Monday, February 13, 2006

More on those cartoon wars

Is everyone tired of the Mohammed cartoons story? Too bad, because that's the topic of my newest Boston Globe column.

AS THE DANISH cartoons satirizing Mohammed continue to cause violent protests throughout the Muslim world, and Western newspapers grapple with the issue of whether to publish the offending cartoons, many people are asking what this incident says about the ability of Islam, at least in its current state, to coexist with modern democratic civilization and its cherished freedoms. That is a legitimate question, and we should not be deterred from asking it by either political correctness or intimidation. But the tension between traditional religion and modernity, between piety and freedom, are not limited to Islam alone -- though Islamic radicalism today represents a uniquely deadly form of this tension.

In a New York Times column, David Brooks contrasts the Islamic extremists' attitudes with ours: The West, with its ''legacy of Socrates and the agora" and its ''progressive and rational" mindset, is open to a multiplicity of arguments, perspectives, and ''unpleasant facts," while radical Muslims cling to ''pre-Enlightenment" dogmatism and shrink from the ''chaos of our conversation."

Yet Brooks overlooks the fact that a large segment of the population in the West, and especially in the United States, rejects the progressive, rational mindset and embraces pre-Enlightenment values as well. Fundamentalist Christians, traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews do not, with very few exceptions, call for violence in response to heresy; that is a key distinction. But they too often equate criticism (let alone mockery) of their beliefs with ''religious bigotry" or ''hate speech." And they, too, often seek not simply to protest but to shut down offensive speech.

In 1998, when a Broadway theater announced the production of Terrence McNally's play ''Corpus Christi," depicting a gay Jesus-like character, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched a letter-writing campaign against it. There were also threats of violence and arson, which at one point swayed the theater to cancel the play. The Catholic League reacted with jubilation, and while formally deploring the threats it also warned that if another theater picked up ''Corpus Christi," it would ''wage a war that no one will forget." (The theater eventually revived the production.)

Interestingly, the head of the Catholic League, William Donohue, recently applauded the decision of most American newspapers not to publish the Mohammed cartoons and lamented only that his group's protests against offensive material have been less successful. Many of the same newspapers that decided -- quite wrongly, in my view -- not to reproduce the cartoons even as part of a news story about the reaction to them have run photos of controversial works of art considered sacrilegious by Christians, and defended the display of those works in tax-funded museums.

Donohue makes an important point when he says that this double standard reflects fear of violence by Islamic extremists, and that caving in to such intimidation is a deplorable message to send. But he, too, agrees that freedom of the press should take a back seat to respect for what is sacred to believers. Respect is of course a fine thing, but where does one draw the line between insult and criticism or questioning? A few years ago, the charge of ''Christian bashing" was leveled at the ABC show ''Nothing Sacred," which questioned Catholic doctrine on birth control and priestly celibacy.

Others from the Christian right, such as Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition, have echoed the notion that the media should show the same deference to conservative Christians that they show to Muslims. And a few have openly voiced sympathy even with violent manifestations of Islamic extremism. Pat Buchanan recently wrote:

''When Bush speaks of freedom as God's gift to humanity, does he mean the First Amendment freedom . . . of Salman Rushdie to publish 'The Satanic Verses,' a book considered blasphemous to the Islamic faith? If the Islamic world rejects this notion of freedom . . . why are they wrong?"

The truth is that modernity with its ''chaos of conversation," its chaos of lifestyles, its attitude that there is nothing more sacred than freedom of expression, is profoundly threatening to many religious traditionalists of different faiths. (Last year, quite a few American conservatives applauded Pope Benedict XVI's assault on ''the dictatorship of relativism.") At the present moment, for a variety of historical and cultural reasons, radical fundamentalism holds a particular sway in the Muslim world, where it is wedded to political violence in ways that have no parallel in other religions. To ignore this difference and this danger would be foolish. But it is also unwise to ignore the religious backlash against modernity right here in the West, and its own tensions with individual freedom.


I am not, as some have implicitly or explicitly done, equating the Taliban or the Al Qaeda with the Christian Coalition or the American Family Association. They don't have similar goals or similar means. (The Christian Reconstructionists who do have a Talibanesque theocreatic agenda don't wield any political influence to speak of.) But I do think that it's ludicrous to deny that ther are forces in the West, in America in particular -- and, sadly, in David Brooks's own political camp -- that do represent a traditionalist backlash against the Enlightenment. (The left, of course, has its own anti-Enlightenment faction, but that's not the point here.) To equate Jerry Falwell and Osama Bin Laden would be an absurd exercise in moral equivalency; but Brooks goes to the other extreme of exaggerated Western self-congratulation.

I agree, too, that many of the people lamenting the offensiveness of the Mohammed cartoons have had little to say not only about the steady stream of Nazi-style Jew-baiting cartoons in the Arab world, but even about anti-Israel cartoons in the European press that have had a clearly anti-Semitic tint. At the same time, there is no denying that some of the response to the cartoon controversy has had an anti-Muslim (not just anti-extremist) tint. For a good response, see this column by Steve Chapman.

Writes Chapman:

To assume that Muslims in Europe universally aspire to rule by ayatollahs is like assuming that Christians in the United States would all love to see Pat Robertson elected president.

It's true that vicious extremism does occasionally emerge -- as when a Dutch filmmaker who publicly disparaged Islam was murdered by a radical Muslim in 2004. But the killer is hardly typical of his co-religionists on the continent.

In Denmark, local Muslims responded to the cartoons in law-abiding ways -- gathering petitions, talking to the newspaper editor, filing a criminal complaint, marching peacefully in Copenhagen. Only when the issue got attention in the Middle East did mayhem erupt. Even then, it occurred in only a few places, not all across the Muslim world.

There is no reason to believe that Muslims in Europe favor the torching of embassies. The head of one of Germany's biggest Islamic groups denounced what he called "an incensed and thoughtless mob," and said, "We abhor such actions."

There is no doubt, though, that Europe has a Muslim problem, stemming from its reluctance to embrace immigrants as full citizens. ...

