Tuesday, February 07, 2006

If you're not oppressed, you ain't Shiite

OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today: " The Boston Globe wades into the Danish cartoon controversy by urging more sensitivity toward Muslims:

Freedom of expression is not the only value at issue in the conflict provoked by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons satirizing Islam's founding prophet, Mohammed. . . .

The original decision of the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, to solicit and publish a dozen cartoons of the Muslim prophet was less a blow against censorship than what The Economist called a schoolboy prank. . . .

Publishing the cartoons reflects an obtuse refusal to accept the profound meaning for a billion Muslims of Islam's prohibition against any pictorial representation of the prophet. Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance.

Blogger Eugene Volokh wondered if the Globe was equally solicitous of the feelings of Christians offended by various government-sponsored artworks in the U.S. It would appear not. Volokh digs up an editorial from 1999 praising a judge who ordered New York City not to withhold funding for a museum that displayed "a painting of a black Virgin Mary spotted with elephant dung," as well as two editorials from 1990 denouncing then-Sen. Jesse Helms and others who had criticized the National Endowment for the Arts over artworks including Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ."

These earlier editorials, Volokh writes, make "eminently plausible arguments." What they do not do is acknowledge that Christians have any reason to find the depictions of Jesus and Mary "hurtful."

A similar double standard is on display at the Washington Post. Agence France-Presse quotes Fred Hiatt, editor of the Post's editorial page, as saying: "If I were faced with something that I know is gonna be offensive to many of our readers, I would think twice about whether the benefit of publication outweighed the offense it might give."

But here is Hiatt, quoted a day earlier in his own paper about his own cartoon kerfuffle:

Fred Hiatt, The Post's editorial page editor, said he doesn't "censor Tom" and that "a cartoonist works best if he or she doesn't feel there's someone breathing over their shoulder. He's an independent actor, like our columnists." Hiatt said he makes comments on drafts of cartoons but that Toles is free to ignore them.

Asked about Sunday's cartoon, Hiatt said, "While I certainly can understand the strong feelings, I took it to be a cartoon about the state of the Army and not one intended to demean wounded soldiers."

What accounts for the difference? A combination of fear and ideology. Muslim fundamentalists, or at least some of them, express offense by torching embassies and threatening terrorist attacks. By contrast, U.S. military leaders write firm but polite letters to the editor, and Christian fundamentalists ask their elected representatives to stop spending tax money on offensive stuff. (Never believe a liberal when he professes to find Christian fundamentalists "scary.") There is no need to appease an opponent who respects rules of civilized behavior.

There is also an ideological component, which goes back to the essay we noted last week on "folk Marxism," or liberal multiculturalism. This ideology sees the world as a series of class struggles--not between economic classes, as in proper Marxism, but between racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or other identity groups, which are defined as either "oppressors" or "victims."

Generally speaking, multiculturalists consider Christians to be an oppressor class, while Muslims are a victim class. A victim class's grievances must be taken seriously and can even trump free expression, while the same is never true of an oppressor class's. (The multicultural worldview sees Jews as an intermediate class--victims of Christians, oppressors of Muslims--which is why liberals can be outraged by anti-Semitic imagery in "The Passion of the Christ" but unperturbed by terrorism against Israelis.)

In this regard, Hiatt's staunch defense of the Toles cartoon, which offended members of the military, is particularly telling. As we've noted, those on the antiwar left often talk of soldiers as if they were a victim class. We haven't heard any of them, however, side with the soldiers who find the Toles cartoon offensive. This suggests that the soldiers-as-victims trope is purely cynical."

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