Monday, February 06, 2006

The cartoons and appeasement

What Jyllands-Posten did was to publish something it knew would provoke Muslims (though it had no idea how much) in order to flaunt its own "liberal" credentials. That was unforgivable.

In short, both these ancient societies are struggling through a crisis of identity. And to assert that identity, marshalled round its supposed core value of tolerance, it has seemed necessary to show intolerance to others who are different. But is this anxiety really about Islam, its dislike of criticism or resistance to Enlightenment liberalism? Or is it, at root, no more than the hostility of a tightly-knit community to strangers who have arrived to share the family home? Jyllands-Posten suggests that its main concern has been for freedom and democracy. I doubt that. It has certainly damaged both of them.
This is Neal Ascherson on openDemocracy. In his view, once again, it is basically our (the Dane's, the West's) fault. Yes, he acknowledges the "manipulated outrage" in the reaction of those Muslims on the street, but applies the epithet equally to westerners who shout out about freedom of speech. And in the end (the second paragraph above is his last), it comes down to the Danes getting jumpy, and so hostile. That's the problem!

I can see some sense in the argument that you don't throw squibs onto the embers of a fire if you want a quiet night's sleep. On utilitarian grounds, it is a reasonable view. Ascherson believes that the newspaper was after a bit of fuss. I confess, I don't know. However, the point is that we are being pushed into a corner by tantrums, and that we are already having to trim our expressed opinions so as not to provoke yet another tantrum. The public sphere is impoverished. Can you imagine the BBC, or any other broadcaster daring to put on screen something even far milder than Jerry Springer, but directed at Islam. There is no way. But it's all our fault. The old appeasers' kneejerk reaction. They do ill, therefore we are bad.

No comments: