The last word on the Mohammed cartoons (mine, at least)

My Globe column and blogpost on the Mohammed cartoons controversy caused quite a bit of displeasure among some commenters, who felt that I was unfairly comparing radical Islamists to Christian fundamentalists (and conservative Catholics) in the West, and specifically in the United States. In fact, I very specifically made a distinction between violent and nonviolent reactions to offensive speech. I agree that violence and threats of violence, which are a fairly common modus operandi for the radical Islamists today, exist only at the margins of Christian fundamentalism and other religious ultraconservatism in the West. (Though one can’t, in my opinion, entirely brush aside such facts as the threats of arson and other violence in 1998 against the New York production of Terence McNally’s play Corpus Christi, and the jubilant reaction from the Catholic League’s William Donohue when the play was temporarily canceled because of these threats.)

My point, which I will reiterate again, is that despite these important differences, there are certain common threads between different kinds of religious ultraconservatism. The backlash against Enlightenment values (tolerance, intellectual diversity, freedom of expression, scientific knowledge) exists not only among radical Islamists — as David Brooks asserted in his New York Times column — but also among Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic traditionalists. What’s more, many American religious conservatives are openly sympathetic to the radical Muslims’ effort to banish speech that offends them from the public square, though not to their violent means.

Is it impermissible or even absurd, as some of my critical commenters seem to imply, to see and analyze common threads and themes in violent and non-violent movements and phenomena? Hardly. No one, for instance, would say that it’s absurd to point out that anti-Semitism exists not only among neo-Nazis and Klansmen but among non-violent people and groups as well. Conservatives have not infrequently drawn parallels between communism and far milder varieties of leftist ideology. I also recall quite a few people on the right pointing out similarities between the Unabomber’s manifesto and mainstream environmentalist ideas, including the ones advanced by Al Gore in Earth in the Balance — even though, as far as I can tell, Al Gore has never mailed anyone a bomb.

Why, then, are such comparisons out of bounds when it comes to religions that reject modernity and intellectual tolerance, and regard criticism as blasphemy?

I might add, too, that some of the commentary on the Muslim response to the cartoons seems to conflated non-violent protests (i.e., peaceful demosntrations, boycotts against The Philadelphia Inquirer after it reprinted the cartoons) with violent ones.

Let me explain, too, why I think this issue is important. I absolutely believe that radical Islamism is a threat to civilization, and that it’s important to take it seriously. But I am also troubled by the fact that in too many cases, the reaction to radical Islamism does take on the form of bigotry against all Muslims. There is always, of course, the incomparable Ann Coulter, whose comments about “ragheads” got a standing ovation the other day at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference; but look at the email that Andrew Sullivan posted on his blog a few days ago, from a “liberal reader”:


“I’m honestly starting to suspect that, before this is over, European nations are going to have exactly four choices in dealing with their entire Moslem populations — for elementary safety’s sake:
(1) Capitulate totally to them and become a Moslem continent.
(2) Intern all of them.
(3) Deport all of them
(4) Throw all of them into the sea.

This sounds a bit shrill even to me — but what the hell else can you do with several tens of millions of potential Branch Davidians?

The whole worldwide situation would be SO much easier to deal with if Pakistan didn’t already have the Bomb. Think how much more interesting it will be when Iran has it, too.”

What I found especially troubling is that Andrew cites this email uncritically, as evidence of “some very hard thinking on the left.”

In the face of such attitudes, I think it’s time for some hard thinking on the right. Yes, modern Islamic radicalism has no exact or even close counterparts in Western Christianity; even Pat Robertson is not seeking the imposition of Biblical law that mandates killing gays and stoning adulteresses. But many conservative Muslims’ problems with an open, tolerant, pluralistic society are not substantially different than many conservative Christians’ and Jews’; and neither is their reaction to the mockery of their faith.

[Edited to add: Please note that the "many conservative Muslims" in the previous paragraph refers not to the violence-preaching (or -practicing) extremists, but to the far more numerous conservative Muslims -- in Denmark, for instance, and here in the United States -- who have protested the cartoons through non-violent means, whether through peaceful demonstrations or boycotts. As I noted above, the two have often been conflated.]

Commenting on the Mohammed cartoons, the Harvard conservative paper, The Harvard Salient, writes:

It almost goes without saying that similar depictions of Christ, or the pope, or a crucifix would have hardly elicited a response save a handful of letters to the editor. In the 21st century, a violent response would, in any case, be unfathomable.

I agree about the violent response part. But if a major newspaper such as The New York Times ran a cartoon showing, for instance, Jesus shooting up an abortion clinic, I don’t think it’s so farfetched to think that conservative Christian groups could have whipped up a major campaign against the paper, with boycotts, demonstrations, and demands for apologies. In other words, the same kind of response American Muslims had to the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

39 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

39 responses to “The last word on the Mohammed cartoons (mine, at least)

  1. Revenant

    What I found especially troubling is that Andrew cites this email uncritically, as evidence of “some very hard thinking on the left.” In the face of such attitudes, I think it’s time for some hard thinking on the right.

    I’m not quite sure why that letter, and Andrew’s response to it, suggest that the right needs to do some hard thinking. Sullivan has never really been a right-winger and certainly isn’t one today.

    My personal experience as an American atheist is that conservative Christians think more positively about conservative Jews and Muslims than they do about nonbelievers and and semi-religious occasional churchgoers. The “conservative Muslims must be purged or forced to accept secular society” mentality is more commonly found in more secular circles.

  2. Cathy Young

    On War-on-Terror issues, I think that Andrew definitely falls on the “right” side of the spectrum. And in this case, it’s definitely people on the rigth who have been saying that Muslims had better learn to put up with insults to their faith the way Christians have learned a long time ago if they want to be part of modern society. (Though as I noted, quite a few religious conservatives dissent from that message.)

  3. metapundit

    Cathy said …if a major newspaper such as The New York Times ran a cartoon showing, for instance, Jesus shooting up an abortion clinic, I don’t think it’s so farfetched to think that conservative Christian groups could have whipped up a major campaign against the paper, with boycotts, demonstrations, and demands for apologies. In other words, the same kind of response American Muslims had to the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Your point that there are common threads between different kinds of religious ultraconservatism is fair enough in that, yes, to a certain extent they all reject Enlightenment values as ultimate. You cite as evidence, however, that Christians might react to speech that is offensive from their viewpoint by organizing protests, boycotts, etc. What does that demonstrate? Nearly everybody in society would choose to display their displeasure against some speech if it gored an ox they cared about. (If the NAACP pickets a newspaper because it published a racial slur, would that mean that they oppose freedom of expression and intellectual diversity?)

    Are people not allowed to disapprove of any speech? Or is it only religious speech people are not allowed to disapprove of? As a libertarian I would resist by all means any attempt to forcibly muzzle the Philadelphia newspaper (govermental legislation, unofficial intimidation via violence, etc). And I myself don’t have any particular desire to muffle stupid ideas or offensive speech by public action (the solution to bad speech is good speech). But as a libertarian I have no problem with people displaying their disapproval by attempting to galvanize popular opinion, apply economic pressure via boycotts, etc. I hope they fail, but the tools they are using are not incompatible with a pluralistic society.

  4. Revenant

    Andrew is hawkish on war-on-terror issues, but that isn’t a right-wing position; there are left-wing hawks with liberal reasons for supporting the war. I think Andrew falls more into that camp these days, especially in light of his rather histrionic attitude towards mistreatment of prisoners, Bush’s use of Presidential power, etc.

    It is true that many on the right have adopted a “you Muslims better shape up or else” attitude. And certainly there is a part of the left that believes in near-infinite tolerance of any culture that isn’t white or Christian. But at the same time, the push to outlaw forms of religious expression comes mostly from the left (and indeed the letter to Sullivan is an example of this).

