People only like debating when they think they’re good at it. You can take special pleasure from dancing or football if you happen to be talented but they have other virtues that appeal regardless. Once you’ve lost the smugness of perceived superiority, however, all debating is is a parlour game for assholes. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to make a point without being oppositional. So it is as one regards the head-shaking and finger-wagging directed at people who see violence erupt in response to a film and interpret it in an unsympathetic light. These arguments are bound to occur again and so it’s worth dealing with ones you disagree with the most onerous ones soundly.
Jeff Sparrow compares the reaction of protesting Muslims to that of Indian rebels of the 1800s, for whom the news that their cartridges were greased with tallow was the straw that snapped the proverbial humpbacked creature’s spine. This is an example of the irrational generalisation of Eastern misery that I discussed here. It’s frankly insulting to compare the downtrodden sepoys to the well-off Indonesians, free Australians and residents of peaceful Tunisia who’ve been kicking off, never mind to scheming Salafists of Libya and Egypt. The former bear no comparison to the latter. Sparrow’s explanation might retain a touch of plausibility if it such protests were uncommon, or if their targets were only imperial powers. They’re not. We’ve seen them directed against Swedes, in the form of Lars Vilks; Danes like Kurt Westergaard; Dutchmen such as Van Gogh; English people like Salman Rushdie; Frenchmen, represented by the blokes of Charlie Hebdo; Pakistanis like poor Asia Bibi and Rimsha Masih; Tunisians such as Nabil Karoui; Saudis like Hamza Kashgari; Indonesians like Alexander Aan et cetera ad nauseum.
Sparrow continues by comparing the strange film that incited much of this anger to the Protocols, and writes that “no-one’s surprised when Jews…mobilise against some fresh incarnation of that notorious document”. Funny. The Arabic media regularly produces anti-semitic content, from the Jew-hating Palestinian Mickey Mouse to the Egyptian Candid Camera show that disturbed a guest by introducing her to men who claimed to be Israelis. Violent protests? There were none. If Israelis or Americans had taken to the streets and set upon Arabic embassies, though, it’s hard to believe that liberals and socialists would be in such a hurry to contextualise their deeds.
On the day that Sparrow’s article was featured on Counterpunch, by the way, they published “Pol Pot Revisited” by the Swedish anti-semite Israel Shamir. Even as Cambodia’s genocide court continued its exposure of atrocities of that vile little man, Shamir saw fit to claim that “the Pol Pot Cambodians remember was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist” and insist that we “reassess the brave attempts to reach for socialism in various countries”. He did not, of course, cite any polls that might support this view, or even name a single Cambodian who believed it. I’m not implying that Mr Sparrow is responsible for the opinions of the people his thoughts share space with but if it’s real, ignorance that vexes him he could look closer to home.
Think Progress, meanwhile, writing on the Ayaan Hirsi Ali article I critiqued here, succumb to an annoying habit of liberals – and, in fairness, I’m sure I’ve done as well – which entails the quotation of views as if they’re evidently disreputable when they are not. Hirsi Ali said, as they prissily observe, that…
The Muslim men and women (and yes, there are plenty of women) who support — whether actively or passively — the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam.
This is, in fact, correct as various Islamic figures have been proving in the last week. The Saudi Grand Mufti, the Imam of Al-Azhar and even the supposedly moderate Prime Minister of the Turks have been demanding that insults against Muhammad be recognised as crimes. Now the head of the OIC has insisted that nations worldwide should “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression” and criminalise blasphemy. The nations he represents can be so fervid with intolerance that a schoolgirl can be threatened and detained and he’s worked up over behaviour in Western countries? Their response should be a word that’s made up of two letters. It begins with “n” and it’s not “ni”.
One cannot, of course, explain these men’s responses by claiming that they’re manifestations of anti-imperial rage – or, at least, you’d have to woefully condescending to imagine that such sober and intelligent gentlemen don’t mean what they say. They make little secret of the facts that the defenders of their faith ignore: that they feel that their religion is so sacred as to render disrespect intolerable, and that, in accordance with popular interpretations of its scriptures, they believe it mandates that its precepts be enforced rather than being adhered to as a matter of choice. That hundreds of millions of people think and act on this doesn’t mean their beliefs and deeds can’t also be inspired and influenced by a host of other factors. Yet it’s nonetheless true, and it really does matter.
While I’m largely interested in the response to the film the movie itself provokes worthwhile questions. Not its contents, of course, but its origins. It has to be learnt exactly who produced and funded it; not so they can be locked in the slammer but as if there’s a powder keg lying around it’s worth knowing who’s going to do their utmost to ignite it. The reaction to the reaction also deserves comment but I’ll restrict myself to one point. Ralph Peters, a bloodthirsty man who’s previously fantasised about military attacks on war correspondents, has insisted that the deaths of four Americans be answered with the deaths of four hundred Libyans. No. Just – no. The closest that our armies should get to the Middle East is when the troops have time off and play Medal of Honor. Let’s be more outspoken but less militaristic. More criticism and fewer bombs is not, I think, too nightmarish a vision of the future.