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Quick Response to David:
Since David's comments to his post below are closed, here is a "comment" in post form: I'm not entirely sure I understand. David, are you criticizing the speaker for not believing in democracy? For not sharing a western style sense of civil liberties? For confusing "the state" with individuals in the state?
Eric Muller (www):
Orin, I believe that this was one of those occasional "just venting" posts.
2.3.2006 11:36am
Roger (mail):
I like it when lawyers with tenure cite Ayn Rand. It makes me feel less angry about not getting a tenure-track position.
2.3.2006 11:37am
Jeremy Suttenberg (mail):
I think Professor Berstein, though, is 100% correct in pointing out that the Middle East needs liberalism, not democracy per se.
2.3.2006 11:50am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I think he's just pointing out the foolishness of a "boycott" against Western nations because they don't stifle religious dissent according to her wishes. We all know this woman will continue to enjoy the benefits that stem from the liberties she would deny.

Agreed... just venting... but with good reason.
2.3.2006 11:53am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Orin, I'm not criticizing her, I'm praising her lack of hypocrisy. But boycotting Danish cheese isn't enough, if you want to reject Western liberalism, reject all that comes with it.
2.3.2006 11:57am
J..:
I thought comparing this to Eugene's posts on the economic power of individual boycotts based on speech was interesting.

The quote provided seems like just another example of the latter, which is a good way to use private economic muscle in a way in which an private economic actor can further her idividual interests. I sold out of shares (bequethed to me) of Walmart for this reason (it didn't hurt that the stock seemed to have capped, anyway). Seems like the type of quote an friend of econ would appreciate :-)
2.3.2006 11:58am
magoo (mail):
Leilah Faleh's comment is not fairly read as saying she wants to reject Western liberalism or go back to the Stone Age. She's identifying the sacrifice she's willing to make (rightly or wrongly) in response to what she perceives to be an insulting denigration.

She obviously feels insulted, probably similar to the way I felt when I first saw Piss Christ. I would have boycotted just about anyone associated with that monstrosity. Her reaction can be criticized (and the commenters raise valid issues), but ridicule is not the answer.

To call the original post "venting" is charitable. The latter half of the post is more rant than vent.

And now, "I'm not criticizing her..."? Please.
2.3.2006 12:09pm
nk (mail) (www):
In a post of Professor Kerr's, a few months back, I made a comment similar to Professor Bernstein'n post. We have people who obtained to benefits of civilization by purchase (oil) and not by societal evolution. Freedom of thought, perhaps the sine qua non in everything from the invention of the printing press to fourth generation antibiotics continues to be absent because it is not needed (as long as they have oil) and it is dangerous to their ruling class.
2.3.2006 12:14pm
VC Reader:
Wouldn't it make more sense for outraged Muslims to boycott the newspapers that have published these cartoons than an entire country? It will be rather hard to boycott an entire country and the likelyhood of it having a large enough effect on their economy to encourage them to change their actions is slim. But if the entire Muslim community in Europe cancelled their subscriptions to these newspapers and refused to buy them at the newspaper stand, the more effect of the boycott would be felt more acutely by the actual people who are offending Muslims. That said, someone needs to take charge of Islam's PR because people in the West don't respond well to bomb threats and fatwahs.
2.3.2006 12:15pm
chsw10605 (mail):
I think that Leila Faleh should be taken up on her offer. I also think that she should forego any antibiotics, vaccines and other advances in medical tech invented by Jews or Christians. Also, she should never avail herself of any appliance, vehicle, or other item invented by Jews or Christians.

Good luck, Ms. Faleh. You would be reduced to warm goat milk and dates, at least until flies and vermin ate them.
2.3.2006 12:15pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
J, (1) she never saw the pictures because no one in her country would dare publish them; and (2) the Danish food company had nothing to with the pictures, the Danish, French, governments, etc., have nothing to do with the pictures, so why boycott them? Because you object to an entire society that tolerates such pictures, and toleration is the single most important aspect of liberalism.

Now, I will cease commenting due to other obligations, which is why I left comments close to begin with.
2.3.2006 12:17pm
go vols (mail):
If I boycott buying goods from any state or city that permitted Piss Christ to be shown, am I also rejecting the freedom of speech and liberalism? Must I then forego antibiotics and anything else that comes along with free society? I realize the two cases are not the same, but I challenge Berstein to draw the dividing line, given his remarks. What does "rejecting Western liberalism" mean? It seems to be a great number of people in this country, by this standard, similarly "reject" liberalism, and thus, by this argument, should reject its fruits.

I think you can disagree with the speaker, specifically (I do) and the protest generally (or the threat of violence) without having to paint such a broad brush. Bernstein's heart may be in the right place, but the argument smells.
2.3.2006 12:26pm
farmer56 (mail):
Please define the 'fruits of liberlism'
2.3.2006 12:31pm
Houston Lawyer:
Now if we could just convice them to boycott AK-47s and suicide belts we would be getting somewhere.
2.3.2006 12:34pm
SP (mail):
I'm not following some of the comments here. By rejecting any entire SOCIETY you are rejecting what is stands for. Some random Danish Havarti company has nothing to do with these photographs. They're essentially boycotting Denmark because, fundamentally, it's not that Denmark is free - it's that Denmark thinks that Muhammad was just a man, who accomplished what he did through the application of violence, not because he was divinely chosen.
2.3.2006 12:39pm
t d e (mail):
Aww c'mon people get with the program.

Our country is on the way to spending $400 billion to create an Islamic theocracy in Iraq. That is the goal of our foreign policy.

Does anyone here think that you would be able to print such images in Iraq in, say, 2010 without having your head lopped off?

The intellectual disconnect between people who - on one had tutt-tutt about those nutty Muslims getting riled up over cartoons while simultaneously supporting a foreign policy whose result will be to solidify the power of such groups is just mind boggling.
2.3.2006 12:39pm
J..:
David,

I'm not sure of truth of #1 (I'm not willing to assume it, at least), but your are right on #2 -- a boycott, to be successful, should be focused on the offender.

We could certainly make a rationale argument why Denmark is the offender, though -- perhaps someone is protesting the fact that there is *not* a blasphamy law there (or not enforced the way someone likes). (This would attempt to put us in the same category of those that wanted divestature from South Afircan countries for the percieved sins of the government there, but equate nonfeseance with malfeasance). But, I agree, that is a stretch.
2.3.2006 12:44pm
Chukuang:
NK:

The Chinese invented paper, printing (block and moveable type), the compass, gun powder, etc. without "freedom of thought." The West got not through social evolution but through the Arab world bringing to them. Please respond.
2.3.2006 12:46pm
SP (mail):
This is true that the Chinese invented these things. Then they basically went into a cocoon for 1500 years. Why, if they had such a head start, did they not capitalize on it? Why, if the Arab world had access to these concepts sooner, did they not capitalize on it?
2.3.2006 12:53pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail):
I think he's just pointing out the foolishness of a "boycott" against Western nations because they don't stifle religious dissent according to her wishes.

Why do so many people have such a hard time understanding why Moslems are offended? Here are some things that are not what Moslems are offended by, as I understand it:

- Western liberalism
- the failure of Western nations to stifle religious dissent

As I understand it, people are rioting (etc.) because a newspaper published an image very offensive to their fundamental beliefs. Enjoying Western liberalism does not require that you use your freedom of speech to offend other people.

It would be nice if everyone who got upset about this acted cooly and rationally, and sat down and wrote a letter to the Danish newspaper that chose to poke them in the eye. In a perfect world, we would all be able to distinguish between different Moslems and Danes, and angry Moslems would be able to focus their anger at specific Danes, and angry US bloggers would not lump all angry Moslems together (not saying that anyone here is doing that, but I've seen enough of it in the last day or so). Is anyone surprised that we don't live in that perfect world? They're boycotting Denmark because they lack an effective way to boycott the particular newspaper, and because they're pissed off.
2.3.2006 1:01pm
BC (mail):
I'm with David - although perhaps a grandiose view of these events, it seems that ultimately what is at issue is rejection of freedom of speech/press, which a sine qua non of liberalism. If Muslim countries reject freedom of speech, the reject liberalism, and David's point is that this is hypocritical, given that they enjoy a lot of technology that wouldn't exist without liberalism, because it was all produced by liberal societies (the link between the liberal, "open society" and long-term modern scientific/tech progress is not something I will argue for here, but I think it is undeniable). West/liberalism-hating Muslims can't in principle have their cake (modern tech) and eat it too (be against Western liberalism).
2.3.2006 1:07pm
Confused:
I don't understand why one can't engage in imperfect boycotts. A basic premise of constitutional law -- which I stretch here by analogy to boycotts -- is that state action does not fail simply because it only addresses part, but not all, of the purported problem. There are many things -- cell phones, computers, etc. -- that are products of Western (or far Eastern) culture that the Middle East cannot live well without importing. But there are other things (milk, movies, etc.) that they can live well without importing. Why can't someone say, "I want to hurt the West's economy without hurting myself too much. So I will not eat their cheese, but I will still use their cell phones"?

Moreover, it's not clear to me that it's somehow "illegitimate" or dishonest for a foreign culture to cannibalize a hated foe's artifacts in the process of seeking to destroy that foe (or in the process of fighting another foe). We took Nazi rocketry advances that were produced by a culture we (ostensibly) loathed. The Romans derived military techniques -- like the manipular legion -- from enemies who had defeated them. The Vandals became Christian in the process of annihilating Roman civilization in Spain and North Africa. Colonial Americans kept England's language, faith, law, dress, manufactures, etc. while rejecting England's rule.

Islamists have basically said, "We hate the West, but we will take the things they have created and use them to destroy the people who made them. Then, we will build our Islamic utopia on the cinders left behind." It's brutal and its hostile to us, but I don't think it's intellectually dishonest. It might be dishonest if *after having destroyed* the West, Islamists adopted Western technologies and whatnot. But even then, it's not altogether clear to me that that would be so (after the Christian Romans purged the pagan temples of antiquity, in many cases they converted them into churches; in other cases, of course, they tore them down; Augustin used pagan Greek disputation techniques to defend and advance Christianity; etc.).

