Which Vulnerable Minority?

Yes, what about that Francesca Klug article. It’s worse than some of the more obviously woolly commentary, because its subtlety makes it that much more persuasive. But she starts from a very dubious premise, and sticks with it throughout – without it she has no case. She starts from the assumption that the Danish cartoons ‘denigrate’ not the prophet M, but Muslims themselves. But – if that’s true, then why isn’t that what all the shouting is about? Has she not noticed that the shouting is in fact about something else? Does she think that’s just displacement or a smokescreen? Well, if so, she needs to say so, and say why. She doesn’t.

While some [of the cartoons] seem benign, others appear designed to stereotype Muslims as (literally) sabre-rattling terrorists…Instead, the newspaper cited the European Jewish Holocaust, not as an illustration of where pictorial denigration of minorities can ultimately lead, but as an example of western hypocrisy over free speech.

But are the cartoons examples of ‘pictorial denigration of minorities’? They don’t seem so to me – though I realize it’s debatable. The two sabre-rattling ones could be seen that way, at a pinch – but I do think that’s stretching things. It seems to me that the sabre-rattlers don’t stand for all Muslims or all of a particular minority, but rather for a violent and oppressive minority within the minority (or majority in the context of the cartoons) that bullies and oppresses everyone else. It’s not a bit clear to me that the sabre-guys are meant to be a synechdoche for all Muslims – and Klug spends no time at all arguing that they do, she just assumes it. Then she complains about confusion…

Confusion and obfuscation have clouded every element of this morass. Torrid debates about the right to mock belief systems versus the obligation to respect religious sensitivities camouflage the essentially racist nature of the cartoons in question. Take the publication by a German newspaper this week of a cartoon depicting the Iranian football team as suicide bombers.

Take? Take it where? And why? Why should we take the publication of a different cartoon in a different newspaper in a different country as evidence of (and surely that’s what ‘take’ is supposed to mean there) ‘the essentially racist nature of the cartoons in question’? That seems like a startlingly bald and unembarrassed non sequitur. I might as well say ‘Francesca Klug’s article is very silly, take this article by Tom Friedman in the New York Times.’ Eh?

And she’s wrong. The ‘torrid’ (torrid?) debates about the right to mock belief systems really are about the right to mock belief systems, they’re not camouflage. And the ‘essentially racist nature of the cartoons in question’ is, surely, at the very least debatable – especially since most of them aren’t even close. No, if we’re going to fret about confusion and obfuscation and camouflage, the real problem is this insidious, coercive, and false idea that attacking or mocking or criticizing a religion is exactly equivalent to, is the same thing as, attacking or mocking or criticizing people who believe in the religion. That idea just has to be stamped out, hard. It’s the death of all clarity of thought, of all ability to question or disagree with any ideas whatever. That death is well under way already: plenty of people really do think it’s bad manners or worse to disagree with anything that anyone ‘believes’, especially if the belief is fervent and irrational. That equation just will not do.

Analogies with the Rushdie and Behzti affairs, in this sense, are misleading.

Well, in that sense, maybe so, but since that sense is worthless, analogies with the Rushdie and Behzti affairs are not misleading at all. That doesn’t actually follow, but I’m arguing Klug-style.

Liberal secularists cite Enlightenment heroes such as Voltaire, Kant and Mill to underline their cause. But they fail to distinguish between free speech as an essential means to challenge state or church monopoly power and stigmatising vulnerable religious or ethnic minorities in the name of a free press.

Rhetoric. Heroes shmeroes. Don’t be so silly. And it’s still only an assertion that stigmatising vulnerable religious or ethnic minorities is what’s going on with the cartoons, and again: if that is what’s going on, then why isn’t that what all the motorbike-torchers and embassy-torchers say? They don’t talk about vulnerable minorities, they talk about the prophet. It’s no good just ignoring that inconvenient fact.

Who could deny that in the context of modern Europe it is Muslims who have reason to feel vulnerable when mass circulation newspapers publish images that deny their individuality and associate them with terrorism?

Well I certainly wouldn’t deny that Muslims have reason to feel vulnerable in the context of modern Europe in general, but I am not at all convinced that the cartoons ‘deny their individuality and associate them with terrorism’. In fact I’m so unconvinced that I think the equation of the two – of the cartoons with the imputation – is a sly bit of coercion aimed at telling people to shut up about Islam. But then Francesca Klug really, really, really ought to think hard about all the vulnerable people who desperately wish Islam would treat them a good deal more gently. Girls married off to strangers, for instance; girls forced to wear religious costumes when they don’t want to; girls kept at home; girls and women never free to make their own choices about their own lives. If Klug’s line of thought succeeds in making Islam immune from challenge, then what about them? And why doesn’t she worry about that?

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