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February 09, 2006




Thanks. If AJ discusses the Al Fagr printing of the cartoons, then I will offer them mad props. If not, then AJ will remain in my eyes a place for Arab discourse that is flawed but the only game in town (Marc's thesis, I believe).




Of course, in Western historiography there's a fairly complete body of literature dealing with thinking about events that did not happen and then reasoning from those beginning point. The most famous probably is the one in which Napoleon is ultimately defeated in a kind of Rube Goldberg Conditional Chain by a single horseshoe nail.

Again, the problem is that Al Fagr did in fact print those cartoons.

Even a cerebral gentleman like yourself cannot conterfactualize them out of existence.

Heh heh.


the aardvark

I never said that the paper didn't publish the cartoons. More reading problems, I guess.

At any rate, I think this topic has run its course. I'm closing this comment thread in the hopes of returning some level of sanity around here. Let's all do our parts, eh?

the aardvark

I've politely asked Jeffrey to take his unique personality elsewhere. I hope he respects this request. For everyone else, comments are now open again.


Prof. Lynch:

Why do you drag Anne Frank and Martin Luther King into this?

Anne Frank and MLK are two revered secular figures in the US/Europe. They are not religious figures. They don't equate to Muhammad. The equation would be if Moses or Jesus were ridiculed.

And we know the answer to that. Space doesn't permit me to list all the ways in which the sacred symbols of Judaism and Christianity are ridiculed in the West. A few examples will have to suffice.

Remember the joke, "Jesus Saves, Moses Invests"? Remember "Piss Christ?"

Much has been made of the fact that the Jyllands Posten rejected cartoons of Jesus because it might cause offense. Point taken, but let's step back and look at the larger Danish context: "Jesus had been satirized in Danish literature and popular culture for centuries - including a recent much-publicized Danish painting of Jesus with an erection - so why not Muhammad?"


You say, "Framing it as "freedom of speech vs respect for religion" doesn't quite make sense to me - I would prefer to see moderation and empathy tempering both absolute principles."

Nice words but the issue has metastasized to exactly that: freedom of speech, which is the freedom to offend. Ever hear of Lenny Bruce?

Look, Prof. Lynch, it would be very nice if free speech always came down to defending Ulysses or Lady Chatterley's lover, but it doens't. Often free speech comes down to defending the scatological, disgusting and meretricious crap of pop culture. We do so, so that we can read Ulysses (or, gasp, Why I Am Not A Christian, or Why I Am Not a Muslim or Why I Am Not A Jew or a Zoroastrian or a Druid or a Hindu) without the government throwing us in a cold dark place.

What part of that don't you understand, or what part of that do you disagree with?

the aardvark

Diana -

I referenced Anne Frank and MLK in because they have in practice been dragged in by various people involved in the crisis - the noxious cartoon with AF and Hitler, and MLK by various US liberals searching for a comparison to American sensitivities. I was just looking for things that had actually been said, rather than inventing my own examples. Maybe they aren't the best ones, but that's why I used them.

As to the freedom of speech issues, I don't disagree (or fail to understand). As I said, I support the freedom to criticize religion. But religious folks have just as much right to be outraged and to protest as secularists have to insult religion. Muslims are free to boycott, to protest, to be angry - just as American Christians were free to boycott theaters showing Last Temptation of Christ or to protest against Piss Christ. And Muslims don't have the right to burn buildings or attack people to express their rage, any more than American Christians had the right to burn down theaters or attack museum goers.


Prof. Lynch,

So Islamic nutcases use flawed analogies, does that mean you should? In doing so, you are lending them credibility. They aren't credible.

For example, the incessant Muslim references to "Holocaust taboos." Yes, there is a taboo relating to the Holocaust in various European countries. (Not in Denmark, as I understand it.)

As an American, I think these taboos do more harm than good and that European civilization is mature enough to deal with offensive speech. But the taboos are understandable, given the fact that the forces that led up to the Holocaust nearly burned the house down. In any case, it's a European affair. If Holland wants to prosecute Holocaust-deniers, that's their business. Why, of all issues, does this upset Muslims?

