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."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Muslim Youth in Denmark Protest Against Democracy

With all the fuss in the US about the primaries (and the latest mentally ill guy to go on a killing spree), there has been little attention to what is going on in Europe. See the BBC story here.

A few days ago, Danish authorities believed they uncovered a serious plot to assasinate one of the cartooonists who drew cartoons depicting Muhamed in various satirical poses. The authorities apparently did not have a very good case built up when they made the arrests. One of the suspects (a Danish citizen of Morrocan decent) was released the next day for "lack of evidence." Two other men, both Tunisian citizens, are to be held until they are deported but not put on trial.

In solidarity with the intended victim, several newpapers in Denmark reprinted the cartoon he had done (it's the one with Muhamed wearing a turban that has a bomb in it). Hundreds of youth in the Danish Muslim community responded to this slight with a nation wide wave of violence and arson. Marching through the streets chanting "Free Speach is like a plague!" they turned over cars and threw rocks at police. The latest development is that several schools have been set on fire.

I'll say it now. Free speech is NOT a plague but people who oppose it are. The supposedly more moderate leaders of the community are blaming the victims. It seems that it is the Danish media - not the violent protestors - who misunderstand what is going on. The Danish media thinks this about a simple case of free speech - and they are correct. The radical elements in the Muslim youth think it is about respect for Islam. Well, it might not have started out that way but with every school they burn down, it gets more and more like that for me.

Democracies have a right - no - an obligation to defend themselves against these kinds of threats. I hope that Danish authorities use every legal means at their disposal to crack down on these riots. If the Muslim immigrants insist on imposing anti-democratic standards on their host country, they must lose that argument.

The Danish far right used to have a slogan, "Danmark for Danskerne" (Denmark for the Danes). That would be a mistake. But it is perfectly legitimate for a democratic Denmark to insist that those people who voluntarily come to seek a better life, conform to the laws and standards that made that life so much better in Denmark in the first place. Danes are under no obligation what so ever to start limiting their own liberties to accomodate the medeival attitudes of people who claim to be interested in a better life.

If such people think that "respect for Islam" is the paramount criteria for their lives there are many countries which can accomodate that desire...unfortunately such countries are not very pleasant places to live - precisely because of their backward and wrong headed ideas about religion and liberty. So these "radical" troublemakers stay in Denmark and destroy things periodically rather than actually putting "their money where their mouth" is so to speak and moving to Saudi Arabi or some other totalitarian state in the Middle East where no one will ever make fun of Mohamed.


Bob said...

Things I agree with RbR about:

Rioting, violence and arson are not acceptable responses to -- well, to much of anything. CERTAINLY not to a cartoon that offends you, but also not to deportations without trials or arrests made without solid evidence. Like RbR says, the authorities should "use every legal means at their disposal" to restrain the violence and punish the lawbreakers.

Of course, assuming that the assassination plot was credible, the authorities were right to prevent that also. It's regrettable that there apparently wasn't enough evidence, because it is perhaps the most important function of government to protect the right of its citizens to express whatever they want without fear, and prosecuting the would-be assassins (if such they were) would eloquently express that critical function.


It seems to me that the difference between RbR and myself (and this goes back to whole original cartoon controversy) is this.

He sees the conflict between free speech and insult to someone's religion and, because the principle of free speech trumps all, decides that whoever's spouting the speech is unqualifiedly right and whoever's insulted is unqualifiedly wrong. Thus, "The Danish media thinks this about a simple case of free speech - and they are correct."

I see the conflict between free speech and insult to someone's religion and, while not questioning that the principle of free speech is paramount, my mind is filled with other questions instead: "Why are these people insulted? Would I be insulted? While I (to paraphrase somebody) would defend someone's _right_ to say these things or draw this cartoon, do I nevertheless disaagree with what the speaker/cartoonist is saying? Perhaps most importantly, why are these offended people taking it out on free speech, which I personally think is awesome?"

Which is why asserting this is just "a simple case of free speech" seems like only part of the story to me. The speech is _about_ something. If it wasn't about something that people cared about, it wouldn't need protecting. The "radical elements in the Muslim youth" are no less correct in thinking the issue is about respect for Islam, _as well as_ being about free speech.

So, to get to that last question I asked, why are people chanting "Free Speech is like a plague!"? I'm obviously conjecturing, but I think we can guess deeper reasons rather than dismissing their "medieval attitudes".

The striking feature of this controversy is that the right to free speech is being asserted by the dominant culture, and the offense is taken by the less-empowered immigrant population. And I can't help but try to imagine how this "Free Speech" thing must look to them.