If Europe wants to remain a free and tolerant place, the answer is not to treat Muslims as a dangerous alien presence. It's to get busy turning them into Europeans.


Oh, and that criminal complaint filed by Danish Muslims against the cartoons? As Chapman notes, the law that enabled them to do that was not passed in deference to Muslim sensibilities:

Well, it turns out that some parts of Europe already ban the sort of blasphemy at issue here -- under laws written to protect Christian sensibilities. Denmark, as it happens, provides up to four months in jail for anyone "who publicly offends or insults a religion." In Germany, reports the broadcast outlet Deutsche Welle, one magazine has been sued eight times under an anti-blasphemy law enacted in 1871.

The danger, I gather, is that Europe's Muslims will be just as intolerant of criticism of their faith as Europe's Christians used to be of theirs. That would certainly be a bad thing. But to assume that more Muslims will inevitably turn France or Germany into a turbaned theocracy brings to mind the bumper sticker that says, "I get all the exercise I need jumping to conclusions."


A popular exercise, that.



49 comments:

William R. Barker said...

Cathy writes...

Brooks overlooks the fact that a large segment of the population in the West, and especially in the United States, rejects the progressive, rational mindset and embraces pre-Enlightenment values as well. Fundamentalist Christians, traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews do not, with very few exceptions, call for violence in response to heresy; that is a key distinction. But they too often equate criticism (let alone mockery) of their beliefs with ''religious bigotry" or ''hate speech." And they, too, often seek not simply to protest but to shut down offensive speech.

=================================

Where do you meet these people, Cath??? Your bio on your home page indicates New Jersey. Where in Jersey? Do you run into them at the Garden State Plaza? Atlantic City? Some parkway rest stop? Seriously... I live in Orange County, New York, and I'm often in Jersey and the only "fundamentalists" I tend to run into are Hasidic Jews... and I don't feel threatened by them.

You write for the Globe. Have you ever resided in Boston? I lived in Boston for five years during the 80's. The only religious group I ran into year after year was Jews for Jesus every Christmas setting up their tables on Huntington Ave.

"[A] large segment of the population in the West, and especially in the United States, rejects the progressive, rational mindset and embraces pre-Enlightenment values..."

Sorry, Cath... I just don't see it. I know you see it... but you seem to look for it. You can find anything if you look hard enough for it.

My step-brother (whom I haven't seen since 1993 - family drama) became "born again" back in the 80's. The rest of the family looked at his "conversion" with a fair amount of derision, but frankly, "turning to Jesus" made him a nicer guy. It was BEFORE he "turned to Jesus" that he was a piece of work.

Did you have a run in with a gang of Amish once??? (*SMILE*) I mean, seriously... where does all this anti-Christian angst come from?

Turning back to the Hasidics, while I (and frankly most of my Jewish friends) view them as pretty much a cult and resent the way they game the system and leech off the taxpayers, they're certainly not seen as a "threat." As far as "reject[ing] the progressive, rational mindset and embraces pre-Enlightenment values" of the West... all I know for sure ss that they shop at Wal-Mart - same as everybody else. (*SMILE*)

"Fundamentalist Christians, traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews do not, with very few exceptions, call for violence in response to heresy; that is a key distinction. But they too often equate criticism (let alone mockery) of their beliefs with ''religious bigotry" or ''hate speech." And they, too, often seek not simply to protest but to shut down offensive speech."

"But..." There's always a "but." (*GRIN*) Again, Cath... I know a LOT of people, some religious, some not, and I just don't run into these people you keep on finding who "protest," let alone "seek to shut down" supposed "heresay."

As to Bill Donohue... I hear him interviewed once in awhile on talk radio or on cable TV news, and frankly, while I don't always agree with him, he certainly doesn't strike me as someone who "rejects the progressive, rational mindset and embraces pre-Enlightenment values" of the West.

Bottom line... you really do seem to be reaching here, Cath. To use a phrase I've used before... bending over backwards. (*SMILE*)

"At the present moment, for a variety of historical and cultural reasons, radical fundamentalism holds a particular sway in the Muslim world, where it is wedded to political violence in ways that have no parallel in other religions. To ignore this difference and this danger would be foolish. But it is also unwise to ignore the religious backlash against modernity right here in the West, and its own tensions with individual freedom."

Hmm... there's that "but" again. (*SMILE*) I just don't see this "backlash against modernity right here in the West" that you see. Oh, yeah... when you're talking about hundreds of millions of "westerners" you're gonna find thousands - maybe millions - of folks who might fit the general description, but when we compare the sheer proportions of followers of Islam vs. followers of Christianity or Judism who are seemingly on a hair trigger alert to violence I just don't think there's any real comparision.

The "The Christian Reconstructionists...???" You're kidding, right?!?! I've never even HEARD of the "Christian Reconstructionists!" I think you're going a bit far afield here Cath. With all due respect, I get the feeling that you start with a conclusion and then go looking for ammunition to back it up.

I don't know, Cath... perhaps I'm just not following you... but I think you muddy the waters by bringing in Christian fundamentalist strawmen to "balance" criticism of recent Muslim rioting all over the world and Islamic terrorism.

BILL

Anonymous said...

Cathy, you are correct to point out that every civilization, including that of the West, has its share of anti-Enlightenment kooks. However, here in the West we have social mores and legal traditions which ensure that such kooks remain marginalized. That is the crucial difference.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Sadly, I have to agree with both comments. There are elements of both straw-man ("large segment") and outright pointlessness ("uniquely deadly" ... yep!). Happily, however, the article is not nearly as objectionable as the one it's paired against on the Globe's op-ed page.

As presented here, Brooks doesn't appear to be denying the presence of anti-modernist rhetoric, only asserting that the open market of ideas leads to the moderation of competing viewpoints. And I don't understand why I should find the Pope's phrase "dictatorship of relativism" objectionable in any way. The very response to this cartoon controversy makes it pretty handy indeed!