Yet various Islamic countries glory in brandishing the Holocaust in the face of the West. They variously claim it didn't happen while simultaneously charging the Israelis of committing one. While they murder blasphemers, print anti-Semitic (not anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic) cartoons in their press, drive out Muslim intellectuals who dare to question the "holy Quran," they have the chutzpah to scream about how aggrieved they are and demand that the West confront its demons on terms dicated by Muslims.

And you say THIS is not a clash of civilizations?

Get real. I'm not even sure you believe what you are saying.

the aardvark


The problem with what you write is in the use of the word "they". The noxious, ugly behaviors and attitudes you describe do exist in the Muslim world - who would deny that? Certainly not me. But you assume that those views are the majority view, or worse - are universal among Muslims and/or Arabs. Why would you assume that? Based on what? Based on the behavior of thuggish extremists, on small groups of loud protestors, on the state-backed depradations of bands of marauders? And generalizing from that to the realities of hundreds of millions of Muslims?

The angry response to the cartoons, as I've written in several posts now, is two very different things. One is a genuine, human, and entirely legitimate taking of offense at a perceived insult to their religion. If you don't think that Americans get upset at insults to Jesus, or to denigration of the Holocaust, then I really don't know how to respond. Americans get righteously aggrieved, as does everyone else, at offenses to things they hold dear. Look at how angry you've gotten over the offense to "freedom of speech", a value you hold dear. "Piss Christ" was a provocation, only significant because it attacked a taboo. And people took the bait. Muslims have as much right to taking offense as do any other human beings when things they care about deeply are trashed. That doesn't mean the right to violence or murder: it means the right to anger and peaceful protest.

The other side is a cynical, politically motivated campaign aimed at whipping up hostility between the West and Islam. Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists want ordinary Muslims and the West alike to believe that there is a fundamental, essentialist clash between Islam and Western civilization. That's their goal. It isn't currently true, and never has been. But far too many people seem willing to accept it at face value.

Respect the feelings of the vast majority of real Muslims, and don't hand al-Qaeda a strategic victory by buying into the clash of civilizations line. That's the point. The rest, I don't find very productive.


"But you assume that those views are the majority view, or worse - are universal among Muslims and/or Arabs"

Where did I say that?

I wrote "Yet various Islamic countries glory in brandishing the Holocaust in the face of the West."

Various Islamic countries somehow becomes an assumption that Holocaust denial is universal?

I do not know this. I only know that the Islamic world is the only place where Holocaust denial is considered legitimate. And please don't deny that this is used as a debating tactic against the West. The first arrow in the quiver against Denmark was exactly that subject. Ironic, given the fact that Holocaust denial isn't illegal in Denmark.

But we digress. I don't have time to do a lot of research on the topic, but a quick search in google news gave me this, from The Seattle Times.


" A prominent Iranian newspaper opened a competition today seeking cartoons about the Holocaust in what it called a test of whether the West would be as supportive of freedom of expression over Nazi genocide as it was with caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hamshahri, one of Iran's top five newspapers, published the international call for cartoons in English and Farsi under the title: "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression?" on its Web site. The announcement also appeared on page 31 of the print version of the paper."

If this isn't a clash of civilizations, I don't know what is.

And can you tell me whether, in your opinion, the moderate Muslim majority would think it is OK for Muslim scholars to question the divinity and the historicity of the Koran?

PLEASE do not respond by saying that plenty of Christians and Jews get riled when you question the divinity and historicity of their sacred scriptures. They do. But they are not in control here, and they do not prevent the publication of books undermining the divine nature of the bible.

the aardvark


If your claim is only that some Muslim governments (I mainly what I write about the Arab world; you focus on Iran which of course isn't Arab) foment this kind of behavior, along with some extremist groups, and not that these views are the norm among Muslims, then we don't really disagree. But if that's the case, then it's just a question of defining "clash of civilizations": I wouldn't call such a politically-driven mobilization campaign by some governments and extremist groups a clash of civs; you might.

My reading of your comments is that you mean more than that, though: not only that some governments foment hatred of the West, but that those views are in some sense representative of majority opinion. That's what I would call a "clash of civilizations". My argument that this is not what's going on is based on a rather intensive reading of the Arab media and public opinion surveys, along with living in the area at various times for extended periods. As I said before, most Muslims I know are genuinely upset about the cartoons but don't endorse the violent tactics of the states or the thugs - which they see as hurting their own cause and image.

