Standing Clausewitz on his head may be the best way to understand the controversy provoked by Jyllands-Posten. This is no first amendment issue at all. The rash decision to publish the cartoons of Mohammed cannot be defended as freedom of speech for a simple reason -- these cartoons are not speech but acts. Acts of provocation and belligerence. They are the opening -- or perhaps continuing -- rounds of war.
How so? Don’t the cartoons express an idea and isn’t expression of our thoughts the most fundamental freedom of our western selves? Perhaps.
But even if we concede this, the fact is that even under our own Constitution, there have always been time, place, and manner restrictions to freedom of expression. You cannot yell fire in a crowded theater and plead artistic license; you cannot burn a cross in the backyard of a fellow American and claim that inquiring minds want to know.
In both cases, the context gives the game away; it tells us that the right being claimed is not the freedom to speak but the license to injure.
As to time: has there been a worse time in the history of the world to blasphemously caricature the founder and prophet of the religion of more than a billion people?
War in progress in Iraq, war threatened in Iran, anti-Muslim slander and racial filth polluting the airwaves sanctioned by the power brokers of the world, the obscene torture of Abu Ghraib ineluctably branded on the consciousness of Muslim nations, with Baghdad in cinders and ashes, the treasures of Mesopotamia ransacked, plundered and laid waste as not even Genghis Khan could have laid waste.
As to place: in post-Christian, militantly secular Europe, amid a rising tide of anti-immigrant zealotry, abetted by the brazen complicity of European governments in the rendition of Muslim prisoners and the petty bigotry of European governments toward the head scarves of little Muslim girls, in a smoldering keg of xenophobia, migrant joblessness, despair, and alienation. With threats of sanctions and nuclear strikes ringing in the ears. In a right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-assimilation Danish newspaper with historical ties to fascism.
As to manner: crudely, without explanation or rationale, unsoftened by artistic depth, naked to even the most incurious eye, flaunting, taunting, an affront impossible to hide from, in the most public of media, without qualification or contrition and in hypocritical contrast to the servility and frantic haste with which even the meekest criticism of Israel or Jews is withdrawn.
On all three contextual counts then, the claim to free speech fails.
Were Jyllands-Posten really concerned with free speech, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler who submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons about the resurrection of Christ in April 2003 would not have been turned down. But he was.
Had Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, really been defending provocative opinion, he would agree to publish pictures of Ariel Sharon strangling a Palestinian baby. But he would not.
Were Europe’s defense of free speech genuine and not merely hypocritical or extremely confused -- take your pick, historian David Irving as well as several others would not be languishing in jail in Austria for questioning the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. But he is. (1)
Remember that the West, which is now so exercised about the value of uninhibited speech, lectured Mohammed Mahathir for commenting -- rather tamely -- about the influence of the Jewish people in world affairs. Remember that Mahathir was condemned as anti-Semitic, a label used automatically to shut down any criticism of pro-Israeli policies.
Remember that Holocaust Denial -- as it is called -- is a criminal offense entailing imprisonment in seven European countries and the EU itself. And even venturing anywhere near that terrain is liable to end the careers of promising authors
The issue is not free speech.
But neither is it hypocrisy -- which surely exists in every society, Islamic as well.
The issue is power. Who has it and who doesn’t.
Were Iran and Syria bristling with nuclear weapons like America and Israel and were Saudi Arabia shooting spy satellites into outer space, Jyllands-Posten would be performing a public service. Were hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers camped out around Washington, DC, and American civilians being rounded up and raped in their thousands, we would fall over ourselves to address the terrors of Islamic fundamentalism. Were Christianity being reviled as innately murderous, the Cross and the Torah being flushed down toilets, and yarmulkes banned in schools, were the Smithsonian in ruins and the Louvre burned to the ground, were the Sistine Chapel riddled with bullets and George Bush trapped in a spider hole in the ground, we would fight to the death for the right to vilify Islamism.
But in fact, the ideology that most terrorizes the world is not Islamic -- as yet -- but Western and the speech that most needs to be heard today is the one that challenges the ideology of Western domination.
Not the speech that reinforces it and lays the foundation for its extension.
From context, then, the claim of free speech for the cartoons fails.
