Friday Ephemera
Unwilling to Pretend

A Conspicuous Omission

After a brief flickering of clarity at the Guardian, normal service has, alas, been resumed. Today, Faisal al Yafai shares his wisdom on the recent republication of the Muhammad cartoons:

It’s been two years since I ran down the street from my flat in Damascus to see the Danish and Norwegian embassies burning, because of a cartoon published two thousand miles away. Now Danish newspapers have reprinted the same cartoons, of the Muslim prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his head, despite the controversy and lives that were lost because of it.

Note the repeated word because, and its implications. As so often, it is confidently suggested that the cause of the deaths, intimidation and property destruction was the publication of cartoons, rather than the actual perpetrators of those acts, who chose to respond to unflattering illustrations with arson, violence, murder, even threats of genocide. Hold that thought. Linger for a moment on the displacement and curious moral inversion, and note just how readily, and how often, this contortion is performed.

Mr al Yafai offers no analysis of preceding events and no reflection whatsoever on the moral incontinence of Islamist indignation, or its deranged disproportion, or its coercive intent. Nor does he pause to consider whether those who do commit atrocities in the name of Islam – say, by detonating babies, or children, or the mentally disabled – do so because they believe they’re following Muhammad’s own teachings and example. Which is, after all, an implied point of the cartoons. Needless to day, Mr al Yafai chooses to disregard the 80 or so known jihadist groups whose actions helped prompt the illustrations, and those, like Mukhlas Imron, the Bali bombing ‘mastermind’ and leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, who explain their actions as advancing Islamic imperatives. On his capture, Imron repeatedly cited Muhammad as his mandate and inspiration:

You who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward above no other? Aren’t you aware that the model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary activities, and that the Prophet waged jihad operations 77 times in the first 10 years as head of the Muslim community in Medina?

Also disregarded is the stated reason for the cartoons’ republication – i.e., an affirmation of free speech following the arrest of three Muslims accused of plotting to kill one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard. Such trifling details are, apparently, not to be thought about. Instead, Guardian readers are encouraged to believe that the only conceivable motives are trivial and malicious: 

There are so many sacred cows to be slain in the name of freedom of speech: Barack Obama’s colour, the private life of Princess Diana, Kylie Minogue’s chemotherapy. Why pick on just one? Don't be respectful and discuss these things in private: shout them from the rooftops! Instead of a few cartoons on one theme every couple of years, the Danes could run a new one every day… So come on, Danish newspaper editors, let’s see some cojones. Desecrate a few idols, push some old lady icons down the stairs and damn the consequences. Then we can all revel in how modern and free and European we all are. But don’t just pick on one weak minority over and over: there’s a word for that and it’s called bullying.

Again, pause for a moment to consider the assertion that the cartoons must constitute the deliberate “bullying” of a “weak minority”, albeit one that claims around a billion or so members. Here, al Yafai echoes a number of his Guardian colleagues, including the chronically disingenuous Karen Armstrong, who denounced the same cartoons as both “aggressive” and published “aggressively”, and Tariq Ramadan, who implied a parity of extremism between those who published the cartoons, or argued for the right to do so, and the devotees of Muhammad who made homicidal threats and set fire to occupied buildings. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that unflattering cartoons can hurt a person in exactly the same way that, say, fists, bricks and fire do.

But what is perhaps most curious about Mr al Yafai’s piece is that it shows a familiar and conspicuous disinterest in whether the cartoons do in fact depict some truth about Muhammad, his teachings and how they are used. A detail which might help explain why they arouse such preposterous rage.

Update:

Oh, yes. I forgot.

Muhammad_by_westergaard

Bite me.

Comments

Jason Bontrager

If the cartoons caused the damage resulting from the various Muslim riots, then the Muslims, not being the cause themselves, can only be thought of as unconscious puppets whose actions are dictated by the decisions of non-Muslims thousands of miles away.

Given that premise, then Muslims are not "people" by any reasonable definition, but rather simply dangerous objects that should be destroyed so as to ensure that they are not catalyzed to indulge in further destructive action.

David

Jason,

“If the cartoons caused the damage resulting from the various Muslim riots, then the Muslims, not being the cause themselves, can only be thought of as unconscious puppets whose actions are dictated by the decisions of non-Muslims thousands of miles away.”

That would seem to be the underlying assumption. And it’s a surprisingly common one at Guardian HQ.