  5. Joan

    I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison, I think it’s an awkward one. And you’ve gone to the trouble once again, of making “the distinction between violent and nonviolent reactions to offensive speech” — may I ask about the distinction between legal and illegal reactions? — to reiterate your point that “there are certain common threads beween different kinds of religious ultraconservatism.”

    So? Is this point supposed to be a beacon of warning, or what? What exactly are we supposed to take away from this? On the last post, I asked if you wanted to administer an ideological purity test of some sort. You seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that there are people on the extremes here in the US. As long as they’re following the laws and behaving themselves, they have every bit the same right to be here, to express their opinions, organize boycotts, and picket newspapers as you or I do.

    It’s not as if no one else has noticed that there are fundamentalists out there, Cathy. We’ve been hearing stories about the big bad religious right bogeymen for years now. The entire MSM is aligned against them, so I doubt they’ll ever be able to stage a successful coup, even if they really wanted to.

    There’s a slight edge of breathless hysteria here: Don’t you see? There are similarities between the reactions of the Islamic fundamentalist and the way the Religious Right reacts to some cultural offenses! Ths sky is falling! The sky is falling!

    It just seems … silly.

  6. thecobrasnose

    Thing is, nobody has entirely rational beliefs. That is to say, there is no manifestly best, unchallengable opinion that the best brains of the world hold, otherwise, there would be one culture, one language, one government, and no discussion. In order to get along in this world, a person is going to have to accept that others will disagree (and for reasons likely as valid and considered as that person’s—but even if the difference is entirely emotional or instinctual the right to that difference must be respected), but all must abide by social norms (eg, don’t threaten arson or murder priests). So yes, the threats that led to the temporary cancellation of a profane play are wrong—very wrong, out of bounds, those that issued them should be punished under applicable laws, etc.—and the gloating pronouncements of the Catholic leader were unseemly. But the plain fact is the show did go on, without incident, and probably more profitably for the brouhaha.

    And, yes—bad behavior on both sides. But surely you can comprehend religious people who don’t like seeing their beliefs profaned sympathizing with other religious people who don’t like seeing their religious beliefs profaned? And in this affair of the cartoons, that’s about as far as the conservative religious leaders in this country have taken the matter. Not one of them has joined with their fellow people of the book to urge a return of the Caliphate or the governmental rule of a religious authority. And on the issue of sensitivity, they share a common argument with such backward theological types as Bill Clinton, the US State Department, Hugh Hewitt, and the New York Times. Difference is, unlike some of those parties, I actually believe their sympathies to be empathetic and sincere.

    Meanwhile, the Muslim agitators have racked up a decent body count over the cartoons—twenty and counting. If they keep it up, they may match the death toll of the Waco fiasco. But life is about choices and politics is about allies, and I’m just not comfortable with putting most American religious conservative in the same column as the Muslim provocateurs who participate in armed attacks against embassies. Even if neither has use for Darwin nor want their women folk to hold jobs. It’s like you’re looking for perfection, Cathy, while I’ll settle for the (especially comparatively) very good.

  7. Mark B.

    My guess is that relatively little of the “intoonfada” has very much to do with the cartoons themselves – looking at the countries involved in the worst violence, all of them are marked by deep divisions and societal tensions. Pakistan has huge rifts between its Punjab/Sind core and the Pushtu and Baluchi hinterlands, and many of its inhabitants are extremely unhappy with the Musharref regime; Nigeria has its long-standing tensions between Muslim, Christian and animist communities; Libya is still stuck with Quaddafi, who despite his rhetoric is no Islamic hero, and so on.

    Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Islamic fundamentalism provides the only disciplined internal opposition to the repressive secular regimes that still hold sway over most Muslim-majority states. It’s relatively easy for activists and extremists to seize on a flimsy pretext like the Mohammed cartoons to fire up the crowds and thereby increase their own power and leverage. When Sullivan and his ilk adopt a over-simplified Huntington-inspired view of the riots as symptomatic of a “clash of cultures,” they ignore the very real internal political dynamic behind this unrest.

    We agonize over Iran, but Pakistan scares me a lot more, because they already have atomic weapons and I have very little confidence in the long-term political viability of Musharref or his generals. The biggest single difference between Muslim and Western religious fundamentalism may simply lie in the fact that in the West, we can engage in secular politcal opposition to existing governments and therefore do not need to call upon religion unless we want to. For most of the Muslim world, that option doesn’t exist.

  8. Anonymous

    “But many conservative Muslims’ problems with an open, tolerant, pluralistic society are not substantially different than many conservative Christians’ and Jews’; and neither is their reaction to the mockery of their faith.”

    I don’t think that the facts support such an assertion. I haven’t heard of any Christians or Jews issuing a fatwa against a writer of whom they diapprove. Have you?

  9. Cathy Young

    I’ll reply to the other points later, but first, to anonymous:

    “But many conservative Muslims’ problems with an open, tolerant, pluralistic society are not substantially different than many conservative Christians’ and Jews’; and neither is their reaction to the mockery of their faith.”

    I don’t think that the facts support such an assertion. I haven’t heard of any Christians or Jews issuing a fatwa against a writer of whom they diapprove. Have you?

    Did you notice the word “many”? Or the sentence preceding this one, which says:

    Yes, modern Islamic radicalism has no exact or even close counterparts in Western Christianity; even Pat Robertson is not seeking the imposition of Biblical law that mandates killing gays and stoning adulteresses.

    My point is that modern Islam has a violent radical aspect that, as I repeatedly said, poses unique dangers. But there are many conservative Muslims who do not belong to that faction who nonetheless object (peacefully) to the cartoons, and believe they should not have been published.

  10. Revenant

    When Sullivan and his ilk adopt a over-simplified Huntington-inspired view of the riots as symptomatic of a “clash of cultures,” they ignore the very real internal political dynamic behind this unrest.

    There’s certainly an element of that. But it doesn’t explain the behavior of Muslims in democratic societies such as Europe and Turkey.

    Also, you should consider that religious leaders are stirring up pre-existing passions, much as European nobles and dictators used to stir up pre-existing antisemitism. The underlying problem of lack of respect for freedom of expression does definitely exist.

  11. William R. Barker

    So… in a nutshell… what’s your point, Cath? What’s your position? What is the “question” you’re asking yourself and what is your “answer” to that question?

    * You write…

    * “I agree that violence and threats of violence, which are a fairly common modus operandi for the radical Islamists today, exist only at the margins of Christian fundamentalism and other religious ultraconservatism in the West.”

    Great… if only you had stopped there! (*SMILE*) But, no… you have to go back to the whole “threats of arson…in 1998″ business.

    * You write…

    * “My point, which I will reiterate again, is that despite these important differences, there are certain common threads between different kinds of religious ultraconservatism. The backlash against Enlightenment values (tolerance, intellectual diversity, freedom of expression, scientific knowledge) exists not only among radical Islamists — as David Brooks asserted in his New York Times column — but also among Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic traditionalists. What’s more, many American religious conservatives are openly sympathetic to the radical Muslims’ effort to banish speech that offends them from the public square, though not to their violent means.”

    Uhmm… Cath… as Metapundit wrote… “Nearly everybody [allow me to amplify: EVERYBODY!!!}] in society would choose to display their displeasure against some speech if it gored an ox they cared about.” Why can’t you see this? My reaction to reading your post echoed Metapundit’s on this point. If we can see the flaw if your “justification” for mixing apples and oranges, why can’t you?

    * You continue…

    * “Is it impermissible or even absurd, as some of my critical commenters seem to imply, to see and analyze common threads and themes in violent and non-violent movements and phenomena?”

    No, Cath… it’s not impermissible. (*SMILE*) But note the tenor of reaction… (*SMILE*) Since you yourself used the word “absurd,” yeah… your “analysis” and stubborn defense of your Christian fundamentalist bashing does strike me as absurd. Frankly, I can’t understand why you seemingly fail to see what others of us see in your posts on this subject.

