Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Violence Against Innocent Danes and Norwegians

A Syrian mob stormed and burned both the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus there is no mention yet of whether any Danes or Norwegians were killed or injured. Given that the mob outside the now destroyed Danish embassy sat there at the sufference of the Syrian dictatorship, one is inclined to attribute some measure of responsibility to the Syrian state. I suspect the Syrian authorities incited the attack on the Danish embassy but tried to step and stop the subsequent attack on Norway's embassy - unsuccesfully.

The position put forward here by US West and Bob and mentioned in some comments on the Daily Kos website (the majority of those comments support the Danes!) is tantamount to giving the most radical and violent factions in the Middle East a de facto veto over the exercise of speech World Wide!

Furthermore, as to whether this is Danish provocation or Arab radicals looking for an excuse to pick a fight: Do we really think this is the first time a Western news source has published anything this offensive to Muslims or Arabs? I found this excellent website presenting depictions of Mohammed in both Muslim and Western art over the centuries. This shows that is far from universally held among the Muslims that depicting Mohammed is absolutely banned. Also some of these works depict far more offensive scenes than anything in the Danish satirical cartoons (especially the medieval Christian stuff but also some more recent things). What's more some of these have been presented recently (within the last few years) and in more high profile media (the "South Park" TV show). But no reaction. Why not? Because this time Arab leaders CHOSE to make this is a big issue for their own reasons.

Danes cannot be expected to anticipate when and how Muslim mullah-politicians will decide to incite violence over these things. Nor should they be accused of lacking "common sense" by those who would sell our rights so cheaply and easily!


Anonymous said...

It's not just Danes who should be dealing with this. Everyone who values freedom of speech and of the press should be concerned.
I am SICK of the hypocrisy and violence that appears to permeate so much of the Islamic world. When videos of innocent people getting their heads sliced off with a knife have no significant reaction while editorial cartoons cause all hell to break loose, I'm sorry but that is bullsh!t.
Islamic countries heap contempt upon the West routinely in their schools and media and I'm fed up with it. I value our freedoms and way of life and I'll be damned if I'm going to back down in the face of this brutish, shrieking mob. I hope Denmark and the other countries involved dig in and refuse to compromise (and shame on the Bush administration for not standing up for freedom of the press on this issue... no suprise there as I guess a fundy is a fundy is a fundy).
If the militants want to get violent about it and decide to take that violence outside of their own countries, I hope they get smacked down hard and taught a lesson about OUR values. Bastards. 

// posted by ...Tim?

Anonymous said...

What possible compromise is there anyway? These protestors (from what I understand) want government censorship of the newspaper. That is a completely black and white issue. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

I think their demands go far beyond government censorship. The most radical elements want to use this provoke the Islamic version of Bush's perpetual state of war - and for much the same reason! As Tim points out, a fundy is a fundy. They both use religious extemism to distract people from the fact that their leaders are corrupt and incompotent.

I just read that the Danish Embassy in Beirut has been assulted and burned by a Hezbullah mob.

It is worth noting that according to international law Embassies are sovereign territory and protecting their security is the host country's obligation. So far these mobs (incited often by the state authorities) have destroyed the Danish embassies in two countries (Syrian and Lebanon) and the Norwegian, Swedish and Chilean Embassies in Syria. The Swedish and Chilean Embassies had the misfortune of being in the same building complex as the Danish one when it was burned.

I can't believe that there are otherwise progressive people who are so besotted with PC'ism that they would take the role of apologist for these mobs. Bush I can understand - he wants to reserve the right of Christian fundies to censor the American media through threats of violence and protest. But why would American (and to a lesser extent European) progressives say that the newspapers in Denmark and the rest of Europe bare any significant responsibility for this!? Are Arabs to be considered so incapable of self control that they are absolved of responsibility for their own actions? Are we so used to political violence in the Middle East that we assume it simply happens without the intervention of individual decision-making?

I have no hope that this gets worse either through increased Arab/Islamic radical violence or through European reactions. My only hope is the restoration of order without the sacrifice of vital freedoms in Denmark or any other country.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Another note about the role that Arab/Muslim radical opportunism plays in this: To my knowledge there has been no violence among the Muslims in the country that has the largest Muslim population on Earth - India. Perhaps Dileep can confirm or refute this? If true, it is worth noting that India is a democracy with a free press (by world standards).  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

RBR writes: "The position put forward here by US West and Bob and mentioned in some comments on the Daily Kos website (the majority of those comments support the Danes!) is tantamount to giving the most radical and violent factions in the Middle East a de facto veto over the exercise of speech World Wide!"