Now, _I_ love free speech because it means I can speak truth to power. I can tell the world there's no God or sing about suicide or announce that the President is a liar or pretend to be a one-legged dwarf or wear a Mohawk and see and hear even more subversive ideas from others and there's nothing the Man can do about it.

But suppose I move to a new country and read in all the papers about how my people were out to steal "their" jobs and how the ideas I love make me irrational and probably dangerous and a newspaper holds a contest for which cartoonist can degrade my hero the most. And I protest and say "You can't do this!" and I'm told "Yes we can" and I say "but it is wrong of you to do this!" and I'm told "No, I have every right to do this, and it's wrong of you to try to stop me" and I complain to the cops and the cops say "No no, this is the highest virtue of our land, that these good people can insult you as much as they want and you can't do anything about it."

Now this "free speech" principle seems less fun. If I weren't ingrained with the importance of free speech already, I might not think the benefits outweighed the negatives.

Being (in real life) a big free speech fan, I feel the need to point out that my problem in this hypothetical scenario isn't with free speech per se, but rather with the intolerant things people are _saying_ with their free speech. It's not "Free Speech is like a plague!" but "the vitriol you're spewing is like a plague!" But I can see how a disenfranchised immigrant might see Free Speech as a tool for his/her continued oppression, rather than a tool for their own empowerment.

I used to think this didn't need repeating, but just because I can imagine a certain point of view, and think that understanding where that point of view might come from could be useful, does NOT mean that I think all the Muslims are right and all the newspapers are wrong and that religion is more important than freedom.

The Law Talking Guy said...

My patience with these Muslim protestors wears very, very thin. Yes, I get the whole idea that they feel alienated by Danish society. Blah blah blah. All my liberal bleeding heart sympathy gets taken advantage of in this way, and there are limits. Yes, there are grievances that muslims face in Denmark. That is no excuse for this behavior. Values such as free speech are crucial to democratic societies, and must not be subject to blackmail or "cultural sensitivity."

The worst part of all this is the resentment that a card-carrying ACLU member like me can feel welling up against these protestors. Near my neighborhood in LA, there is a proposal to ban parking on a major street (Pico) during rush hour because the traffic has become so bad that it can take 45 minutes to go 10 blocks. No shit. It so happens that the orthodox Jewish community has many businesses on a small segment of that street. One called into the radio program and bellowed that this was all "giving the finger" to the orthodox, and that Jack Weiss - the city councilman helping this along was "not a religious Jew" so he didn't understand (note: Weiss is religious - he's just not Orthodox). My initial reaction upon hearing this (I used to live in this neighborhood and deal with this attitude all the time) was "Just bulldoze Pico ten lanes wide then. Fuck this shit."

When minority groups turn intolerant and demand that the majority tolerate their intolerance, it is not likely to end well.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think it is very telling indeed that the protesters aren't chanting against wrongful arrest or deportation witout trial.

Instead, the rallying cry is "Free speech is like a plague." This is a clear reference to what should have been a side show in this - the republishing of the cartoon in connection with the story about the alleged plot to murder the man who drew it.

I agree with LTG, obviously, when we extend tolerance to those who clear do not tolerate others, we are making a fools bargain.

It's the bargain Weimar Germany made with the NAZI's. It's the bargain the Archbishop of Cantabury would make in England when he talks of incorporating Sharia law into British legal codes. It would be a tragedy for Eruope if this trend continues.

It's one thing to let NAZIs march in Skokie. It's quite another to let the NAZIs veto certain content in the local papers.

Raised By Republicans said...

PS: Jehova Jehova Jehova!

USWest said...

One thing that struck me when I hear this story reported on NPR over the course of the week was how the Danes chose to react. I think their choice to re-publish says some interesting things about their own methods of resistance. As in the first round, they wanted to be provocative and they got a reaction- unacceptable as it may be. As I said the first time around, I can't imagine the mainstream press in the United States even dipping their toe into such a situation.

I am still a bit confused as to why the newspapers felt the need to hold a competition and to publish the cartoons in the first place. I very much opposed that at the time in part because I think the move at the time was more about anti-immigration than about free speech. This time, I don't oppose their choice to republish because I think it is more about free speech. I may not like what you say, but that doesn't mean I can kill you for saying it.

I have to agree with LTG. My tolerance for intolerance is running thin. I said that when they rioted in France. To be rudely frank, you came from a fucked up place and you want to turn a non-fucked up place into exactly what you left. As RBR points out, if where you came from was so great that you want to rebuild it in the new place, why did you leave? Well, this is the difference between economic immigration and political immigration. Political immigration accepts the new society. Economic immigration does not. The motivation to integrate is not the same.