    * You write…

    * “I absolutely believe that radical Islamism is a threat to civilization…”

    * And then you continue…

    * “…and that it’s important to take it seriously.”

    Cath… what the HECK does that MEAN?!?! Perhaps it’s simply your writing style, or perhaps the problem is on *my* end (*SMILE*), but read and re-read as I do I still can’t figure out exactly what it is that you’re trying to say. What exactly is the Cathy Young strategy for dealing with what you call a “threat to civilization?” Again… maybe it’s just your writing style… but what I’m picking up is a whole lot of verbage and very few concrete proposals.

    * You write…

    * “Yes, modern Islamic radicalism has no exact or even close counterparts in Western Christianity…”

    Nope… you couldn’t stop there… (*GRIN*)

    * You had to contine…

    * “But many conservative Muslims’ problems with an open, tolerant, pluralistic society are not substantially different than many conservative Christians’ and Jews’; and neither is their reaction to the mockery of their faith.”

    Now you see, Cath… it’s paragraphs like that one which – to address the point you made in your opening paragraph of this thread – “caused quite a bit of displeasure among some commenters, who felt that I [referring to yourself - Cathy Young] was unfairly comparing radical Islamists to Christian fundamentalists (and conservative Catholics) in the West, and specifically in the United States.”

    Cath… don’t you see? You keep on doing it! (*SHAKING MY HEAD*)

    You keep on insisting that you’re not trying to make comparisons… and then you make comparisons! (*SHAKING MY HEAD*)

    Cath… I’m not trying to “beat up” on you or insult you or hurt your feelings. I’m not trying to be argumentative or obnoxious (yeah… I know… someone’s gonna take a shot at that one) or obtuse… but the problem clearly isn’t with the way I and others are reading your posts – the problem is that you clearly ARE saying what you apparently seem to believe you’re NOT saying.

    Cath… I’m sorry if my words or my tone raise your blood pressure or annoy you, but you need to hear the following clearly: At times you sound like an anti-Christian fundamentalist bigot.

    And Cath… as I believe I’ve noted before… I’m coming at this not from a Christian fundamentalist perspective, but as a nominal Episcopal who attends church every Christmas Eve in order to sing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs with my best friend and his family (as we’ve been doing for 25 year) and the only other time you’ll see me at a house of God is for weddings, funerals, baptisms, bar/bat mitvahs, or to study the architecture.

    BILL

  12. Cathy Young

    William, I already know that whenever you read one of my posts, you wish I had stopped just before the part where I start disagreeing with you. *SMIRK* *GRIN* *WINK*

    As for your playing the “religious bigotry” card, I think you’re illustrating part of the problem I’m talking about. I don’t think that the word “bigotry” should apply to a dislike of beliefs and ideas, at least ones that have to do not with unknowable religious concepts but with practical issues in the real world. I loathe any belief system that advocates gender inequality, seeks to coercively impose its vision of morality on all of society, discourages open intellectual inquiry, and would sacrifice science to ideological dogma — be it religious fundamentalism (no matter what the religion) or, say, radical feminism.

    I notice, by the way, that while accusing me of “bigotry” and “bashing,” you have not a word to say about the example of egregious anti-Muslim bigotry that I have cited in my post (directed at all Muslims, not just the radicals).

    Finally, I will respond to a couple of points made by William as well as thecobrasnose, and I think others as well.

    William quotes metapundit:

    “Nearly everybody [allow me to amplify: EVERYBODY!!!}] in society would choose to display their displeasure against some speech if it gored an ox they cared about.”

    Well, yes. But there is a huge difference between expressing displeasure against speech, and wanting to shut it down (even through non-violent protests, boycotts, etc.)

    I also see that this passage has caused a lot of confusion:

    Yes, modern Islamic radicalism has no exact or even close counterparts in Western Christianity. But many conservative Muslims’ problems with an open, tolerant, pluralistic society are not substantially different than many conservative Christians’ and Jews’; and neither is their reaction to the mockery of their faith.

    Evidently, some readers assumed that the “many conservative Muslims” in the second sentence were synonymous with the Islamic radicalism referred to in the first. But actually, no. I was referring to the vast majority of conservative Muslims (in Denmark, for instance, and also here in the U.S.) who have peacefully but strongly expressed their objection to the cartoons — including through demonstrations, boycotts, etc. Again, this illustrates a point I made in my post: A lot of the criticism of the Muslim response to the cartoons had indiscriminately conflated the use or threat of violence with peaceful protest. Which is ironic, considering that my critics here are accusing me of lumping together the incomparable.

    Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed by what looks to me like the unwillingness of some commenters to acknowledge the darker side of religious fundamentalism in the West. Yes, Islamic radicalism is a unique problem and (I will repeat) its threat needs to be taken seriously (and no, Mr. Barker, I am not obligated to lay out a detailed plan on how to fight it). But I don’t see why the recognition of this requires us to be blind to the fact that there is a major assault on science going on in American education in the name of religious fundamentalism. Or that in some parts of the U.S., anyone who is not an evangelical Christian (let alone not religious at all) is likely to face a rather intolerant environment. I don’t even see why concern about violence by Muslim extremists should require turning a blind eye to violence by other kinds of religious extremists, however much less common it is — be it the zealots among the Jewish settlers, or abortion clinic terrorists in the United States. The threats against McNally’s play may have occurred in 1998; the ones against the Florida judge who ruled in favor of taking Terri Schiavo off life support were far more recent.

  13. William R. Barker

    Cathy writes…

    “…the fact that there is a major assault on science going on in American education in the name of religious fundamentalism.”

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

    Cath… how many school age kids do you have?

    We can go round and round on this one, but my daughter is 18 years old – 19 in May. So… I’m pretty familiar with what’s happening in the public schools – at least in my neck of the woods.

    All I can tell you is that I don’t see this “major assault” that you’re so concerned with.

    Now we can bandy around aneodotal experiences all day long, but there you have it, Cath. Perhaps some of the parents and teachers who take part in Y Files discussions will back you up on your contentions from their personal experiences, but I’m telling you… from my experience and from my fairly wide-ranging readings and formal and informal education I just don’t see what you see.

    What did you say in some previous post on some previous thread… something about not having to know Christian fundamentalists to know about them? O.K., I’ll buy that… to an extent. But, Cath… personal experience shouldn’t be discounted. (*SMILE*)

    Hey… only YOU know who your own friends and acquantances and colleagues are. (*WINK*) I gotta tell ya, though… you give off the vibe – to me at least – that you’re kinda stuck in that urban, professional, sophisticate bubble where one tends to develop an “us” vs. “them” mentality. To reiterate… you just seem very intolerant of large groups of people (religious people) whom you apparently don’t know personally (fundamentalist Christians at least) and forgive me if I’m wrong… but the feeling I get is that you have no interest in getting to know such people. You’re locked in to your mindset.

    And no, Cath… you’re not “obligated” to come up with a “plan” to fight what you yourself refer to as a threat to civilization, but…

    (*GRIN*) See… I can come up with “buts” too!

    …BUT… throwing out such hyperbolic language with no clear cut and reasonable suggestions on how YOU would deal with the problem just comes across as… I don’t know… “shallow?” I don’t know… I guess I’m just hoping for “more” from you.

    Anyway, Cath… Happy President’s Day!

    BILL

  14. thecobrasnose

    Cathy—I respect you and honestly think I (and if I may be so bold, joan and Bill) understand what you’re saying. But we’re certainly talking past one another, so I’m going to try an analogy.

