The Right to Ridicule: Muddled Thinking from the Top

Ronald Dworkin, no mean thinker, has an extraordinarily muddled piece on Danoongate in the New York Review of Books.

The British and most of the American press have been right, on balance, not to republish the Danish cartoons that millions of furious Muslims protested against in violent and terrible destruction around the world. Reprinting would very likely have meant—and could still mean—more people killed and more property destroyed.

So we take Muslim violence as a “fact”, like nature, and work around it? One of the things that comes out in the study of cultures of “self-help justice” (feud and vendetta) is that the ground rules demand that retaliation be predictable, regardless of whether the initial damage was done intentionally or not. Any leeway means moving from “realism” to “constructivism” in modern poli sci terms, and then things get messy. Andy Bostom, in a recent lecture on the Armenian genocide as Jihad, explained that the very effort of the Armenians to relieve themselves of their dhimmi status provoked the genocidal rage of the Muslims. The point reminded me of the argument that Christopher Boehm makes in his work on Montenegran tribal feuds. As part of an explanation for the remorseless hostility of every other alpha male to the emergence of a leader, he comments that it makes evolutionary sense as a survival mechanism in that, were any serious leader to arise, the Turks would have exterminated them. Predictability of murderous violence: one of the lynch pins of dhimmi behavior.

It would have caused many British and American Muslims great pain because they would have been told by other Muslims that the publication was intended to show contempt for their religion, and though that perception would in most cases have been inaccurate and unjustified, the pain would nevertheless have been genuine.

This comment strikes me as the quintessence of what’s wrong with the way we think about these issues. British and American (and presumably other European) Muslims will be made to feel bad by other Muslims when they tell them that they’ve been diss’d. Why on earth should people not be expected to feel pain? What kind of infantilization is going on here? Why should we protect them from such “pain,” rather than expect them to reply intelligently to their Muslim brethren, and tell them that their infantile behavior in rioting over these pictures is embarrassing Muslims the world over. Or, better yet, tell them that they’ve been worked into a fever pitch by dishonest Muslims who faked really disgusting pictures of the Prophet to provoke them. Of course, that would be treating the Muslims in Europe as responsible members of the society.

True, readers and viewers who have been following the story might well have wanted to judge the cartoons’ impact, humor, and offensiveness for themselves, and the press might therefore have felt some responsibility to provide that opportunity. But the public does not have a right to read or see whatever it wants no matter what the cost, and the cartoons are in any case widely available on the Internet.

This is amazing. Part of what makes the cartoon scandal such a scandal is how mild the cartoons. One cannot possibly understand just how grotesque the reaction (and the need on the part of the really vicious Imams who stirred the toxic brew four months later to fake really disgusting cartoons) until you’ve seen how mild, respectful, even intimidated most of them are. The very notion that the MSM need not show us these cartoons — or better yet, go to the internet to get them — illustrates what kind of bankruptcy now reigns supreme in the world of our MSM.

Sometimes the press’s self-censorship means the loss of significant information, argument, literature, or art, but not in this case. Not publishing may seem to give a victory to the fanatics and authorities who instigated the violent protests against them and therefore incite them to similar tactics in the future.

Okayyyy…. but is there a “but” coming?

But there is strong evidence that the wave of rioting and destruction—suddenly, four months after the cartoons were first published —was orchestrated by Muslim leaders in Denmark and in the Middle East for larger political reasons. If that analysis is correct, then keeping the issue boiling by fresh republications would actually serve the interests of those responsible and reward their strategies of encouraging violence.

What? The evidence that it was concocted is a reason not to make it a deal of it? I’m at a complete loss here. I would have thought that confronting it was all the more important since the whole row was set off by people intent on intimidating the West. Prof. Dworkin seems to mistake the effects for the goal. He thinks that the Imams wanted to stir up violence and more violence, and anything we do that increases the violence plays into their hands. But what’s far more likely is that the violence is a means to the end of intimidating us. And that is precisely what Dworkin recommends we do: back down.

What’s so bizarre about the article is that Dworkin then goes on to argue on principle that no one should be free from ridicule, especially if they wish to benefit by the rules of the civil society game. But he does so, stumbling every time he deals with Muslims, into a moral relativism that shows a staggering lack of understanding. Take, for example, his handling of the Muslim accusation of “double standard” over the Holocaust:

Muslims who are outraged by the Danish cartoons note that in several European countries it is a crime publicly to deny, as the president of Iran has denied, that the Holocaust ever took place. They say that Western concern for free speech is therefore only self-serving hypocrisy, and they have a point. But of course the remedy is not to make the compromise of democratic legitimacy even greater than it already is but to work toward a new understanding of the European Convention on Human Rights that would strike down the Holocaust-denial law and similar laws across Europe for what they are: violations of the freedom of speech that that convention demands.

The idea that ridiculing the “Religion of Peace” for being mindlessly violent is somehow on a par with Holocaust denial is a moral capitulation of monumental proportions. It is actually a form of Muslim apologetic that fails to make the most basic case for moral thinking.

But in the end, somehow, Dworkin pulls the rabbit out of the hat:

If we want to forbid the police from profiling people who look or dress like Muslims for special searches, for example, we cannot also forbid people from opposing that policy by claiming, in cartoons or otherwise, that Islam is committed to terrorism, however misguided we think that opinion is. Certainly we should criticize the judgment and taste of such people. But religion must observe the principles of democracy, not the other way around. No religion can be permitted to legislate for everyone about what can or cannot be drawn any more than it can legislate about what may or may not be eaten. No one’s religious convictions can be thought to trump the freedom that makes democracy possible.

I didn’t see that coming. I guess the article is a good example of Muslim exceptionalism.

3 Responses to The Right to Ridicule: Muddled Thinking from the Top

  1. Robert Schwartz says:

    From time to time I have read pieces by Dworkin. He is always incomprehensible. But, you have to admire his ability to tie himself up in left handed knots.

    “As part of an explanation for the remorseless hostility … the Turks would have exterminated them.”

    I had a lot of trouble with that sentence. Could you please explain it?

  2. RL says:

    As part of an explanation for the remorseless hostility of every other alpha male to the emergence of a leader,

    in other words, this is an acephalous society — no leaders — because the zero sum thinking is so strong that no leader can emerge since any aggrandizement of the leader is taking away honor from the other alpha males.

    he comments that it makes evolutionary sense as a survival mechanism in that, were any serious leader to arise, the Turks would have exterminated them.

    if a leader arose and organized them, they would have registered as a threat to the turks who would have come to wipe them out.

    does that help?

  3. [...] of delusion. And we play right into that, protecting their fragile egos, treating their temper tantrums like (Danoongate) as natural forc [...]

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