Well, that twists my position totally. I think those who bother to go back and read my posts will see that. So I won't bother to repeat myself yet again. And I find some of the rhetoric in these discssions a bit over-dramatic as well. Point at someone else and 3 fingers are pointing back at you.

As for the violence- as I said yesterday, completely unacceptable and over the top. If Muslims or Arabs had wanted to protest in the streets, that would have been fine. But it has now reached a new level that is well beyond that which is called for. I am for moderation and reason all around. Noticed I discussed "mutual respect", co-existence, etc.

He who yells the loudest gets the most attention. And those who yell the loudest are usually the most unreasonable. I agree that fundamentalists are opportunists. That is usually the case. But I am wondering about the majority of average Muslims and Arabs that aren't out in the streets burning embassies.

But no one should be surprised. You could have predicted that things would get ugly. I won't have predicted that Arab governments would have gotten so involved, however, I would have expected violence in the streets of Europe. Nothing happens in a vacuum. 9/11 didn't happen in a vacuum and I remember having similar conversations to this one at that time.

And Tim, I would point out that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in our world. What I like about the discussion over this issue over the last few days on the blog is that we have been examining our own values and discussing the place those values have in the "new" world order. I am less interested at the moment on what the events over the last few days say about Arabs. I am interested in what the choices we have made in this situation say about us.


// posted by USwest

Anonymous said...

I do not agree that I have twisted your argument at all US West.

You contend that responsibility for this problem rests largely with the failure by European newspapers to self-censor. You claim that such self-censorship is justified on the basis of mutual cultural respect.

So in your opinion things would have been better if the Danish paper had stopped and said to itself, "Upon careful consideration, this might offend some dictators and fringe radical types. If we piss them off too much they might start killing people and destroying embassies etc, so we better not publish this."

That is giving the dictators et al a de facto veto over Danish freedom of expression. They can effictively censor the Danish press by sending clear signals that they'll go ape-shit if XYZ gets printed. I contend that I have not twisted your argument at all.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

This quote  posted on the Andrew Sullivan website is great! 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Excuse me RBR. I saw, "I can't believe that there are otherwise progressive people who are so besotted with PC'ism that they would take the role of apologist for these mobs." and thought Bob and I were being called apologists for violence, which we aren't. Nor are we apologists for radicalism. Nor do I think people who make our argument are "besotted with PC'ism".

You sum things up fairly accurately, although implicit in your statement is that calling for moderation in the form of self-censorship is the same thing as supporting terrorists. Gee, where have we heard that argument before? Next I fear my patriotism will be questioned.

The main concern you raise is valid . How do I know whom I will offend next and how seriously? Then you get into the whole PC thing. But I don't want to downgrade the current situation to a "PC thing". It seems to me that there has to be some sort thought process behind the decision to publish something. Maybe something like, "What is my intent? Am I aware that I may deeply offend someone? Does it matter?" In my estimation, it does, especially when you know damn well that it won't only be you and the offended party who will be affected. In this case, it is the entire globe, including the innocent bystanders. If we were in the year 2000, then maybe I wouldn't mind so much. But we aren't. We have a different situation here. Since no one else is uncomfortable using "Rovian" arguments, I shall as well, "We have a war of terror goin' on. I mean a war on terror, he he. Gotta a Kola-ishon that's fightin'. Gotta accept some inconveniences, if you know what I mean, he he."

The Danish papers weren't as innocent as one makes them out to be. They went out of their way to insult Muslims and they succeeded. They couldn't have known, as RBR points out, exactly what their decision would lead to. I am certain that they couldn't have foreseen the level of violence that their choices have unleashed. But was some pretty negative reaction foreseeable by any reasonable person? Yes.

I have to agree with the Kos piece when it states that if the decision to publish was not wrong (and in my personal opinion it was), then the decisions taken by the paper after that were. To its credit, assuming that the paper had access to them, it appears that even the Danish paper chose not to publish the most egregious of the cartoons. Here is a good summary from Der Speigel . So apparently, the paper already self-censored, already accepted certain limits. It was aware of some potential fallout and it already had a pretty good notion of what red line it was crossing. If Der Speigel is telling the story straight, and I have no reason to doubt that, then the Denmark-based Muslims attempted to protest in all the acceptable ways and were ignored. They wrote letters to the editor that the paper refused to publish. Why exercise your free speech rights to insult a group of people and then refuse to allow the offended group to exercise their free speech rights to publish an opinion on what your have done? This makes me seriously question the motivation of the paper to begin with. If your goal is to make some statement about free speech rights, then why not carry it out to its logical conclusion and let the Muslims publish their response in your paper? Furthermore, in my type of democracy, we allow minorities to have a voice and a platform from which to speak. We protect minorities. So Tim, I am unmoved by the idea that only 4% (200K) of Denmark's population was offended and that 4% had an obligation to put up or shut up. so it seems that you would hold certain unalienable rights above others.