Cathy Young said...

William: are you suggesting that I should judge all the American population by my own social circle? (Kind of like the infamous professor who said in 1972 that he didn't understand how Nixon could have won the election when everyone he knows voted for McGovern.) Does the phrase "the Bible Belt" ring a bell? You seem to have missed the specific examples I gave in my article of conservative Christians in the U.S. trying to shut down speech they find offensive. (Let's not forget the campaign against The Last Temptation of Christ -- IMO, egregiously misrepresented as anti-Christian -- which pretty much killed the film's marketing.)

As for the "Christian Reconstructionists," please re-read my line again. I specifically said that they don't have any influence, and cited them as an example of the fact that the Christian Right is not "an American Taliban."

Letmespellitoutforyou: Considering that the Vatican has endorsed the Muslims' position that cartoons offensive to their religion should not have been published, it's a bit hard for me to read the phrase "the dictatorship of relativism" as meaning "relativism that draws no moral difference between freedom and censorship."

The Navigator said...

Cathy,
A fine post. I agree entirely. Typically thoughtful and measured.

For those who doubt her: Tom Coburn called for the execution of doctors who perform abortions. In order to show their disapproval of such extreme views, the voters of Oklahoma placed Coburn in the U.S. Senate. No, I don't think Oklahoma is a majority-Christian fundamentalist state, but you've gotta have a pretty healthy portion of them to say things like that and win. In fact, his opponent, a moderate Dem named Brad Carson, wrote an interesting campaign post-mortem in which he said that dealing with a pre-Enlightenment worldview had been his biggest obstacle.

Bill Donohue, meanwhile, likes to say things like "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular...Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common." Rejection of a progressive mindset? You decide.

The Navigator said...

And Cathy,
I'm pretty sure that was a woman - Pauline Kael, the New Yorker's film critic - who made the Nixon vote remark.

Quite right, though, about the Vatican, and their position that freedom of expression "can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful," which easily qualifies as pre-Enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as, apparently, the only person actually RESIDING in the Bible Belt, the misconceptions of belief down here is tiresome.

We're not aiming for a theocracy, much as the northeast REALLY wishes to believe that is all we want.

Have you noticed the fundamental difference in how Christians attacked "Last Temptation" (which was rather insulting, but so be it) and how Muslims protested the cartoons?

Christians didn't burn anything. No riots. No threats. Just criticism --- which is fine and dandy. Nobody has ever said Muslims have no right to complain. What has been said is that they have NO right to riot. They have no right to burn embassies. They have no right to threaten death.

And that the Vatican agrees with the Islamofascists call for "religious tolerance" in speech is immaterial. The Vatican is not the government AND they have yet to call on anybody to "make their anger known", nor have they championed rioting. To attempt to create some semblance of moral equilavency here is rather weak.

And, navigator, a link to Coburn saying abortion doctors should be killed would be helpful as it, honestly, sounds like bunk. And Carson's reaction to his loss is why the Dems have a really hard time winning elections. Nobody likes to be spoken down to.

-=Mike in SC

Anonymous said...

Well Mike, you aren't the only one residing in the bible belt. I do, and I happen to agree with Cathy. I also think she was quite specific in pointing out that the difference is that most fundamentalist Christians don't advocate violence. I would agree that most folks in the South (where my family is) and the Mid-west (where I am) don't want a theocracy. However, I have certainly met and listened to a fair number of people who want their version of Christianity to be a integral part of school, work, and government. They also want restrictions placed on things that contradict or are inconsistant with their Christianity (ie evolution, gay student groups, etc). I have also seen a push for no limits on Christian prostylitizing at school, work, and in government. This is a particularly touchy issue, because their needs to be a balance between respecting free speech and protecting people from harrassment. I want to be clear that I am specific about 'Christian' here, not because I want to pick on Christians, but because I haven't met anyone else in the US that is advocating for such a strong role for their religion in all spheres of life. Further, the same folks freak (at least the ones I've talked to) when you suggest that other faiths could have equal access and influence.

Z

Cathy Young said...

Mike: I did specifically say that the advocacy of violence makes a big difference. My point was that the rejection of Enlightenment values is not unique to the Muslim world.

Tom Coburn's belief that if abortion is outlawed then doctors who perform abortions ought to face the death penalty has been widely reported, though I don't know what the original source for it was.

thecobrasnose said...

The supposedly damaging notoriety dealt to “Corpus Christi” or “The Last Temptation of Christ” by angry Christians was the best thing that could have happened to their bottom line. The theaters that did produce “Christi” could not have planned a better ad campaign to attract precisely the kind of offend-the-squares audience they surely were courting when they put it on their schedule. Do you think they could have turned a profit by relying on McNally’s reputation alone? Quick—name one other play he’s written. And he’s one of the most famous playwrights in the nation.

As for the Scorsese film, his movies are typically not profitable:

http://www.boxofficereport.com/media/profiles/scorsese.shtml

In fact, when compared to the last time he made a film on a religious subject (1997’s “Kundun”), he took such a bath that had he not been a filmmaker of such tremendous stature he probably would never have been trusted with a major budget again. Had “Last Temptation” not had such massive press, it’s unlikely it would have seen black ink.

This is not to say that overreaction and threats by the offended should be condoned, but aside from a slashed movie screen in a theater that booked “Last Temptation” (as deplorable as that was), to my knowledge no physical damage was inflicted upon properties or parties involved with that movie or that play. The cartoon controversy, on the other hand, is developing a substantial body count.

And I’m not particularly bothered by Christian leaders denouncing the publication of the cartoons. Isn’t it true that the images were calculated to offend? No, the statements don’t speak well for the leaders as defenders of free speech—but they are not speaking as defenders of free speech, but as those previously aggrieved who are not comfortable telling other religious believers to suck it up. There is a tremendous difference between them and the editors of, say, “The New York Times,” who ridicule the delicate sensibilities of Jesse Helms but honor those of a certain group that has used the cartoons as an excuse to riot, and burn, and terrorize, and kill.