Kadnine

I just want to go on record as saying, the very minute Kylie Minogue's chemotherapy stones a woman for the crime of immodesty, I'll lampoon it mercilessly. Sheesh!

What I find shocking is no matter how easily these pieces are dismantled, (and a fine job you've done, sir. Perhaps you just make it look easy) still they pop up everyday! I can only assume it's a cynical kind of "a falsehood repeated often enough becomes accepted truth" strategy designed to lull readers into accepting a logically false conclusion. I don't mean to imply a centrally co-ordinated conspiracy, but then, none is needed really. Not with an army of independent al Yafai's cranking out poorly constructed pieces day after day after day after day.

It's important not to go numb.

David

Kadnine,

What’s interesting to me is how al Yafai not only manages to be so unrealistic and wrong-headed, but is unrealistic and wrong-headed in precisely the same way as so many of his colleagues. I can only imagine it takes some effort to be so wilfully, fastidiously wrong. There’s so much one cannot allow oneself to think about; it must take time to learn the manoeuvres.

I’ve no idea how conscious the evasion is in the case above, but others, including Seumas Milne and Karen Armstrong, are incorrigible propagandists. Repeated refutation and correction of basic facts appears to have no impact on their thinking, and precisely the same nonsense is repeated as if no challenge had ever taken place. It’s where bad faith blurs into psychodrama.

Brendan

Well I... I do believe you lost your temper for a moment. I didn't think I'd ever see it but, yes... there is even a spelling error in there! Cup of tea, two aspirin, followed by a round of kick boxing with a blow up effigy of Karen Armstrong should fix you.

I have not read the article, but from your selections I certainly agree with your contempt for such shoddy journalism being paid for and published, anywhere, by anyone.


"There’s so much one cannot allow oneself to think about; it must take time to learn the manoeuvres."

um. The manoeuvre is clearly in the NOT thinking about anything at all and in repeating received wisdom... or editorial preferences. Hard to tell which.

David

Brendan,

[ Whistles cheerily. ]

“Well I... I do believe you lost your temper for a moment.”

Pah. A trick of the light. I’m as well disposed as I ever was. Wait a minute. Scratch that.

“The manoeuvre is clearly in the NOT thinking about anything at all and in repeating received wisdom... or editorial preferences. Hard to tell which.”

If so, those editorial preferences are arrived at by not thinking about some fairly obvious issues and matters of fact. It seems to me that quite a few of those issues, including the ones above, are actually hard to miss for any length of time. To me, that suggests effort. And much the same could be said about the received wisdom in this matter. Accepting it so readily isn’t always an *entirely* passive process.

By way of illustration, if you follow the thread below al Yafai’s article, you’ll see he belated and briefly joins the discussion. He manages to graze against two of the least relevant grumbles – points of practical irrelevance - while completely disregarding much more substantive complaints, which occupy a great deal of the thread he’s presumably been reading. For his “argument” to remain intact, some fairly nimble dancing is required. It isn’t just a matter of “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” which happens to us all. It’s more a case of “I will not *allow* myself to think of that and will pretend it never happened.” Which is something else entirely.

Brendan

Yes, quite a dodge there. The points made in the comments could not have been more illustrative of his failure. It's remarkable that he has not even gleaned that the toon reprinted was that created by the artist at the centre of a murder plot. He restates that they could have used some other more flattering portrait. That's insane.

I did like one little tidbit posted by a Swede in there, as it really sums it up for me.

"I predict that this will not be the last showing of the cartoons. The last showing will be the first one that no one reacts to." [some reasonable swede... or are they all reasonable?]

David

“Yes, quite a dodge there.”

Which suggests it’s not an accident. There’s effort involved. There’s a big difference between critical enquiry - whereby one wants to find things out irrespective of whether they reinforce an initial preference or assumption - and an ideological assertion, whereby one doesn’t. A fairly clear example of this would be Stephen Law’s exchange with Ibrahim Lawson, an Islamic educator, who believes “the purpose of having an argument is to win.”

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/search/label/Ibrahim%20Lawson

Thus - and by Lawson’s own admission - he will happily dispense with logic and evidence and resort instead to circular arguments, non sequitur and rhetorical ploys (i.e. deception) in order to appear to have “won”. Vanity being much more important than reality, apparently. If logic and evidence don’t support Lawson’s claims, as is often the case, he simply abandons them as if it didn’t matter, rather than rethinking his claims and the basis on which they’re made.