There has been a deep and broad religious revival in the Muslim world in the last thirty years. It's extremely important, and it's not epiphenomenal. But it is not identical with the violent jihadist minority, even if that's what bin Laden wants you to believe.

The religious impulse runs deep, here and in the Muslim world alike. I'm sorry to have to respond to the "questioning divinity" point by noting that the same fundamentalist inclinations are prevalent in the US as well. Intelligent design? The "War on Christmas"?

Personally, I respect religious faith here and there, as long as the faithful can find ways to coexist with the secular. That to me is the core of liberalism - not stoking a jihad in either direction, but in finding ways of coexisting.


I asked you "And can you tell me whether, in your opinion, the moderate Muslim majority would think it is OK for Muslim scholars to question the divinity and the historicity of the Koran?

I'd you to answer that question directly and honestly.

You have not.

I anticipated your response by saying: "PLEASE do not respond by saying that plenty of Christians and Jews get riled when you question the divinity and historicity of their sacred scriptures. They do. But they are not in control here, and they do not prevent the publication of books undermining the divine nature of the bible."


If you do not deal with me as honestly as I have dealt with you, I will have to conclude that you are not communicating in good faith, and I will curtail this exchange.

Regarding hatred of Jews and Holocaust revisionism, an Egyptian blogger just reported that he saw "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and "Mein Kampf" sold on the streets and in a big bookstore in Cairo.

I have done no research, but my gut feeling is that hatred of Jews and "infidels" runs quite deep in the Muslim world and no longer depends upon the inculcation of an elite for sustenance.

Of course, I know you'll disagree and you'll just say that I'm tarring 1 billion people with one feather, yada yada...let me ask you this (not that you'll answer), if you heard a Saudi Arabian mullah deny the Holocaust and call Jews sons of apes, would you even register what you hear? Would you give a shit? Or would you sweep it under the carpet as a sad form of extremism, not representative, nothing here, move along....

the aardvark


I feel like we're talking around in circles now. I keep saying that there is a real problem in the Muslim world, defined by extremists who don't represent the majority. You keep responding with examples from extremists, and demanding that I acknowledge them. I do acknowledge them, and always have. But I do not consider them to be representative. When you do your "yada yada" routine, you are gliding past the single most important point. You can't do that, or at least not of you're trying to be serious.

With regard to your question about the Quran, there is an enormously important and intense debate in the Arab/Muslim world about takfir - declaring someone to be an apostate. Issuing takfiri declarations is the distinctive practice of extremist, jihadi groups. It has been denounced by many prominent moderate Islamists, to say nothing of regular old Muslims (most recently in the Amman declaration against takfir). That doesn't stop the takfiris from doing it, and from doing horrible things in its name - the most recent in my experience being the forced recantation of the Egyptian liberal Sayid Qumni in the face of public death threats by an extremist group. If you miss the politics surrounding takfir - the struggles over who is authoritative within Islam, struggles over power - then you miss the point entirely.

I'd implore you to ask yourself something: why do you think that your "gut" feels as it does? Based on what information? One of my main points, again and again, has been the unproductive role the media has played in framing this issue. Has that, by any chance, shaped your gut feelings?

Feel free to curtail the exchange, that's your perogative. But it won't be because I haven't responded to your serious points (even if I choose to ignore the intentionally provocative, and patently offensive, ones). At any rate, I'm leaving town pretty soon and won't be blogging or commenting for the rest of the week.



You say that I am generalizing, we are talking in circles, and that you have acknowledged that "there is a real problem in the Muslim world, defined by extremists who don't represent the majority." You criticize me for "responding with examples from extremists," whom you do not "consider...[to be] representative." Then you charge me with "gliding past the single most important point." (Extremism: are they or aren't they?)

Then, with a straight face, you tell me about "an enormously important and intense debate in the Arab/Muslim world about takfir - declaring someone to be an apostate." which you acknowledge "is the distinctive practice of extremist, jihadi groups."

And you give examples of the current "debate" which includes the public disgrace/silencing of an Egyptian liberal.

Look, Marc, maybe you don't realize how this plays to us folks in the 21st century, but it sounds like something out of Puritan Massachusetts.

It sounds to me like a clash of civilizations...within Islam. And the wrong side is winning.

"I'd implore you to ask yourself something: why do you think that your "gut" feels as it does?"

