[DEBATE] : Re: Better claim it as savage
mfleshman at aol.com
mfleshman at aol.com
Wed Feb 15 23:47:13 GMT 2006
Sorry for the long delay in replying to this, Peter's reply to me on Friday but since the killings over those cartoons go on perhaps the discussion could too.
P: you will surely agree that there is no such thing as
freedom of speech AS SUCH, and certainly no such 1:1 relationship between
freedom of speech (FoS) and the contemporary Western world. We know have
much this freedom is qualified by the depth of one's pocket and the position
one occupies on an inter/national pyramid of power and privilege.
M: Agreed Peter. Nor is there FoS as such in the contemporary eastern world, or Southern world or wherever your compass might point. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist as a liberatory aspiration and doesn't constitute a positive good when struggle expands the space for uncensored expression beyond the owners of capital.
P: Van Gogh, presented on his death as some kind of patron saint of FoS, was no
such thing. He was a specialist in offensive and provocative abuse -
practised first against Dutch churches, then against a brilliant Dutch
Jewish women intellectual (who had analysed the neurotic relationship
between Duch society and its Jewish minority after WW2). Van Gogh was an
arrogant provocateur, protected by his gender, his class and by precisely
the notion that FoS is an absolute value unrelated to others. This is very
different from the Rushdie case - which was surely due to his then
understandable assumption that his book would be read by people like him.
Van Gogh had been warned by friends that he was playing with fire. As with
people involved in extreme sports he should have been aware that he was
putting himself in harm's way.
M: That's just blaming the victim for his own murder. What hideous thing did van Gogh do to deserve capital punishment? Could it be that the asshole who murdered him bears some tiny little part of the responsibility too? Or should all provocateurs be killed for the crime of provoking? Can I assume his Somali-born Muslim woman collaborator on the film also has it coming for daring to express her own oppression as an islamic woman? She was threatened with murder by van gogh's killer too, of course. I suppose emancipation is OK as long as some group of religious nuts don't object. And at least van Gogh was ecumenical, Peter. By your account he offended the Christians and the Jews before he got around to offending the Muslims. Remind me again why ridiculing something as ridiculous as religion should be out of bounds?
I am not persuaded by your attempt to distinguish van gogh's case from Rushdie's unless you can elucidate. What kind of people are people like him and how was he going to ensure than only those people would read his book? I would argue that Rushdie had every right to express himself in that book and nobody had the right to put out a contract on his life, regardless of the readership.
P: For once I found myself in agreement with Jack Straw:
freedom of speech is not the same as an obligation to offend. Particularly,
I might respond to JS, when one has been busy for the last 500 years or so
in humiliating a particular racial/ethnic community, and is currently doing
so by treating this community as an instrument for reinforcing, with extreme
military force, the racism one now claims to be so sensitive to.
M: But surely any definition of freedom of expression, however aspirational, includes the freedom to provoke and to offend. Safe, state-sanctioned speech requires no defense. Thats where your new (temporary) friend Jack Straw is coming from. Everyone is free to say what Jack appoves of. That means no to cartoons but yes to aggression, occupation, torture, racism, extraordinary rendition and the like. Give me more cartoons and less butchery Mr. Straw.
I draw the line on provocative speech at the RTLM broadcasts urging genoicde in Rwanda, not at those silly cartoons. Much of the attack on the cartoons, from reactionaries in the East and West alike, have focused on the unacceptability of provocative speech. It is nothing more or less than a call for state control of expression, and that is antithetical to any definition of emancipation -- at least in public.
I will say again that those who assert that the Western media doesn't routinely and savagely caricature, parody, slander, degrade and demean jesus christ have no idea what they're talking about. The context is obviously different (the West isn't slaughtering Christians because of their religion at the moment) but the deliberate mockery and intent to ridicule and degrade is certainly there. How many of those artists have been gunned down by jesus freaks?
P: Finally, of course, I am aware of those particular forces within the Muslim
or Arab communities that are provoking violent mass responses. And I welcome
those other elements within these communities that propose a public
international dialogue on the issues raised.
M: I agree with that. It's Tariq Ali's insight about this being a clash not of "civilizations" but of fundamentalisms.
P: Out of this conflict I see a possibility for a process that is going to
confront both Western secular and Islamic religious fundamentalists. I even
expect such. A pity that if this does occur it will have been at the expense of death and
M: You're more optimistic than I Peter. I see this cartoon catastrophe strengthening the fundys on both sides, which is why I think people are still getting killed over it. But I hope you are right.
More information about the Debate-list