And in substance too, the claim fails.
Because of decades of misuse by corporate advertisers and commercial pornographers, we forget that the right to free speech is cardinally a right to the expression of political opinion not merely of any opinion. It is meant to protect political dissent, especially dissent that is vulnerable to persecution because it is unpopular. And so, identifying free speech is not simply a mechanical matter of checking off a list that trumps everything else at all times but of discriminating between the competing values and demands of groups.
That, of course, is the definition of politics.
Practically, what this means is that while we defend the right of Aryan supremacists to march through Skokie -- under certain strict constraints -- we do so only because they have limited power in a society that protects its ethnic minorities. We could not sanely defend the right of neo-Nazis to free speech were Aryan Nation really in power in the White House and civil laws in disarray. Instead, it would be our moral obligation as citizens to stand up and denounce neo-Nazism as an attack on the free speech and indeed the right to exist of others.
In other words, if the competing values at stake are my right to exist and your right to express your racist views, my right to exist takes precedence always and everywhere.
When the right to existence of Muslims is at stake, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Gujarat, and in Europe too -- then the right to racist anti-Muslim free speech must take a back seat in those places.
When Islamism becomes the dominant oppressor, at that time, never fear, we will take up the cudgels against it and support atheists with as much fervor.
It is a matter of discrimination and wisdom, not of hard and fast rules. This should be self-evident.
The truth is that my right always faces off against your right and the obverse of any one’s claim is always someone else’s imposition. And common sense should tell us that rights always need tempering with an equal responsibility.
But in the often-confused political culture of the secular West, fundamentalism about rights easily rivals the most medieval religious bigotry. Rights are worshipped as theological absolutes, idolatrously. We let them grow like weeds so rankly that they strangle even the flowers and run riot untethered by context, common sense, or courtesy. We unleash them in public as assertions of group hostility. We assert them outrageously and legalistically in a manner fundamentally antithetical to politics, which after all - unlike law - is a practical art, not a theological dictate.
Politics is possibility and compromise. But modern rights -- in this case the group rights of secularists -- are sentences handed down by a bewigged judge, divine and non-negotiable, flat declarations with punitive intent. Any wonder that today politics has lost the flavor of politics altogether and become an extension of war -- that war in which the battlefield is everywhere and the enemy is everyone.
War was not always so. In Clausewitz’s dialectic, war as brute force always alternated with war as policy by other means, limited in scope and driven by attainable goals. His battlefield had room for passion and chance but also for rational calculation; it mixed bloody self-aggrandizement with the prudent attainment of social goals.
But today, self-aggrandizement not only elbows out rationality and idealism completely, it does so while posing as rationality and idealism. We wade neck-deep into a criminal war while lecturing the world shrilly about the universality, rationality, and humanity of our goals.
Mere self-interest would have its limits. Mere greed or even vanity would be satiated at some point. But a rationality that claims to be universal, to be always and everywhere supreme, has an insatiable appetite to devour everything in its way. It cannot coexist peacefully with any other culture or worldview but must impose itself on them all at every turn, while simultaneously crying self-defense. We pose as victims, even while our commerce and our culture roll with our military like a gaudy juggernaut over the globe.
But what kind of a juggernaut? Unending imperial adventures have led to the militarization of politics but a militarization with a difference. Like war today, politics disguises its infinite lust for blood under the smiling face of reason; but also like war today, politics wages its most important campaigns not on terra firma at all but in the invisible battlefield of the mind. American intelligence may keep watch over the globe sleeplessly, it might probe the heavens and test the depths of the ocean, it might “own the night”; but it is in inner not outer space that the war is won or lost today.