To the extent there is a war between civilizations, it is a war of wills. This is a test of will. If Arab nations can defeat European nations' will-power simply by boycotting their cheese, why should they go farther?
2.3.2006 1:13pm
DK:
The mistake here, IMHO, is that David and others are making this too much of a West vs. Islam issue.

The opinion David quotes is almost identical to the opinions of people in the U.S. who want to boycott Disney for providing benefits to gay partners. Or to the recent American fundamentalists who are planning to boycott an evangelical Christian movie about missionaries in Ecuador because one of the actors is openly gay. Or, to the liberal American Christians who participate in boycotts of Israel.

There are many real and nontrivial differences between Islam and Christianity, but the willingness to engage to ridiculous boycotts b/c other people do things you don't like is a common phenomenon among all religions right now.
2.3.2006 1:16pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
IMHO, a lot of people are disrespecting the religious beliefs of those who are protesting by failing to take seriously their complaint on their own terms, and instead insisting that their complaint is really about something else. How ironic that the perception of this sort of disrespect is what is fueling the protests.
2.3.2006 1:23pm
Justin (mail):
No, don't you get it? Jesus Christ is our SAVIOR. Mohammad is not. Thus, boycotting Piss Christ is an essential part of secular liberalism. The West is tolerant of Muslims, and that's not a double standard. See, words don't need to have meaning to prove our self-superiority.
2.3.2006 1:26pm
Mary (mail):
"If Ayn Rand were still alive, she would probably suggest that WE boycott THEM"

If I'm getting the pronoun generalizations correct, this is kinda funny and cuts to root. If Mr. Bernstein can tells me how he heats his house, fills his car, and travel on aeroplanes without using any resources from Muslim countries, making sure it's all non-Muslim countries oil, then I will totally support his contention that WE don't need THEM. Fact is, right now we do.
2.3.2006 1:27pm
Joshua:
Re: why Muslims are blaming (and boycotting, threatening, etc.) Denmark as a whole for the cartoons: Keep in mind that Islamic doctrine makes no distinction between mosque, state and civil society - they are regarded as integral components of a single, organic, overarching entity. (Indeed, this notion underlies the entire Islamist critique of Western civilization as decadent and godless.) To the extent that this notion is internalized by rank-and-file Muslims - Islamist or otherwise - it explains why they cannot fathom that the Danish state would have no control over what goes on in the Danish media. (I also recall an episode a few years ago in which the Saudi government asked President Bush to keep a lid on American media criticism of the Saudis, suggesting that the same mindset was at work.)
2.3.2006 1:34pm
nk (mail) (www):
Chukuang: I disagree that the Chinese did not have freedom of thought. Confucius was not free to think? Taoism was suppressed? Buddhism did not take root? The Chinese emperor did not apppoint a commission in around 300 B.C. to scientifically analyze the principles of music as Pythagoras had done earlier in Greece? The Chinese had a civilization all their own because they had freedom of thought. Because they honored their scholars. It may be an exaggeration but I have heard that you could not be a street sweeper in ancient China if you were illiterate. Neither do I disagree that some, But not all, of the Caliphates preserved and transmitted knowledge during the end of the first millenium. What we are dealing with today, after four to seven centuries of oppression under the Ottoman Empire, is an entirely new situation. Nations which are essentially ghettos. To paraphrase Robert Frost: "They will not go beyond their fathers' sayings".
2.3.2006 1:38pm
Mak (mail):
I think that Bernstein has an excellent point, that most seem to be missing. Perhaps it is just too simple a concept.

The absurdity is that this woman, who enjoys her freedom to practice her religion of hostility and intolerance of others, thanks only to our own extremely liberal values, is herself outtraged by this same liberalism that tolerates her beliefs when it results in things -- such as the cartoons -- which she herself does not like. She is thus desirous of having her cake, and eating it too.
2.3.2006 1:40pm
DJ (mail):
Wow, Prof. Bernstein's post was uncharacteristically heavy-handed and nasty. Shock.
2.3.2006 1:41pm
Chukuang:
This is true that the Chinese invented these things. Then they basically went into a cocoon for 1500 years. Why, if they had such a head start, did they not capitalize on it?

You really need to some very basic history review here. 1500 years ago the Chinese had not yet invented any of these except for paper (which they did capitalize on, producing the most literate society on the planet until maybe the 19th century). Most of the other were invented between the 7th and 13th centuries (i.e., when you have them in a cocoon). China was unquestionably the richest, most powerful nation in the world until maybe the late Ming (16th century). They did, to some degree, "go into a cocoon" at that point in that they cut off much foreign trade and exploration for a number of reasons. But to say they didn't capitalize on the invention of paper, printing, etc. is as shockingly ignorant as saying that the US has failed to really make use of electricity. They spent far more time as the world's dominant power than the US has spend existing. You could at least spend 5 min. on Wikipedia before making such statements. I much prefer a liberal capitalist democracy to any other system I can think of, but to assume that only such a system could result in technological discoveries and the ability to capitalize on them is just factually wrong.
2.3.2006 1:45pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
The absurdity is that this woman, who enjoys her freedom to practice her religion of hostility and intolerance of others, thanks only to our own extremely liberal values, is herself outtraged by this same liberalism that tolerates her beliefs when it results in things -- such as the cartoons -- which she herself does not like. She is thus desirous of having her cake, and eating it too.

Why do you think she's outraged by "liberalism?" To borrow the example of someone above, when President Bush says he's outraged by court decisions permitting gay marriage, do you conclude that he's outraged by "democracy?"
2.3.2006 1:47pm
magoo (mail):
Imagine that. Rejecting a whole country, even those who had nothing to do with the offense. How silly. Pass the freedom fries.
2.3.2006 1:55pm
nk (mail) (www):
Chukuang: I just read your 1:45 p.m. comment. How, knowing those things that you set forth in it, could you say in your earlier comment to me that the Chinese did not have freedom of thought. Were you perhaps thinking of "political freedom". Even in that case they were not a docile, slavelike people. The first emperor, who is paractically deified, the King of Chin, was thrown out on his _____ as were more than a few later. My apologies to our host for going so far off subject.
2.3.2006 1:58pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Why would someone boycott things that they find useful, you boycott luxuries. The purpose of a boycott isn't martyrdom it is to hurt economically your boycottee. Only when you have to take it on the chin to make a point do you.
2.3.2006 2:01pm
Chukuang:
NK:

Where to begin?

Confucius was not free to think? Taoism was suppressed? Buddhism did not take root?

Confucius's ideas, to state it simply, were in perfect accord with the needs of the Zhou state (or what remained of it). He was certainly free to think whatever he wanted (just like every human in the world is and always has been), but if he expressed thoughts that threatened the state
there is no reason to believe that would not have suffered as a result. In fact the writings connected with that tradition (along with many writings we would consider Daoist) were ordered burned by the Qin emperor in the bibliocaust of 213 B.C. Both schools of Daoism and Buddhism were suppressed and almost destroyed at numerous points in imperial history when they appear likely to threaten the state, had amassed too much money, fell out of favor, etc.

The Chinese emperor did not apppoint a commission in around 300 B.C. to scientifically analyze the principles of music as Pythagoras had done earlier in Greece?

Who was "the Chinese emperor" in 300 B.C.? What would later become China was in this period a series of independent states. There was no "Chinese emperor" and wouldn't be until 221 B.C.

they had freedom of thought. Because they honored their scholars

What do you mean by "freedom of thought"? They certainly didn't have freedom to express any thoughts they saw fit. And yes, they honored their scholars, but the civil service exam, the primary route to power, very carefully determined what opinions and thoughts those scholars could express.

It may be an exaggeration but I have heard that you could not be a street sweeper in ancient China if you were illiterate.

It is beyond an exaggeration. While they were certainly the most literate society in the world for many centuries, the literacy rate certainly never broke 10% at any point before the 20th century.

You seem to have a view of China based more on some New Age pamphlet than on the historical facts.
2.3.2006 2:08pm
Fishbane (mail):
Magoo: Pass the freedom fries.

That made my day, thank you.
2.3.2006 2:09pm
Brutus:
If Ayn Rand were still alive, she would probably suggest that WE boycott THEM

Why, that idea sounds familiar...

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly 10 billion dollars to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment … move beyond a petroleum-based economy … and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
2.3.2006 2:10pm
Chukuang:
The first emperor, who is paractically deified, the King of Chin, was thrown out on his _____ as were more than a few later.

What are you talking about??? The first emperor died in 210 B.C. while still emperor. He appointed his first son to be his heir but a cabal of eunuchs led by Zhao Gao replaced him with the second son and caused the first to commit suicide. Later emperors who lost power when alive either did so because of inner court politics or because the dynasty was overthrown by another army or invaders. The idea that the Chinese people ever (before, say the last decade in Taiwan) had any kind of meaningful political freedom or freedom of expression (which is what matters, not some vague idea of "freedom thought") is simply wrong. Please cite a single reliable source to show the contrary.

And I also apologize for changing the main subject of this thread. For what it's worth, anybody who thinks shooting is an appropriate response to a cartoon needs a valium or two.
2.3.2006 2:15pm
Kipli:
Enjoying Western liberalism does not require that you use your freedom of speech to offend other people.

No, but I think it does require that you ascribe, at least minimally, to the maxim: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.

In the grownup world that many religious fanatics (of all stripes) seem unable to enter, people will piss you off but you should not threaten to kill them for it.
2.3.2006 2:17pm
Kipli:
Bah. 'ascribe' should be 'subscribe'.
2.3.2006 2:26pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Kipli,

No, but I think it does require that you ascribe, at least minimally, to the maxim: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.

Liberalism hardly requires that you abandon whatever beliefs you have -- e.g., Islam -- or any sense of offense you might have when your beliefs are disrespected.

In the grownup world that many religious fanatics (of all stripes) seem unable to enter, people will piss you off but you should not threaten to kill them for it.

