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February 08, 2006


Will you please stop with the nonsense about the "US knee-jerk liberal reaction" to the cartoon contorversy?

"US Liberal reaction" has been all over the place, from hard-line free speech advocates to tolerators and everything in between.

So please spare us from your own knee-jerk opinions.

thank you.

this is a very helpful post. it explains some of the history in denmark that preceeded the worldwide "watts riot" of 2006.

this post, along with the post of soj at dKos and juan cole (at u. mich something), provide very useful information.

i have looked at the danish cartoons (i don't know how to do links). the first of them is as gentle a cartoon as you will ever see -- a bearded man with a staff leading a goat. others are more visually interesting, but none strikes me as even remotely resembling the anger in the "piss jesus" painting of a few years ago that hizhonner saint rudi gulianni found so (publicly) objectionable.

more to the point, as soj says, images of muhammed are not forbidden in the khoran.

personally, i don't think the danes have a thing to apologize for. they are a tolerant society ( sara - i would add a vote for the dutch, too).

the fact that denmark is a western nation that has a tradition of political art has been seized upon by politicians in arab countries to benefit the governments of those countries.

what countries? some in the press (read "whitehouse shills") say iran and lebanon.

in my mind, saudia arabia and egypt are the likely culprits.

but whoever

these things do not happen by accident.

in any contemporary "revolution", it takes money to have guns to fire and bullets to put in those guns.

it also takes money to have local "commanders" to organize protests


money to pay for signs and flags to burn.

signs and flags are not something that every household in multiple arab countries keep in a closet, waiting for the proper time to burn them.

in my mind, these protests are another kind of "terrorism".

terrorism is, after all, the last resort of the powerless and angry.

the protests demonstrate, in a way that is less emotionally difficult to understand than bomb explosions, that angry, frustrated people with little to lose, or little to fear, can deliver a very noticeable, if incoherent message.

in this case, that message seems to be "respect us"

but, of course, the u.s. doesn't respect the arab world. rather, it regards that world as a threat to its survivial because it has oil that the u.s. needs for its own people.

as do

europe, china, japan, and india.

my own view is that there is really no excuse for arabs responding to these cartoons as if they were an insult.

these responses are identical to the respones of the foggy-brained american right wingers who get exercised by the nonesense that rush limbaugh or bill o'reilly dish out daily.

this particular situation is one where moneyed interests (arab governments) and lynch mob leaders, functioning like limbaugh and o'reilly, are encouraging destructive activities which have no chance of improving the life prospects of the individuals recruited for those destructive activity.

but which hold out a small hope of delaying the inevitable destruction of the those arab governments.

I'd put it a lot more politely than Tom, but in essence he's right. Most liberals aren't condemning Denmark, and I wonder about the actual 'liberalism' of those that are.

There's a schism on the left that I don't see discussed much: between what I guess you'd call 'old fashioned' liberals and something that calls itself 'progressivism' but seems to me nothing of the sort.

Progressives have a weird attitude towards the 3rd World in general, and the ME in particular. It seems any enormity committed by oppressed people, or who progressives have decided are oppressed people, is to be defended - regardless of whether it violates humanistic values, common decency, or even whether it actually improves the lot of those oppressed people. Progressives, in defending violence, hatred, and religious bigotry, strike me as actually condescending to the people they claim to advocate for. It's as if those poor folks expressing the hatred and committing the violence don't understand their own motivations and can't possibly be held responsible for their own actions. Not too different from the "childlike savage" stereotype that motivated Victorian-era imperialists.

I apologize for my impoliteness but the myth of the "knee-jerk liberal" is one of my pet peeves, and it isn't even remotely appropriate in this debate.

Thanks for the post, Sara. VERY thought provoking.

these responses [by hired muslim goons is] identical to the respones of the foggy-brained american right wingers who get exercised by the nonesense that rush limbaugh or bill o'reilly dish out daily.

I've had the same insight, OrionATL. It is so inept, so stupid. It actually makes the country weaker. It's an expression of weakness to simply acceed to a feedback loop. That's 'strength'? I don't think so.