    If we’re comparing apples to apples in this particular discussion, joan, Bill, and I might say, “Islamofascism, demonstrated here by those who use the pretext of the Mohammed cartoons to riot, and threaten, and murder is like an apple that has become so rotten and diseased that it is nothing more than mush that is dangerous to consume or even to handle and should quarantined or otherwise rendered harmless. Fundamental religion in the US are like apples considerably fresher and more palatable, but beware the windblown ones.” And you might reply, “I find all apples revolting and want nothing to do with them, and don’t understand why anybody would.”

  15. Brad

    But there is a huge difference between expressing displeasure against speech, and wanting to shut it down (even through non-violent protests, boycotts, etc.)

    I think metapundit hit the nail on the head with this one.

    What would happen if a paper here were to print something deeply offensive, such as something overtly racist, or misogynist? For argument’s sake, let’s assume that it is really, and obviously, offensive.

    I suspect the response would be:

    a) letters (of outrage) to the editor along with
    b) calls for firings
    c) lost sales with advertisers or customers
    d) organized boycott
    e) possibly some kind of demonstration, asking for an apology or retraction.

    In asking for these things, no one is asking to “shut down” free speech, but rather for a publication to apply editorial standards to itself.

    And, in fact, what other way is there for normal folks to express their displeasure with a publication? I think this is a distinction without a difference.

    Without actual threats of violence, or calls for government intervention, this just doesn’t seem like a free speech issue. All media have to concern themselves with the sensitivies of their consumers.

    What is being protected is the right to print what you please, not the right to be immune from your readers’ opinions.

  16. Cathy Young

    Bill: You know, one of the great benefits of modern communications is that you get to find out about things that go on outside your immediate community.

    Just because the fundamenalist assault on science isn’t happening in my local public schools doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be concerned with what’s happening in a neighboring state in Dover, Pa., or in Kansas for that matter.

    And no, I can’t say that I know too many Christian fundamentalists in person. (Do you know any Muslims fundamentalists in person?) Actually, until a few years ago I was much more sympathetic than I am today to believe that the negative portrayal of fundamentalist Christians in the media was a result of liberal elitist stereotyping. What has changed my mind, actually, was greater exposure to ultraconservative fundamentalist Christians — both in the “new media” (Fox News, the blogs) and in some Internet discussion forums. My negative conclusions about fundamentalist religion come mostly from seeing its representatives speak for themselves.

    I might add that, from personal experience, I have rather strong negative opinions about Orthodox Judaism, at least its more “hardcore” variety.

    cobra: I respect your views, too, but I do wish that you had addressed some of the points I raised in the closing paragraph of my comment in this thread. As for your apple analogy, my analogy would go more like this: Islamic radicalism is a bunch of apples so rotten, they’re very likely to kill you. Christian fundamentalism in America, at least in its more aggressive variety, is a bunch of apples that are likely to cause permanent ill health (and contains a few that might kill you too). The “normal” apple is religion itself, toward which I have not the slightest antipathy.

    We hear a lot about the intolerance of liberal elites toward conservative religion, and I’m sure a lot of it is true. Nonetheless, I find it remarkable that Mitch Romney, a conservative Mormon, was able to get elected governor of Massachusetts — but, in the view of some political analysts, has no future in the Republican party on the national level, because the evangelical Protestant base simply won’t vote for a Mormon. What’s even more remarkable is that I have seen this opinion stated as if such a state of affairs were normal (and not a reflection of bigotry).

    Brad: interesting points. But you know, self-censorship out of respect for religious sensibilities is exactly what the Muslim community in Denmark was asking for (before the situation got out of hand with the violent protests in the Middle East).

    Personally, I think that boycotts comes dangerously close to speech suppression. As I recall, a lot of conservatives felt that way when the boycotts and protests organized by gay activists succeeded in driving Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s TV show off the airwaves.

    I agree that this is a gray area. But this is where I think one should draw a line between speech that denigrates and stereotypes people, and speech that questions, subverts, or even ridicules beliefs.

    To me, for instance, a movie depicting all evangelical Christians as wife beaters and child abusers — or a movie that sympathetically depicted a person who goes on a killing spree against evangelical Christians — would be a legitimate target for a boycott and could be classified as “hate speech.” On the other hand, a movie that showed a conservative evangelical minister starting to doubt some of his religion’s teachings after his daughter comes out as a lesbian seems to me like a perfectly legitimate examination of issues of religion and homosexuality.

    Finally: I would really like to hear what Joan, Bill, and cobra think about the examples I have given of anti-Muslim bigotry and the lumping together of violent and non-violent protests by Muslims.

  17. William R. Barker

    Cathy writes…

    “Finally: I would really like to hear what Joan, Bill, and cobra think about the examples I have given of anti-Muslim bigotry and the lumping together of violent and non-violent protests by Muslims.”

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

    Damn! (*SMILE*) And there I was… all set to leave the last word to you…

    (*WINK*)

    O.K., Cath… since you asked… let me try to dredge up your examples of anti-Muslim bigotry and reply to them. (I’ll stick to this thread.)

    1) There is always, of course, the incomparable Ann Coulter, whose comments about “ragheads” got a standing ovation the other day at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference;

    * I’m generally against name-calling. And as I’ve written time and again, Ann Coulter isn’t one of *my* “leaders” or even someone whom I’d cite as an authoritative positive example. (*SMILE*) As to the audience of CPAC applauding her… I wasn’t there… I didn’t see the clip or read the transcript in context… but if that’s one of your primary examples of anti-Muslim bigotry
    all I can say is that I wouldn’t place it next to Krystalnacht as a grand example of religious intolerance. (*SMILE*)

    2) As to the self-identified “liberal poster” on Andrew Sullivan’s website…

    * No, Cath, I take the “throw all of them into the sea” comment with a bit of salt (water! hey… I made a pun!). Neither the post nor Andrew’s response strikes me as “hateful.”

    3) [I]t’s definitely people on the right who have been saying that Muslims had better learn to put up with insults to their faith the way Christians have learned a long time ago if they want to be part of modern society.

    * I think that’s an absurd (to use your word) comment. Americans of all political stripes tend to expect others to “suck it up” to the same extend they themselves feel they “suck it up.”

    4) “A lot of the criticism of the Muslim response to the cartoons had indiscriminately conflated the use or threat of violence with peaceful protest.”

    * Not by me, Cath. (*WINK*) And frankly… not by others I respect. Bottom line… you’re reaching.

    So… did I address all your “examples” Cath? (*SMILE*)

    To end, let me point out a concrete example summing up what I regretfully consider your inability see in yourself the lack of tolerance you attribute to others:

    Go to the thread “False Rape Charges: A Feminist Responds.”

    Now read the first post, the post by JW.

    From JW’s second paragraph…

    “It is like trying to talk about about Abrahamic religions with an uneducated bible-thumper…”

    Insulting? Condescending? Let me get this straight… when Ann Coulter refers to “ragheads” that’s anti-Muslim bigotry… but when JW refers to “uneducated bible-thumpers” that… just fine and dandy???

    And notice, fellow posters… Cathy almost immediately replied – but to share a laugh with JW over another line, not to take JW to task for what amounts to a religious slur.

    Anyway, Cath… you asked for it. I was gonna let it lay. All I can tell you is that you need to look within yourself to a greater degree – be careful of projecting upon others what’s apparently within you. When so many people are basically “warning” you of the same thing you need to take the criticism seriously.

    BILL

  18. Cathy Young

    I see. So bigotry has to rise to Kristallnacht level for you to find it objectionable. And someone referring to all Muslims as “potential Branch Davidians” and musing about the possibility of deporting all Muslims or throwing them into the sea is just being funny.

    That’s nice to know.

    As for conflating non-violent and violent Muslim protests against the cartoons, you yourself, in this very thread, leaped to the conclusion that when I referred to conservative Muslims who objected to the cartoons, I was referring to the extremists who were expressing their protests through violence.

