Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Muslims Making Toast

Muslims Making Toast
© 2006 Ross Williams

Muslims don't like being offended. I don't blame them; neither do I. If they were in their home and a visitor proceeded to insult their muslimity, they would be justified in asking or demanding the visitor to leave.

The main problem with the current ... errrrr ... "crisis" is that the Muslims weren't insulted in their own home. They were insulted in public. In the public space of a free society: Denmark. I still sympathize with them, but only academically. No one likes to be insulted, not even irrational hooligans who use any and every excuse to inflict violence upon random strangers. Yes, I have sympathy for them, but my sympathy is measured in microns, not miles.

But wouldn't life be wonderful if there were nothing insulting to be found anywhere? Oh, joy! oh, rapture! We could all just freely go through life effortlessly without having to worry about taking or giving offense.

However, comma, ...

Some people's version of effortless and free life is to wear mink coats. And others' versions of ditto consists of no one using animal skins as vanity garments. I smell a conflict. The animal protection people are going to take offense at the animal hide wearers for wearing animal hides, and the animal hide wearers will take offense at the animal protectors if the animal protectors try to prevent animals from being worn as a hide.[1]

Some people's version of effortless and free life is to knock on doors in the neighborhood and pass out pamphlets advertising what a wonderful religion the door-knockers have. Other people's version of ditto is to have no one ever knock on their doors and ply them with religious tracts, or anything else. More conflict.

Some people's version of effortless and free life is to root for the Chicago Cubs and wear Cubs shirts and have Cubs license plate holders and car window stickers, and others' version of same is to follow the car with the Cubs license plate holder into the St Louis-area Home Depot parking lot and ask the Cubs fan if he's having medical problems ... since he has a Cubs license plate holder on his car. Alas, more conflict.

Each of us desires a life in which he will not be insulted, in which his sensibilities were never offended, in which there were no outrages to be found… and yet where he could do just as he pleased. We all wish that. When we don't get it, we struggle. Often against each other.

This is the source of conflict. Everyone's trying to live their lives according to what they, personally, consider to be the appropriate rules, and individual notions of "appropriate" differ. It's insulting to Danes to be told that they can't draw insulting pictures in their own country because people thousands of miles away in other countries will violently object. It's insulting to other people to see printed, thousands of miles away in other countries, pictures that insult their beliefs.

What. A. Predicament!

I'm of the opinion that you can do in your own home that which you choose to do. If the Danes, in Denmark, choose to insult muslims by drawing pictures of Mohammed, then uncork the ink in Copenhagen. It's their time, it's their place, it's their ink. If Danes want to insult muslims by going to Damascus to do it, it's still their time and their ink, but it's no longer their place and the Syrians will probably object to the impudence. And I wouldn't blame them. Being in Syria, the Syrians would have a legitimate authority to curtail whatever their laws allow them to curtail. When in Rome...

I don't even blame muslims for objecting in their own home to the Danish impudence out of Denmark, although it's sorta like having a bad day at the office and settling the score by coming home, kicking the cat and screaming at the wife. It's just that when the Danish impudence dares to suggest that islamist outrage is violent and overreaching ... and then the islamist reaction to that suggestion is violent and overreaching, the islamists have little room to criticize the impudence as unfair or slanderous. If you react to bad days at the office by kicking your cat, then a co-worker who calls you a cat-kicker with anger management issues isn't exactly out of bounds. And that's essentially what the Danish artists did.

It can still be insulting to be called violent terrorists, even if you are one; but if you are one, it isn't unfair or slanderous to be called such.

What is unfair is lumping all muslims together. And I can truly sympathize with the average Ahmed who's going about his daily routine at the office, taxpaying, and being a responsible citizen to hear that because he's muslim he's likely to go jihading at the drop of a hat ... or the scratch of a pen. He'd probably think something along the lines of "Hey! Wuddid I do? Am I minding my own business too loudly for you?"

But, then, we're now in the area of political caricature which, by definition, uses broad strokes to make the political points it seeks to make. To reduce the target of political satire by the necessary exceptions and exemptions and caveats and codicils to make the political point strictly accurate, you've expanded the satire into a policy statement complete with bibliographies and footnotes[2], and exceeded the column inches allotted to the cartoon by several orders of magnitude.