I think it's less a defense than a setting of context to help understanding. Part of the conservative strategy is to categorize any attempt to understand an outburst or protest as defending such outburst. Funny, when liberals are outraged by innocents killed in war, conservatives shrug and say "those things happen, unfortunately". The same argument doesn't apply to struggles in the street.

Sara, thanks. This is a very useful post.

Casey: I think there is a split. And it is a complicated one. Basically it comes down to the fact that some people think there are universal norms that override local particulars, and others who think local norms should override universalized standards. I don't think either side thinks absolutely one way or the other, but I think one strand of thinkers tends to assume human cultures are more fundamentally alike. I personally think there is great cultural difference between different parts of the world, and globalization brings this home to an even greater degree, ironically. As cultures who can previously ignore each other and their differences can no longer do so so readily.

What Sara's account shows to me is that we really are in a sort of clash of civilizations, where even a genuinely well-meaning immigration policy does not get the other to assimilate because the other's culture is just too different,. So in this sense, it tends to reaffirm my belief that values - beyond very basic, general things - really aren't as universal as the intellectual consensus 40 years ago or so assumed.

Now how to deal with this rather new reality that an increasingly globalized world has brought home: I don't know exactly, but it seems that we need to work to find ways to build spaces where moderate voices on both sides can communicate. Beyond that, I don't much we can do. Unfortunately, things like this cartoon brohaha are characteristic of a kind of conflict that will be with us for a long time to come.

Thank you for stating your bias right off the bat.

This post, and a few other very thoughtful posts on the background of these clashes, demonstrate how really complicated things have gotten, hence the folly of trying to make what amount to snap judgments based on superficial details. There are several backstories going on here. The observations about the Danish experience with ME immigration are very interesting. The background of Danish immigrants from the ME would seem to me to be closer to our experience with ME immigration than most of Europe's experience (particularly France's). And very different from our experience with Latin American immigration. But there seems to be more desire to assimilate here, maybe because we don't always force it directly, more people learn English as a second language for many other reasons, and we are more heterogeneous to begin with than most countries.

I think the fact that the U.S. is more heterogeneous than Europe (used to be?) and simply is used to accomodating more differences makes our situation a little different. Folks already in the U.S. have felt overwhelmed by wave after wave of the Other (German, Irish, Polish, Jewish, Chinese, Mexican, Central American, South Asian, Catholic, Islamic, atheist, etc. ) -- we've had a history of getting through these waves, not gracefully, but eventually.

And we know some bottom lines. So far, our state doesn't enforce anybody's blasphemy laws -- because in their European states of origin, too many folks learned that doing so led to wars over whose blasphemy. And rubbing against each other teaches many of us that there is no reason to act like playground bullies -- unless there is good reason, the society survives by at least pretending to try not to give offense. Those aren't bad coping mechanisms for a globalized world. All sides are going to have to find their own versions of them or we are in for permanent war and repression.

A couple comments on comments.

The cartoon that depicts the Prophet as a Goat Hearder is a bit of cutting humor in a Danish Context. Over the past couple decades there has been a monor running battle between the perople who inspect slaughter houses and the Muslim Community. In DK it is illegal to slaughter an animal for human consumption in any place other than a licensed slaughter house. But the Muslims, or at least some of them have regular ritual slaughters for Islamic feast days -- on sidewalks, in back yards and so forth -- and the police get called, people get arrested, fines are imposed, and then court cases about Freedom of Religion to engage in personal ritual slaughter versus the forces of Danish Sanitation and Health laws. As I see the cartoon, it is trying to show the Prophet as a hearder, a protector of Goats -- which is a way one might assume him, given the various wars over Goat Slaughter. The Health Inspectors offered arrangements very similar to those Kosher butchers have, but they were rejected. This is just one of many sweemingly unresolvable conflicts.