    I knew, of course, that you were going to jump at the “uneducated bible-thumpers” comment. Well, you know something? Uneducated bible-thumpers do exist. Just like Muslim jihadists exist. Coulter routinely makes disgusting slurs about all Muslims. If someone in my comments thread referred to all Christians as, say, “Jesus freaks,” you can bet I wouldn’t be joking around with them.

    You evidently find nothing offensive about jw’s disparagement of radical feminists. (And neither do I.) Yet to disparage fundamentalists is somehow more offensive? What’s the difference?

  19. thecobrasnose

    “cobra: I respect your views, too, but I do wish that you had addressed some of the points I raised in the closing paragraph of my comment in this thread.”

    Okay, here goes.

    “I agree about the violent response part. But if a major newspaper such as The New York Times ran a cartoon showing, for instance, Jesus shooting up an abortion clinic, I don’t think it’s so farfetched to think that conservative Christian groups could have whipped up a major campaign against the paper, with boycotts, demonstrations, and demands for apologies. In other words, the same kind of response American Muslims had to the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in The Philadelphia Inquirer.”

    Maybe Christian groups would boycott, demonstrate, and write letters. What’s wrong with that? Thing is, anti-Christian bias is so commonplace that it probably wouldn’t occur to most to raise a stink. After all, to use the familiar example, an artist dunked a crucifix in urine, and did it on the public dime. Where did the protests get the offended? Christianity is routinely mocked. I would be more surprised if there wasn’t a cartoon of Christ destroying an abortion clinic than if there was.

    You haven’t given a single example of Christian or Jewish leaders in the west making common cause with Islamic extremists in this specific case (unless the Robertson quote regarding Satanic Verses is more current than it seemed). The closest I’ve read about is along the lines of, “You don’t like your God and prophets blasphemed? I don’t like my God and prophets blasphemed either! Sucks, huh? Let’s complain!” And this hasn’t been the exclusive reaction of religious leaders, but also of Bill Clinton, Hugh Hewitt, and the US State Department. This seems to me a understandable reaction, if not exquisitely Enlightened. Less conservative Christians tend to take a line closer to, “You don’t like your God blasphemed? I don’t like my God blasphemed either! But you’d better get used to it because that’s one of those things that happens in free societies.” If you have evidence of non-Muslim religious leaders in the West going further than that in this matter of the cartoons, which I think is a signal event in relations between Islamic agitators and the Western establishment, please provide it. Citations of postponed plays from eight years ago, nasty remarks about the producers of an art film from even longer ago, and anonymous ill wishes to Mrs. Instapundit and unfulfilled threats to judges in relation to the sad Shiavo case just aren’t that germane.

    I’m fine with boycotts. I don’t buy French wines, for instance, because I prefer to send my dollars to countries friendlier to US policy. And I freedom kiss the fellas. If that economically impacts France or hurts the feeling of the French (which I have no illusions it does), that would make my day. If somebody wants to boycott Laura Schlessinger’s show, fine. If they want to boycott Bill Maher’s show, fine. Boycotts are on.

    And if disgruntled Muslims want to boycott something, super, extra fine. Especially if it will keep them from murdering people and attacking embassies. To quote joan, “As long as they’re following the laws and behaving themselves, they have every bit the same right to be here, to express their opinions, organize boycotts, and picket newspapers as you or I do.” But wouldn’t you agree that with twenty five more dead after this weekend resulting from violence inspired by the cartoons, wouldn’t you agree that the violent protesters are eminently more noteworthy than the non-violent ones? I have no doubt that there are lots and lots of peacefully protesting, and genuinely affected Muslims out there. They’re just getting hidden behind an ever growing pile of corpses.

    And you have never taken up this bogus “sensitivity” issue. Do you honestly believe that The New York Times (among many, many other publications) has actually found religion (as it were) when it comes to offending religious believers? Or is it entirely more plausible that the threats of Muslim extremists have to be taken a bit more seriously than those of Jewish and Christian fundamentalists in the US? And if that is so, and if you are genuinely concerned about Jewish and Christian fundamentalists, isn’t the capitulation to Muslim extremists sending them an extraordinarily dangerous message? Letters and boycotts are for sissies! Burn, pillage, and kill—that’s what gets the profane art and commentary out of the papers!

    I’m not insensitive to religious persecution. For whatever reason, my ancestors have been driven from their homelands during at least three Christian on Christian purges. And when I look at American culture today, with its steady diet of legal, permissible abuse of Christian believers, with a recent (and continuing) spate of Christian church burnings, and with a relatively recent annihilation of an admittedly non-mainstream Christian community—the Branch Davidians—by the government, I don’t wonder that some sensitive fundies are feeling a bit besieged. But they have not acted out even remotely like the more extremist Muslims have (and I have tried to be very careful to delineate the average Joe Muslim with a legitimate gripe who writes a letter to the editor that doesn’t use the word “behead” even once) and those that would cynically whip excitable populations into a violent, murderous frenzy). Even if the tendencies of all religious fundamentalists have the same root, the braches have thus far grown in radically different directions.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nobody on this thread had made or endorsed religious or ethnic slurs. If you’re looking for a ritual denunciation of Ann Coulter, here you go: Ann Coulter shouldn’t be making religious or ethnic slurs. Even though it is legally permissible, it is unseemly and uncivilized. They’re wrong when directed at Muslims, and at Jews, and at Mormons, and at the smoking remains of Branch Davidians. There you go.

    But people will slip. They will offend others, either out of callousness or carelessness, or just a lack of understanding. Or sometimes, it’s taboo and funny, says an unabashed fan of South Park. That’s why we all need a sense of proportion. Your remark to Bill, “So bigotry has to rise to Kristallnacht level for you to find it objectionable” was a cheap shot. I would be like me reading the ignorant sniping about Mitt Romney’s LDS membership and saying, “It’s the Hans Mill Massacre all over again.”

    This has gone on entirely too long, so I’ll end on this note. There is no perfection in this world, but there are degrees of better and worse. In this affair of the cartoons, the worse—worldwide riots, pillaging, censorship, and murder—is being honored and rewarded, and I find that terrifying and without authentic parallel in non-extreme, non-Muslim populations in the United States.

  20. colagirl

    To be fair, cobra, I think Bill basically Godwinned himself with that remark about Kristallnacht. *shrug*

  21. William R. Barker

    Cathy Young writes…

    I see. So bigotry has to rise to Kristallnacht level for you to find it objectionable.

    Colagirl writes…

    To be fair, cobra, I think Bill basically Godwinned himself with that remark about Kristallnacht. *shrug*

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

    * Oh… bull. I never sugguested that something has to rise to the level of Krystalnacht for me to find it “objectionable.” In fact, I find the lameness of both of your replies objectionable. Bottom line, by going on and on, Cathy simply continues to prove my point.

    Cathy continued…

    I knew, of course, that you were going to jump at the “uneducated bible-thumpers” comment.

    * Yeah… sure you did, Cath. You just keep on digging, love. (*WINK*)

    And Cathy again…

    Well, you know something? Uneducated bible-thumpers do exist.

    * Wow. You just can’t help yourself, can you???

    Cathy continues…

    You evidently find nothing offensive about jw’s disparagement of radical feminists. (And neither do I.)

    * Jeez! Don’t you even NOTICE how ridiculous you’re sounding at this point??? Obviously… unfortunately… you don’t.

    Cathy concludes…

    Yet to disparage fundamentalists is somehow more offensive? What’s the difference?

    * You jest? Cath… at this point you’re basically raving. You started with that cheap shot deliberately misreading my initial Krystalnacht comment and went downhill from there. TheCobraNose and I are trying to HELP you kid… you just refuse to accept it.

  22. Cathy Young

    William: you are banned from any further posting on this blog. And not a moment too soon, as a number of readers have been complaining to me that your obnoxious posting style is making them reluctant to participate in threads here.

