Saturday, February 04, 2006

Liberals and the "cartoon jihad"

Georgia10 over at the Daily Kos has an oddly neutral post about the “cartoon jihad” as Der Spiegel is calling the whole conflagration. Though titled, “The Art of Free Speech”, she only lukewarmly takes the side of the liberal artists against the violent fundamentalists. She seems to equate this scandal to NBC’s canceling of “The Book of Daniel” and other religious protests in America. She neglects to point out that in America, the scandal was not about whether any particular people have a right to publish such things (as is the case of the cartoon jihad), but rather whether or not the government should fund anti-religious art (in the case of the Virgin Mary covered in dung) or whether or not a commercial television station could air a show that many of its viewers found objectionable (in the case of “The Book of Daniel” and “Nothing Sacred”). No one has challenged the right of NBC to produce these shows. (Though I do believe the latter example is disturbing for numerous reasons.)

Georgia10 concludes her piece:
“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.”



What liberalism?

This is, I believe, an astounding conclusion to come to for a liberal. How can a liberal so easily abandon free speech?! What does liberalism stand for if Georgia10—as a prominent liberal on a prominently liberal site—cannot say: We believe in free speech. I would bet that she opposed the attempts of Christians in the case of “The Book of Daniel” and to withdraw all public funding from the dung Virgin. The Daily Kos is a sanctuary for the most vile anti-religious bigotry, virtually all of it anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. There are many users who are not bigots in this way, a large majority are not—but those who are bigots are given a wide latitude in expressing their contempt for God, Jesus, religion, Christianity, evangelicals, etc.

To me, this awkward stance by a quality commentator such as Georgia10 indicates the extent to which liberalism has lost its way. Tolerance has come to mean a hatred of the opinions of majority; multiculturalism, an embrace and defense of the bigotry of other cultures; liberalism to mean a hatred of one’s self. (I simplify in my annoyance.)

Liberalism is not yet the caricature that Ann Coulter and other morons of the right portray it as—an ideology that favors anarchy, totalitarianism, and anything that opposes tradition and America. But I am distraught (can you tell?) when I see such hand-wringing over whether or not to oppose a religious group that threatens violence when a person exercises their right to free speech in a free society. We live in a free society—that means any cartoonist can lampoon whomever they wish; and any religious figure may condemn the cartoonist. These Muslims who are so angry over these caricatures do not share the values of the West—the values of a free society. The question is not—as Georgia10 put it, whether restrictions should be placed on artists because of religious sensitivities. The answer to that for any conservative, or especially any liberal, is clear: No. Christopher Hitchens has as much right to mock the Pope and Mother Teresa as some jerk-off in New York has to mold the Virgin Mary out of shit; and cartoonists in Denmark have just as much right to draw Muhammad with a bomb as his turban; and Muslims in Denmark have a right to protest and be angry and demand apologies. But all of this only makes sense if the Muslims living in this free society share the value that our society places on free public discourse. And from the actions and words of many of these Muslims, they do not--threatening violence, demanding the government apologize, trying to prohibit similarly blasphemous art.

The question that Georgia10 should be asking is not the one she poses, but rather, whether and how a free society can allow a minority to exist in its midst that shares so few of its public values. How can a free society value free speech if a group denies the right of any speech that offends them? How can a free society value tolerance if a group denies its obligation to tolerate anything that offends them? These are the questions liberals should be struggling with—not half-baked questions about what free speech is, and how much of it we should give up.

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