But I'd like to offer something more to this conversation. The other night I was watching the PBS documentary on the Medici. It was the first time that this complicated family that brought us the renaissance despite the opposition of the Catholic Church made sense to me. Their patronage of the arts uplifed humanity- showing man that he too was a creator of beautiful things and on par with God. Art as propaganda provided a platform to exercise free expression while allowing man to mediate on his own place in the universe. That changed the entire dynamic of Christanity. This threatened the power of the Catholic Church and led to the inquisition. I see in this history a mirror of what we see in Islam today.

Creation is severly limited in the Muslim world. Painting is limited to calligraphy rather than human figures. This is a serious suppression that prevents man from seeing himself properly- as an individual rather than purely a subject.

Many of the secular Muslims with whom I associate lament that Islam has failed to modernize and that it has in fact held all of those nations where it dominates hostage. They look at the Christians who live across the Middle East and they see well adjusted, well educated people and they confronted with that they can only deduce that the problem lay in Islam.

We in America do not realize our good fortune that until now, many of our Arab immigrants have been Christian. Europe does not have this luxury.

We as human beings have the potential to be all things- both good and bad, rich and poor. The West did not close up and stifle creation. We nearly did in the Dark Ages but we found our way back thanks to Martin Luther. Were it not for Martin Luther and the rise of a more LIBERAL Protestant faith, we might be saying the same things about Catholicism today that we say about Islam. We were fortunate that a more liberal minded version of Christianity challenged the conservatism of the Roman Church. Of course, Protestantism itself eventually developed conservative ranks. But by that time, the genie was out of the bottle.

When Islam experienced its schism, it was an argument over who could be the more conservative. And the adherents to that faith have been locked in the prison that tribal warfare and Islam built ever since.

These poor sops, from lands where hardly any books are published or read by the common people, who burn schools in Denmark, and riot in Paris have no real idea what they do.

Raised By Republicans said...

Interesting points US West.

I think the riots in Paris and the riots in Denmark are different in one main respect. In Paris it was clear that the riot was in reaction to incidents of police abuse. In Denmark the riots are more of a mass version of the Theo Van Gogh murder. They are a direct reaction to the newspapers reprinting the cartoon as part of their coverage of the murder plot.

I guess I'm saying I see the riots in Paris as more akin to any number of urban riots by the poor and/or racially discriminated against. But the riots in Denmark have a more explicitly culture-war aspect to them.

And then there is this thought that occurred to me today. Denmark is currently facing a far more serious problem than we faced with 9/11. 9/11 was an isolated attack (as bad as it obviously was) carried out by people from outside our society. The riots in Denmark are coming from within their society but are motivated by a similar hostility to Western society.

Imagine if large segments of a minority group in the US population that amounted to about 10% of the population was overtly sympathizing with the 9/11 attackers? We would flip out!

Raised By Republicans said...

OK, the latest reports are saying that 10 schools (five in Copenhagen alone) have been set on fire in the last few days.

Why schools? Why not the police stations? Answer: when they say they are pissed about free speech, they're serious. They're not demanding more liberty, they're trying to take it away from everyone.

These are sad sad days for a country long used to happiness, prosperity and liberty.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The sad part is that the riots were, in part, the result of misguided liberal policies in Denmark that were so tolerant of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" that they forgot to insist on the universality of a few basic values. Liberals often run this risk. I call it the "Star Trek" problem. For those who watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, you may remember that Starfleet's "Prime Directive" was not to interfere with other cultures they found, no matter how much injustice or cruelty they saw taking place. The virtue of noninterference was (in this fictional drama) placed above all other values. It is, of course, a cop-out. Tolerance and respect for others does not relieve us of our moral responsibility to work for justice and affirm the dignity of all human beings.

Like most things in life, there is no easy, bumper-sticker solution.

Raised By Republicans said...

Did anyone notice the ironicly timed story on 60 Minutes last night? They did a spot about how Denmark keeps coming up on the top of the "happiness" list about life-satisfaction. Part the reason 60 Minutes identified? The supposed racial/ethnic homogeneity of Denmark.

Boy did they get it wrong!

The Law Talking Guy said...

Actually, when I heard the 60 minutes story, I didn't think they put any emphasis on ethnic homogeneity. It was all about having lower expectations in life.

I did think the story was funny in this context.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I forgot to mention this. I think USWest's comments about the ban on representative art in the Muslim world are fascinating. On a related note, one can observe that Roman Catholic churches with their rich statuaries and displays are linked with a different sort of theology than the "hard-line" protestants that eschew images. There may be a connection there.

USWest said...

RBR, I think your distinction between the riots in Denmark and those in France are correct. However, they burned schools in France as well.

In the end, I would venture to guess that a sense of minority status tends to result in similar behavior regardless of the cause. Once someone feels that they have been slighted, be it by the police or the media, and if the situation is heated to begin with, fire is likely to ensue.