Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hate Breeds Hate 2.0

After the Danish cartoon controversy reached a fever pitch, Tehran's Hamshahri newspaper decided to hold a ghastly contest to find the "best" cartoon about the Holocaust. It was a perfect example of the downward spiral this debate has become stuck in. Now, news from Britain provides further evidence that the furor is heading toward its logical conclusion.

The British National Party, a neo-fascist political fringe group, is distributing a leaflet with a reproduction of one of the cartoons in an attempt, according to a BNP spokesman, to provoke debate. "We published the cartoon not to offend individual Muslims — that's most important — but to make a stand for freedom," the spokesman said.

The BNP claims it is not a racist organization, but party leader Nick Griffin and another BNP member will face race-hate charges (on an unrelated issue) in a British court this October. The BNP website states that the organization "exists to secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands." The indigenous people are defined as those with Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Norse ancestry.

Here is some of the text of the leaflet:
By showing you just how mild and inoffensive the cartoon is, we're giving you the chance to see for yourself the huge gulf that exists between the democratic values that we share, and the medieval views that dominate Islam, even supposedly 'moderate' versions.
This statement, from a neo-fascist leaflet in Britain, is virtually indistinguishable from the kinds of rhetoric we've been hearing from mainstream defenders of free speech like Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, amongst others. Of course, this doesn't mean that either of those guys sympathizes with the BNP—far from it—and it certainly doesn't mean that there's something fascistic about defending the right of people to reprint the Danish cartoons.

Obviously the BNP is latching on to this issue and trying hard to strike a reasonable pose because they think they can win some respectability points from doing so. It's pandering of the lowest order. That said, if your position on Muslims in Europe can essentially be adopted wholesale by a neo-Nazi organization, perhaps there's some nuance missing from your line of reasoning. As passionate admirers of George Orwell, both Sullivan and Hitchens should know as much.

Both writers are planning to attend a rally in support of Denmark outside the Danish embassy in Washington tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with standing up for the right to free speech (indeed, its a vital cause—albeit one that makes strange bedfellows) or even to show solidarity with Western Enlightenment values. Something is lost, however, when crazy people at either end of the spectrum hijack the debate.

I support the right of any newspaper anywhere to print whatever image or idea they wish. I also reserve the right to support this principle without being required to agree with the ideas protected under its broad umbrella. There is more than a whiff of anti-Muslim xenophobia surrounding the Danish cartoon controversy and the way it has rippled through Europe. I condemn this as reflexively as I condemn the outbreaks of violence and intolerance in the Muslim world. It would be nice if the likes of Sullivan and Hitchens would do so as well. Unfortunately, they're so busy cheerleading for Western Civilization that they haven't found the right moment.

When the ideological descendents of Western Civilization's greatest failure are in your camp, you should, to say the least, be very, very careful. If you get into bed with the enemies of freedom—on either side—you'll end up hating yourself in the morning.
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