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March 02, 2006


Finally, instead of marginalizing them as unimportant rareties in the face of extremism, we should make common cause with those Muslims whose voices so often are crushed beneath the haters of both side - one saying Islamism is the only option and hellfire to all unbelievers, the other saying Muslims are Untermenschen, carriers of some virus that must be exterminated.

Brilliant, MB. Just brilliant. The entire piece is a must-read, thanks for tangling with all the nasty tendrils of this ugly situation. It takes guts to look at them all so directly and not be lured into an easy whitewash. Thanks for this piece of sanity and wisdom.

MB -- I have comments, but it will have to be one at a time. But Jyllands Posten is not a small newspaper. It is the domonant paper on Jutland, and I would recommend looking at a map of Denmark to comprehend. It's focus is on that part of Denmark and not on Kobenhavn. In terms of circulation I think it is the second in that country of 5 million people. It is the paper most representative of the current governing coalition in the Folketing. If I were to name an American model it would be the Chicago Trib. My own intro to the Jyllands Posten was in 1959 when I spent hours trying to make sense of Khrushxhev's visit to the US, Posten on the table, Wordbook in hand. (My prefered Danish Papers are Information and Politiken).

On Rushdie -- One of his novels which you do not mention is Shame. This is the one that got him permenantly exiled from Pakistan. It came shortly after Midnight's Children which is culturally insightfull but politically light. "Shame" is why Rushdie lives and works from London, or other points west. It is a novel that questions the zammadar or landowner+taxcollector implications in the creation of Pakistan (and it's legitimacy) as a kind of original sin. (a kind of serfdom that still exists.)

Of course all that Rushdie actually speaks for is those who had his opportunities -- such as the ability to leave Pakistan (offended) and attend Cambridge. -- not all that common. (and since I read his novels, I am delighted that he got that chance.)

More later.

Like Sara, I've got more to add, some of which I'll have to ruminate on through the day. But one thing I think is important to add as a sort of parenthetical point, and that meshes with Sara's point about Jyllands Posten, is that the impetus behind printing the cartoons in the European papers (and then Italian cabinet minister Roberto Caleroli wearing the image on a teeshirt on television) has little to do with celebrating freedom of expression or a free press, but instead was driven by xenophobia and an intent to provoke a backlash. That does not take anything away from the points you make in this brilliant piece. But just as you think the manifesto would benefit from either including or being accompanied by self-criticism on the part of the war-mongerers among the signers, I think it would also have benefited from some acknowledgement of the horrible xenophobia being exploited by many of the European right. The backstory about the cartoons has as much or more to do with immigration, competition for jobs and the danger in several European societies of creating a long-term underclass. The primary distinguishing features of that underclass are as much race and language as religious beliefs and affiliations. True, much of the backlash against the cartoons was prompted by religious zealots and authoritarians. It's also true that the issue of Islamic authoritarianism is much bigger than any cartoon controversy. However, it's unfortunate that the manifesto mentions the cartoons as if the reaction to them was clearly exclusively religious, when in fact some of the backlash was motivated by some of the very non-religious factors supported by some of the manifesto signers--namely, xenophobia, cultural intolerance, militarism, neo-imperialist forign and military policies of some Western nations, and neglect and harassment of Muslim minorities in Europe.

I'm glad you described the work of Akbar Ahmed and Judea Pearl. They are clearly forstering dialogue. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that in some ways the signers of this manifesto and the Islamic authoritarians to whom they object are talking past each other, using Religion and resistance to theocratic suppression as hot-button proxies for discussions that are far more complicated and involve many more issue that either side is discussing in any meaningful way.

I am happy to see such a post, especially in light of the coming vital congressional election in the US. First off, let me say that I believe current religious fundamentalism leading to Christian theocracy is the biggest threat ever faced to a secular US Democracy. Here in PA, we progressives are having a strongly pro-life supposedly Democractic candidate (Casey) to Santorum forced on us for totally tangential political reasons by our party elders (I guess). This Casey feels, as his former Governor father did, that abortion is wrong, and as lawmakers, they both want to outlaw most abortions (and who knows what else--contraception?) for their religious-moral reasons.

I define Pro-choice to mean that I will abide by my religion and you abide by yours without using law to force mine on you. My question in light of this Meteor Blade's post is can anyone not Pro-choice be religiously tolerant of others? If you are not religiously tolerant of others, are you fitting the danger profile indicated by the diary?

Personally, I think any strict pro-lifer or strict anti-abortionist is fitting this religious fundamentalist theocractic mold, and they are the biggest danger to American democracy. Any pro-life politician, including democracts, that wish to force woman by law to carry unwanted pregnancies to term because of these politicains religious beliefs, is a dangerous theocract, and not worthy of support under any circunstances if the future of America is to be a secular democracy.

sara, thanks for pointing that out about Jyllands-Posten's size and influence. I'm so affected by U.S. readership figures that I forgot that the JP's 150,000 circulation is significant in such a (relatively) small market.

