I finally got to see Albert Brook's Looking for Comedy in the Moslem World on Sunday just as the Moslem world was projecting its not-very-funny face in the form of violent demonstrations against those "offending" cartoons. I'm not a great fan of Brooks who is a B Grade Woody Allen and the movie is not very funny. But what really impressed me was the somewhat "conservative" message that came out of the film. Instead of trying to preach to us that "of all the casualties of globalism, religious sensibility is the most hurtful," like Simon Jenkins does in a column full of tiring multicultural slogans in the London Times, Brooks basically conveys to us a reality in which we have to accept that not all cultures are the same; that while we do share many universal traits -- we all laugh -- our concepts of what is funny (or tragic) might not be the same. It doesn't have to lead to a Clash of Civilizations. I've been very critical of this self-fulfilling prophecy. But at the same time, East is East and West is West... and let's not kid ourselves that globalization is going to create a new Cosmopolitan Person(after all the scenes in India and Pakistan, L.A. looked really great in the movie). And the last thing we should do in face of the demonstrations and threats in the Moslem world(this Brooks doesn't say; I do) is to ask for forgiveness from these characters and agree to surrender our values, like free speech and free press, that have made the West so unique in the history of world civilization, so as to appease the Moslem critics. But that's exactly what Jenkins demands that we do:
The best policy would have been to apologise and shut up. For Danish journalists to demand “Europe-wide solidarity” in the cause of free speech and to deride those who are offended as “fundamentalists . . . who have a problem with the entire western world” comes close to racial provocation. We do not go about punching people in the face to test their commitment to non-violence. To be a European should not involve initiation by religious insult.
And this guilt trip:
Many people seem surprised that a multicultural crunch should have come over religion rather than race. Most incoming migrants from the Muslim world are in search of work and security. They have accepted racial discrimination and cultural subordination as the price of admission. Most Europeans, however surreptitiously, regard that subordination as reasonable. What Muslims did not expect was that admission also required them to tolerate the ridicule of their faith and guilt by association with its wildest and most violent followers in the Middle East. Islam is an ancient and dignified religion.
Yadah...Yadah..Yadah.. How about Christianity and Judaism being ancient and dignified religions, something that I don't think is taught in, say, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and those Moslem religious schools in France and Germany.
Then there is the "third worldist" agenda that Juan Cole, is using to defend the reaction by the Moslems:
Of course people are upset when their sacred figures are attacked! But the hurt is magnified many times when the party doing the injuring is first-world, and the injured have a long history of being ruled, oppressed and marginalized. Moreover, most Muslims live in societies with strong traditions of state censorship, so they often assume that if something appears in the press, the government allowed it to do so and is therefore culpable. Westerners cannot feel the pain of Muslims in this instance. First, Westerners mostly live in secular societies where religious sentiments have themselves been marginalized. Second, the Muslims honor Moses and Jesus, so there is no symmetry between Christian attacks on Muhammad and Muslim critiques of the West. No Muslim cartoonist would ever lampoon the Jewish and Christian holy figures in sacred history, since Muslims believe in them, too, even if they see them all as human prophets. Third, Westerners have the security of being the first world, with their culture coded as "universal," and widely respected and imitated. Cultures like that of the Muslims in the global South receive far less respect. Finally, societies in the global South are less policed and have less security than in Western Europe or North America, allowing greater space to violent vigilateism, which would just be stopped if it were tried in the industrialized democracies. (Even wearing a t-shirt with the wrong message can get you arrested over here.)
So... we First World-types (whatever that means) need to feel guilty for not feeling the pain of the Moslems and for the fact that "societies in the global South are less policed and have less security than in Western Europe or North America." And I thought these were police states and military dictatorship. Does Cole mean that Christian and Jewish fundamentalists will have no problem burning buildings and other stuff in the "greater space" that can be found in the "Global South?"
Human beings are all alike. Where they are distinctive, it comes out of a special set of historical circumstances. The Muslims are protesting this incident vigorously, and consider the caricatures insupportable. We would protest other things, and consider them insupportable.
Just destroy, burn and kill if you consider something "insupportable."
Btw, I've found myself in agreement with Jenkins and Cole when it came to criticizing the Iraq war. But the same people who go balistic (and rightly so) when Bush tries to restrict the freedom of the press in this country, and who bash Christian Fundamentalists here quite frequently, are on a defensive and forgiving mood when Moslems call (on our governments...) to place restrictions on the freedom of press and free speech in our societies and cannot stop "feeling the pain" of Moslem Fundamentalists. I call that double standards.
I did like, however, what Martin Walker from UPI had to say about all of this in a column in which he mentions the Brooks movie:
If Muslims who choose to live in Denmark or another European country where this tradition is valued and understood do not like it, then they are perfectly free to leave for more devout and authoritarian shores. They are also free to write letters of protest to the editor, march in protest around his newspaper, boycott the paper and its advertisers and adopt all the other forms of expressing strong, principled and peaceful dissent that are also intrinsic to democratic societies.
Muslims abroad are also entitled to express their views, although wild threats to kidnap European diplomats and the armed takeover of the European Union offices in Gaza Thursday are foolish and self-defeating. Those EU offices have disbursed over $3 billion to the Palestinians, and are one of the few life-support systems that Palestine has. If a poll were taken among Europeans today, there would probably be a considerable majority for leaving the empty offices to the gunmen and keeping the money for deserving causes in Europe.
So in the spirit of Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" (and Muslim readers who may not know this work should look it up), it seems worth proposing some alternative uses for those EU funds.
One very deserving cause would be an education campaign to explain carefully to newspapers in the Arab world why their vicious cartoon depictions of Jews, and their now hackneyed way of depicting Ariel Sharon as Adolf Hitler, is in appalling taste. Not that they should be stopped from revealing their curious thought processes if they insist on repeating such Jew-baiting nastiness, but it might be useful to explain to them why it neither wins friends nor influences people.
The money might also be spent on holding public debates across Europe asking why sharia law demands the death penalty for any Muslim who abandons the faith, when Muslims are free to proselytize and win converts in Europe.
Or one might ask why Saudi Arabia allows no Christian churches on its soil, when the desert kingdom feels free to pump some $3 billion a year into building mosques and subsidizing Imams and proselytizing their puritanical Wahhabi sect of Islam.
Some of that European money the gunmen of Gaza are spurning might even be used for a referendum in which Europeans are asked if all the mosques in the EU should be closed until such date as the Saudis welcome some Christian churches and missionaries into their land.
Also recommended is the piece by Tim Cavanaugh in Reason.online.
It's important to stress all of this in order to make the following point: In the same way that most of the American critics of the Vietnam War were also fierce anti-Communists and promoters of Western civilization, the current opposition to the Iraq War reflects our strong commitment to these same Western ideals and doesn't represent any sympathy towards those who hate us for adhering to these values. Live and Let Live, guys. That's why I want the United States to get out of your countries and leave you alone to enjoy the fruits of your great civilization -- all by yourselves. Just leave me alone. And unlike Brooks, I won't even try to make you laugh. I promise.