I cannot imagine that there is a single commenter here who thinks that it would be appropriate to threaten to kill people for publishing what that Danish newspaper published. You've found something we can all agree on.
2.3.2006 2:32pm
KMAJ (mail):
An interesting smorgasbord of opinions. One person's intolerance is anothers tolerance. To whit, strict muslims may be offended by a cartoon caricature of Mohammed, is that not intolerance of non-muslim freedom of opinion ? In a society overrun by political correctness, we propigate an endless cycle of proclaimed victimhood based on an iconic theory of a right or freedom from being offended. Political correctness is the antithesis of individual freedom, it is thought control under the guise of civility.

I wonder if we are framing the debate properly, is it really western liberalism or secularism that is fulcrum of the debate ? It is a societal and cultural clash of values that defines freedom with different boundaries. Does that necessarily make one a barbarian for not adhering to a secularist point of view where anything goes (within societal limits) ? Is she not engaging in freedom of expression and speech ? Does said expression open her up to derision ? Certainly, in a free society it is essential for an individual to have a right to express a counter opinion, even vehemently so, short of taking any violent action.

Were these comments made in another cultural environment, i.e. muslim society, it would enjoy the support of a larger segment and not be subject to the criticism it encounters in this one. I do not think anyone of us would deny her the right to boycott or express her opinion, no matter how illogical one perceives it to be. This is nothing more than a clash of cultures in a societal arena where the speaker is in the minority.

Personally, am I offended by her opinion ? Not at all. Do I share it ? Definitely not. Do I defend her right to express it ? Without a doubt, as I also equally defend the right of those to criticize or defend her opinion. Did it deserve coverage in the Washington Post ? You decide.

If one can take a step back, one might see it is part of the microcosm of how some Christians view the secular agenda, and why they feel under attack. If a similar comment were made by a Christian shopper in a store about an offensive cartoon caricature of Christ, would it have received similar coverage or wouild it be accepted as the norm ? Why is there this sensitivity to offending a religious minority that deserves reportage, yet, if the religious majority segment of society is offended and reacts, it is somehow demonized ? Victimhood, the phenomenon that absolves one from personal responsibility and accountability, and champions a facade of tolerance that propigates intolerance. It is a double edged sword that cuts both ways, left and right, with each claiming the moral high ground.
2.3.2006 2:35pm
SP (mail):
"There are many real and nontrivial differences between Islam and Christianity, but the willingness to engage to ridiculous boycotts b/c other people do things you don't like is a common phenomenon among all religions right now."

Yes, and this is true of all sorts of political organizations. But if Disney is engaging in the offensive policy, boycotting Disney, as opposed to the state of Florida, is how you would rationally address your complaint.
2.3.2006 2:47pm
SP (mail):
"Moreover, it's not clear to me that it's somehow "illegitimate" or dishonest for a foreign culture to cannibalize a hated foe's artifacts in the process of seeking to destroy that foe (or in the process of fighting another foe). We took Nazi rocketry advances that were produced by a culture we (ostensibly) loathed. The Romans derived military techniques -- like the manipular legion -- from enemies who had defeated them. The Vandals became Christian in the process of annihilating Roman civilization in Spain and North Africa. Colonial Americans kept England's language, faith, law, dress, manufactures, etc. while rejecting England's rule."

You actually state what the point is later - that it is the intellectual hypocrisy of it. They claim they have a superior worldview, but have no problem taking the benefits of things that show that worldview in fact may not be so superior. The disconnect between Islam and the West is much greater than that between Rome and the barbarians it freely incorporated into its empire. And Rome taking the stirrup from the Parthians, or whatever, isn't quite the same as the much larger range of goods and services from the West that Islam has incorporated into itself.

Oh, and nice try at trolling by seeing we "ostensibly" found the Nazis abhorrent.
2.3.2006 2:50pm
SP (mail):
"You really need to some very basic history review here. 1500 years ago the Chinese had not yet invented any of these except for paper (which they did capitalize on, producing the most literate society on the planet until maybe the 19th century). Most of the other were invented between the 7th and 13th centuries (i.e., when you have them in a cocoon). China was unquestionably the richest, most powerful nation in the world until maybe the late Ming (16th century). They did, to some degree, "go into a cocoon" at that point in that they cut off much foreign trade and exploration for a number of reasons. But to say they didn't capitalize on the invention of paper, printing, etc. is as shockingly ignorant as saying that the US has failed to really make use of electricity. They spent far more time as the world's dominant power than the US has spend existing. You could at least spend 5 min. on Wikipedia before making such statements. I much prefer a liberal capitalist democracy to any other system I can think of, but to assume that only such a system could result in technological discoveries and the ability to capitalize on them is just factually wrong."

Okay, so my dates are off. What's your point? China DID go into a coccoon, and let the world pass it by. That's what you need to explain. If the western liberal democracies similarly stagnate and go into a coccoon, then you'd have a much stronger point.
2.3.2006 2:54pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
[I]f Disney is engaging in the offensive policy, boycotting Disney, as opposed to the state of Florida, is how you would rationally address your complaint.

Therefore, protesting Muslims are irrational. Q.E.D.
2.3.2006 2:59pm
SP (mail):
And I should add - the fact that someone, at some time, invented something, is certainly an indicator that a society is "more free" than its neighbor. But obviously a totalitarian state, if it throws enough manpower and money at something, can do this. It's the subsequent development and interchange of ideas that's the key. Did this invention prompt another? Did the state just confiscate it? Did an invention like the printing press radically change society by increasing the spread of ideas? Obviously, the Middle East has access to TVs and newspapers and the internet, but in many areas this has just ossified what is in place, since their coverage is selective. In other areas, such as Iran, it has been helpful in promoting political dissent and the free exchange of ideas, sadly with only mixed success at best. So it's not just the invention - it's what you do with it. Sorta like it's not just the nuclear bomb... it's how you choose to use it, right, Mr. Ahmedinejad?
2.3.2006 2:59pm
SP (mail):
"Therefore, protesting Muslims are irrational. Q.E.D."

Well, I certainly don't recall any recent stormings of the Florida embassy after word spread about Disney's policy, and no Disney stores have been ransacked (or for that matter, Universal Studios stores, since in the mind of some protestors, this paper = Denmark = any European country).

Boycott CAN be a rational behavior, because the idea is to hurt the entity you dislike by depriving it of sufficient cash. Or, to at least get publicity for your plight. This reminds me of the time when, after learning that some Muslim extremists had try to seize the Kaaba in Mecca, some Pakistanis led a protest outside the American embassy. Any excuse to be a mob...
2.3.2006 3:03pm
A.S.:
A little late to the thread, so probably will get lost among the flotsam, but, while I usually agree with David's posts on the Middle East, I actually think David may be wrong here.

David writes: The problem is with those who threaten, engage in, or even merely support violence against the West, precisely because of its liberalism (including the fact that one could publish "blasphemous" pictures of Mohammed without being arrested), but meanwhile benefit from all the benefits that liberalism has provided them.

Does David think that the advances of Western civilization (i.e., antibiotics, anesthesia, no slavery, cars, refrigerators, television, and cell phones, etc.) are NECESSARILY tied to our willingness to tolerate speech that can be described as hostile to religion? Might the woman have a difference of opinion on the subject? I mean, perhaps the woman simply want to throw out the bathwater (tolerance for offensive speech) and keep the baby (antibiotics, anesthesia, etc.).

While I personally don't think that's possible, I would accept that someone could differ with my opinion.
2.3.2006 3:04pm
nk (mail) (www):
Chukuang: In case our host will not continue to let us waste his bandwidth this way, I will open a thread on my site. I see that you do not have one. You are a good debater. And I have always been bad at dates. But there are only two musical scales in the world, the octave of Pythagoras and the pentatonic created by the Imperial Music Bureau established by the First Emperor (221 B.C.; still 3rd century B.C. but not 300 B.C.). As for his overthrow, I am the victim of revisionism. I remembered the account of a peasant's revolt because of his oppressive rule which overthrew him and locked him into an isolated fortress. But the subject is about people and not government. And I remain steadfast about a people secure in a civilization which they developed because they had freedom of thought and a people using the fruits of a civilization entirely foreign to anything they made.
2.3.2006 3:08pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Any excuse to be a mob.

So it's not that protesting Moslems are irrational, but that they're just looking for an excuse to riot? Got it: not irrational, but unruly. In any event, having that sort of reductive expanation for what's motivating them sure beats listening to what they're saying.
2.3.2006 3:09pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Bernstein:toleration is the single most important aspect of liberalism

Hmm, DB, what about not rounding up tens of thousands of people on the basis of ethnicity alone and imprisoning them for several years without any process of law??? I think that to be an equally important liberal value. Unfortunately, you clearly do not, as evidenced by your admiration for the despicable racist Michelle Malkin.

2.3.2006 3:11pm
Chukuang:
If the western liberal democracies similarly stagnate and go into a coccoon, then you'd have a much stronger point.

So I'll get back to you in 1500 years.

Certainly England, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany don't have anywhere near the military power and influence that they had 200 years ago. I guess capitalism and democracy inevitably leads to division and warfare. The US auto industry is clearly no match for Japan's (and possibly S. Korea's before too long). Goofy Americans, we invent this great technology but just can't capitalize on it for more than 100 years.

I do think that getting the dates wrong by about a thousand years is not a trivial matter. We're not talking about June 19 vs. Nov. 11th here. Your point was that China inventing these things and failed to use them to advance its society. Given that they DID use them all to advance their society for 1000 years of so, and then for any number of reasons lost a lot of influence in the world over about 300 years, makes your point simply wrong. Are you going to say that the US failed to take advantage of electricity if it's not the world's dominant power in 2900? That would be silly. And we might also note that China presently has the world's 4th largest economy, nuclear weapons, etc.
2.3.2006 3:16pm
TC (mail):
I think a key point got lost in all this.


"I am not willing to buy any product from a country that has insulted my prophet, my religion and my dignity as a Muslim," said Leila Faleh, 42, a hospital administrator shopping at the store. "I would rather go back to drinking milk from a cow and eating dates."


Apparently, these irrational boycotters do not understand -- or do not care to understand -- that the actions of a newspaper are not the actions of the state or its people. Nor can the state regulate the actions of the newspaper.

This points to a fundamental misunderstanding of western, liberal governments by those subject to tyrannical states.
2.3.2006 3:22pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Shorter DB: "Stupid Muslim! If you want our benefits, you must accept our contempt!"

I would hope to see a posted apology from DB, but I'm not holding my breath. Maybe a spinoff anti-Muslim blog would address DB's needs and those of the VC's readers.
2.3.2006 3:22pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
China, over a billion people but not ONE good rock N roll band.
2.3.2006 3:22pm
Lena Carr:
Does David think that the advances of Western civilization (i.e., antibiotics, anesthesia, no slavery, cars, refrigerators, television, and cell phones, etc.) are NECESSARILY tied to our willingness to tolerate speech that can be described as hostile to religion?

To the extent that antibiotics, anesthesia, and other medical advances have been made via scientific investigations that have been described, through much of Western history, as contrary to the teachings of Christianity, yes, those advances *are* tied to our willingness to tolerate speech, writing, and world views that are contrary to accepted religious thought and dogma.

(I am not describing science or scientists as "anti-religious", simply pointing out that many others have, and continue to do so.)

Or to put it more simply - "If God wanted man to fly, He'd have given us wings" is a thought not limited to Islam.
2.3.2006 3:23pm
VC Reader:
Is it just me or is there some sort of animosity between Kerr and Bernstein? It seems that Bernstein, for whatever reason, does not allow comments on his posts and Kerr enjoys undermining this choice by opening up comment threads for Bernstein's posts.
2.3.2006 3:26pm
wooga:
Regarding the "freedom fries" comparison. That was done in reaction to the behavior of the french government. I would have thought that people here would recognize that the whole point of DB's post was that this lady is ridiculous in her failure to comprehend the distinction between a private paper and the state. In most of the middle east, there is no serious freedom of the press, and thus anything which appears in a newspaper is necessarily endorsed by the state. Thus boycotting Denmark as a country makes perfect sense to this lady.

And just so I can get a fatwa too:
@>:^(
2.3.2006 3:34pm
Kipli:
Liberalism hardly requires that you abandon whatever beliefs you have -- e.g., Islam -- or any sense of offense you might have when your beliefs are disrespected.

If those beliefs give such power to mere words that you find yourself compelled to punish those who utter them, then yes, I think 'liberalism' does require that you abandon those beliefs. Otherwise, what definition of 'liberalism' is being used?

Liberalism doesn't demand (or ensure) that you not be offended (that term only means "I don't like that" anyway), but it does demand that you accept the fact that sometimes it will happen when there is nothing you can do about it. That's part of the cost of living in a 'liberal' society.
2.3.2006 3:40pm
SP (mail):
"So it's not that protesting Moslems are irrational, but that they're just looking for an excuse to riot? Got it: not irrational, but unruly. In any event, having that sort of reductive expanation for what's motivating them sure beats listening to what they're saying."

Which is what? Agree with us entirely (including up to the point that you cannot even depict a historical figure in picture) or we'll take you hostage? Be my guest to follow along with that, but I won't.
2.3.2006 3:44pm
A.S.:
Is it just me or is there some sort of animosity between Kerr and Bernstein? It seems that Bernstein, for whatever reason, does not allow comments on his posts and Kerr enjoys undermining this choice by opening up comment threads for Bernstein's posts.

I noticed that too. A conspiracy usually doesn't work that well if the conspirators are fighting amongst themselves (pearl of wisdom learned in Reservoir Dogs).
2.3.2006 3:48pm
Justin (mail):
Which is what? Agree with us entirely (including up to the point that you cannot even depict a historical figure in picture) or we'll take you hostage? Be my guest to follow along with that, but I won't.

Wow. David Bernstien > Terrorists.

I think I can agree to that moral judgment. Not sure if it's the relevant one, though.
2.3.2006 3:53pm
REL (mail):
I see an interesting contrast in the idea that Muslims are visibly protesting an offensive drawing in the newspaper, but are electing parties that advocate suicide killings that profane their "religion of peace" far more than any simple drawing. This woman can give up Danish products and it is well within her rights. The real question is why the world media does not question the hypocrisy of the protesting Muslims.
2.3.2006 3:54pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Is it just me or is there some sort of animosity between Kerr and Bernstein? It seems that Bernstein, for whatever reason, does not allow comments on his posts and Kerr enjoys undermining this choice by opening up comment threads for Bernstein's posts.

I understood that conspirators here undertook an express or implicit obligation to moderate the comments under their own posts, an obligation that Bernstein was unable to assume but Kerr was able to assume today.

If those beliefs give such power to mere words that you find yourself compelled to punish those who utter them, then yes, I think 'liberalism' does require that you abandon those beliefs.

Well, this has to be wrong, if by "punish" you have in mind something like an economic boycott. If, OTOH, you're talking about killing people who offend you, I didn't see any object to my suggestion that we all think that would be wrong.

According to CNN, "'Whoever defames our prophet should be executed,' said Ismail Hassan, 37, a tailor who marched through the pouring rain along with hundreds of others in the West Bank city of Ramallah." I would disagree with Mr. Hassan.



Liberalism doesn't demand (or ensure) that you not be offended (that term only means "I don't like that" anyway), but it does demand that you accept the fact that sometimes it will happen when there is nothing you can do about it. That's part of the cost of living in a 'liberal' society.

Hardly so. You can do all sorts of things about it, like speaking out, launching an economic boycott, organizing politically, etc. It would appear that many of the protesters are doing these things. I have yet to hear that anyone has been physically harmed, although the reports about gunmen in Gaza are disturbing enough.
2.3.2006 3:56pm
Justin (mail):
REL, so this woman voted for Hamas? Or am I, as a Jew, personally to blame for the Son of Sam killings?
2.3.2006 3:56pm
A Muslim (mail):
I believe the boycott calls and violent protests emerge from a feeling of powerlessness and a 'siege' mentality amongst people in the Muslim World. The decline and collapse of Islamic Civilization over the past 200-300 years coupled with the overwhelming dominance of the West in every sphere of life (particularly militarily, often at the expense of Muslim nations) has led many Muslims to feel as if they and their faith are under attack from all sides. Such sentiments are a huge factor in the Muslim reactions to this and similar events.

As an aside, I find it rather hypocritical that officials and newspaper editors involved in this dispute appeal to freedom of speech in their defense, yet many of the countries in which these cartoons were printed have Holocaust denial laws. Denmark may not be guilty of this, but Germany and France are.
2.3.2006 3:58pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I see an interesting contrast in the idea that Muslims are visibly protesting an offensive drawing in the newspaper, but are electing parties that advocate suicide killings that profane their "religion of peace" far more than any simple drawing. This woman can give up Danish products and it is well within her rights. The real question is why the world media does not question the hypocrisy of the protesting Muslims.

I'm going to wait for one of the people who complains that Muslims should be able to distinguish between Danes who buy different newspapers to say something about REL's ability to distinguish between Muslims.
2.3.2006 4:00pm
TC (mail):

The decline and collapse of Islamic Civilization over the past 200-300 years coupled with the overwhelming dominance of the West in every sphere of life (particularly militarily, often at the expense of Muslim nations) has led many Muslims to feel as if they and their faith are under attack from all sides.

Aside from Israel and Iraq II, how has the West dominated Muslims militarily in the last couple generations?

Recently, the West has used its military power to save Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and twice fought to protect Muslims (in Bosnia and Kosovo) from the Christian Serbs.
2.3.2006 4:03pm
A Muslim (mail):
"Apparently, these irrational boycotters do not understand -- or do not care to understand -- that the actions of a newspaper are not the actions of the state or its people. Nor can the state regulate the actions of the newspaper. "

Again, this point neglects the fact that many of these countries do have laws that restrict freedom of speech in some respects, such as laws criminalizing Holocaust denials or laws against "inciting racial hatred." Considering that, I don't think the boycott calls are all that irrational.
2.3.2006 4:07pm
Splunge (mail):
To the extent that antibiotics, anesthesia, and other medical advances have been made via scientific investigations that have been described, through much of Western history, as contrary to the teachings of Christianity, yes, those advances *are* tied to our willingness to tolerate speech, writing, and world views that are contrary to accepted religious thought and dogma.

I'm sorry, but this is arrant nonsense, which sounds less like it comes from actually knowing the history of science and technology and more like just reading off the usual PC TelePrompTer.

I have studied the history of science, not to mention science itself, and despite the much bruited -- and atypical -- case of Galileo, the growth of science and technology in the West has had very little influence from Christianity, either positively or negatively. People who think otherwise are usually in the grips of some ideological campaign for or against the church.

The most obvious pieces of evidence are that (1) other religious practises have coexisted with scientific advance (e.g. Islam and al-jabru [algebra] and al-kimiya [alchemy, later chemistry]), (2) the vicissitudes of the Christian faith have not corresponded to variations in scientific advance, e.g. the progress of the Reformation had no obvious correlation to the progress, or lack of progress, of the Renaissance or Enlightenment, and (3) luddism is not especially concentrated among the faithful.

Furthermore, I doubt even Mr. Bernstein's faith, that progress in science and technology has something to do with a "liberal" culture that tolerates political and sociological dissent. That just sounds like the usual liberal-arts-education arrogance talking: having your mind "expanded" by a "tolerant" education makes you a better thinker, and that's why we in the West have such great tech. Which proves that studying the poetry of Maya Angelou is just as practically useful as studying organic chemistry, yippee!

Yeah, right. How we're going to explain in this context the difference between the ancient Greeks (liberal thinking, technological sterility) and the ancient Romans (illiberal thinking, engineering marvels) is beyond me.

You ask me, the reason the West has great tech is simply its sloppy economic class structure, which proceeds possibly from the inability of the terminally argumentative Anglo-Saxon-Germanic (and Jewish) cultures to ever agree on the social myths and social structure they
want to enforce.