William Lind, a cultural conservative and military analyst, has described the transformation of military strategy in the modern West from line and column attacks, to the massed fire-power and synchronized order of World War One, to the war of disruption and maneuver of the Germans -- the blitzkrieg, and finally to non-state war between cultures in which mental and moral force takes precedence - which he calls fourth-generation war. Americans, he thinks, have no idea that in the new mental war, the political leaders of the West, pampered and protected from the wars they initiate, have none of the moral charisma of a leader like Osama who lives ascetically in caves and mountains, subjecting himself to the same rigors that his followers undergo. The West he argues is losing the moral war to Islam from lack of understanding of the role played by the mental and psychological element in warfare. (2)
Lind is somewhat misleading here. If the West is losing the moral war, it is not because it hasn’t grasped the power of the mental element in war. It has grasped it only too well. Millions, indeed billions, have been poured into both corporate and political propaganda since the days of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman. Decades of research into mind control, behavioral modification, and psychological torture have yielded their strange fruits today in the perverse cruelties of Abu Ghraib and the staged histories of PR firms. The airwaves and the Internet are clogged with the fog of fourth generation war as intelligence hirelings masquerade as journalists and poison public perception with lies and distortions.
In fourth generation war, there is no distinction between state and society, soldier and civilian The psyche of the target population is attacked as viciously an that of an enemy on the battlefield through elaborate psychological operations and black propaganda which have the sole object of humiliating and destroying the sense of self. Of wiping out cultural identity. This was the technique at work in the sexual torture of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and it is the technique at work in the cartoons...which are of a piece with the desecration of the Koran, the shaving of beards, and the sexual taunting and torture of men and women that took place in the prisons.
It is not for nothing that Rafael Patai’s The Arab Mind has remained “the most popular and widely-read book on the Arabs in the U.S. military” in the training of special forces. Patai’s racist tract argues that force and humiliation are the only measures that the “Arab mind” understands. (3)
No, in the confrontation between the West and the “Rest’, if the “Rest” commands the moral high ground, it is not because of lack of Western propaganda, but because the moral high ground cannot -- yet -- be taken or held by propaganda alone but needs reality to back it up. It is not for lack of propaganda that the world is outraged by the Iraq war but because Iraq in fact was the innocent victim of a criminal attack. It is not perception that drives global anger against America -- and the West -- but reality. The reality of what the American empire has done and continues to do in the Middle East and other places, sometimes directly, sometimes through the murderous company it keeps.
From that perspective, the publication of the cartoons looks very little like free speech and very much like an attempt to change the moral equation between the West and Islam. It perfectly fits the pattern of covert actions well known to us from the Cold War. Sophisticated actions such as NATO’s Gladio-style European operations whose real objective was to discredit social democracy. (4)
Just so, the cartoons appear to be an offensive intended to justify Western anti-Muslim bigotry.
But what is less remarked is that the cartoons also -- and perhaps primarily -- appear to be a propaganda offensive directed against not only Muslim but Western populations; they seem calculated to negate the ever increasing disrepute of the Iraq war here, to retake the moral high ground, and prime us for a new war against Iran.
Start with this hypothesis, and the evidence leaps out:
1. Jyllands-Posten, the daily which first published twelve caricatures of Mohammad on September 30, 2005 was infamous for its ties to Italian fascism and German Nazism in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1933 it even argued for the introduction of a dictatorship in Denmark. Today it is linked to the Danish People’s Party which has publicly stated that Muslims cannot be assimilated into Danish society and has called Islam a “cancerous ulcer” and a “terrorist movement.” Notoriously racist DPP chair Pia Kjaersgaard once stated, “There is only one civilization, and that is ours.” This was in the 1990s when even the ruling Social Democrats reacted to social tensions with xenophobic campaigns. The DPP is now part of the right-wing coalition government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen which lined up behind the Bush administration on the Iraq war and sent a contingent of troops there despite the vehement opposition of the Danish people. Shortly before the cartoons, J-P ran an exposé about a purported Muslim death-list of Jewish names -- which turned out to be a complete fabrication. (5)
2. J-P’s editor invited forty cartoonists to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad, (proscribed in Islamic law as blasphemous) with an explicitly provocative motive -- “to examine whether people would succumb to self-censorship, as we have seen in other cases when it comes to Muslim issues.” The cartoons included one showing the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban in the shape of a smoking bomb, another with Muhammad on a cloud telling an approaching line of suicide bombers that he had run out of virgins with which to reward them, and a third showing him grinning wildly, holding a knife and surrounded by heavily-veiled women. When Danish Muslims did not react in the first week following publication, a reaction was explicitly sought.
