February 11, 2006

More Cartoon Lies: Authoritarians for "Freedom"

A few days ago, I discussed some of the mechanisms and goals of the propaganda campaign that is deliberately worsening the controversy over the Mohammed cartoons. I focused on the blatant contradiction between the arguments now offered by the defenders of Bush and our foreign policy and the arguments the same people put forth in connection with the Newsweek brouhaha last year. I also pointed out the orchestrated outrage and denunciations directed at Muslims as one undifferentiated whole, and how it ties into the growing demonization of Iran. All of this is designed to heighten the sense that we must take action against Iran now -- that, as Richard Perle has announced, we must "take action now or lose the option of taking action."

There is one further aspect of these issues that requires clarification before I complete my series on the "Iran problem." (The last installment is here, with links to the rest.) I would not choose to single out Andrew Sullivan in what follows and, for a variety of reasons, I would prefer to use another example. I find Sullivan's arguments tediously and predictably tendentious, imitative and obvious, and not particularly engaging or worthy of response. Sullivan also makes his own personal torments a frequent element of his approach, which I find particularly offensive and sometimes nauseating.

As I explained in Part II of my series, On Torture, Sullivan refuses to give up his dream of Anglo-American empire, and of "benevolent American hegemony" to be established by military force and violent conflict. Because he will not question the fundamental goals of the program he advocates so endlessly, his objections to torture, for example, are completely unconvincing and hollow. As I discussed earlier, he wants his empire -- and he objects only to the "mess" it entails. He wants a nice empire. A minimal understanding of history and the dynamics of politics and culture should have disabused him of such a laughably idiotic notion many years ago. Sullivan's commitment to the "ideal" of spreading "freedom" and "democracy" using bombs and bullets makes his personal agonies about torture and the other "messes" engaged in regularly by the Bush administration both untenable and morally objectionable. Countless tens of thousands of people are suffering indescribable agonies every day as the direct result of the policies Sullivan supports, while we are supposed to be concerned about Sullivan's varying levels of personal discomfort. Frankly, I don't give a damn -- and I would strongly suggest you shouldn't either.

Nonetheless, Sullivan presents a certain kind of psychology in an extreme form. It is illustrative and informative for that reason. And Sullivan's hysterical rantings about the cartoon controversy provide a useful window into how this psychology works. In the last two parts of my series On Torture (here and here), I explored Sullivan's lengthy response to Charles Krauthammer's barbaric approval of state-sanctioned torture (which I had previously analyzed in detail here). Sullivan and I both oppose torture completely and across the board, so I thought it important to explain the universe that separates his approach from mine. In the end, Sullivan and I have nothing in common, even on this crucial question, except for an apparent agreement that torture is always wrong. But that agreement is very superficial in nature and, as I explained, Sullivan's opposition to torture doesn't matter in the end. Opposition of that kind will do nothing to stop horrors from engulfing our world.

I mentioned to a couple of friends that one brief passage in the conclusion of my series about torture is the key to everything else. This is what I wrote:
Very significantly, both Krauthammer and Sullivan -- even though they come down on opposite sides of this dispute -- exhibit the same blind spot: the reality of the person who will always refuse to inflict torture on another does not appear to exist for them. We are left with the sense that, in their world, if the order comes down to torture, the order will be obeyed. So the critical question for them is whether that order should ever be issued. Krauthammer says it should, and Sullivan says it must never be.

For me, the question is a profoundly different one. I recognize that the order will not necessarily be obeyed. So for me, the key lies right there: why will some people refuse, while others won't? Krauthammer and Sullivan never ask this question. They are both the victims that Miller describes. Obedience is the ruling principle that informs their approach -- and the only question is: obedience to what?
I repeat that, in my view, this is the ultimate key: whatever their disagreements are, people like Krauthammer and Sullivan -- of whom there are many millions in our own country, and many more around the world -- are ruled by the principle of obedience, more specifically obedience to authority. When it comes to matters of foreign policy in particular, that obedience is revealed in their attitude toward our political leaders, and to our military.

Let's take a look at Sullivan's approach to the cartoon controversy. In a remarkable and sickening entry ominously entitled, "Blackmail" (which has already received some more than deserved scorn and ridicule, here and here), Sullivan writes:
People keep talking about avoiding conflict. They are in denial. The conflict is already here. It is outrageous to be informed by a crowd of hundreds of thousands that the West must give up its freedoms in order to avoid violence. I'm relieved to see that this moment has forced some very hard thinking on the left.
A few lines on, Sullivan sets forth an email 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."
Sullivan concludes his post by offering only this comment: "Interesting is one word for it."

Thus, we have Andrew Sullivan -- who repeatedly reminds us that he is among the bravest of warriors in the world-shattering fight for freedom, human dignity and civilization -- citing an email that proposes another Holocaust as a legitimate means for Europe to "solve" its problems. And not only does he say nothing to distance himself from this inhuman, immoral, sickening and unimaginably barbaric suggestion -- he appears to embrace it. Since there are well over a billion Muslims around the world, it's not entirely clear to me how this will "solve" anything, but I'm sure Sullivan's allies have scientists and engineers working on that problem right now.

