Feb 7, 2006

Cartoon Controversy Shows We Need More Liberals in the World

Who's Afraid of Offensive Speech, Art, and  Ideas? 

I believe in the freedom of speech. I am a thinking, rational person. I have my own set of morals and values, and, yes, I do find several things that other people say &do as offensive or disgusting. However, I do not see vile speech as an infectious threat, thus I do not need to inoculate myself by killing it as a “virus of the mind.” Being a liberal doesn’t mean I have to accept everything thrown at me. On the contrary, I have a very discriminating brain, which is skeptical but open. Being a liberal also means that I can tolerate expressions I don’t like. Want to know a main difference between liberals and the "Taliban of all stripes" ? Here it is: The Al Qaeda type wants to kill everything they don’t like; the American type wants to ban everything they don’t like. We liberals laugh at, we may get angry at, and we boycott stuff we don’t like!

As a liberal, I welcome being in charge of myself and accept the responsibility of my actions. I want to be trusted with all sorts of information, even exposed to ideas that may contradict my own point of view. I see life as something to be treasured, enjoyed (in the here and now), and take it as an opportunity to explore whatever is out there and tickles my fancy. I choose not to live my life trying to avoid offending the gods, be in fear of them, always try to strike a bargain with them. Nor do I think I have to resort to violence in the extreme to prove that I’m a worthy believer and a soldier against offensive speech, particularly against anything that offends the divine.



Who Accepts the Devil?

That is why I do not buy the argument, "the devil's out there ready to destroy us." The Devil does not exist; evil does! However, evil is perpetuated by humans alone. “The Devil made me do it,” is a lame argument in my judgment, though it’s been amply used, and, worse, many people even buy into it! How? Well, when they say that they want to kill offensive speech because it may incite violence. When they say that we must be protected from anything that threatens our soul and the "fabric of our society." In other words, we're not to be trusted with what they deem "dangerous material." Well, some of us are up to the task.

I don’t doubt that offensive speech can make people violent, but is this a good reason to limit speech? In this country we protect, as we should, the free speech rights of vile organizations like the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and all the other idiots--who are tryinng to appeal to the other closed-minded bigots since they can't put forth any thoughtful argument. They can't reach me. I am more suspicious of people who are after my soul than of those who are after my money. As for accessing my grey matter, they need to come up with some good rational argument to gain access.






Orwell's a Classic
 
I understand the world a bit, so I do realize that those
cartoons (originally appeared in a few European publications months ago and republished recently) featuring the Prophet Mohammed do offend a great number of Muslims. Art has been known to inflame and insult. Art is speech, and, like George Orwell said, “if liberty is to mean anything, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.” Those cartoons weren’t gratuitous in the abstract, but they had a point of view (I’m posting a couple of them for you to see here). I agree with Keenan Malik who wrote, “Far from censoring offensive speech, a vibrant and diverse society should encourage it. In any society that is not uniform, grey and homogenous there are bound to be clashes of viewpoints. Inevitably some people will find certain ideas objectionable.” I suppose that any cartoon that would critize the status of the (subjugated) women in a traditional Muslim society would also be provocative, insulting, and inflamatory to millions of people in the world today. Some of the rioters might be women too!

The Need for Liberal Democracies
Since there aren’t any liberal democracies in the Arab world, it’s hard to know how many Muslims find the on-going violent attacks justified. But, the lack of a liberal political system breeds intolerance and promotes a suffocating religious conformity. I want to emphasize the “liberal” aspect of the political system. Democracy is indeed a good political system since the majority elects its leaders; the people have to be consulted regularly & frequently; there is freedom of speech, etc. But, it is the liberal democracy which guarantees minority rights—be that of a small group or an individual.

We are fighting to maintain and strengthen our liberal democracy here in our country, something that the American “Taliban” (religious Christian fundamentalists) sees as a threat. For them liberalism is like the Devil who can manipulate the hearts & minds of the people. Again, it’s a “protection” thing—protects us from evil; and, the God’s emissaries know best. I believe that our Christian religious extremists have much in common with the Muslim extremists; the name of the prophet is different and God has written & delivered different versions of his book to the different groups which are utterly convinced only they hold the authentic copy.



Graphic Depictions of Violence
 
There are many brave persons in the Muslim world, like those Jordanian newspaper
editors who published the controversial cartoons while saying, “Muslims of the world be reasonable!” They were promptly fired and arrested! Here’s a great point by Jihad! I’m talking about Jihad Momani who wrote, “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?” How true!