It is well-understood – even in predominately islamic nations – that political cartoons use blurred lines to make points. Ask any of the editors of state-run muslim newspapers about their Jew-as-fanged-devil cartoons.

In our own country, we have well-known universal icons for various groups. All Democrats are known by the donkey; all Republicans by the elephant. All Americans are represented, home and abroad, as Uncle Sam. These are standards in the No Distinction derby. An elephant is depicted doing something foolish or stupid, and every Republican is smeared. There are no caveats; it is understood that because "many Republicans" think or believe a certain thing[3], or behave a certain way[4], it is therefore fair to use the iconic image for "all Republicans" in mocking that belief or action.

A donkey is depicted doing something stupid or foolish[5], and every Democrat is smeared. That is also fair, according to our standards of editorial license.

Uncle Sam is frequently depicted – particularly abroad, where effigies are routinely assassinated[6] – of doing something not merely stupid or foolish, but despotic or tyrannical, and thus every American is implicated with every other – even if they didn’t vote for the guy in charge.

Yet how many Americans go on murderous rampages here at home because they were lumped in with the Americans who support the foreign policy that is despised by, say, Cuba and lampooned in its papers? I can't think of any, but maybe there was a guy upset that Cuba was finally allowed to send a team to the World Baseball Classic who, maybe, kicked his cat or something.

How many school board members went on murderous rampages after last year’s unflattering depictions of school boards from the Dover Intelligent Design case, and the periodic Kansas flare-up? How many Methodists went on a violence bender after all christians were depicted as tyrannical loonies following the Dover deal[7]? or after the whole “those mean ol’ secular humanists renamed the christmas tree” whimper-fest?[8]

It’s one thing to say that editorial cartoons deliberately dismiss the differences between individuals of a group; of course they do, it’s a caricature. Duh. But it’s completely different to say that we shouldn’t [or mustn’t] depict groups in such non-differentiation, as it is “unfair”.

For one thing, you’ve just obliterated editorializing, and the broad literary tradition of satire and farce. Burn Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley; stop recording The Simpsons, South Park and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Chop The Onion forthwith. Saturday Night Live is now dead.

Blogs? mv blog* /dev/null.

Next, you’ve effectively implemented an Absolute Accuracy rule that would make the legalese at the bottom of the new toaster’s owner’s manual seem trivial by comparison. A caricature that doesn’t spell out who or what the specific targets are and, most importantly, who the targets are not cannot be legitimately printed.

This editorial cartoon depicting muslims as terrorists and the islamic faith as supportive of, or contributory to, terrorism is intended to reflect only upon those muslims who are, in fact, terrorists and the islamic faith only to the degree that certain individuals or schools of theology advocate terrorist or violent means to make their point. All others who neither use violence nor terrorist methods, nor subscribe to a doctrine which advocates violence or terrorism, are not being depicted in the caricature contained herein, and are requested to address all correspondence on this matter, all requests for editorial policy clarification and all letter bombs to our legal department.
Yes, I can see where that’s far better.

Do we really need to be told not to use the toaster while standing knee-deep in the bathtub? Are we that artlessly unsophisticated that we need to be told not to shower with a toaster? Wouldn’t it be better for us in the long run to allow those of us who are that ignorant to take baths with their small appliances and let the sparks fly where they may?

[1] “Ya wanna wear a cow? wear the whole cow – and then return it to the pasture”
[2] such as this one
[3] such as Intelligent Design
[4] such as packing school boards in Pennsylvania towns or the entire state of Kansas in order to cram Intelligent Design into the biology curriculum
[5] Perish the thought!
[6] "Sire, the peasants want to hang you in effigy." "Remind me not to plan any trips to Effigy, then." Conversation between Rodney and the King in The Wizard of Id, by Johnny Hart and Brant Parker, way back in the 60s
[7] I can think of two, and so can Perfessor Mirecki, but I don’t know that they were Methodists
[8] No, Bill O’Reilly caterwauling and turning red on national TV doesn’t count


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