As I pointed out in my earlier post about the cartoon story (and as the posts I linked to explain in more detail), this entire controversy has been created in the first instance and then exploited by all the various actors involved: by Middle Eastern leaders eager to distract attention from their own local problems by focusing rage elsewhere, and by the propagandists for our foreign policy of endless and expanding war. In a followup post, we see Sullivan's agenda once more: it is the agenda shared by all the warhawks. It may be enough to note that he links to Michelle Malkin, an avowed racist who justifies her barbarism by claiming the demands of national security (and which is hardly surprising given Sullivan's own loathsome embrace of another racist, Charles Murray, who justifies his racism in the name of "science"). But consider the end of this brief entry from Sullivan: "It's amazing how quickly the Jihadists have succeeded in intimidating the West into giving up critical freedoms in a matter of days. Now, wait till they have a nuke."

You see how it works? We can't "wait till they have a nuke." We have to act now. Those Muslims are barbarians, who only understand violence. As Sullivan says, "The conflict is already here." Let the bombing begin.

It is ludicrous in the extreme for Sullivan and the other propagandists to claim that the "appeasers" are contending that "the West must give up its freedoms in order to avoid violence." Two major points demand emphasis on this issue. First and as I discussed in the earlier entry with regard to the Newsweek story, it is truly rich for the warhawks to be deploring dangers to free speech rights, and to freedom of the press. They are the ones who seek to intimidate the media into reporting, a la World Wars I and II, "nothing but good news." They usually adamantly and dishonestly insist that they oppose government censorship -- but what they demand is self-censorship for their aims. In this sense, the warhawks' demands and the demands of those Muslims who ask that the cartoons not be published are identical.

In addition, this kind of caterwauling from Sullivan is entirely laughable. Sullivan was one of the loudest voices after 9/11 issuing endless warnings about "the enemy within" our own borders: the "fifth column" that would work for our defeat from inside. I remind you that, for Sullivan, the "fifth column" consisted of anyone and everyone who even dared to question Bush's foreign policy. Sullivan worked tirelessly to intimidate every critic of our actions abroad, and to shut them up. And now Sullivan is incensed because some Muslims are deeply offended by the cartoons and do not want to see them disseminated further. Sullivan appears to have rendered himself so insensate at this point that he cannot grasp that if he can demand self-censorship, others can too.

The second point is very simple, although the hawks seek to obliterate it entirely. Every press organ, like every blogger and every other individual, makes choices constantly about what they will publish or what they will say. Freedom of the press does not mean that you must publish everything, especially when its "news" value is nonexistent and when it seeks only to anger people for no further purpose. But the hawks have so completely inverted this issue that the principle is rendered incoherent: we are told that every news outlet must publish the cartoons precisely because they will inflame people. That's the entire purpose, and it has no other goal at all.

The warhawks thus seek to achieve both negative and affirmative censorship by public intimidation: you cannot publish anything that is in any way critical of our foreign policy or that points out its innumerable negative consequences (unless it concerns a minor point and you've received the hawks' kind permission in advance) -- and you must publish what the hawks tell you to, especially if it will enrage the people we plan to bomb next.

Thus concludes our lesson in Propaganda 101 for today. This is insanity, pure and simple.

And note how this reveals the principle of obedience at work. With regard to the cartoon controversy, for example, there is no room left for individual judgment or choice on the part of any newspaper or television network. The battle lines have been drawn and, if you are on the side of "freedom" and "civilization," then you must publish the cartoons. If you don't, you are "giving up our freedoms." But this has nothing to do with "freedom," except in the utterly unjustified and indefensible manner the hawks have defined it. It's not about "freedom" at all: it's about following the rules, as the warhawks have laid them down.

So it represents still another awful irony that, in yet another post, Sullivan states that "Islam - not just radical Islam - finds modern pluralistic societies so difficult to tolerate." Note the significant shift to all of Islam, and "not just radical Islam." Since Sullivan and his ilk remind us daily that this is an endless, worldwide conflict -- and since there are well in excess of one billion Muslims -- that's going to be one hell of an "internment" program. Those scientists and engineers have their work cut out for them.

And Sullivan himself is just as uncomfortable with pluralism, as his writing on foreign policy reveals with stark clarity (and on other subjects as well, to be sure). There is no room for disagreement or different cultures in the world according to Sullivan and the other dedicated warhawks, or even within our own country: one size must fit all, and it's their size. When you strip away all the meaningless verbiage about "freedom" and "democracy," Bush and his dedicated supporters are just as authoritarian as the radical Islamists are. The Sullivans of the world don't yet have the full force of government to make certain their edicts are followed, but they're working on that. They're working on it very, very hard.

These people have no conception of what genuine freedom means, or how it makes itself known. Their only guide to action is obedience, and following the rules. And they will make the rules, thank you. If you disagree, you will shut up about it. If you don't, you're "on the other side."

True freedom has very few friends today, even in the United States. Be one of them.

(At the moment, my only income is from donations for my writing here and at The Sacred Moment. If you find this post and my other writing of some value, I would be very grateful if you considered making a contribution. Thank you very much indeed.)