And while we’re here, why not revisit the controversy surrounding the last work of art that was supposed to incite a worldwide plague of hate crimes, namely “The Passion of the Christ”? Aside from Maureen Dowd and her ilk pretending that it made them want to slap rabbis or something, nothing along those lines really happened, did it? And when the crazed anti-Semites drooled over the anti-Jew violence they anticipated upon its release in the Middle East…well, nothing much came of that either. In fact, the only criminal conduct I recall in association with that film was a man who had gotten away with a murder confessing to it after having seen the film.

This is not to argue that one version of the supernatural is the correct one, but to suggest that one group of practitioners are by and large better behaved than another group has recently proved to be.

William R. Barker said...

Cathy writes...

William: are you suggesting that I should judge all the American population by my own social circle? (Kind of like the infamous professor who said in 1972 that he didn't understand how Nixon could have won the election when everyone he knows voted for McGovern.)

===============================

Cute, Cath... but now that you've tried unsuccessfully to change the focus of the discussion perhaps you'll deal with the questions I raised and the opinions I've offered. (*WINK*)

I mean... come on, Cath... you can accuse me of a lot of things (*GRIN*)... but being less than forthright and open AIN'T one of my faults. (*SMILE*)

I didn't "sugguest" anything. I came right out and asked you specific questions and made specific points. Whether you chose to address these or not is up to you.

Oh... and Nav... I second "Bible Belt Anonymous'" motion that you provide a link so we anyone interested can gauge the varacity and context of what Cathy refers to as the "widely reported" Coburn remarks.

William R. Barker said...

re: Coburn

Just for the heck of it, I ran a quick Google search looking for the actual quote in context.

The only reputable media hit I got was http://www.fox23.com/news/state/story.aspx?content_id=BF956298-934E-4B30-B9D3-DC274E134AF4 with the key line being:

(Paragraph 7) On the death penalty, he (Coburn) said: "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life."

Now here's the rub... the AP reporter (unnamed of course!) REPORTS that Coburn said this during an interview. Understand... this isn't the actual INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT... it's a STORY written FROM notes taken during an interview - at least that's what it appears to be.

What's the context? I don't know. But here's the deal... IF the context were as damning as the remark itself seems to be... WHY wouldn't the reporter have pursued it???

Hey... I'm inquisitive enough and honest enough to post what I found right here on Cathy's site. That said, if you're interested, follow the link and read the full story for yourselves.

I can only speak for myself, and maybe I'm just a right-wing cynic assuming liberal media bias, but I suspect that while the quote attributed to Coburn is accurate, if we could read the full transcript of the interview the context of "where" the comment came from might show the comment to be LESS than what meets the eye from this single unachored quote as relayed by a reporter obviously picking and choosing "catchy" lines to quote.

Cathy Young said...

William, I think I did reply to your question. *shrug* You asked me where I found all those people who reject Enlightenment values and equate criticism of religion with bigotry, and I replied that I don't have to know them personally to know they exist.

Actually, quite a few mainstream Republicans claimed that to oppose a judicial candidate because of his or her religiously based anti-abortion views was a form of religous bigotry.

As for Tom Coburn: if he disagrees with the substance of that quote and feels his words were distorted or taken out of context, why hasn't he made a statement to that effect? I'm sure Sen. Coburn is a big boy and has access to public fora.

Cathy Young said...

By the way, thanks to everyone else for the comments! I'll reply later tonight, hopefully.

Anonymous said...

As for Tom Coburn: if he disagrees with the substance of that quote and feels his words were distorted or taken out of context, why hasn't he made a statement to that effect? I'm sure Sen. Coburn is a big boy and has access to public fora.

Numerous reasons. Perhaps he doesn't care. Perhaps he sees no benefit in dragging that back up again. Perhaps he doesn't think the press would listen.

-=Mike in SC

Joan said...

I read this a few days ago and had to shelve it. I couldn't articulate what exactly was wrong with it, and I had a lot of other stuff to do. Fortunately, Dean Barnett read the column in the Globe and commented (point 9 at the link):
She’s right on at least this point: The lack of a call for violence is indeed a “key distinction.” I would argue it’s a distinction so key that it makes the rest of her argument pointless.

Dean's hit the nail on the head.

You go on to say that you're not equating Christian Fundamentalists with Al Qaeda, but if you're not, then what's the point of this article? What, exactly, are you trying to prove by calling out Catholics and fundamentalists who protested "art" they found offensive?

The remedy to offensive speech is more free speech. Just because these religious groups protested and called for the withdrawal of these works doesn't put them anywhere near the playing level of the Islamists who are using a bunch of cartoons to incite violence around the world. You can say whatever you want, but you can't make anyone agree with you -- and people not only have the right to disagree, they have the right to be vocal about their disagreement.

You seem to think it's a bad thing that these religious organizationsn defended their beliefs when they were being mocked in movie theaters and on prime time TV. I don't. Do you have any idea how many people think Opus Dei is like the Vatican's CIA/hit squad because of that wretched Dan Brown novel? Bad impressions are hard to erase, misinformation is hard to displace. Better to fight it from the outset before it takes hold in the popular culture.

I would say you simply can't compare private speech by private citizens, or citizen groups, to actions undertaken by governmental or quasi-governmental agencies, but you've done it already. It's apples to oranges, Cathy, and yet you managed to get an entire column out of it.

The Navigator said...

Wow, William, you reallyweren't trying too hard with your Google search. I Googled "Tom coburn doctors perform abortion executed" and found lots of links, which confirm that Coburn said it, was asked about having said it by Tim Russert, and didn't disavow it.

Anonymous said...

People keep asking what Cathy's point is, both here and in our centerfield thread on the same column.

I keep asking myself why so many people keep missing it. Here it is, for everyone who keeps missing it, right from the horse's mouth, right in the thread.

My point was that the rejection of Enlightenment values is not unique to the Muslim world.