There are also reasonable religious leaders who have urged restraint. I welcome the comments of the Iraqi Grand Ayatollah, Al Sistani, who said that militant Islamists were partly to blame for distorting the image of Islam. On the other hand, the rioting continues, people are being killed, and there is no shortage of bigots who want to escalate the controversy; like the biggest Iranian newspaper that has launched a Holocaust cartoon competition! Who said that God made us in his own image… I wonder what exactly this means… With all the terrible things humans have been doing to each other, he probably has second thoughts about including this creation in his resume. But who knows for sure?
Effort Required
 
What I know through observation and reason is that the world would be a better place if we had more liberals in it. It would be better for the non-liberals too! They would be free to believe whatever they want and would have equal opportunities to offend the rest of us—as they do today in this country and in other liberal democracies. So, let’s make sure we protect this precious thingy we call liberty!

33 comments:

samantha said...

one of the best defense of liberalism as applied to a hot issue of today. thanks, it's good to see there are strong voices in defense of the much-maligned liberalism in our country

BM said...

As I Moslem, I can tell you this, I didn't like those stupid cartoons, but that's as far I'd go. The Prophet Muhammad was often ridiculed and insulted but he never picked up a stone in anger!

Sistani and other religious leaders have condemned the violence as a blemish on the face of Islam.

Peace!

anderson said...

I find it crazy that so many people are so angry.. and insecure.

I too saw all the cartoons and didn't care for them that much, but I can see why a Muslim may take offense. This doesn't excuse violence.

I think part of the anger has to do with a general feeling of mistreatment of the Muslim world by the West

Andros said...

Excellent point about the pent-up anger in the Muslim world against the Europeans & Americans. The West has brought many evils to the Muslim lands. This idea has much traction too, and it's Osama's point--that the West occupy the holy lands and are exploiting the Muslims to get oil!

Obviously, we have to examine what other factors make so many people intolerant of certain ideas...

As I said, if you are a liberal, by definition, you believe in free speech. It doesn't mean you accept the content of speech but only the idea.

geeshus said...

Look, even Jesus was a rather non-violent person, and much of Christianity in the early centuries endured trials & tribulations.

But, I guess once Xtians became the majority and got power they were just as bad or good in persecuting other faiths.

Xtians have lots of blood on their hands, though of course I don't think Muslims should get on the revenge wagon now.

kelly said...

Violent reaction probably comes from a sense of insecurity. I mean if you're absolutely convinced you know the revealed truth, and are secure in your belief system, then why try to kill the dissenter?

Like the conservatives who are afraid that their identiry is threatened, the cohesiveness of the group and its identity is supreme, so they'd go to extremes to defend it.

I like your bold style

Rumbux said...

I saw this article regarding the efforts by Danish Imams to end the cartoon controversy. Although the Imams began a protest against the publication of the cartoons initially, many moderate Muslims in Denmark and in other European countries defended the right of the newspapers to publish those cartoons.

I heard a Muslin on NPR this morning who said he felt he had to defend his adoptive country... He was upset because those violent Muslims were burning his flag and destroying his embassies... He felt more Danish than before, he said! Interesting!

E.B said...

I was disgusted with the retreat of the Bush administration and all the other so-called defenders of freedom who said that those offensive cartoons should have been prohibited from being published. What a cope-out. Hypocrites...

nostradamus said...

This from Denmark:

According to a poll taken this week among 1,047 people in Denmark 57% of the Danes support Jyllands-Posten’s decision to publish the cartoons, while 31% disagrees. Young people and men are more likely to support the decision. Almost two out of every three males and 61% of people aged between 18 and 25 years of age did so.

john wayne said...

the world needs a lot les liberals for sure

grow up you morans!

ben franklin said...

I have a semi-serious question:

Since depictions of the Prophet Muhammed are not allowed, how does anyone know how he looks like?

Would it be less offensive if the character depicted was named "Bubba"????!!!

Bobbie Lee said...

to john wayne: sorry we offended your sensitivities...

did we shout too loud? we thought it'd be OK to talk loudly thinking the NASCAR sounds would drown our (free speech)...

oh, did we wake you up? it's ok, go back to sleep now.... rest because there is a WWF-athon coming up!

Anonymous said...
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Chris said...

Unfortunately the Bush foreign policy in the Middle East is promoting more terrorism and extremism of all kinds.

Anonymous said...

Are liberals OK with those people expressing their views by burning down the embassies? Isn't that free speech? Or, do you have to admit that free speech has limits?

Sirius said...
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Glendel said...

This is such an absurd argument! Like in other circumstances the limit comes when force is used...

The liberal way is the best approach. You don't have to agree with me, and I don't have to agree with you. I won't force my beliefs on you, nor will I destroy your property trying to "convince" you of your errant ways! Apparently, the non-liberals are more willing to impose their views on others!

G said...

Look, religious & sectarian violence is not strange to us either. We have no shortage of knuckleheads who wouldn't hesitate to use violence (including murder) against anyone who is different..... And, killing people is always easier if you label them "sinners"!!!!!

prometheus said...

Of course we have to see evil wherever it exists, but equally important to stand up to it. Everyone can do something, contribute even a tiny bit, to make our world a better place to be.

Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle!

Andros said...