The loose structure means that for 1500 years it's been possible for a inspired striver to rise from the bottom of the economic heap to the top by inventing clever new technology. In short, the desire for personal success drives invention -- powers all those lonely hours at the bench or in the workshop, trying and trying again -- and the only contribution from the social structure is whether it tolerates or discourages the entrepreneurship that turns a good idea into personal wealth.

Lots of people have good ideas, in all cultures, at all times. It's not having the ideas that's the barrier to good tech. It's whether those ideas die with their creator, or get turned into actual products and processes that live and spread.

And as for why the modern Arab world doesn't have good tech, that answer's obvious, too: oil. Oil makes you wealthy just by your having it, not by your inventing or doing something clever. It's possession is essentially random, and unlike tech it doesn't get better for being spread around. It rewards a stratified social structure in which a small class of possessors lock out and lock down the social mobility of the remainder (cf. Saudia Arabia, Kingdom of). A society founded on oil wealth inevitably becomes inimitable to the loose social structure necessary to reward entrepreneurship. Oil wealth, taking the long view, is a Midas curse.
2.3.2006 4:13pm
A Muslim (mail):
"Aside from Israel and Iraq II, how has the West dominated Muslims militarily in the last couple generations?"

Those are pretty big "asides". The former is a 50+ year conflict in the heart of the Muslim World that has generated more Muslim-Jewish hostility than any other in history, and the latter is hands down the most talked about conflict in the world today.
2.3.2006 4:13pm
REL (mail):
The point I was trying to make was not based on this woman's personal life choices - As I said, this woman is "well within her rights" to boycott danish products. The larger point I was trying to make, however poorly, is that the energy and attention paid to this matter would be better directed at the muslims (suicide bombers) that have contributed to anti-islamic sentiment around the world.

Justin, last I checked, significant segments of judaism did not support the son of sam killings. Please correct me if I am wrong. If I am not wrong, your analogy is one of the worst analogies I have ever seen.
2.3.2006 4:17pm
Craig R. Harmon (mail) (www):
I remember first hearing about "Piss Christ". I was shocked, as the 'artist' intended me to be but I didn't so much as send an angry letter to the editor. We've already seen the Muslim world's reaction to faux "Flush Quran". I wonder what the reaction would be to "Piss Muhammad", a mason jar with a miniature plastic Muhammad immersed in urine and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (yeh, as if!).
2.3.2006 4:18pm
TC (mail):

"Aside from Israel and Iraq II, how has the West dominated Muslims militarily in the last couple generations?"

Those are pretty big "asides". The former is a 50+ year conflict in the heart of the Muslim World that has generated more Muslim-Jewish hostility than any other in history, and the latter is hands down the most talked about conflict in the world today.

They aren't pretty big asides, unless you ignorantly lump every action taken by Israel as also taken by every other Western state (notwithstanding the unique position of Israel); or you want to argue that anti-Western extremism began in March 2003.
2.3.2006 4:20pm
A Muslim (mail):
"I see an interesting contrast in the idea that Muslims are visibly protesting an offensive drawing in the newspaper, but are electing parties that advocate suicide killings that profane their "religion of peace" far more than any simple drawing."
Intertesting. The same logic seemingly applies to the contrast between Jewish suffering in the Holocaust and the manner in which Zionist Jews established and maintain the State of Israel. Rabbi Michael Lerner put it best: "Jews did not climb out of the gas chambers of Europe to oppress another people." But I'm sure you'll find a reason why Israel and Zionism shouldn't be held to such reasoning themselves.
2.3.2006 4:26pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Rather than infer "animosity" b/t Kerr and Bernstein, how about "debate"?
2.3.2006 4:29pm
Kipli:
By 'punish' I had in mind physical attacks or threats, though I am not necessarily limiting it to that. I might include in that any action that attempts to harm another, physically or financially, for his beliefs. So, yes, by this definition I would have to accept boycotts as 'illiberal'. Not entirely comfortable with that, but I'll have to swallow it for now.

But the issue is not whether you or I would deplore physical attacks (of course we do), but whether it is possible to be a part of liberalism while at the same time believing such things as what Mr. Hassan said. I maintain that it is not possible, so if the Muslim world wants to enjoy 'liberalism' then its inhabitants will need to change their beliefs. (That's a big 'if', by the way.)
2.3.2006 4:39pm
AnonymouslyYours (mail):
I'm just wondering Mr. Bernstein, when I'm boycotting the Muslim world back for their boycotting Danish cheese and legos, do I get to boycott Algebra? I've always *hated* Math.

It might be hard to run those Western cell phones without it though. But it's the price I'm willing to pay...for freedom.
2.3.2006 4:46pm
wooga:
Anon, you don't get to boycott Algebra, just like the Muslims don't get to boycott windmills.
2.3.2006 4:48pm
Lena Carr:

To the extent that antibiotics, anesthesia, and other medical advances have been made via scientific investigations that have been described, through much of Western history, as contrary to the teachings of Christianity, yes, those advances *are* tied to our willingness to tolerate speech, writing, and world views that are contrary to accepted religious thought and dogma.


I'm sorry, but this is arrant nonsense, which sounds less like it comes from actually knowing the history of science and technology and more like just reading off the usual PC TelePrompTer.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with your judgement of my opinion, which does come from actually knowing science and history. And not at all from any support of a "PC" position, with or without teleprompter.

I am not attempting to make a position for or against any religious group. I am simply pointing out a long-standing trend towards inflexibility and dogma in most (if not all) long-lived faith systems, dogma that is at odds with the scientific system of observe-test-repeat *as well as* being at odds with economic and social flexibilty that also (imo) supports the rise of technology in the West.

The rise - and subsequent failure - of scientific thought in the Muslim world is an example of this, not a contradiction. Likewise, the codification of ritual and top-down social order in both Catholic Europe and Neo-Confucius China. In contrast, the Protestant revival of Christianity in Europe - combining increased social mobility and the idea of a direct God-man link, without need of the intervening Church - helped push scientific advancement.

Finally, while technology rejection is not necessarily linked to any one faith, one need only look at the Amish, certain leftist 'green' groups, ID, and the aesceticism of holy orders of all stripes to see a link between devotion to ideology and luddism.

In this:

That just sounds like the usual liberal-arts-education arrogance talking: having your mind "expanded" by a "tolerant" education makes you a better thinker, and that's why we in the West have such great tech. Which proves that studying the poetry of Maya Angelou is just as practically useful as studying organic chemistry, yippee!

you assume I hold a position which I absolutely do *not*. IMO, a humanities driven education (to distinquish it from a 'liberal arts' education, which suffers from being one of three different uses of the word "liberal" in your comment) serves to hinder the student by limiting their exposure to the scientific method. However, as anyone who has spent any length of time with either medical students or physicists can attest, over-concentration on scientific principles hampers ones ability to interact with other humans - a state for which an application of a little poetry could go a long way.

Please do not continue to assume that I have either a left-wing pov on the world or a hostility towards religion.
2.3.2006 5:03pm
Confused:
FWIW, algebra was not invented by Arabs (nor were "Arabic" numerals) nor even by Muslims. If we think of algebra as creating equations with variables to address recurrent problems, then the Greeks and Indians came up with that (of the Greeks, it was Euclid and Hero, especially. The word "algebra" was coined by a *Persian,* not an Arab (though it is an Arabic word).

Arabic numerals are, of course, *Indian* numerals, but because they reached Europe via "Araby," the name stuck.

Crediting Muslims with "preserving" Greek culture is a little unfair, too, given that they "preserved" it in the sense that, when they sacked Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, they "preserved" a portion of what they stole (and destroyed much of the rest).

I certainly think there was much to commend the Muslim world in the past and much to commend it now, but

@ SP: First off, I threw in "ostensibly" because I think it's at least open to debate how much Americans hated Nazis for their *culture* as opposed to for their efforts to conquer Europe. I think the fascism / eugenics / anti-Semistism were actually quite consonsant with *some* Americans' attitudes. I say this is a vehemently pro-American Zionist Jew who thinks that Jews never had it so good as we've had it here (including, I think, in Israel in the days of the Judges, the Kings, or the Knesset).

Regardless, I still don't see what the problem is with believing you have a better *worldview* but nevertheless stealing the products of your enemies. Would it have been intellectually dishonest for us to steal Soviet technology and use it against them during the Cold War? ("Sir, we could steal their missile technology, but wouldn't that be tantamount to admitting that scientific inquiry can thrive even in a totalitarian brutocracy?") The woman doesn't appear to be advocating for a return to the Stone Age. She's advocating for the destruction of the secular west. While cell phones are a product of that culture, they aren't imbued with its characteristics.

Don't get me wrong -- some Muslims historically have taken and currently do take anti-technological views. Word is that the Ottomans, for example, were anti-clock for a long time because clocks contradicted the imams' call to prayer. But even if that were so, I don't think it's *dishonest* to say, "The clocks are a tool of Satan, but to destroy Satan, we will use his weapons and then, God wiling, redeem ourselves." It's risky business, to be sure, but it's perfectly rational and human.

Arguing against it is like saying that by firebombing the Japanese, we cannot claim to be opposed to killing civilians. The response is, sometimes killing civilians is necessary to establish a regime in which civilians will not be killed. The trick, of course, is to get past the egg-smashing stage and actually make an omelette. The Russians never got that and it's not altogether clear to me that the Islamists do, either. (The Chinese Communists apparently did.)
2.3.2006 5:13pm
Justin (mail):
REL, because your differentation is IRRELEVANT, your point is lost. You might as well have said, "because the person's name I was attacking wasn't Justin, your analogy is one of the worst I have ever made."