Because of the things you just described.

Because of what I just read on that Cairene's blog about Mein Kampf sold in a respectable bookstore.

Because of what I read about the Ramadan specials of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion being shown on television.

"Based on what information?"

Because of the things you just described. Taqfir...violent jihadis...oh my god. Methinks you have lost the capacity for outrage. You are like the frog--been boiled and you don't even know it.

And oh yeah, I'll admit it, I used to read Memri.

Cue the aha! She reads that Zionist-propaganda-hate-the-Muslims-site.

Hold yer horses, I don't read Memri anymore. Read one, read 'em all.

Now, I realize you have a habit of not reading my disclaimers, but DISCLAIMER: I am smart enough to realize that Memri has an anti-Muslim/Arab agenda, and that they only translate what will suit that agenda.

Doesn't matter. Any country with a controlled press which allows that kind of shizzle, even if it is a minority of what they publish, is a sinkhole.

Anti-Memri propagandists have their own agenda, and they lie with statistics. The majority of what's published in an Egyptian newspaper probably has nothing to do with Jews (or Israel). I don't think that the average Egyptian wakes up and says to himself, "how can I kill a Jew today." I do think that his image of Jews is most likely deeply unfavorable and that he or she believes a lot of junk that they have picked up from the general atmosphere.

I also beleive that the majority of what is published in Arab/Muslim countries that has to do with Jews (or Israel) is probably pretty awful. My gut tells me. Doesn't everyone have one of those? Do you do a controlled experiment every time you form a conclusion? Is there one Arab country that has a Haaretz?

"But it won't be because I haven't responded to your serious points (even if I choose to ignore the intentionally provocative, and patently offensive, ones)."

I think you have evaded my pointed questions and have brought up issues that I already disclaimed (the War on Christmas) and I have not written anything intentionally provocative but I refuse to pull punches.

I am sick of the double standards, sick of threats emanating from countries whose government controlled newspapers traffic in filth and who advertise their unseemly obsession with Jewish tragedy of WWII. They should shut up.

I have a good friend who is fascinated by the Japanese. She speaks the language fluently and spent 10 years there. She loves them -- warts and all. Her feelings about them are objective and balanced.

I don't feel that you are objective and balanced about Arabs and the Middle East at all. There is no criticism, no balance. This inclines you to take offense on their behalf. It disinclines you to step back and say, "You know, there really *is* a problem with the state of contemporary Islam. It's more than just a few fanatics."

I will have more to say about this, but not here. I think I've said enough.


Sorry, one last thing. In all this back-and-forth, I missed something quite basic.

You wrote, "And that Muslims had the right to be upset, to boycott, to write letters, to demonstrate, but not to engage in violence."

What about my feelings? What if the Jews decided to boycott the Muslim world because of the anti-Semitic cartoons appearing in Islamic countries?

What if every Jewish-created thing in the world, from Woody Allen to the Sabin vaccine to any scientific discovery deriving from Einsteinian relativity to Andy Grove's computer chips were to be sucked out of the Muslim world by a magical feat of Jewish necromancy?

Would you approve of that?

the aardvark

Ok, well good luck then. Your verdict on me doesn't bother me particularly, but I feel frustrated that you don't seem to respond to what I actually write. I write that there's a battle going on between extremists and the rest of the Muslim world, and that the worst thing that could happen is that the extremists capture the middle ground. That they haven't yet done so, based on a whole range of experience and data. I offer the takfir example - which has been a recurrent political issue in recent Muslim political life, and in which virtually every spokesman of moderate Islam, men with followers in the tens of millions, explicitly denounce the practice. I point to the diversity of public opinion, and the need to recognize the political context of various interventions, and of the role of the media in framing the conflict. I'd like to engage over those, not over words you put in my mouth or over the questions on which you demand answers. But perhaps you're right, and this isn't the place. You seem to have made up your mind about all this, and me, long ago. Oh well. You have expressed yourself. Best of luck to you.

the aardvark

Oh, and the last comment? I haven't a clue what to make of that. Feel free do indulge your fantasies of anti-semitism elsewhere. I'm not sure who, or what, you're arguing with, anymore. It certainly isn't me. But I believe that I've done the best I can to respond to your questions now, and don't have the time for more. Again, best of luck to you.

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