    Your response to my query about Ann Coulter’s “raghead” comment was “all I can say is that I wouldn’t place it next to Krystalnacht as a grand example of religious intolerance.” If that’s all you have to say, I don’t see how my reply was a “cheap shot” at all. I think it’s a fairly accurate summary of your position.

    Obviously, in your world, Christian fundamentalists can do no wrong, and the suggestion that their beliefs should be as open to criticism and even ridicule as those of radical feminists is self-evidently absurd. I seriously doubt, by the way, that you actually know any fundamentalists. You’re just parroting the talking points that it’s “bigotry” to criticize them.

  23. Cathy Young

    cobra: I totally agree with your point that one cannot compare nonviolent protests (including boycotts) with violence or threats of violence. I’ve said so all along. My point is that just because chronic bronchitis isn’t nearly as bad as lung cancer doesn’t mean that chronic bronchitis is a good thing or that it’s not a cause for medical concern.

    I agree with you that a lot of Western religious leaders have expressed no more than commiseration with Muslims whose faith is being insulted, and that’s fine. But there are quite a few who have taken the position that the cartoons should not be published despite the bad message this will send with regard to press freedom. By the way, the quote about Rushdie was not Robertson’s but Pat Buchanan’s, and it was quite recent. I’ve cited other examples as well: e.g., Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition saying that the press ought to treat Christians with the same deference it treats Muslims.

    I respect your beliefs, and I understand the irritation at the cultural elites’ penchant for Christian-baiting; but it does seem to me, with all due respect, that you are somewhat inclined to deny and/or minimize bad behavior by Christian fundamentalists. (For instance, you have repeatedly pointed out that the McNally incident was in 1998; but if I’m not mistaken, “Piss Christ” goes even further back than that.) Yes, the death threats against the judge in the Terri Schiavo case were unfulfilled (though he had round-the-clock security, as I recall), but can’t we agree that even unfulfilled death threats are not okay? And what about terrorism against abortion clinics?

    I understand your impatience with false parallels. A few years ago I found myself in an extremely heated Internet debate with a woman who made the absurd claim that the Orthodox Jews treat women no better than the Taliban. But I am certainly not going to deny that there is some pretty egregious sexism and even misogyny in Orthodox Judaism, and that many Israeli women find its influence rather scary. No, not nearly as scary as the Islamic terrorists who would kill them — not even in the same league. But still scary.

    Finally, regarding my allegedly cheap shot at Bill: his only response to Ann Coulter’s “ragheads” comment was that it’s no Kristallnacht. Please explain to me how my response was inappropriate?

  24. Brad

    Personally, I think that boycotts comes dangerously close to speech suppression. As I recall, a lot of conservatives felt that way when the boycotts and protests organized by gay activists succeeded in driving Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s TV show off the airwaves.

    I think this demonstrates the point perfectly. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist or fanatic to express displeasure by calling for boycotts (unless doing so becomes your definition of fanaticism, in which case you’re begging the question). And doing so is not tantamount to curbing freedom.

    I have no problem with the Dr. Laura boycott, or a boycott of Book of Daniel or The Last Temptation of Christ, or pressuring WalMart and 7-11 not to sell Playboy, or the outrage that was directed at Rush Limbaugh for his comments about Donovan McNabb that resulted in his firing from MNF.

    Had the story stopped with Danish muslims calling on a paper for a retraction, along with a boycott, I would have no issue whatsoever with that, either.

    But this is where I think one should draw a line between speech that denigrates and stereotypes people, and speech that questions, subverts, or even ridicules beliefs.

    I guess I’m a free speech absolutist. I believe a movie, book, magazine, or song should be able to say anything (With the obvious exceptions of violating national security or commiting libel) without legal consequence.

    Given your construction, I wonder whether books like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho or even any given Todd Solondz movie (Happiness, Storytelling) could be considered hate speech.

    I’m curious whether you are arguing for censure or censorship (gov’t intervention). Censure, I’m all for it. But I draw a big bright line at censorship.

    Incidentally:
    This is entirely apart from the particulars of the decision to withold these images, a decision I personally disagree with (I find most of them mild in nature). While I’d defend normal censure practices, it doesn’t mean I agree about the level of offense.

    I also agree with Cobra: I suspect the papers are hiding behind the sensitivity rationale. I believe a few editors have admitted as much, and said that fear of reprisal is a motivating factor. That is a shame; there was a time when we both expected and admired the courage of reporters (as a whole, not only in some cases).

  25. Cathy Young

    Brad: when it comes to censorship by the government, I’m a free speech absolutist. When it comes to boycotts, or protests that include the demand that offending speech be withdrawn from the public arena, I generally disapprove of them unless they are directed at real hate speech. If a TV station in this country decided to air the miniseries (Egyptian, I believe) based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I think that boycotts, protests, and all forms of other public pressure would be entirely appropriate, welcome, and necessary. If similar tactics were directed against, say, Spielberg’s Munich (because some believe it blurs the moral line between the Israelis and the Palestinian terrorists), I would strongly disapprove.

    Is intimidation a major factor in the decision of most U.S. papers not to publish the cartoons? It may be … but actually, I rather doubt it. As far as I know, there has been not a single act of violence in the U.S. directed at those few papers that did publish them. It’s interesting that many more newspapers in Europe — where the Muslim populations are far larger and far less assimilated, and the threat of violence far more present — have published it.

  26. thecobrasnose

    First, good call on my over reliance on dreary old “Piss Christ.” More current examples of anti-Christian bias in pop culture will be supplied presently.

    “But there are quite a few who have taken the position that the cartoons should not be published despite the bad message this will send with regard to press freedom.” This position has also been taken by former President of the United States Bill Clinton, conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, and is more or less the official position of the US State Department. I don’t agree with them, either. But their very vocal support of that position undermines the idea that the problem is more religious/fundamentalist than opportunistic/political.

    “Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition saying that the press ought to treat Christians with the same deference it treats Muslims.” Who wouldn’t? Can you with a straight face tell me that evangelical Christianity has been handled by the mainstream press and popular culture with the respect that is regularly afforded Islam? The Simpsons was way ahead of the curve on this one with this holiday greeting from Krusty the Klown:

    So, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwaazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and [bowing, with hands together in a gesture of prayer] a solemn, dignified, Ramadan. And now a word from MY god, our sponsors!

    It’s the old Pygmalion problem. By and large, the media treats Islam like a duchess and all other religions like flower girls. The most plausible reason for the difference is the higher degree of activism (violent and non-) by practitioners of the former. I understand why other religious leaders would covet the respect Islam gets, and if this whole business of the cartoons is teaching them anything, it’s that they haven’t been fierce enough. That said, I don’t believe Pat Buchanan will lead an armed revolt against an embassy or anything else. The strain of violent fundamentalism that led to (for instance) abortion clinic bombings years ago isn’t much in evidence in the US these days, but one of the best ways to lure it back is to capitulate to the wishes of radical Islam.

    The “sensitivity” of the press, I believe, is a pose at best, and rank hypocrisy. Yes, more and more news outlets in Europe are publishing the cartoons because they recognize the protests against them as the alarum they are (though Sweden has been shutting down websites that have shown the cartoons). In the US, The Boston Phoenix, which made a splash by publishing pictures of the slaughter of Daniel Pearl, stated explicitly that they were just too nervous to bring Islamic trouble to its door. THAT I believe.