Your attack was on Muslims generally (who as a whole, or even generally, do not support violence - Hamas, you probably are too ignorant to realize, gets support from both the significant Christian Palestinian population as well as the Muslim Palestinian population, who make up an insignificant portion of the Muslim population as a whole). If you confined your attack to people who supported Hamas, you would have a starting point into the discussion, rather than simply writing a screed of thoughtless anti-muslim(religious version of "racism") which also had strong tinges of anti-Arab racism, since you made the (rather stupid) assumption that all Arabs are muslim.
2.3.2006 5:25pm
VC Reader:
Rather than infer "animosity" b/t Kerr and Bernstein, how about "debate"?
Because inserting the word "debate" for the word "animosity" doesn't seem accurate. It seems to me that Kerr doesn't like Bernstein's arguments and is annoyed that Bernstein doesn't get shredded in the comments because he doesn't open up the comments so Kerr enjoys starting comments threads in order to allow the readers of this site to shred Bernstein.
2.3.2006 5:26pm
REL (mail):
Justin,
You compared the acts of one man - Son of Sam to the organized violence against israelis perpetrated by Hamas and other islamic terrorist groups. I never addressed issue of the various supporters of Hamas, becuase to use your word, it is irrelevant. It was simply an example of one of many organizations that deserve much harsher critism than is currently being leveled at the newspapers.

If pointing out that muslims should be more upset about islamic suicide bombers than a cartoon drawing is racist, I fail to see it. Please explain to me why a cartoon drawing has drawn the ire of so many muslims, but the actions of islamic suicide bombers do not seem to provoke the same amount of attacks and critism.
2.3.2006 5:51pm
Kovarsky (mail):
does anybody know the official position al jazeera has taken on this? given it's status as the preeminent media conglomerate in the middle east, it lies at the intersection of these two interests.
2.3.2006 5:52pm
SuperChimp:
While I mostly agree with the post, isn't also a part of liberalism and free speech to protest what one doesn't agree with?
2.3.2006 5:52pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
It seems to me that Kerr doesn't like Bernstein's arguments and is annoyed that Bernstein doesn't get shredded in the comments because he doesn't open up the comments so Kerr enjoys starting comments threads in order to allow the readers of this site to shred Bernstein.

"It seems to you" based on what, exactly? Kerr may disagree with Bernstein (who wouldn't?), but that doesn't translate into "animosity."
2.3.2006 6:04pm
VC Reader:
Anderson, for one thing, the "tone" of this particular comment seems hostile. And in the relatively recent past, when Bernstein promised to open up the comments later but didn't do it fast enough for Kerr, Kerr took it upon himself to do so. It was almost as if he couldn't wait to let the shredding begin.
2.3.2006 6:25pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Is it just me, or is there something vaguely incongruous about Bernstein's self-identification as a defender of the value of "western liberalism" , when he has been known to brandish the "l" word as an epithet? And he does it in a post citing Ayn Rand?!?

R Gould-Saltman
2.3.2006 6:25pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Son of Sam wasn't to blame anyway, it was his neighbors stupid dog that set him off.
2.3.2006 6:50pm
johnw:
You parse words down to the subatomic level, you go off on tangents back a millennium to China and Greece, and you revel in this bantering of whether Bernstein or Kerr is the bad guy. But while you were doing this, you weren't looking out the window. Because it is in the street, not here, that it is being played out for real. Check out these photos at
http://time.blogs.com/daily_dish/ then follow the link. It's a lot more serious than this.
2.3.2006 7:34pm
Confused:
I think everyone agrees this situation is atrocious. I just think Bernstein is silly for acting like the outrageous thing is the hypocrisy of it. He tries to make an internal critique of the Muslim death-threateners, rather than just taking the necessary external one: contradictory or consistent, people who say "Freedom Go to Hell" and "Be Prepared for the *Real* Holocaust" threaten Western Civilization.
2.3.2006 8:46pm
magoo (mail):
VC -- I think you're way off base. I read almost all of Kerr's posts, and he's a gentleman through and through. Perhaps he wants some balance on these tough, hotly debated issues, but there no reason to assume animosity, and every reason not to (based on his track record).
2.3.2006 8:57pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Aside from protests in Gaza, most of the events and quotes come from Western Muslims. That means that journalists are not willing too far afield in search of stories, and with good reason. However, since they are staying in the West, they are missing an interesting opportunity, judging from the reporting so far. They quote people complaining about cartoons, Denmark, Zionism, etc. So it would only be fair to ask if they've seen ANY of the offending cartoons. My guess would be that virtually none of them, including the protest leaders, have seen them. But we'll never know if the media fails to ask the question. The second opportunity is to take some strikingly offensive anti-Semitic cartoons from papers in Egypt and the Gulf "nations", place them side by side with the "Danish" cartoons (personally, I like the "Stop! We've run out of virgins!" one) and ask if there is a difference between the two. It would be particularly telling if the targets of these interviews are better educated Western Muslims, especially intellectuals.

Personally, I am ambivalent on the issue of publication of the cartoons. Most are no more offensive than live footage of George W Bush parading as President. They are caricatures that use select identifiable features (stereotypes) of Muslims (e.g., a turban) to mock certain offensive features of the Muslim world (not Muslim culture). One irony is that the traditional representations of Muslims have more to do with Turks of the Ottoman Empire than they do with the contemporary Muslims.

So what's the ambivalence? On one hand, I want the protection of the freedom of expression. This is essential to a free society. On the other hand, it is easy to believe that there should be some kind of self-restraint on the part of the press to control sentiment that is directed at easily identifiable groups. If we allow ourselves to snicker at the mocking of reigious symbolism when we find the target "deserving", we invite similar treatment of all subjects that one group or another may find essential to their identity. Piss Christ comest o mind--something that may be a legitimate form of protest or even angry art, but is hardly mainstream. If we are going to gripe about superficial features that are attributable to specific cultures and traditions, then Piss Christ certainly qualifies for a very public display--no less so than the Danish cartoons.

The mood often changes--and I am no exception--when the targets are more vulnerable and are meant as stand-ins for the entire classes of people. (The only people targeted by the Danish cartoons are the radical, violent subset of the Muslem world, not Muslims in general.) For example, the traditional anti-Semitic and racist cartoons focus more on the mythical characteristics of Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, East Asians, etc. Although many harbor the prejudices, generally, expressions of those prejudices have become socially unacceptable. I would certainly count myself among those who would object to publication of an anti-Semitic or a racist cartoon in a newspaper. So do I have a double standard then, justifying the apparent anti-Muslim expression, but not anti-Semitic one? David Bernstein should think about that as well--is there a difference between what appeared in the Danish papers and what appears in Egyptian, Syrian and Gulf papers daily? And just to make the point more clear, we must justify this difference not only to ourselves, but to the members of the group that claim offense, i.e., in this case, Muslims.

Here, I think, a few more facts need to be considered. While there had been some complaints about the cartoons when they initially appeared, the protests did not take a transnational character and become violent until the last couple of weeks--the cartoons appeared in September (September 17, I believe). Most of the people protesting the publication are using it as an excuse for violence and have not seen the offending material.

Some of their objections are not credible--one of the main complaints that you hear from protesters is that depiction of the Prophet is prohibited by Islam. This is nonsense--the depiction may be prohibited by some sects or some clerics, but the prohibition is not universal (think of Friday as a fish day being the equivalent for the Christian world). Images of Mohammed exist in medieval manuscripts that are considered to be cultural treasures of the Islamic world. So what they are objecting to is actually an identification of Mohammed with violence or else they are simply following someone else's ignorant proclamation (where have we seen this before?). Furthermore, most of the cartoons have nothing to do with Mohammed, even when they do depict a stereotypical Muslim (or, more accurately, a stereotypical Ottoman Turk).

My view is that the cartoons are just a pretext and that protests are not legitimate. But that puts me in a position of judging the protesters and that's a place I don't want to find myself in (we all have our prejudices). Would ADL protesters in front of the Washington Post HQ be "not legitimate" if WaPo happened to publish a cartoon that some found to be anti-Semitic? There is usually a qualitative difference between ADL protests and Hamas-stirred protests in Gaza, but the distinction need not be so clear-cut. Every protest brings its share of zealots.

That brings me to another point that Muslim protesters seemt to miss completely. What is the intent of the Danish publication? Generally, we think of Scandinavian societies as fairly liberal so it is hard for most of us to ascribe nefarious motives to a Danish publication. But that's the trouble with stereotypes--negative or positive, they easily become dated. Much of Scandinavia and Benelux have become radicalized, especially on issues of immigration. There are substantial numbers of Muslim immigrant minorities in most of Northern Europe. That has led to a major political realignment to the right in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and, to a lesser extent, in Norway. Belgium has always had its radical right element so I don't know how much of a change occurred there. Add to the list Germany and France that have suffered this shift for almost a decade longer and the emerging picture is not pretty. My suspicion is that the cartoons were meant to be provocative because the current social climate in Denmark allows it. It is the same social climate, ironically, that has contributed to a stronger expression of anti-Semitism in Northern Europe as well--justified, to some extent, by the claim that Jews are provoking the Muslims, so, but that logic, Jews are the root of all evil. So, in defending the paper's right to free expression of opinion, we still should ask ourselves what their motive is. There is nothing wrong with saying, "You have a right to say what you did, but ..." Because of this, I have actually changed my opinion, in part, of the State Department position on the issue. I still think that their response is, as Reason Institute put it, craven. However, freedom of expression carries with it responsibility and it is this responsibility that State is trying to point to.

Even if the issues are clear enough, the resolution is not. Most of us find out judgment only extending to a single instance, sngle episode, and are not willing to make broad generalizations of how such things should be treated in general. This case makes for particular difficulties because much remains unclear. Most of us are speaking out of partial ignorance--I, for one, would like a lot more context of the story. I've looked around, I found ALL the cartoons and I've seen a lot of follow-up in the paper, but my Danish is non-existent, so I don't actually know what most of the stories say. I do know more about protests and protesters and I uniformly condemn them. And I do believe that the paper had the right to the publication. But that's where my certainty ends.
2.3.2006 9:07pm
Confused:
@ Buck: The interesting thing about your post, and about the State Department's reaction (the real reax, not the stylized / fake one), and about reactions from most of the left wing sites I read, is that it's trying to generalize this issue to the point of meaninglessness.