The underlying complaint against Arab Muslims here is that they don't acculturate to their adopted countries, yet it seems they tried to do the "acceptable" thing and had the door shut in their faces. I am not sure how Danes view their media outlets, and perhaps I am old fashioned, but the media has an important role to play in civil society and as a forum for discussion (like this blog) and in this case, it seems the media failed in its responsibility.

That said, I don't agree with the choices that the Muslims in Denmark made to go complain to Muslims in the Middle East. And it appears that RBR's contention that they went looking for trouble is partially correct. I don't agree with Arab governments that stand by and let mobs burn embassies. I don't agree with those governments that seem beholden to fundamentalists. I don't agree with those Arab governments that call on Europeans to censor their press.

It appears from the Der Speigel article that European papers had a similar discussion as we are having here. They made a different choice than I would have. But they too grappled with the same issues- at what point has a line been crossed and what obligation do we have in a case like this?

As Dr. Strangelove pointed out, I will defend your right to say what you like, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with your opinion, your method of expression, or your choice to state it.  

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

There is no inalienable right to be free from offense.

There is however an inalienable right to free expression - including forms of expression that might be offensive.

As LTG has repeated said: the proper response to offensive speech is more speech - not censorship.

And let us be clear on another point. This is NOT a question of "self censorship." There is no such thing. What US West and others are advocating is that Western editors anticipate the violent reactions of radicals in the Middle East (who are somehow regarded as a kind of "equal and opposite" reaction along the lines of a natural force devoid of individual reason or consideration). If it is reasonably determined that a sufficiently backward and violent group would object, then the western editors should refrain from expressing themselves.

This is NOT self-censorship. This is plain old ordinary censorship by the radicals of the right to free expression of editors in another country writing in another language in their own land, according to their own laws and in accordance with their own costums and practices. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

"As Dr. Strangelove pointed out, I will defend your right to say what you like, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with your opinion, your method of expression, or your choice to state it."

Much as I appreciate the shout-out, I think USWest is referring to a comment by Bob on the earlier blog. The point I made was much more apropos of this comment of USWest:

"The Danish papers weren't as innocent as one makes them out to be. They went out of their way to insult Muslims and they succeeded."

Anonymous said...

I'm gratified to see that the American government has reversed its previous position regarding Denmark in this context. Prior to the gross violations of Danish sovereignty by armed mobs in Syria, Lebanon and Iran the US position was critical of Denmark. That position has now changed. The United States now supports it's ally Denmark. The UK, EU, and NATO have all made similar statements.

US West says I have been making alarmingly "Rovian" arguments. However Bush's position was originally far closer to US West's than my own. I'll suggest the reason. Bush wants to reserve for his own fundamentalist constituency the right to threaten and intimidate people into "self-censoring."


// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Look, I just saw this and had to point out the insanity of this: People are protesting with the phrase "Hang the man who insulted the prophet." This chant emphatically underscores what this conflict is about. One culture, a medievalist theocratic culture, believes it is appropriate to hang people for what they say or draw. Hang. Kill. End the life of a person for the drawing they do that offends you. In this century, we have to be able to say that's outrageous and insane.

True, it took the United States till the 1960's to end the lynching of black men for looking at white women. Or just for sport. But we've fought for the gains that have come since then, incremental as they are and begrudging as the right in this country has been to their concession. Still, we have come some distance from that. It would be unconscionable to tolerate this kind of nonsense from rabid fundamentalist Muslims. I want to state again that I don't feel all Muslims are like this, but those who are setting fire to embassies and rioting should really ask themselves "why am I doing this?"

// posted by Dileep

Dr. Strangelove said...