    As for Bill’s remark, I have to say it’s a matter of proportion. In a previous post to this blog, I said something to the effect that though my hometown doesn’t absolutely guarantee security and happiness to its homosexual population, it was hardly Saudi Arabia. Another poster jumped all over me for it, essentially accusing me of stating that anything slightly less inhumane than Saudi Arabia was perfectly acceptable in the US. Of course I meant no such thing, though I was being hyperbolic. Likewise, I don’t think Bill saying an ethnic slur is no Kristallnacht was any sort of defense of ethnic slurs. I don’t recall Bill using offensive language to describe any ethnic group in his posts. And I don’t wonder that his antennae went up faster at the crack about fundamentalists than the one about feminists—fundamentalists are his dog in this fight. We’ve all had to suffer insults to things that are important to us that just aren’t a big deal to others, and yes, let’s be more civil to one another. But if perfection is the enemy of the good, demonification is the enemy of proportion.

    And now I’m going to put those examples on hold because I’ve got some other things to do, but will provide a couple later if anybody is still interested.

  27. Revenant

    By and large, the media treats Islam like a duchess and all other religions like flower girls. The most plausible reason for the difference is the higher degree of activism (violent and non-) by practitioners of the former.

    I think the more likely explanation is that familiarity breeds contempt. Anyone in America gets exposed to almost every imaginable flavor of Christianity on a fairly regular basis, but most of us don’t know ANY Muslims at all. It is easier to accord Muslim beliefs special respect because doing so really has no impact on our everyday lives. It is easy to find yourself feeling that Ramadan is Really Important but Easter is No Big Deal when Ramadan is an exotic foriegn religious occasion and Easter is something you associate with Cadbury Creme Eggs.

    There is also the fact that American nonbelievers tend to have more of a bone to pick with Christians than with Muslims, because generally speaking we’ve been harangued by hundreds or thousands of the former and, simply due to their rarity, few (if any) of the latter.

  28. thecobrasnose

    You make an excellent point that familiarity/ contempt is a contributing factor. But I think groups such as CAIR do throw a disproportionate amount of weight around. When was the last time an episode of Law&Order was produced that showed somebody of Muslim background as a terrorist and not (shock!) the blond, blue-eyed, ex-military guy. And while that phenomenon might be less CAIR pressure than L&O getting so hackneyed, remember, the Arab terrorists from “The Sum of all Fears” were transformed into Neo-Nazis well before September 11).

    As a side note, if I remember that book correctly, the Israelis were nervous because an important Palestinian protester had converted to non-violent resistance. I wonder—seriously, not just in a snarky way—how that idea played in the ME.

  29. Revenant

    I think the move away from Muslim bad guys in movies (not that they were ever that common) stems primarily from Hollywood’s white guilt over decades of “white good guy, dark-skinned bad guy” movies. Something about the idea of a white guy mowing down hordes of swarthy villains makes the Steven Spielbergs of the world wince. On the other hand, you can never have too many dead Nazis.

    I doubt CAIR is a significant influence. If Hollywood paid that much attention to negative political fallout they’d probably consider featuring a Republican movie character who isn’t either (a) Abe Lincoln or (b) a bad guy. :)

  30. thecobrasnose

    Here’s a press release re “Sum” on CAIR’s website that announces the end of the campain to have the villains’ ethnicity changed from the original arabic:

    http://www.cair-net.org/default.asp?Page=articleView&id=71&theType=AA

    It’s dated January 26, 2001.

    And Spielberg may be feeling guilt over the swarthy bad guys now, but he was criticized for bumping off a huge bunch of them in the Indiana Jones movies, and producing a movie that showed them as cult leaders (Young Sherlock Holmes) and as terrorists (Back to the Future). On the other hand, he does have an untitled Abe Lincoln film in pre-production so maybe the tide will turn for Republicans, too. Although, after Batman Begins, I’m convinced that Bruce Wayne comes from a long line of Republicans and is himself a neocon.

  31. Revenant

    It seems to me, Cobra, that while CAIR is taking credit for getting the change made, there is no actual evidence that they did.

    The director’s comment about not wanting to promote negative stereotypes fits my “white liberal guilt” theory just was well as it fits your “CAIR has great influence” theory, and explains most other modern Hollywood films as well.

    Activist groups are rainmakers. They do their dance; if it rains they take credit, if it doesn’t they keep dancing.

  32. Cathy Young

    cobra: You’ve raised a lot of interesting issues that I hope to address, at some point, in another blogpost.

    First of all, about that Kristallnacht remark. I don’t know what you said about gays and Saudi Arabia. However, if a leading pundit at a major conservative conference had referred to “fags and dykes” and someone’s only comment on that was that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of the persecution of gays in Saudi Arabia, I think it would not be unreasonable to conclude that this person condones bigotry.

    Let’s turn the tables here, for a moment. Let’s say that a supposedly moderate Muslim leader at some Islamic conference had referred to Jews as pigs. Let’s say that, here on this blog, I had asked a person who was defending Muslims against charges of extremism what he thought about that, and his reply was, “All I’ll say is, as an example of religious intolerance it doesn’t rise to the level of Kristallnacht.” Would you have felt that the same reply I gave William was appropriate?

    Also, I don’t want to keep going after William, but I wanted to comment on this:

    And I don’t wonder that his antennae went up faster at the crack about fundamentalists than the one about feminists—fundamentalists are his dog in this fight.

    Well, it isn’t just that. I think he felt that it was self-evidently absurd to compare attacks on fundamentalists to attacks on feminists. Which brings us back to my point — it’s all about whose ox is being gored.

    You say:

    “Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition saying that the press ought to treat Christians with the same deference it treats Muslims.” Who wouldn’t? Can you with a straight face tell me that evangelical Christianity has been handled by the mainstream press and popular culture with the respect that is regularly afforded Islam?

    But you see, the point I was making is this. A lot of people are saying that the presence of Muslims endangers freedom in the West because Muslims are unwilling to accept freedom of expression if it means they’ll have to put up with some criticism and even ridicule directed at their beliefs. But it seems that some conservative Christians chafe at such freedom of expression just as much.

    I agree with you that sending a “violence works” message is really dangerous, though, like Rev, I think white liberal guilt and multicultural sensitivity are far bigger factors. How many villainous Native Americans do you see in the movies? Yet surely no one would argue that fear of violence by Native Americans plays a major role in creating this climate.

    I have to say that I’m not very sympathetic to claims that Christians are a beleaguered and abused group in America. Yes, of course there has been some Christian-bashing and there have been some legal/public policies that discriminate against religion in the public square — with ridiculous cases like a first-grader in a public school being forbidden to read aloud from a book of his choice (like all the other kids) because his selection is from a book of Bible stories for children (one without any explicitly religious content, too). But I also think, as I’ve said before, that right now we’re seeing some religious hypersensitivity and downright paranoia that parallels the left-wing victimology of race and gender. For instance, a lot of people were quick to believe (and to spread) the absurd story that a California teacher was forbidden to use the Declaration of Independence in class because it refers to the “Creator.” The other day in a thread at Inside Higher Ed about the proposed AZ bill to allow students to opt out of reading “offensive” material in college, someone confidently said that surely the Bible is not used as a text in any university classrooms (only to have several people immediately come up examples of the Bible being used in the curriculum not only for religion studies but also English).

    I have to say that in a country where, in various polls, some 60% of the population express negative views of nonbelievers (far more than of Muslims, btw!), these claims ring rather hollow to me. From my vantage point as an agnostic, American culture is saturated with religious attitudes and assumptions that are generally treated quite reverentially. (For some examples, see this Reason column I wrote about a year ago.) But that’s another topic for another day.

  33. thecobrasnose

    There are decades worth of movies that show Native Americans as villains. They’re called “westerns.” The genre died as a massively popular form in the sixties due to a number of reasons, one of which was the activism—sometimes violent—of Native American groups. I’m not saying that the protests were the deciding factor in the relative disappearance of Native American bad guys on screen (I’d put them about fourth or fifth on the list, but I’m no expert), but they did occur, they were sometimes violent, and afterwards Native Americans were no longer the popular villain in American pop culture that they once were.