As Stephen Law replies,

“[That] ‘the purpose of an argument is to win’ is a quite extraordinary thing to say (note the ‘the’). A central point of a rational argument is to reveal what is true (indeed, a nice feature of cogent deductive and inductive reasoning is, if you feed true premises in, you will get, or are likely to get, true conclusions out). Mere rhetorical ploys and sophistry aim to convince *irrespective* of truth. That is why they are rightly viewed with suspicion. They don’t provide a different sort of ‘evidence’. They don’t provide evidence at all.”

Given that Ibrahim Lawson’s job, and his religious identity, is premised on a lie – i.e. pretending to know the detailed preferences of a hypothetical deity – his interest in truth is somewhat suspect, at least in this regard, and his arguments are likely to be presented in bad faith. And much the same thing applies to certain political positions. For examples, see just about every other article by Seumas Milne. The imperviousness to evidence and reason is quite remarkable. He’s not so much a thinker as trafficker in assertion; a memebot, if you will.

“I predict that this will not be the last showing of the cartoons. The last showing will be the first one that no one reacts to.”

Our Swedish friend wins the prize. I’ve argued repeatedly that the best possible response to the threats, riots and general braying was for *all* newspapers and magazines to publish the cartoons immediately. It’s a civilising process, and one that may have to be repeated several times before the message sinks in. I very much agree with the following, from MediaWatchWatch:

“These cartoons have become the equivalent of a naughty step for violent Muslim toonophobes. Like tantrum-prone toddlers, their behaviour is unacceptable, and if they continue to misbehave the cartoons will continue to be published far and wide. They do not like it, but they must sit on that naughty step and think about their actions until they understand the rules.”

http://www.mediawatchwatch.org.uk/?p=933

Matt M

The cartoons were drawn and published BECAUSE of previous acts of violence in the name of Islam. After all, if Muslims can be devoid of free will then so can Danish cartoonists.

Really, the person they want to blame is the one that set us all in motion.

Which would be... their God.

(I think I'm quite good at this theology lark.)

David

Matt,

“The cartoons were drawn and published BECAUSE of previous acts of violence in the name of Islam.”

It’s remarkable how readily this little detail is overlooked and it highlights just how unrealistic the debate can be. I’m sure the parental approach mentioned above will upset some people, but the options appear quite limited.

To avoid printing the cartoons – or to avoid any public suggestion that Islam is anything other than a Religion of Peace™ - would not only show that violent thuggery works, but it would also imply that such thuggery is a morally legitimate response. It is not. Urges to outlaw and punish such suggestions ignore the realities of the history and founder of Islam. Censorship not only blunts critical judgment and perpetuates unrealism; it also extends Islamic ticks and neuroses to non-believers and the broader population. Outlawing such mockery (even if it’s truthful), or discouraging it out of fear or pretentious “sensitivity”, makes the taboos of Islam *everyone’s* taboos. It obliges everyone to pretend that they respect a religious figure who’s undeserving of respect, and whose religion is intellectually trivial and philosophically absurd.

Some of us aren’t so ready to pretend, or lie.

Update:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/02/unwilling-to-pr.html

EBD

"It's been two years since I ran down the street from my flat in Damascus to see the Danish and Norwegian embassies burning because of a cartoon published two thousand miles away..."

Ah, that was an exciting day, worthy of prurient retelling. But the cartoons have been republished, and the bloom is off the rose: "Offense is good, but it's not as good the second time around."

Well sure, if you're the sort of person who is naturally inclined to run excitedly to join a throng at an embassy-burning, for example, things clearly haven't been quite as good this time around. But there is still reason for optimism. In Denmark, for example...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=mlye_mByqvI

and in England

http://youtube.com/watch?v=axgxyrBB31Y&feature=related

the dream won't die. Mr. Yafai should be pleased to note not only the force of the argument on display in these videos, but also that the *level* of argument is so low as to be non-existent. This suggests that Mr Yafai might continue to be in a position to give advice to non-Muslim cartoonists, filmmakers, writers and so on, and just in general to write with a straight face pretty much anything he wants to.

pst314

The Grauniad: The newspaper of record for anti-anti-fascists.

creepingsharia

The silencing of speech, eliminating freedoms, ignoring the obvious facts all point to one thing - the implementation of sharia law throughout the world...it is creeping in the EU, Canada, and in the US. It is the topic this informative blog: http://creepingsharia.wordpress.com

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