Thanks MB. Right after 9/11, I found myself sitting with long time political friends and allies saying to each other we must learn how to navigate a world in which "there is no one to root for." This is a helpful contribution to that effort.

Recently another of my Scandinavian Seminar Alumni posted a point that one could never understand Scandinavian Politics or morality unless one comprehended Martin Luther tacking up his thesis on the church door. I tend to agree. (But I also think you can't understand it till you have lived through a winter season where the sun never really comes up.) These folk "religiously" pay their church tax, and take pride in never attending services except for Baptisms, Confirmations, Weddings and Funerals. But that doesn't mean that posting the thesis is not profoundly important.

While you can interpret it in many ways, posting the thesis was profoundly significant. (it is one of the few times the Danes actually agreed with a German Leader.) But as I read commentary from all different angles in various Danish Publications -- this is where they come down. Martin Luther, his Thesis, and his tacks. "This is where I stand, I can do no other." Since Burning at the Stake was his alternative in those times -- it is a strong statement.

Of course we know that set the fires of the Reformation and the 30 years war, much else and ultimately the enlightment and pluralism. But it was not simple or automatic -- much blood was shed, many a life ruined. But out of all that the Danes constructed something that is as it is -- we won't go to church all that often, we will be most secular, in fact half our priests will be wonem who are into our own brand of feminism, we will read our Marx and build the best Welfare state anyone has ever seen, We will be tolerant and all that -- and we will accept as citizens many from Palestine and all -- but if you cross our cultural understandings -- be it bombs or goat killing in the wrong place -- no equity for women or anything else we have evolved -- we can become very nasty. Martin Luther, hand me some of your tacts.

I certainly agree that American Women should know how the previous Pope did politics with the most extreme Islamists. Carl Bernstein covered that matter most thoroughly in "His Holiness" when he reproduces a Pakistani woman (UN Diplomat) who got a session with the Pope prior to the Cairo Conference and found him actually unwilling to condemn Honor Killings, and these positions totally knit together with the most extreme Islamist positions.

There is a kind of formula in debating these matters -- I ran into it when I did a major review on a public stage of "Satanic Verses" way back when fatwa's were being thrown around. Not only had I read SV, I also had read most of Rushdie's other works, and attended one of his lectures in London. The script is simple -- the speaker or writer is asked if they "respect" Islam. To answer you need to be very awars.

My answer is no -- I don't as a matter of claim respect any particular religion. Nor do I disrespect. I claim a huge middle ground that allows me to learn about, but essentially remain indifferent to the claims.

I actually believe that the first person to identify Bin Laden's gang and al Qaeda was the British Novelist, Doris Lessing. In late 84-early 1985 she accompanied Afghan Women who had landed in London back to Pakistan to see about the condition of their sisters in the refugee camps. Her book about it "The Wind Blows Away Our Words" notes the Chauvinism. In person she said it more directly. (I attended a Lessing "Tea" in Peshawar at Dean's Hotel in 1985). The whole point is that principles really do trump dogma -- and women's status is a principle. Agreed it is colored by culture and much else, but the particulars do not change the principle.

Sara wrote:

The whole point is that principles really do trump dogma -- and women's status is a principle. Agreed it is colored by culture and much else, but the particulars do not change the principle.

Who defines what is principle and who defines what is dogma? Your post is too indirect for me to be certain what you are saying, but if I guess correctly, then my question is tantamount!

Thanks for an excellent essay, MB. Surely freedom of conscience, belief and expression are the root values. But not the only values, and not sufficent unto themselves.

About fifty years ago, Camus observed about the struggle with Soviet Communism, "sometimes it is necessary to fight a lie with a quarter truth, and the quarter truth of the West is freedom."

Paul Berman also makes the connection between Islamism and totalitarianism, especially Marxism and its deviants, and their common roots not only in economic oppression but also in the "schizophrenia of modern life". In his NYTimes mag article about Sayyid Qutb (mostly the chapter "In the Shade of the Q'uran" in "Terror and Liberalism") he questioned whether liberalism had any satisfactory answer to offer tom that schizophrenia. In the book he concludes that we must be the "anti-nihilists," reminding us, "In the anti-nihilist system, freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others."

"Let us be for the freedom of others" does not mean "liberating" them at the point of the gun so that they can become like us. That is the mistake of the right wing and the theocrats in this country.

But "let us be for the freedom of others" also does not mean that we condone their freedom to oppress whomever they choose. That is the mistake of the relativists. Freedom always has limits, and it has to go hand in hand with respect for others, or else it is just selfishness.