    A few years ago in Nigeria, there were violent riots and more than 100 deaths following with a crack about how the Mohammed might want to choose a wife from the contestants of a beauty pageant. The media of the west rather reported the story. A few weeks ago, deadly riots erupted all over the world concerning some cartoons deemed offensive by Islamic agitators (but apparently not offensive enough, as three additional, fraudulent, and extra-profane images were added to the mix in order to further ire sensitive Muslims). The western media for the most part at first declined to show the cartoons. At least one outlet, The Boston Phoenix—which had prided itself on being daring, and for instance showed pictures of Daniel Pearl’s murder—publicly admitted that it wouldn’t show the cartoons because it didn’t want to deal with the threat Muslim extremism posed. Others made noises about religious sensitivity, which rang false to sensitive types from religions that aren’t Islam. The New York Times, in illustrating the story, ran a picture (which it had run previously as well) of an artwork that profaned a holy figure in the Christian religion, but not the cartoons.

    Eventually some news outlets in Europe, in solidarity with the beleaguered Danish press, ran the cartoons. Meanwhile, in Sweden, websites that showed the cartoons were shut down, and the American media with a handful of exceptions still decline to show them at all, despite their obvious newsworthiness.

    Some Christian leaders in the west have expressed sympathy for the hurt feelings of the Muslims, and have openly wished that their prejudices were honored in a similar way. This basic thought has been publicly expressed by non- officially religious but extremely prominent persons and entities—one governmental— as well, which I think elevates this matter above a spat over religious grievances and well into public policy.

    Reason for the recap: Many are saying that intolerant Islam is a threat to free speech in the west because it has now demonstrably been a threat to free speech in the west. As the Nigeria example demonstrates (to me anyway, but I’m just a average citizen), the western media has been willing to cover violent Muslim objection to free speech as long as it’s happening far away. This cartoon business has brought the threat up close (for example, non-violent protests in NYC, but featuring prominent members of the government and press with gun sites on their foreheads—which I would think constitutes some sort of threat), and the Western media has blinked. Then prevaricated. And in the case of your editorial, conflated too many varieties and instances of non-Muslim overreaction to make a workable thesis for these ongoing events.

    As for the rest, we just see things too differently to make more discussion useful. Like your point about Christians joining the ranks of whiny victim groups. It’s a valid one, but I have less trouble than you shrugging off non-violent, effective tactics. Kind of like when I hear about a bereaved family that successfully sues and wins a huge settlement against a terrorist sponsoring entity. I think, “This is an overly litigious society. But that kind of rocks.”

  34. Revenant

    There are decades worth of movies that show Native Americans as villains. They’re called “westerns.”

    There are decades worth of movies that show Arabs as villains, too. Just — as with Native Americans — very few from recent years. Portrayals of Native Americans in Westerns have been almost universally positive for over thirty years now.

  35. thecobrasnose

    Yes, rev–that was my point. There was a long period of Native American villainy in movies, followed by upheavals in the film industry that coincided with various protests (some violent) by Native Americans, followed by thirty years of mostly positive portrayals of Native Americans in American films. As I said, I don’t think the protests were a deciding factor in the change of portrayal, but they were a contributing factor.

    In the case of Arab terrorists in film, a more apt analogy would be at the outset of WWII the American film industry saying, “Didn’t we do enough anti-German films already?”

  36. Revenant

    I think it is ahistorical to say that violent Native American protests played *any* part in the move away from portrayals of Native Americans as villains. The move away from the white hero/dark villain motif was a direct outgrowth of the civil rights movement and changing cultural attitudes, nothing more.

    Studios did not fear either the political clout of Native Americans (they didn’t have any), their economic clout (they didn’t have any) or the possibility of violence by them (there is no record of studio heads fearing attacks by Native Americans).

    The Native American rights movement coincided with the move away from portraying Native Americans in a negative way because both stemmed from the same root cause — a shift in attitudes about race.

  37. thecobrasnose

    You’re right, rev—when I mentioned protests by Native Americans in the Sixties, I should explicitly have cited the broader Civil Rights movement (of which you might agree they were a part). And while I’m here, I’ll make perfectly clear that there were more people in the US and around the world who sympathized with the Native Americans were more numerous than actual Native Americans, so the movement to portray them in a more sympathetic light was not just due to moral enlightenment, but decent financial sense. But even that reason was far less influential than a major restructuring of distribution and production of American movies in the wake of lawsuits that made mass production, B-grade westerns (the bulk of all westerns produced) largely unprofitable. There are a few other factors, as I said, and the protests rank around four or five on the list of reasons why there are fewer negative depictions of Native Americans on film in recent decades.

    If you want to make the case that the “shift in attitudes about race” were unrelated to the activism, violent and non-, by minorities, of all varieties, that’s up to you. But to decide that’s what you meant would be disingenuous on my part. :)

    But why do you assume that I would assume the Native American movement had no political clout (it did, and vastly disproportionately to its numbers, and surely because its cause was just), or that violence only registers with those against whom it is directly applied? Should I be unconcerned about extremist Muslim threats against newspaper editors because I’m not a newspaper editor? Violence, you’ll agree, is very eye catching, and the Civil Rights movement, though it was in its glory as ethical non-violent resistance, did have its violent aspects.

    And, if I may, the violence didn’t play nearly as well to the American audience. The Black Panthers, for example, will never have the honor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, though it did generate fear and respect. One reason that you don’t hear so much about abortion clinic bombings these days is because there is a limited number of people interested in committing those atrocities. Another is because it is terrible PR. Would you say the media was a) more inclined to show abortion opponents in a sympathetic light before the bombings, or b) less sympathetically?

    But those assumptions are being upended in this case. Militant Islamists are demanding respect (and getting it) by threatening violence (and delivering on it).

    Or so it seems to me. And with that, I’m out. Have a nice day!

  38. Revenant

    Cobra,

    First of all, I think you need to distinguish between the decline in the number of westerns produced and the decline in the percentage of westerns that portray Native Americans as villains. Changes in the structure of the movie industry were indeed primarily to blame for the former, but the latter is quite a separate issue. Westerns are a lot rarer today, but those that ARE made are almost universally pro-Indian.

    Anyway, it is true that if you follow the chain of causality back far enough, protests do appear as a factor. Studios changed their race portrayals both because their attitudes towards race changed and to avoid offending their audience. Their audience’s attitudes had changed largely because of the success of the civil rights movement. The success of the civil rights movement owed a lot to protests. Protests were, in other words, one of the causes of one of the causes of ones of the causes of the change in portrayal of minorities in film. One almost might as well credit Jim Crow laws (which caused the protests), the Reconstruction, the Civil War (which caused Reconstruction), or slavery (which caused the Civil War). When does it end? :)

    When I say “studios did not change their portrayals of minorities because of protests”, what I mean is “nobody at the studio said ‘uh oh, Indians are protesting, we better run out and make Little Big Man’”. Directors make vague remarks about “not wanting to portray negative Arab stereotypes” not because somebody marched in the street, but because they tend to be liberal weenies.

  39. Cathy Young

    thecobrasnose: I’m not quite sure what your argument is. Are you saying that violence by Native American extremists, Black Panthers, etc. “worked” in that it helped limit negative portrayals of blacks and Native Americans in film, and Muslim violence is just following in those footsteps? (In which case, we’ve lost the battle for free expression a long time ago.) Or that it hasn’t worked for other groups, but is working for Muslims?

    I really don’t see “Muslim jihadists” being accorded a whole lot of respect in the media — the violent protests have received ample, and highly negative, coverage. If the intimidation has played a role in discouraging negative portrayals of Muslims as a group, then isn’t it similar to Hollywood and the media portraying blacks (or Native Americans) as a whole more positively, without being actually sympathetic to the violent protesters?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s