RxR: neither USWest nor anyone else has apologized for or excused the violence perpetrated by muslim mobs against Denmark and its citizens. What they have explained (and I agree) is that, while such a reaction was certainly larger than one would have expected on average, it was still a forseeable risk. (For instance, consider the reaction to Salman Rushdie). USWest points out the Danish paper also did itself no favors by refusing to publish objections by Danish muslims (although I don't believe she means to suggest such additional publications would have averted the reaction of the muslim world.) Finally, for the Danish paper to maintain it did nothing wrong is disingenuous since they were being deliberately provocative and offensive.

All that being said, the reaction by the muslim world has been so disgusting (most notably the failure to condemn those who killed or call for more killing!) that it overrides all previous concerns. In fact, it vindicates the Danish newspaper; they published the cartoons to poke at muslim cultural hypocrisy (i.e., that a cartoon could upset them when "suicide" bombers do not) and muslim nations have now put that hypocrisy on display for all the world to see.

Whatever chance muslim nations had to get an apology before--forget it. I will not blame the victims. Until arab governments soundly condemn the violence and protect the embassies and citizens of Denmark, I have no sympathy for them. They are just plain wrong. The issue is no longer an intellectual question of editorial discretion, but a real-world question of violence. There is a time to be understanding. And then sometimes you just have to take sides. Gud Bevare Danmark.

Anonymous said...

I think a core element of this entire debate is whether it is possible to have a right to free speech if we then impose a social norm that certain topics and statements are off limits? Of course western democracies all have libel laws and laws against incitement to riot etc. But these cartoons violate neither. What is being suggested here is that we impose standards of taste over and above the widely accepted legal limits on speech.

I think another issue is the definition of "wrong" or liability. I strongly insist that the editors of Jyllands-Posten did nothing "wrong." If I had been an editor of this paper I would probably have insisted that the cartoons be more ecumenical in their ridicule (why should Christians get a free pass, for example?). However, I have to say that being provocative and even insulting is a right plain and simple.

I'll go further. The Iranian paper that is responding to this by holding a contest for cartoons depicting the extermination of Jews is doing exactly what the reaction should have been all along. Oppose cartoons with cartoons. Oppose insult with insult (if not patience) but not violence. I'd say this Iranian paper's editors may finally be getting the point!

I'll conclue by suggesting that to a great extent here blame in this matter is zero-sum. To the extent we assign liability to the victim we absolve the criminal.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

You've probably seen this , but if not, then you might want to consider it.

I admire the people here who have forged ahead and sought to clarify and correct and continue, when I frankly didn't see any opportunity for dialogue arising.

Let me mention one common motif that has recurred through this conversation: generalization. At one point in the previous thread, RbR referred to Arabs being outraged at activity that occurs "beyond their borders". Dr. Strangelove refers to "the reaction by the Muslim world".

These generalizations, localizing Muslims geographically or politically, are in fact part of the argument: I _think_ USWest's position has been strongly influenced by the vision of a global community, which these statements implicitly deny. (Of course, you can consider that globalism as another generalization.)

A generalization on a different level is equating my position with USWest's, and both of them with "giving the most radical and violent factions in the Middle East a de facto veto over the exercise of speech World Wide!"

And lastly, I'd like to respond to RbR's theory of blame:
"I'll conclue by suggesting that to a great extent here blame in this matter is zero-sum. To the extent we assign liability to the victim we absolve the criminal.  "

This generalizes where others are assigning `liability' (quoted because I think of it as a legal term, rather than words like `responsibility', which USWest used). The clear victims to me are the Danes and others who've been subject to attack and arson by violent mobs. I don't think USWest or I or anyone in this forum has contemplated assigning any liability, or responsibility, to them at all.  

// posted by Bob

Anonymous said...

I was taken with Dr. S's phrase "forseeable risk." Take a good look at the cartoons and the forum of their publication (sort of the equivalent of the Sacramento Bee) and ask yourself if international uproar was really predictable. Isn't this just an attempt by fundamentalist Muslims to cow Western nations into backing off on Iran?

But I have used that phrase "forseeable risk" in dealing with domestic fundamentalist extremists - the Fundamentalist Christians who threatened the professor in Kansas (I think) over his biology class. We had a blog discussion about that. I think that professor was trying to provoke a reaction. So I judge him more hashly than the Danes, although the same fact remains: the reaction, however predictable, is 100% unexcusable.  

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

Bob is right that I was generalizing when I spoke of the "Muslim world" as a unified group, disjoint from the West. The situation is much more complicated in reality. (Oh, and LTG: I have seen the cartoons--I assume we all have by now.) Here's a quick look at the world's reactions.

