Saturday, February 04, 2006

Fatwa

Just as the Hamas election victory was, the distressing cartoon protests (an odd phrase, suggesting the Justice League or Looney Toons on strike) in Europe and elsewhere is a clarifying moment for Islam and the West. There are bright lines being drawn now that will certainly cause their share of pain, but may (years from now) nudge history forward and away from broken records of Muslim grievance and the West's post-colonial guilt and ambivalence.

Mockery that offends religious sensibilities may seem like one of the more frivolous on the list of freedoms we enjoy. But it's important. If some forms of mockery are truly beyond the pale, then people can reject and ignore them. But if the debate and discussion, however crass, are silenced by the threat of violence then the game's up. Where group grievances rule, cynicism flourishes. The public discourse descends into mushy relativism, a competition to see who's been wronged the most, not who's right.

It's not surprising the U.S. government is behaving in a craven fashion and the American media are taking a pass on this one - it's one of those can't-win-either-way situations. But as Christopher Hitchens points out, it's not particularly encouraging:

The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.