That is, you say, "Is this different from an ADL protest at the State Department over an anti-semitic comic?" and that every protest has its "share of zealots." But I think it's important to get down to brass tacks. These are not the sorts of protests one sees in the West by any group other than the racist-fascist groups (skinheads/neo-Nazis/Klansmen) and, during the 60's, from the most radical left. Have you read the signs from the London protest? "Get ready for the REAL Holocaust!" they crow. "Exterminate those who slander Islam" or "Massacre those who insult Islam." Perhaps most powerfully: "Freedom Go to Hell." In the Arab world, they are hoisting guns, burning flags, smashing effigies, threatening kidnappings, taking over buildings by force, etc.

Moreover, these "protests" are taking place against a background of nearly continuous terrorism in various forms for over forty years.

The question isn't whether people should be able to protest a racist cartoon (I query whether these cartoons can even be described as such, but let's assume they are). The question is what to do when the spokespeople of a huge portion of the world is threatening violence that they have a history of commiting and that threat is not just against the newspaper but against governments, civilians, indeed, "Europe" in general. (One poster reads: "Europe: Get Ready for Your 9/11.")

One option is to pretend that this is no different than the protests of the 60's (i.e., it will go away) or of the fascist-racist groups (i.e., it won't amount to any real threat). That seems to be the option you're adopting. I'll respond simply by providing a quote from Gibbon:

"The [Goths] still wore an angry and hostile aspect; but the experience of past times might encourage the hope that they would acquire the habits of industry and obedience; that their manners would be polished by time, education, and the influence of Christianity; and that their posterity would insensibly blend with the great body of the Roman people. ... Notwithstanding these specious arguments and these sanguine expectations, it was apparent to every discerning eye that the Goths would long remain the enemies, and might soon become the conquerors, of the Roman empire. Their rude and insolent behaviour expressed their contempt of the citizens and provincials, whom they insulted with impunity. ... [A] great number of Gothic deserters retired into the morasses of Macedonia, wasted the adjacent provinces, and obliged the intrepid monarch to expose his person and exert his power to suppress the rising flame of rebellion. The public apprehensions were fortified by the strong suspicion that these tumults were not the effect of accidental passion, but the result of deep and premeditated design."
2.3.2006 9:22pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
But the issue is not whether you or I would deplore physical attacks (of course we do), but whether it is possible to be a part of liberalism while at the same time believing such things as what Mr. Hassan said. I maintain that it is not possible, so if the Muslim world wants to enjoy 'liberalism' then its inhabitants will need to change their beliefs. (That's a big 'if', by the way.)

I had not realized that Mr. Hassan's views were typical of "the Muslim world," but if CNN quoted him in a story, it must be true.
2.3.2006 9:43pm
TRC:
Orin: Thanks for opening this thread for VC voyeurs like me, who often read but do not comment on this blog. I certainly hope David does not take offense: you're providing a valuable service for VC readers by opening comments when David chooses not to. I appreciate it.
2.3.2006 9:54pm
Monkberrymoon (mail):
To "A Muslim":

Dude, you've got to be pretending to be a Muslim. You're embodying too many stereotypes to be real. Like, boo hoo, we suck because of Israel, or Europe can't complain because they won't let me talk about holocaust-denial, etc.

The only thing that would put your performance completely over the top would be to refer to Israel as "the zionist entity."

At any rate, history has its "D" students. Fact of life, I guess.
2.3.2006 9:59pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Confused, you've hit the nail on the head--sort of. I might not have been clear. I am not condoning the protests--not in the least. My concern is more with the appropriateness of the original publication. As I said earlier, I see the message to the Danes as, "You have a right to say what you did, but ..."

Second, I don't see the cartoons as racist. They certainly have a subset of an identifiable minority as a target--and, as the protesters have demonstrated so plainly, a legitimate target--for derision. But what makes them a target is not their racial or religious make-up, but the ideology that far exceeds the religious doctrine they claim to defend. I should also point out that most, if not all of the cartoons in the paper came from other sources and did not provoke a reaction when they appeared individually. Of course, when you have a single political cartoon, some people may object to it (usually because they don't get the message or because they are embarrassed), but it is rare that it brings the kind of reaction that we see here. What happenned here is a combination of two factors--a thematic collection that escalates the message AND insidious organizing of protests with ulterior motives. Note that the protests coincided with Palestinian elections even though the cartoons have been out for months.

I also suggest you research the Pentagon reaction to a Toles cartoon in Sunday's WaPo (the cartoon mocking Donald Rumsfeld). The DoD brass totally misread the image and the message and chose to circle the wagons in protest. They chose to see what they wanted to see and were embarrassed by it. Had they read it as intended, they likely would have agreed with the sentiment.

Now, back to the Danish question. I saw the London photos on Malkin's site. I never doubted that that was going to be the message in these protests. Furthermore, this seems to be a typical reaction. Consider the report in the Independent:


In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, anger boiled over as up to 300 hardline Islamist activists went on the rampage in the lobby of a Jakarta building housing the Danish embassy.


At the Omari mosque in Gaza City, 9,000 worshippers were told those behind the cartoons should have their heads cut off. In the West Bank city of Nablus, Imam Hassan Sharif said: "If they want a war of religion, we are ready."


"Put a brake on your so-called unlimited freedom of expression, otherwise you will not be spared," Moulana Kazi Morshed al-Haq, leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation, said at the otherwise peaceful rally.


Mushir al-Masri, a newly elected member of the PLC, told the rally: "The victory for Hamas was a political earthquake and the insult to the Prophet Mohamed was another earthquake."


Yesterday one of the leading Christian Palestinian clerics in Gaza, Father Manuel Mussallam, said that "Mohamed is a high Arab personality".

He said that the Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar had met him and Christian nuns on Thursday within an hour of complaints about a statement issued by Fatah and Islamic Jihad armed militants. These warned that churches in Gaza, along with the EU office, would be "bombarded" if plans for a Koran-burning protest in Denmark went ahead.

He added: "We are not afraid of Hamas. We fear fanatics and there are fanatics in all religions, Christian, Muslim even Buddhist."


The protests are organized and political. They have nothing to do with cartoons--just like the Afghan protests had nothing to do with Newsweek report of the Koran flushing (somehow I doubt that the Taliban read Newsweek regularly or read at all). The reaction is quite ironic considering the nature of the cartoons--cartoons portray violence spurred on by Islam and that exactly the reaction they elicited.

But, again, my concern was not with the protests and the protesters. The issue for me is the publication. The reaction is something comletely irrelevant to the issue proper.

Furthermore, note the sometimes comical nature of the reaction. For some reason (that I fail to comprehend), in addition to Danes and Norwegians, the French have also become a target for Palestinians. As a result they kidnapped and then released a German because they thought he was French. Apparently, their usual target--the Jews--were not available.
2.3.2006 10:21pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Confused,
one other point for you, concerning your earlier comments on "algebra".

Although you display your apparent erudition by identifying the source of "Arabic numerals" and algebra as "Indians" and refer to person who coined the word "algebra" as "Persian". But little knowledge is a dangerous thing and along with this display of rudimentary knowledge, you also display profound ignorance.

First, the "word algebra" was not "coined" in Arabic and is not even an Arabic word. It is a Latin word that was meant to emulate a term that Latin translators could not interpret. The original Arabic word "al-Jabr" hardly refers to what we now identify as "algebra".

It is also a mistake to claim that "the Greeks and Indians came up with [algebra]." Your reference to Euclid and Hero is comical in this context. It is true that mathematicians in India had access to some of the algebraic methods later used by Arabic-speaking mathematicians. In fact, in some ways, Indian mathematics was more advanced (in their account of negative numbers, for example). But much of the background for both Indian and Arabic mathematics came from Mesopotamia, especially Babylon. Also, because of the lack of written record, it is not clear whether some techniques migrated to or from China. Whatever the case for Indian mathematics, giving credit to the Greeks is completely nonsensical. The Greeks have contributed in no small part to formal geometry and to number theory, but algebra was definitely not their strongsuit.

Western European civilization would not have been possible without a strong Muslim intellectual influence. If it were not for the Chalifate, we'd all still be eating turnips and gruel for most meals. Don't forget that it was the European Christian churches that were largely responsible for nearly complete disappearance of the Greek philosophical and mathematics manuscripts and it was the Europeans that behaved like savages next to the better educated Jews and Muslims up to the XIIIth century CE.
2.3.2006 10:41pm
AnonymouslyYours (mail):
Confused, on my post about boycotting Algebra I said Muslim, not Arab. And I understand Algebra's Greek and Hindu origins.

But I'm wondering that since the "Father of Algebra" whose treatise the name Algebra is derived from is sufficiently, to borrow a legal term, "fruit of the poisonous tree" that I'd be able to boycott it. I mean, I really hate Math and I really love the West.
2.3.2006 10:45pm
Confused:
Buck,

(1) Taking issue with the fact that "al-jabr" not "algebra" was the Arabic word is more than slightly pedantic.

(2) I confess, I'm no expert on algebra, but my understanding is that the Greeks did most of the groundwork, with geometric algebra and then, later, with indeterminate equations, that after that the Indians relied combined their basics with what they learned from the Greeks and pushed things significantly further, and that it then reached the Muslims who made incremental improvements, before it made its way to the Europeans in the 16th century. It's credited to the Arabs (although much of the work was Persian, not Arab) because of the etymology of the word and because of the fashionable "Arabs saved civilization" meme that started, what, twenty-five years ago?

(3) "Western European civilization would not have been possible without a strong Muslim intellectual influence." This is the point I really, really don't get. Other than helping "restore" culture that the West had invented (and that was still extant in the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Land until the Muslims conquered / destroyed those areas), I'm not sure how much was done. The key elements of what we considered Western culture are Greek, Roman, and Germanic. What *influence* comes from Muslim intellectuals?

Moreover, given that Muslims were responsible for sacking the heart of Greek culture (the Byzantine Empire and its holdings) and the heart of Christian learning (the Holy Land, particularly Antioch), it seems a little unfair to credit them with saving us from turnips.