To date, peaceful protests have occurred in New Zealand, Turkey, India, Thailand, Qatar, and Indonesia. Violence and arson have accompanied some of the protests in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, Iran, Afghanistan, and Somalia. At least one counter-protest--calling for peace and unity--has occurred in Lebanon. Boycotts of Danish products and other economic measures have been undertaken by Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, and several gulf states.

The Arab intelligensia is certainly not of a single minde either. An editorial in Egypt's primary newspaper, Al Ahram, makes a fascinating point. "Arab League missions in Denmark and across Europe united in one of the most coordinated campaigns organised by Arabs since the 1973 War... [but] while one must commend such a unified Arab and Muslim stance--hoping that it would remain confined to legitimate forms of protest--one cannot help but wonder: where was such collectiveness when it was needed the most? ...if Arabs can be so efficient in organising such popular (and effective) campaigns that utilise economic, political and diplomatic leverage to extract concessions, then why the utter failure to carry out such campaigns protesting against the US war on Iraq [?] Israeli products are penetrating Arab markets from Morocco to Qatar in the most blatant of ways, despite the fact that Israel occupies land belonging to three Arab nations... And how belligerent could the Danish media be if compared to its counterparts in the United States and Britain? Nonetheless, is there one Arab household that lacks access to CNN, HBO and Fox?"

At the same time, a scholar at Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy called the boycotts a religious duty and said bluntly, "Now other nations will think twice before defaming Islam."

Meanwhile, yet another Islamic scholar, Abdel-Sabour Shahine (I am quoting another Al-Ahram article here) said, "Muslims might have miscalculated the manner in which they handled the crisis...The Qur'an ordains Muslims to engage in peaceful dialogue and use a more logical approach with those of different creeds. After all, we'd rather have the Danes apologising out of conviction, rather than because they feel threatened."

An editorial in the Lebanese paper The Daily Star calls the embassy burnings, "the political equivalent of football hooliganism in Europe - a small minority of unruly criminal thugs that preys on the legitimate sentiments of otherwise peaceful crowds that take to the streets in orderly if lively protests." The paper goes on to say, "It would be a huge mistake to focus mainly on the few violent political skinheads, and to ignore the meaning of the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of protestors who marched in earnest and in an orderly way."

The editorial says directly (pertinent to this blog!) "It is too simplistic and easy to categorize this as a clash of civilizations, a very Western perspective that explains political tensions primarily through the lens of cultural and values differences... It is about Arab-Islamic societies' desire to enjoy freedom from Western and Israeli subjugation, diplomatic double-standards and predatory neo-colonial policies."

The opinion piece concludes with the observation that, "Editorial cartoons by nature send a message by symbolizing much larger political and social issues. Similarly, the current protests by many Muslims should be understood as reflecting much deeper concerns than solely the insulting, blasphemous cartoons in a Danish newspaper."

Food for thought.

Anonymous said...

How are references to "foreseeable risk" and "responsibility" in the context of restraining one's right to free expression, NOT a reference to liability on the part of the Danish editors?

Also, Bob points to the invalidity of sweeping generalizations about Arabs or Muslims as a group. I agree. I have tried to be careful to distinguish between radicals and political opportunists and the rest of the ethnic/religious group. At times I have inadvertantly slipped into using generalization-speak but it is only inadvertant and only a case of "shorthand" not an attempt to argue that all Arabs think this or that.

Indeed, I posted a link to various works of art in Muslim art that depict Mohomed's face in full because I wanted to point out that taking such great offense at these cartoons is not a universal feature of Islam.

LTG: The professor in Kansas was not just threatened, he was run off the road and beaten by Christian fundamentalist thugs who made specific reference to his course as they beat him badly enough to warrant hospitalization. I defended him then just as I defend the Danish (and other European) editors now.

Then (as now) I percieved a strong tendency to make a kind of "she got raped because of the short skirt" argument. This tendency to say "Well, I don't condone violence BUT that was pretty provocative so he's got to expect it" is bizarre. Why do people feel the need to keep talking after "I don't condone violence?" There should be no ifs ands or buts about it. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of the old Saturday Night Live bit of the scawny white guy who goes to downtown Detroit and shouts 'N------!" then tries to run away as fast as he can. Provocation is and always has been a mitigating factor. The danish cartoons were not provocative in this way. I am also reminded of Ariel Sharon going up the temple mount in Fall 2000, knowing (hoping) it would start Palestinian riots, which it did. 

// posted by LTG