In short, "freedom for others" means exactly what it says--freedom for all others, a reciprocal freedom founded on respect. Let us above all be for freedom, not just for ourselves but for others.

I think I answwered your question, ng, though I had not read it. The fundamental principle is reciprocal respect, then freedom. Women have to be included. We are people, over half the human race. Period.

The fundamental principle is reciprocal respect, then freedom. Women have to be included

I need to be more concrete to get anything out of this, sorry!Talk to me about processes unique to women! With medical drugs and procedures that only would apply to woman, put "reciprocal respect, then freedom" in SOCIAL terms that use or not use such medical knowledge!

Any religion, if taken seriously, requires the individual to surrender to something, to the will of God, Allah, Yahweh, to ones Buddha nature, whatever. If women want to adopt a religion that subordinates them in some respects, that is their choice. But the civil law can't condone that, by, for example, refusing to allow a women to get a divorce if her husband doesn't give consent, or if she doesn't have some kind of religious permission.

Your question is pretty vague. It is hard to take things in isolation--that is the point. Women should have a full range of choices in reproductive rights, and I certainly oppose genital mutilation. Civil law can't allow people to impose their choices on others--pharmacists can't pick and choose which drug prescriptions to fill etc. Just like the Supreme Court refused to enforce a restrictive covenant in Shelley v. Kramer. I would not be opposed to allowing doctors at a facility to refuse to do abortions as long as someone in the facility does them, however. "Conscientious objection" should be facilitated if it does not impinge unduly on the freedom of others.

Your question is pretty vague. It is hard to take things in isolation--that is the point. Women should have a full range of choices in reproductive rights,

Try this to maybe avoid vagueness. If they (women) do not have this full range of choices in reproductive rights, who and how are such limits made/put in effect, and are such limits justifiable ever in a secular striving democracy??


I, too, am an absolutist about freedom of expresssion. You put it very well, especially the discomfort of potentially associating oneself with the rest of the signers' issues. But I don't think these are fans of George Bush, nor of his predecessors.

"This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats."

That's the part of the manifesto that alleviates my worries about some of the signers' apparent support for the US invasion of Iraq. The reason that Eastern European leaders tended to support Bush in the beginning of the war was their recent experience with dictators, and their habit of trust in the US. That was Havel's initial take - you want to depose a dictator? Be my guest, and thanks. What does he think now?

So I don't worry about the PEN crowd. I go ahead and worship them for their work, but listen skeptically to the political assessments, and trust that they'll police each other mercilessly as always. Orwell once noted how PEN's annual meeting showed how debased literary criticism had become thanks to political ideologues. I think a large part of the American left patronized the Muslim world and therefore failed to support the good guys in the ideological war of the Danish cartoons. Solidarity works. I hope everyone reads the manifesto, and liberals challenge the rightwingers on their selective appreciation for free speech and opposition to theocrats, ALL theocrats.

I was already a MB fan, but this was really exceptionally excellent.

Rushdie vs. extraordinary rendition, article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Jan. 10, 2006:


"Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth
Behind the US Government's corruption of language lies a far greater perversion, writes Salman Rushdie.

BEYOND any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English language last year was "extraordinary rendition". To those of us who love words, this phrase's brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its intent to deceive."

MB, I hope you return to this topic, as I think you may have two or three more posts here. Wrt: "Much to the chagrin of the Christian Dominionists among us, the secular society we enjoy today in most of the EU and North America is the product of hundreds of years of forcing the Church to extract its state-sanctioned claws from meddling with political and religious freedom." I'd be interested in the opinion of others, but this "forcing" imo is most often associated with the "Thirty Years War."

MB, if you continue with this topic, you might want run it past
http://markfromireland.blogsome.com/ who routinely comments at FDL. Mark could comment better than I, but imo, you tended to make a stronger division between "secular" and "sacred" than the historical evidence in the West, or the current situation in the Middle East, allows. I completely agree with your thesis, but I think our modern understanding of "secular" comes from the historical development of "pluralism" wrt the evolution of the JudaeoXtian traditions. It was this pluralism and the wars over it that forged our modicum of legalized religious tolerance. Where MarkfromIreland has helped me greatly is in understanding that the Middle East's experience with "legalized secularism" has unanimously been as a diversion for some kind of military occupation or economic exploitation.
OT I hope you frame Jane Hamsher's comment.

I posted my opinion of this manifesto here, along with a follow up asking What is Islamism?.

I do not support this manifesto and I've taken some flack for it, but I stand by what I wrote.

I want to thank you for posting this, MB. While thr right-wing blogosphere has been salivating over this manifesto for days now, it's gone largely unnoticed on the left.

Hate Speech, Free Speech: Europe Needs To Learn The Difference

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