That's the point. Those who care to address it might, instead of leaping to the defense of their kindred, have a hand at explaining why, after all, those who value free speech need not be concerned that many Americans (both liberal speech-coders and religious fundamentalists) use their free speech rights to argue that free speech is substantially less important to America and to democratic liberty than respecting the delicate sensibilities of various religious and political groups. After all, no one needs their free speech rights protected when they are saying bland inoffensive things.

Look, I am willing to defend the right of each and every American to speak their mind on all sides of this issue. The point here is that if we don't take care to appreciate both the importance of free speech and the tenuous nature of domestic support for it, we could lose it.

Once we start restricting the freeness of speech to only those instances where the speech bothers no one, the game will be up. So 3 cheers to all those who use their free speech rights to say free speech is less important to our country than religious respect. Good for you for speaking your mind, but you're wrong. If you want to know what happens when speech is curtailed based on the dictates of religious authorities. go ahead and take a little look round the globe.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

I'm not Catholic -- I only play one on television -- but let me try to articulate what ticked me off about the Pope comment. Basically, if you're criticizing him for siding with touchy Muslims on this issue, then go ahead and say so. As it stands, it's a rather gratuitous parenthetical swipe concerning something else entirely. Some conservatives endorsed his "assault" [!] on the "dictatorship of relativism." Fine. Does his opposition to the DoR also mean the Pope finds "freedom of expression," broadly understood, to be "profoundly threatening," perhaps something to be reversed? I haven't read any encyclicals lately, but if he's anything at all like his predecessor my guess is no: that it's our job to filter out the noise. The Pope's recent undermining of the "intelligent design" nonsense leads me to believe his views are more complex and less reactionary than he's given credit for.

Anonymous said...

Coburn answered that while abortion is not against the law now, if it were, states could use death penalty laws to punish the taking of innocent life.

"I believe when we take innocent life intentionally, except to save lives, that we are violating moral law," Coburn said. "Now, I understand what the law is. My hope would be that we would get back to a time when we recognize the value of life, and I think we're not."


Note the dramatic difference between that and what YOU quoted, nav:

Tom Coburn called for the execution of doctors who perform abortions.

If you wish to state that he is calling for the execution of all abortion doctors, his statement does not actually state that. He said he'd have no problem with abortion doctors brought up on death penalty charges --- which would ALSO entail a rather lengthy court hearing to decide if that is a justifiable sentence.

That's the point. Those who care to address it might, instead of leaping to the defense of their kindred, have a hand at explaining why, after all, those who value free speech need not be concerned that many Americans (both liberal speech-coders and religious fundamentalists) use their free speech rights to argue that free speech is substantially less important to America and to democratic liberty than respecting the delicate sensibilities of various religious and political groups. After all, no one needs their free speech rights protected when they are saying bland inoffensive things.

And Cathy's example would be akin to comparing mass murder and jaywaling in a criticism of crime. If it's not really comparable --- which it clearly is not here --- then the comparison should not be made in the first place as it is not terribly apropos.

-=Mike in SC

William R. Barker said...

Nav,

Anonymous Mike in South Carolina beat me to the punch with his Tuesday, Feb. 14, 12:17:38 PM EST post.

(*SMILE*)

But hey... thanks for providing the link!

BILL

Lori Heine said...

There is a world of difference between people who actually carry out violent acts and some cowardly politician who may or may not have said something about executing abortionists.

Muslim fanatics are actually committing violence against people. They routinely hang or behead them. I can't recall the last time a gang of Lutheran terrorists kidnapped anybody, or a few ragtag Catholics flew a hijacked plane into a building.

I am forever being told, by friends in the gay community, that I ought to regard Christians as deadly enemies. Why, because they insult me? I've got an answer for every one of 'em. Do I resent what those blinded by bigotry are doing to people's lives? Of course I do. But this very important distinction remains: THEY ARE NOT TRYING TO BEHEAD ME.

The gay Left is afraid to admit that Islamic extremism is far more of a threat to everybody "outside the mold" than Christianity. It isn't "multicultural," doesn't "honor diversity" and is not, therefore politically correct.
Totally never mind that it is the truth.

Of course that does not mean, as some extreme Right-Wingers suggest, that they should get away with acting badly simply because their behavior isn't QUITE as bad as that of the Islamo-thugs. They claim a higher standard, and we are absolutely right to hold them to it. But it's still a ways down from the toilet to the sewer.

Buy all the Tuborg and Havarti you can, folks. The Danes are the canary in the mineshaft. And as for those who warn that liberal nitwittery may someday show up on our own shores, I have news for them. It's already here.

As long as nobody shoots us, why should we care what they say? There's a world of difference between hurt feelings and a slow and torturous death. Just ask the folks in the Middle East.

The Navigator said...

William and anonymous,

That link is not to the original source of the quote. My link was not to the time he said it, but to the time he was asked about it and, apparently, admitted that he had said that or something like it.


As far as I can determine, Coburn said it once. When Russert asked him about that prior remark during the public debate to which I linked, Coburn essentially confessed that he had, at least, said something very similar, and then, without saying that he did not actually believe that, he gave a McClellan-esque response saying he understood the law as it now stood, but noting that he thought abortion should be made illegal, and that if it were, doctors performing abortions could be given the death penalty.

Coburn simply did not specify (in this forum, at least, according to this report on that forum) whether he still believed, as he had apparently said at least once before, that doctors who perform abortions deserve the death penalty right now (even though the law currently would not permit that penalty to be applied).

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The Navigator said...

Just to clear up the confusion, here's the original quote, which I found a few clicks away from my Google search:

"I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life."

So you can wipe the smug grin off your face, william barker. Coburn did, indeed, call for abortionists to be executed. And yes, anonymous, he didn't say we should evade the usual due process guarantees - congratulations. Any fair reading of his statement shows that he wants the death penalty to be applied to abortionists.

Revenant said...

Ok, I give up. What is so "anti-enlightenment" about wanting the death penalty for abortionists? He isn't suggesting we throw out due process or violate their rights. He's saying that killing an unborn child should be legally punishable by death. That's a position that is entirely defensible on rational and ethical/moral grounds, even though it isn't one with which I personally agree.