Comparing immigrations in some detail might lead to better understanding. For instance, the Turks in Germany are distinct in that they are truely economic migrants, and they measure success in material well being terms. They also can travel back and forth to Turkey and frequently are supporting families in Turkey. In contrast most of the Danish migrants are political refugees, most were middle classed before migration, and were for political reasons rejected by their homelands. They cannot easily travel back and forth -- and migration meant leaving assets and social status behind. Class and status may be very useful analytic tools here. Germany has not been any more successful with social integration, but residence in Germany is high value because virtually all Turkish immigrants are better off as a result of migration. It is a life decision in which personal pride is enhanced. The guy with a small coffee house in Berlin is much better off than his cousin sho stayed on a hardscrabble small Turkish farm.

In the US there are enough highly successful first and second generation immigrants from most cultures to offer a strong model for making the adjustment, learning the language and rules, and getting on. Not all are successful, but enough so that communities pull together more or less within the rules. Also, the US really does not tolerate well those who do not conform. The Danes, I believe, thought the comprehensive welfare system would lead to adjustment, but it did not. They defined migration in the context of political asylem and lack of human rights in countries of origin, and that imposed no pressure to figure out how to make a workable adjustment.

If we can get beyond the cartoons and the rage there probably are many very useful lessons here.

Thanks for the interesting post.

I've been a little dissapointed, since the begin of the Afghan war, with the "oppressed peoples are holy peoples" faction of the left. There was even one pagan I knew who railed against the war in Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it was just another Christian war.

Nobody's talking about religion here yet, and I would just like to mention it. Religion is obviously the key sticking point here in Denmark. CULTURE, usually, is a fluid thing. A culture might have a favorite food, but there's nothing to stop them from eating a cheeseburger. And if you don't like the favorite food, well, that's a little odd, but you're still part of the culture. CULTUREs can grow and evolve along side one another, because they can CHANGE, because cultural identification is weaker and more fluid.

Now RELIGION on the other hand is strictly codified. It is rigid and inflexible. You can not have that cheeseburger. And if you do, you are not part of the group anymore. You've committed a grave error. A strictly religious community has to segregate itself from everyone else, physically or individually.

Islam seems especially problematic, because it seems to be practiced with an eye towards orthodoxy -- that is religion dictates every aspect of culture, society, and personal life. Yeah, and I know, there's room for interpretation in the Quran, but, seemingly only among liberal scholars.

The experience in the United States is different, yet similar. How much of the prejudice against European immigrants (Irish and Italian) had to do with the fact that those groups were Catholic? And yet, they were still (nominally, to some protestants) Christian. Imagine importing people of an entirely different religion...

thanks for the insights.

commenting in the abscence of detailed knolwedge is easy and fun, but grounded theory (and comments) is better still. now i know a bit more about denmark and about the cartoons.

your comments brought a smile of sudden recognition to my face.

my wife is head of the neighborhod watch organization and is now facing a first-time problem among our good-hearted but very proper and conservative neighbors: what to do with a family that keeps a rooster and hens in its back yard.

first complaint (from a lady whose dogs barks constantly when she is away): the rooster crows at 7 a.m and she's worried it's crowing may get earlier and eaarlier as summer approaches.

there's your huddled masses yearning to breath free

and then

there's neighbors with noisy dogs

concerned about

"furriners" with noisy chickens.

abstract theory and concrete facts.

now i'm reminded of the time my wife and i slaughtered and dressed a half-dozen chickens in our unfenced, un-private "back" yard in the hinterlands village in a buddhist country (saffron robes and begging bowls everywhere).

our neigbors, including the children and teachers in the school next door, were probably disdainful, but they were also tolerant of our folly.

thanks again for a very interesing post.

Thanks Sara for a very informative post. One thing we don't have (for the most part) in the U.S., which has been critically important in several European countries, are radical and reactionary imams and their proteges flooding out of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, looking for a Muslim middle class to radicalize. Just the other day in the British press I saw a story about some London-based radicals sending out gangs to take over mosques around Britain.

These extremists cannot tolerate accomodation or compromise with the state authorities. Their power grows with confrontation, their audience becomes more receptive the more they inflate grievances. It doesn't really matter to them whether there is much substance to a complaint. What they are after is polarization.

Most Muslims in Britain reject these whackos. I find it disturbing how many people in the west think that the fundamentalist extremists, whether in Europe or the ME, are mainstream.

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