February 14, 2006

The Freedom to Foster Hatred

[Related essays: Cartoon Lies, and Stoking the Hatred

More Cartoon Lies: Authoritarians for "Freedom"]

From Salon:
[T]he bogus "clash of civilizations" -- ludicrous, recycled, 19th century Orientalist racism as it may be -- is becoming all too real. The two sides are getting more enamored of the fracas with every passing day. To try to convince them that this is a bogus altercation looks increasingly to be as futile as attempting to convince a bunch of drunk English soccer hooligans that, win or lose, a football match is nothing to come to blows over.

Make no mistake about it: The recent West versus the Muslim World contention over 12 ignorant and offensive cartoons is not about freedom of expression and its limitations. It is first and foremost about the bleak reality of a great many powerful forces -- on both sides of the Atlantic, north and south of the Mediterranean and all the way to the Indian Ocean -- having a decided stake in perpetuating and escalating the so-called clash of civilizations, even if for a whole range of very different reasons. This is no conspiracy but, rather, an ugly convergence of equally repugnant interests.


Presumably, one need not be particularly "culturally sensitive" to recognize barefaced racism and hate-mongering in a cartoon depicting the Prophet, venerated by over a billion and a half human beings, sporting a turban with a fuse-lit bomb in its center. Or another in which that same Prophet is standing at the gate of a Muslim paradise telling an endless line of suicide bombers that he's running out of virgins to offer them. None of this is a question of subjecting a particular religious dogma to ridicule (as "we in the Western world" are supposedly in the habit of doing); it is blatantly and unashamedly a matter of expressing contempt and hatred for a group of people by virtue of the race, religion and/or ethnicity they were born into -- the very definition of racism.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, a commentator writing in an Israeli newspaper had no difficulty in recognizing the Danish cartoons for what they are. "Of late, a new breed of anti-Semitic caricature has begun to circulate through Europe, an indication, perhaps, of a new breed of anti-Semitism. But the Semites, in this case, are not Jews," wrote Bradley Burston in Haaretz on Feb. 6. He goes on to describe the message of the Danish cartoons as racist and obscene, adding, "In that sense, it also profanes the right of freedom of speech, distorting it into the freedom to foster hatred."


Triggered by cartoons, the latest episode of the clash of civilizations is the caricature of a caricature, one in which our fundamental humanity is diminished, the almost limitless richness and diversity of that vast world of the intellect and the imagination that we call culture is flattened and shadowed over, the profound commonality of our human condition rubbed out, until finally all that remains is the horrible and the grotesque: the "liberal" West represented by a T-shirted female American soldier holding a prone and naked Arab on a leash, and the "devout" Arab/Muslim world represented by a masked and hooded terrorist holding a knife to a hostage's neck under a banner of "God is great."
To be absolutely clear: you unquestionably have "the freedom to foster hatred," if that is what you choose to do. But if that is indeed your choice, don't dress it up as a noble and valiant fight for freedom of speech and for "Western values" -- unless, of course, you think that accurately represents "Western values."

And, as discussed in my earlier posts linked above, keep in mind that you are thus providing invaluable assistance to the next episode in Bush's campaign of death and destruction. That episode -- targeted at Iran (see here and here, too) -- might well be infinitely worse than anything we have witnessed so far. The havoc could reach out to all of us.

P.S. Another recent essay is also very relevant to these issues, Part IV of my Iran series: The National Myth that Sustains Us -- and Its Inevitable Racism.