Anonymous said...

And Cathy's example would be akin to comparing mass murder and jaywaling in a criticism of crime. If it's not really comparable --- which it clearly is not here --- then the comparison should not be made in the first place as it is not terribly apropos.

So your argument is that Cathy's comparison is lousy because it's lousy? And your proof is the analogy that murder is not like jaywalking?

You simply get to declare that the comparison is not appropriate? Is proof by declaration some sort of new postmodern logic?

I grant that it's a much easier way to respond than to actually answer my legitimate question, which was honestly asked:

Why is it that we need not be concerned that many Americans use their free speech rights to argue that free speech is substantially less important to America and to democratic liberty than respecting the delicate sensibilities of various religious and political groups?

--bk

William R. Barker said...

Uuh... Nav...

(*HUGE SMIRK A'COMING*)

*I* was the one who originally POSTED the Fox23 link.

(*HUGE FRIGG'N SMIRK*)

Anyway... enough fun with you. (*SMILE*) You're amusing... but only to a certain extent.

Now... acknowledging a rational voice... Rev my friend - good comment! Right on target! Although I agree with you that even were abortion a crime - even a crime defined as murder - a doctor committing such a crime should be punished far short of capital punishment. Our joint opinion aside (and I'm sure most folks - even most folks on the "pro-life" side - would agree that abortion doctors shouldn't face the death penalty), Coburn statement - in context - is entirely defensible on rational and ethical/moral grounds.

Joan said...

Why is it that we need not be concerned that many Americans use their free speech rights to argue that free speech is substantially less important to America and to democratic liberty than respecting the delicate sensibilities of various religious and political groups?

Because the Americans you're concerned about are operating within the confines of the law, following the dictates that our society has agreed upon as means of redressing offense.

You can start worrying when offended Americans get elected to public office en masse, have the power to control portions of the military or other armed forces, and call for violent attacks on those they disagree with.

Is that clear enough?

William R. Barker said...

BK asks...

Why is it that we need not be concerned that many Americans use their free speech rights to argue that free speech is substantially less important to America and to democratic liberty than respecting the delicate sensibilities of various religious and political groups?

================================

Huh?

(And by the way... just a suggustion... could all the various "Anonymous" posters click "other" and use a screen name of some sort as an identifier? It really would cut down on confusion.)

Seriously, BK... what's your question? Could you rephrase please? I'm really not sure what you're asking.

BILL

thecobrasnose said...

bk-—Americans willingly put restrictions on free speech all the time. There are laws against slander, yelling “fire!” in crowded places, and threatening the President, for example. Furthermore, there are words and expressions that aren’t considered proper or polite, such as ethnic slurs. If a person has a respect for the sacred even more words become off limits, and it should surprise no one that those same people would recommend self-censorship when dealing with sensitive religious matters.

The hypocrisy in this matter is with those who glory in the offensive, but only when it offends groups they don’t mind offending. Eminem will say all kinds of outrageous things but not the n-word because it wouldn’t go down well in his milieu. The New York Times will publish images of “Piss Christ” and hire its creator to do illustrations, but is supposedly too respectful of Muslim sensibilities to publish the cartoons. I’m forgiving of Eminem because he is a silly rapper. The Times, on the other hand, fancies itself to be an arbiter of news and opinion. When its editorial board decides it’s no big deal to offend Christian sensibilities but a very big one to offend Muslims you’ve got to think there’s a difference between the two audiences to account for that decision.

So sure, Christian ministers say “don’t publish the cartoons because it’s disrespectful” and you could make an argument that they’re suppressing free speech. And then you’ve got Islamists saying, “don’t publish the cartoons because it’s disrespectful, and if you do we’ll bomb your workplace, set fire to your house, and slaughter your editors” AND they have a pile of corpses of past offenders to point to…well, you understand how one set of words is a bit more problematic than the other?

Cathy Young said...

I think what's getting lost here is that I specifically made a distinction between Islamic radicalism and the American varieties of fundamentalism, both in degree of radicalism and in advocacy of violence.

What I said is that both represent a backlash against Enlightenment values and against a diverse, pluralist society.

I also believe that, to a much, much lesser degree, the religious right in America is willing to use coercion (i.e. force) to impose its moral values. (It supports anti-sodomy laws, for instance.)

What seems to be lost here, too, is the fact (which I was specifically pointed out) that many American religious conservatives sympathize with the radical Muslims' goal of suppressing speech they find offensive, though not with the violent means.

More later (I'm currently traveling).

William R. Barker said...

I can see that you've dug your heels in, here, Cath.

(*SMILE*)

Adding further comments would be fruitless.

On to the next thread!

(*GRIN*)

BILL

Joan said...

I also believe that, to a much, much lesser degree, the religious right in America is willing to use coercion (i.e. force) to impose its moral values. (It supports anti-sodomy laws, for instance.)

Do you see the problem in this paragraph? The religious right is "willing to use force" how? By supporting anti-sodomy laws!

How are laws written, or enforced? Through the democratic process.

Cathy, taking your position to its extreme, you seem to be advocating an ideological purity tests for eligibility to be an American citizen. If you agree on some issues with Muslim fundamentalists, you're ideologically defective somehow. I disagree quite strongly with your view that it's a "bad thing" that we have a broad spectrum of ideas in this country. As I said above, we can start to worry when the whacko fundies gain political power sufficient to pass laws and enforce them. As it is, I'll continue to maintain my faith in the process and the American people as a whole.

I realize that some people already believe that fundies have taken over the government, but they're just nuts.

Anonymous said...

Well Joan, that is easy for you to say. I doubt very seriously that you have ever been a target of the 'fundies'. You have never had to sweat while the people in your state collect signatures to not only take away hard fought gay rights legislation, but to actually take away the constitutional right you have to petition to change the law. And yes, I had reason to sweat, because that ballot initiative was based on others that had actually PASSED and became law in two states. In fact, if it wasn't for those 'activist' courts, they would STILL be on the books and enforced. I also believe, without the courts, that laws against teaching evolution would still be on the books and enforced in several states. Hell, my state would be one of them.