I'd like to add John Stuart Mill's idea, the "harm principle" which states that anyone should be able to do whatever he wants as long as his actions don't threaten or harm others!

Ayres said...

But, what if your speech offends me? Isn't this harm? How about when your activities harm the unity of our society, incite people to violence, attack our way of life, our culture, etc.... Isn't this harmful?

Andros said...

OK, I've heard this kind of argument many times before. Again, I'll answer by using J.S. Mill, who, by the way, did not try to validate his arguments (unlike many other philosophers) by appealing to Natural Rights or to divine rights, but instead to utility.

Freedom is a good thing, because it promotes the "permanent interests of man as a progressive being"...

I too think that society benefits if people are encourage to think and act freely. Just imagine how you'd act if you knew that you were spied upon, and that you'd be punished if you deviated from the prescribed norm....

Making others unconfortable is NO reason to stomp freedom & free speech. This addresses your point about the attacks against the fabric of a society. Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, and so many others had been thorns to their societies, but their non-conformist ideas benefited society, even transformed it! Right?

We must keep the dialogue going. Liberals believe in the markeplace of ideas. Thus, we are progressive!

kelly said...

No joke, I've learned a few things here by reading this blog and the comments. I found it by accident when I was googling liberal, open societies, and the controversial cartoons.

I don't know how many Americans, definitely many more than anyone is willing to admit, do aspouse liberal ideas and principles... they just don't realize it.

I mean what's more liberal than to say, live your life according to your own preferences, aspirations, needs, make your own decisions and take responsibility for your actions.....

I also think that a free society, a liberal democracy is the best environment for people to reach their full potential.... or, at the very least, such a society gives the individual the best chances of doing so!

Thanks for having this dialogue here. I appreciate

Chelsey said...

Where does my mom, Hillary Clinton, fit in your argument regarding her co-sponsoring of the "flag anti-desecration" law???!!! Isn't this free speech? Has a person the right to burn the American flag as a form of protest?

I think so.

Bill said...

who says that Hillary is a liberal? she's a good triangulator! I think co-sponsoring a Repub bill to make it criminal to desecrate the flag (whatever this means) is aimed at attracting the criticism of the progressives and liberals so she appears to be moderate; she's runing for president for sure.

Anonymous said...

Can a religious person be part of your definition of "liberal"?

Andros said...

Of course! I am a secular humanist, but I do acknowlege the tremendous efforts and contributions to progress of people who held religious views. Martin Luther King, for example, used his faith as a personal source of strength and to motivate millions and to affect positive, progressive social change.

Because religion is taken on faith, some people can make the distinction that their personal religious beliefs don't have to be imposed on others. That's a basic tenet of liberalism. Many Catholics, for example, would never have an abortion themselves, but they allow others the right to choose. That's a liberal position too.

Jan said...

Americans are more religious than other peoples in the so-called western world, so religion won't go away anytime soon. However, given the strength of some of what I call extremists (rel. fundamentalists) there are going to be serious fights in the next 20 years. Already there is a conflict between secularism/science and what you call the "American Taliban"...

Hope we choose modernity in the end, but the Bushes have been stuffing the federal judiciary with cons... and the SCOTUS will play an important role with the likes of Scalitos, Thomas/Roberts.

RG said...

I'm really worried about the political development in the Muslim world, as there aren't any liberal democracies emerging there.... even those countries that had elections (in various degrees of fairness) didn't produce democratic governments.

Democracy takes a very long time to take roots,and it's a way of thinking/acting in a civil society.
Like Eleanor said, it also takes a "public education over long time... and personal responsibility".

jon said...

I'd find the Holocaust cartoons offensive and in very bad taste, but I won't riot, nor would I condone violence against those who only want to inlfame by using the Holocaust as a base for their propaganda.

It seems to me that not only they are for the destrcution of the Jewish people, but they see humans tortured and exterminated as acceptable under the "right circumstances"!!!

Oppressors of all stripes unite!

Brendan said...

I think many of those riots were orchastrated, at least we know this much in Lebanon and Syria. I also think that many those idiots shouting in the streets, burning and pillaging haven't seen the cartoons. They succumb to the mentality of the masses, manipulated by those who want to distract their people from the misery and the mess....

Diogenes said...

I would like to have seen the same outrage when the extremists send tapes to the media showing how the decapitate, slowly & very painfully, a human being! That's more offensive than some stupid cartoons....

Daedalus said...

I would like to have seen the same outrage when the extremists send tapes to the media showing how the decapitate, slowly & very painfully, a human being! That's more offensive than some stupid cartoons...

So true. I also would have liked to see the right, who are busy waving their Danish flags, support the publication of the new Abu Ghraib photos, which are far worse than the first round. Alas, the standard rightwing hypocricy abounds, and they are calling for the supression of these photos. While they are wearing their Mohammed bombhead shirts, why aren't they getting shirts made of the bloody, naked dead guys?