Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Say It Ain't So, Sully

It's been a bit depressing reading Andrew Sullivan's blog lately. I make no secret of the fact that it's a daily read for me. Even if I don't always agree with his politics, I always appreciate his rationality in the maelstrom of Weblogistan.

I fully support freedom of speech and I appreciate his passionate feelings on the subject. It's just that there's so much glee behind his support for the Danish cartoons. Print them high, print them low—teach those Islamists a thing or two! He should be the first to know that they're not going to learn anything. In the process, however, Sullivan is advocating the mass distribution of images that the vast majority of Muslims find offensive.

Make no mistake about it: there is no excuse for violence or threats of violence. Very few people dispute that, just as very few people dispute the right to free speech. Nobody seems to be thinking at all about the wisdom of alienating the vast majority of Muslims in Europe and beyond who are not engaged in killing or looting—all to make a rhetorical point. It runs counter to the ideals of building diverse communities and fostering an inclusive civil society. Let's not forget that those are values of Western civilization, too.

Yesterday, Sullivan reprinted a flyer from Seattle with one of the cartoons and a statement about free speech. The statement begins: "No individual, nation, or religion has the right to tell another what to say, or what not to say..." (The irony, of course, is that this statement is blatantly anti-free speech. I have an inalienable right to tell you what to say or not say, you just don't have to listen to me.) He sees the flyer as a positive sign and writes, "I think the American right and left can and should unite over this — and defend freedom against intimidation."

I agree with the sentiment of defending freedom against intimidation, but it doesn't take that much of a leap to see how minority Muslim populations living in extremely xenophobic European countries that print, en masse, derogatory cartoons that essentially say "we have contempt for your religion and your culture and we think you're all a pack of terrorists," might find that a bit intimidating as well. His inability to feel any empathy at all for an opposing viewpoint is shockingly out of character.

Later, he extols a certain liberal group of Muslim youth in Denmark and Norway for renouncing the violence of fanatics. "This is a good sign — one of several emerging in Europe's Muslim population — who are often themselves the targets of Islamist intimidation and violence."

Why, then, would he be a cheerleader for the widespread reprinting of these cartoons when the effect will certainly be to hand more power to the very segments of Muslim society he so despises? It boggles the mind that someone like Andrew Sullivan, a reasonable and thoughtful man who is normally concerned with the fact that Islam is so often hijacked by extremists, would be so gleefully eager to play into their hands now.
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