One of the biggest criticisms I have heard from conservatives about the left is that they have too much of that post-modernism wishy washiness. Where there is no real 'right' or 'wrong', it is all based on your cultural perspective, we have to respect that different perspective, and blah blah blah. Many conservatives will say (and I happen to agree) that there ARE things that are right and wrong. There are ideas that are better than others.

One idea that I think is demonstrably bad, is the idea that religion should shape public policy. The idea that people, whether they are part of a faith or not, should have their free speach and other behavior restricted ONLY because it is called for by that religious faith, not because it can be proven to cause harm to individuals or property. This is a BAD idea regardless of who is pushing it or how they are doing it.

Now before you get back on that train, it is absolutely true that Muslim fundamentalists are behaving much, much, much worse than Christian fundamentalists. That doesn't change the fact that both have the same BAD idea about religion's role in government. They are BOTH WRONG for it, and should be called on it.

Z

thecobrasnose said...

Z--It's entirely permissible for religion to inform an elected official’s opinions. If you disagree with those opinions, vote against that person. That’s how it goes in this great Republic of ours, and trust me it doesn’t lead to anybody’s utter happiness and contentment.

Anonymous said...

Cobra-

I am registered and I vote. (It sometimes is an exercise in futility, but I do it anyway.) I don't recall attacking our democracy. I don't recall saying that certain political opinions should be illegal. I recall pointing out that trying to enshrine parts of religion into law is a bad idea. What is your opinion of that point?

Z

thecobrasnose said...

Z--I agree with your latest point. Here's the one that I disagree with:

One idea that I think is demonstrably bad, is the idea that religion should shape public policy.

The opinions of people with religious views shape public policy. A Catholic whose religious views persuade him or her that abortion is wrong will likely try to restrict abortion, for example. If you find that tendency intolerable, vote against that person if he or she stands for office. If the person wins and introduces legislation forbidding, say, partial birth abortion, vote against it or agitate for other officials to vote against it on your behalf. Maybe the law will pass anyway—but, that's not the same as fundamentalists forcing everybody to live under a theocracy.

Consider for a moment that laws forbidding religious persecution in the country originated with William Penn—a member of The Society of Friends, aka the fringe cult Quakers, and not with a secular philosophy. Next, consider that the men and women who are on the front lines guaranteeing the freedoms of this nation are overrepresented by people from conservative religious homes and backgrounds. Then you might begin to understand why the supposed threat of a looming conservative Christian takeover in the US seems pretty unlikely to most Americans.

Revenant said...

Do you see the problem in this paragraph? The religious right is "willing to use force" how? By supporting anti-sodomy laws! How are laws written, or enforced? Through the democratic process.

You're making the mistake here of assuming that, because something happened via democratic processes, its enforcement can't qualify as coercion. "Do what we say or we'll lock you in prison" is most definitely coercion. It might also be legal and democratic, but that doesn't make it non-coercive.

Look at it this way: would Muslim violence be any more acceptable if the Muslim world got together and voted to kill all the blasphemers instead of just doing it on an ad hoc basis? I don't think so; violations of basic human rights don't magically become ok just because 51% of the population got behind the idea.

Anonymous said...

Cobra-

Ok to me each of the three sentences below basically says the same thing:

One idea that I think is demonstrably bad, is the idea that religion should shape public policy.

The idea that people, whether they are part of a faith or not, should have their free speach and other behavior restricted ONLY because it is called for by that religious faith, not because it can be proven to cause harm to individuals or property.

..trying to enshrine parts of religion into law is a bad idea.

You brought up abortion as an example of when it should be OK for people's religion to be inserted in politics. I would have to disagree with you here. Basically, religion gets confounded with abortion all the time (because many faiths take an anti-abortion stance), however, the central issue is a legal and medical one. We all agree that killing human beings is wrong (serial killers excluded). However, we can't all agree when life begins. Therefore, we don't all agree that abortion is wrong.

The important thing here is that religion and morality are seperate things. Religion may inform morality, but you can be a moral person with or without religion. Religious people are not always moral and vice versa.

When people insert religion into politics, it is a cop out. It is never good enough to say, 'This is wrong because MY God said so, and you had better respect it.' You have to make a convincing argument for WHY it is wrong. Ideas matter.

Do I think the Christian conservatives are taking over? No. My best guess from merging all the polls I've seen is they make up between a quarter and a third of the country. They are a minority. But I don't dismiss them as if they don't have any political power or clout, because they most certainly do. Despite Joan's contention, they DO have enough political power to get laws on the ballet and passed. Therefore, their ideas should be challenged and debated, at the ballet box and every other place they appear!

Do I think all Christian conservatives are bad people? NO! Do I fail to recognize that some conservative Christian people have done good things in the world? NO! But that doesn't mean they aren't DEAD WRONG about where religion belongs in public (ie government) policy!

Z

thecobrasnose said...

One idea that I think is demonstrably bad, is the idea that religion should shape public policy.

Religion does shape public policy in that it influences voters and public officials. That’s neither good nor bad, though you could certainly argue against specific results. Lots of people will likely not vote for Mitt Romney, for example, because they think Mormonism is bizarre. Others will likely vote for him because they may co-religionists or just admire Mormon values (to the extent that he embodies them). Most will size him up on his record and vote yay or nay as their conscious dictates. But with Romney, as with Catholic JFK before him, religion will play a part.

The idea that people, whether they are part of a faith or not, should have their free speach and other behavior restricted ONLY because it is called for by that religious faith, not because it can be proven to cause harm to individuals or property.

Nobody in office or running for office has argued for anti-religious free speech to be legislated against. Religious believers sympathetic to the misery of having their sacred beliefs profaned have urged caution and self-censorship. This is entirely different from the pretence of the bulk of news organizations feigning religious sensitivity in not publishing the controversial cartoons. But since you mention it, publication of the cartoons have been proven to cause harm to individuals or property—would you ban them on those grounds? I wouldn’t and don’t think that the likes of CNN should.