3. Next, Prime Minister Rasmussen refused to meet with ambassadors of 22 Muslim countries who wanted to vent their objections to the cartoons, although they only wanted an apology, not action. Pia Kjaersgaard denounced protesters publicly as national traitors. At the end of January, Saudi Arabia and Syria recalled their ambassadors and the Saudis started a consumer boycott of Danish goods that wiped out the Middle East sales of Arla Foods, the second largest dairy producer in Europe. Only then did the Danish government and J-P issued statements of regret, although still defending their decision to publish.
Also in January, a Norwegian magazine was the first to republish the drawings, followed by the French France Soir, which editorialized: “Enough lessons from these reactionary bigots.” Other French papers, including the liberal Libération and Le Monde, followed Firmly behind the republication were French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who helped incite last year’s anti-police riots in the Muslim immigrant suburbs of France by calling residents “s**t” and “gangrene” and who with President Jacques Chirac and the Socialist, Communist parties, and the “far left” Lutte Ouvrière imposed a ban on Muslim girls wearing head scarves in public schools. In Holland, one of those who supported and reprinted the cartoons was Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian who has proposed a law banning the burqa. Much of Europe followed in what looks like remarkably good coordination: papers in Norway, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland and Hungary, both conservative and liberal. (6)
4) Flemming Rose, the editor, has proven ties to America’s Islamophobic neo-conservatives. In October 2004, he traveled to Philadelphia to visit Daniel Pipes, the neo-conservative historian who holds views to the right of Ariel Sharon and argues that the path to Middle East peace lies through total Israeli military victory. Pipes opposes the “road map,” Oslo, as well as the reform of the Palestinian Authority, and heads his own think-tank, the Middle East Forum, which has “defined and facilitated” American interests in the region since 1995. He hypes the threat of Islamism by equating it with communism and fascism, following directly in the footsteps of his father, Richard, one of the leading hypesters of the Soviet threat in the 1970s. Pipes claims to have seen the light on the subject when he witnessed the Iranian revolution in 1979 and attacks on American interests in the Middle East (read oil), but his language is replete with the covertly racist codes of the domestic culture wars, in which rising immigrant birth rates are used to fan racial anxieties among Caucasians. CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, claims that many Muslims consider Pipes the most virulent Islamophobe in America. For him, America's Muslims are the enemy within. In the military, he calls for their unrestricted racial profiling, while in academia, his Campus Watch web-site smears anyone who criticizes Israel. He also runs the Anti-Islamist Institute (AII) -- which targets the legal (yes, legal) activities of Muslims and the Centre for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) directed against the Wahhabi religious sect. He has publicly called Muslims “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene” (7)
From the glowing tone of his profile of the man, Flemming Rose seems to be in total agreement. (8)
This is not insignificant. Pipes is a man indisputably in the first circle of policy making in the US. He approved the infamous "Clean Break" paper -- written in 1996 as a policy advisory to Binyamin Netanyahu by a team whose members are all current or former Bush administration people. It included Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz as well as David and Meyrav Wurmser. “Clean Break” calls for the overthrow of both the Syrian and Iranian regimes to secure Israelis dominance in the region.
We know how far we’ve already gone in that direction:
The suspect assassination of Lebanon’s Hariri, the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the threat of sanctions dangled continuously over Syria despite its exemplary help in the US War on Terror, the riots over the assassination and then the cartoons (some claim fomented by third parties) -- all now work steadily toward the toppling of the secular Baath government of Syria’s Assad.
And Iran. The escalation of bullying over Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons capabilities, the row over President Ahmadinejad’s comment that Europeans should give Israel a piece of Europe, the repeated lies about Iranian intentions in the region -- all laying the groundwork for an imminent strike by Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Muslim anger may have erupted -- with stoking -- over a handful of cartoons.
But the cartoons are not the problem.
The problem is the West’s neo-colonial war on the Middle East.
is a freelance
writer in Baltimore, and the author of the must-read book
The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US
(Monthly Review Press,
2005) She can be reached at:
Copyright (c) 2006 by Lila Rajiva
(1) “Rotten in
Denmark: Flemming Rose and the clash of civilizations,” Justin Raimondo,
Antiwar.com, February 8, 2006.
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