of free expression. Responsibilities that come, not from legal compulsion, but from the values built into the notion of a democratic, culturally diverse society.
Toto and I must have woken up in a rubble heap in Oz this morning, because suddenly I’m hearing a lecture about artistic civility from the Lollypop League. A lecture which appeals to responsibility and shared values! Ani DeFranco, are you getting a load of this?

UPDATE: Jeff Goldstein has a lot of stuff on the double standard applied to the left's favorite religion; sisu reports on signs of backlash in Britain. Meryl Yourish thinks the Danish cartoonists have done civilization a huge favor. Roger Simon: "We could be in the critical moment when big changes begin to occur in the Old Country." Andrew Sullivan: "One option European countries might want to pursue: all immigrants should be required to sign a declaration supporting the right of free speech, even blasphemous speech, as a condition of entering the West. Why not?"

UPDATE: Charles points out the incredibly clueless Steve Gilliard, who gives us his version of the "Might Makes Right" theory of Free Speech:

They had every right to do what they wanted. It's a guaranteed right. But the reason you can't yell fire in a crowded theater is because people could die. The same applies here. If you mock or degrade Muhammad, Muslims will feel highly offended. Is it right to riot? Of course not, but when you hand a tool to Islamic radicals, they will, of course, use it.

Gilliard has the same fuzzy approach to free speech that the first Kos poster (above) does. It's a guaranteed right, he says. Then he equates it with yelling-fire-in-a-theater, which is of course NOT a right. Frankly, Gilliard couldn't care less. All he knows is that this is shaping up to be a political disaster for the fellow travelers of Islamic fascism, and he's not going to go down without a whine.

Does Gilliard really believe that civil liberty has to surrender to anybody who threatens it with violence? Probably not. I don't think he would be so understanding if the Ku Klux Klan burned down an "offensive" black church in Alabama. The fact is, Gilliard and his ilk are so confused by multiculturalism and pseudo-Marxist tripe about colonialism that they can't think straight anymore.

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