...trying to enshrine parts of religion into law is a bad idea.

Agreed, but that’s not happening in this case. If you want to bring up Intelligent Design you may have a point, but that’s not the discussion at hand.

So by all means, go forth and challenge and expose and use all manner of free speech to de-legitimize any point of view you wish. That is your right, and it is a right that is not undermined in the slightest by any religious observer in the United States noting, “You know, I thought those cartoons were pretty offensive, too.”

Joan said...

revenant asked: Look at it this way: would Muslim violence be any more acceptable if the Muslim world got together and voted to kill all the blasphemers instead of just doing it on an ad hoc basis?

If all the Muslims got together to vote, do you believe they would vote to kill the blasphemers? The spontaneous protests against the cartoons drew few participants and precipated no violence. All of this upset over the cartoons is state-sponsored and stage-managed. In a word: manufactured. I do not believe that the "Muslim street" would vote to kill the blasphemers; I think the Muslim street is more interested in how they're going to eat tomorrow and whether or not they'll have a roof over their heads.

I also think your views on coercion are silly. Every single law is coercive by your definition ("don't do this bad thing or you'll be punished!"); you seem to be saying that coercion is bad, so should we abolish all laws? As a society we've agreed that there must be consequences for undesirable behavior, and we've evolved a somewhat effective system by which to disincent bad behaviors. (The system could be better.) But this system exists in the first place, and continues, by agreement of the people.

I agree, violations of human rights that are sanctioned by 51% of the population are just as bad as those imposed by a dictator. But the system we have in place here has done a better job than any other government, ever, at avoiding such abuses in the first place, or correcting them when they are recognized.

Z said: Despite Joan's contention, they DO have enough political power to get laws on the ballet and passed. Therefore, their ideas should be challenged and debated, at the ballet box and every other place they appear!

Exactly! That's the way it's supposed to work -- you don't like the ideas, speak up. Challenge them, call for debate, write letters to the editor, work on the campaigns of the opposition. Has anyone here, or anywhere in the US, ever argued against challenging the ideas of political candidates, or squelching debate on legislation? Anyone calling for such a thing would be laughed off the political stage and tagged as a loon.

Also, it's ballot box; ballet's the dancing-in-tights thing.

Cathy Young said...

I won't be able to answer all or even most of the comments here, but let me make a few points.

(1) Coercion through laws, even democratically passed laws (in the absence of protection for individual liberties) is just as bad as coercion by mob.

(2) Joan: I agree, in large part, with your comment about Muslims. However, right now, quite a few conservatives are arguing that the great mass of Muslims (not just governments or radical leaders) represent a danger to Europe.

(3) cobra and others: I am certainly not equating all religion with fundamentalism, nor do I argue that religious values and beliefs cannot be allowed to influence public policy through voter preference.

My main point is that contrary to what David Brooks and some others have said, the rejection of "Enlightenment values" -- i.e. rationality, progress, the secular state, intellectual openness -- is rejected by many religious conservatives in the West.

Sometimes, this rejection takes the form of withdrawing into homogeneous cultural enclaves where people are never exposed to "heretical" ideas. Sometimes, it takes the form of trying to influence public policy.

The intolerance of a multiplicity of ideas is definitely there. So is the desire to not just condemn but suppress, in one way or another, "offensive" speech or imagery. (And yes, of course America's civil liberties radically curb anyone's ability to suppress speech here.)

Joan, you summarize my position as:

If you agree on some issues with Muslim fundamentalists, you're ideologically defective somehow.

Actually, I didn't say that. I did point out that quite a few people on the religious right in American agree with Muslims about the desirability of not publishing the cartoons. I would not say that pre-Enlightenment values have no place in our culture or even our public life. I just think that it's a mistake to draw such a sharp divide, in this regard, between conservative Muslims and conservative Christians.

One more word, about the difference (and yes, it's a tremendous difference) between peaceful protest and deadly violence. Quite a lot of the coverage that I saw of the cartoon controversy conflated peaceful protests by Muslims with the riots.

thecobrasnose said...

I've personally been exposed to institutions that do not entirely value Enlightenment principles as you define them, Cathy, and they have legitimate problems as scholastic and governing organizations. But the difference between those organizations and those that use the cartoons as a pretext to intimidate entire governments and the very concept of a free press is not just of scale but of kind. There have been nineteen deaths associated with the cartoon riots and you compare that to a delayed production of "Corpus Christi" and weak box office of "The Last Temptation of Christ"? That's just farcical.

Cathy Young said...

I'm certainly not "comparing" them in the sense of "equating" them. I am saying that there are some underlying common themes -- taken to a far, far greater extreme in one case than in the other, but common nonetheless.

Anti-Semitism is still bad even if it doesn't rise to the level of pogroms. Intellectual intolerance is still bad even if it doesn't manifest itself in violence but only in social and economic pressures. (Incidentally, didn't quite a few conservative compare the condemnation of Larry Summers at Harvard to "Stalinism"? Is that a "farcical" comparison because no one was putting Summers up against the wall?)

I'm not sure why you and some other commenters have such a problem with this. There are, for instance, a lot of varieties of anti-Semitism that are not violent. Does that mean that if we talk about violent anti-Semitism, we can never bring up the fact that milder varieties also exist and have some things in common with the violent kind?

And of course, in the case of Corpus Christi, there were threats of violence, and the head of Catholic League voicing satisfation that the play's production had been canceled due to those threats.

You may have a good point about Scorcese's revenues. I will say, however, that there were some aspects of the campaign against the film that I found gravely disturbing, such as the emphasis on the Jewishness of some of the producers (with no mention of the fact that the director, writer, and star were all Christians).

Anonymous said...

Well Joan, I could understand some very basic concepts in algebra when I was in the 5th grade, but could barely pass a spelling test.

*sigh*

The more things change...

Z

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