That said, I do love schwarma.
2.3.2006 11:23pm
AnonymouslyYours (mail):
Confused, as a Catholic I may not want to own up to this, but, um, *coughs* we sacked Constaninople during the Fourth Crusade. By the time the Ottomans moved in, in 1453, the City was pretty much in disrepair.
2.3.2006 11:31pm
tim (mail):
A Muslim -- I think you're right that there's a double-standard by France + Germany. They've both got laws against racial defamation. And recently France punished some Le Monde writers for describing Jews as "a contemptuous people taking satisfaction in humiliating others".

But apparently it's not a crime to depict all Muslims as followers of an extremist who derives satisfaction from exploding bombs.

But let's not make this overly hypothetical. If the protestors *were* merely objecting to a double-standard by France + Germany they *might* be justified. But in fact the protestors appear to expect every government to simply enforce Islamic law forbidding any and all depictions of Muhammed.

Their actions are thus, in reality, unreasonable even if we could cook up some hypothetical and partial justifications for them.
2.4.2006 12:36am
Justin (mail):
REL, I'm too drunk to read your response, but it seems like you're still doing what you did last time - trying to parse my analogy and find some irrelevant difference rather than acknowledging the point of my analogy, which is that blaming Muslims as a whole for the actions of the Palestinian (Christian and Muslim) vote for Hamas (in what many probably saw as a lesser of two evils vote, nevertheless...I would hate to pin the South's pro-life and homophobic stances as support for Bush's fascist foreign policy and view of statte power, all the same) is absurd and can only be tied together through "group blame", which is both illogical and illiberal.

Go ahead and have the last word, since I know you're full of it and nobody else is paying attention.
2.4.2006 1:21am
A psychiatrist who learned from veterans (mail) (www):
Dr. Helen somewhat derivatively of an earlier discussion about the recent killing at a post office has a reference on who to identify as likely to be violent. "Adverse reaction to criticism" is high on a list, which would seem to characterize many current Muslim societies, and is what we are discussing. To me this comment thread is often a kind of prayer of our ideals. In my experience this is the response of the soldier, beauty before ugliness and psychological danger. The Muslims similarly have chosen their beauty, ?their icon. Christ is translated as saying 'whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirt never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin' so could be seen in the ancient iconic mold and be heard as saying you and I must follow G-d as we are truly inspired. Max Ernst's 'Christ being spanked by the virgin' is better and prior to the government funded version of a dethroning.
2.4.2006 1:41am
minnie:
This is the greatest thread. I especially like Lena, Buck and Tyrone's posts, and VC's analytical observations.

Regarding Buck's observations about the possible motive of the Danish newspaper, if what I have read on the Internet is correct, this was a deliberate attempt on the part of that newspaper to strike back at what it perceived to be Islamic intolerance of freedom of expression, and hardly the random work of the cartoonists. It seems the paper urged, against their repeated stated desires, twelve cartoonists to depict their versions of Mohammed, as there had been threats against an author who wanted to publish a children's book containing depictions of Mohammed. The newspaper agressively persuaded the reluctant cartoonists to contribute drawings for this effort, for which each was paid 75 eurodollars.

While I agree with all the obvious points on this thread, I do find it unsettling that now those cartoonists are in hiding, fearful for their lives, while the newspaper takes a coy position and states that it never expected the cartoons to get such wide, international exposure. This is not a sympathetic position, imo, when it appears that the original publication of those cartoons was meant to be a political statement. Seems like the newspaper used the cartoonists as cannon fodder in a war it wanted to fight.

This is, of course, irrelevant to the issues being debated on this post, but the curious timing of when this "stale" story is breaking gives one pause.....

I also think it is morally inconsistent for our government to issue a statement urging self-restraint when it continues, via the ludicrous National Endowment Of The Arts, to fund so-called museums and other institutions which house "art" like the Piss Christ.

It is also morally wrong, imo, to punish people who say that the Holocaust never happened. If you're in for a dime in terms of freedom of speech, you should be in for a dollar.

Finally, as I can't stand the suspense, could David Bernstein please tell us whether or not he minds Orin Kerr starting comment threads about his commentless posts?
Seems more likely Orin got his permission to do so, but please clear up the mystery :)
2.4.2006 4:26am
snowball (mail):
Shorter David Bernstein:

"I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a woman who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!"
2.4.2006 6:51pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
I'm sorry...no matter what the ethical justification for it, I simply can't boycott Danish. I've tried before, God knows...
2.4.2006 7:05pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
"fruits of liberalism'?

That would be Andrew Sullivan.

Hi Andy. :-)
2.4.2006 11:17pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
I did not want to bother to reply to Confused, but thought a couple of points need to be made.

(1) Taking issue with the fact that "al-jabr" not "algebra" was the Arabic word is more than slightly pedantic.

There is something very odd about this statement coming from a man trying to claim that "the father of algebra" was "Persian" and not "Arabic" as a meaningful distinction. First, it is completely moronic to identify a field of knowledge with one person, even if that person's contribution to the field might have been fundamental at some point in time. There is more to relativity than Einstein and there is a lot more to even the algebra of Xth century Arabic mathemaitcs than al-Khoresmi. Second, if anything is "pedantic", it is making the distinction between "Arabic" and "Persian". For one, al-Khoresmi is not "Persian"--as his name implies, he or his family were from the Central Asian city-state of Khoresm. The lingua franca of the region was Arabic, the culture was Arabic and the fundamental philosophy was written in Arabic and based on the Arabic notion of Islam (there was no other kind, at the time, in fact). As for al-Khoresmi being the "father of algebra", it might be more appropriate to refer to him as a cataloguer of known methods. But even that is inaccurate, as his contemporaries writing in Arabic knew a lot more than what survived in the text that eventually made it to Europe. Omar Khayyam had a method for solving some cubic equations in general form--something that Europeans did not discover until much later (and something that Greeks knew nothing about).

(2) I confess, I'm no expert on algebra, but my understanding is that the Greeks did most of the groundwork, with geometric algebra and then, later, with indeterminate equations, that after that the Indians relied combined their basics with what they learned from the Greeks and pushed things significantly further, and that it then reached the Muslims who made incremental improvements, before it made its way to the Europeans in the 16th century. It's credited to the Arabs (although much of the work was Persian, not Arab) because of the etymology of the word and because of the fashionable "Arabs saved civilization" meme that started, what, twenty-five years ago?

This is a nonstarter. Greek mathematics was fundamentally opposed to the notion of algebra borrowed from the Babylonians. The Greeks had no contact with Indian mathematics, as far as we know, and any Indian mathematics that was of major significance was written well after the Greek mathematical culture faded into history. While mathematical works on geometry that existed in Arabic heavily borrowed from the Greeks (although astronomy was an odd hybrid of Babylonian, Indian and Greek ideas), anything having to do with algebra was recreated either from Indian or Babylonian mathematics (which, in turn, might have been based on Egyptian mathematics that far predated the Greeks). The idea of "indeterminate equations" came from an entirely different school of Hellenistic mathematics than what we recognize as Euclidean geometry. In many ways, the two schools were antogonistic to each other and refused to accept each others methods as legitimate. To claim that Arabic mathematics was simply an incremental improvement on the Greeks is silly, at best.
As for "Arabs saved civilization meme", it is just the opposite. The reification of the Hellenistic civilization has more to do with filial piety of European Christians than with Greeks' actual achievements. Surely, there are many landmarks of Greek mathematics worth noting. But there are quite a few that have been glossed over by the less scrupulous historians that predate the entire Hellenistic civilzation. For a while, it was a commonly taught idea that Greeks invented the writing system and that cuneiform and hierogliphic writing systems used in North Africa and Mesopotamia by earlier civilizations were inherently inferior. It turns out that not only was the Greek writing system--including the alphabet--based on a much earlier Semitic writing system, but the overlooked "inferior" systems were actually not particularly inferior. As someone has already pointed out, it was, in fact, the Euro-Christians that sacked Constantinople and desolated any remaining academic culture of the Byzantine empire. Roman "mathematics" on the other hand was of a far more practical nature than Greek mathematics and retarded development of scientific thinking in Western Europe.
It was in fact a massive translation effort by some enterprising monks (with the help of some Jews and Muslims) that brought science and mathematics to Europe--both the extant heritage from the Greeks and the far more expansive works of the Arabs/Moors/Persians (Arabic speakers). If you think that this is something that has only existed for the past quarter century, take a look at Aquinas. You will find that much of his philosophy is based on ideas of Muslim and Jewish philosophers, all writing in Arabic.
In a sense, Arabs did save Western Civilization, because both the Western Christian Church (eventually, the Catholic Church) and, especially, the Eastern Christian Church (Orthodox) suffered through periods of particular intolerance toward any kind of divergent learning, especially philosophy. The existing manuscripts were ALL discovered long after their content was translated into Latin from Arabic copies. Most of these manuscripts had to be recovered from parchments that were erased and overwritten with church documents. The Dark Ages were not as dark as popular culture would have us believe (especially in the East), but they were far more repressed in Europe than in the Chalifate. At the time al-Khoresmi compiled his algebraic thesis, Baghdad was the peak of civilization and, Khoresm and Samarkand were not too shabby either. The degree of learning both in the Middle East and the East was quite advanced.

(3) "Western European civilization would not have been possible without a strong Muslim intellectual influence." This is the point I really, really don't get.

That is quite obvious!

Other than helping "restore" culture that the West had invented...

This is why you are so confused. "The West" did not invented culture. Most of "The West" was illiterate and barbaric by any standard. Rome--whose empire encompassed much of North Africa and the Middle East--was distinct from the rest of Europe in this regard, but it was hardly "Western Civilization"--that was a later invention to justify Europe being the heir to Roman cultural heritage.

(and that was still extant in the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Land until the Muslims conquered / destroyed those areas), I'm not sure how much was done.

Again, the destruction was internal--Muslims did not "conquer/destroy" the Byzantine Empire until long after it was completely decimated by the Crusades. Even then, pockets of learning existed both in the West and in the Byzantine Empire, but that is hardly a justification to set them up on a piedestal.
What you are confused about is the fact that the Arabic/Muslim culture of the IX-XVth centuries was by no means original and heavily borrowed from the people it conquered. This is not the same as seeing it as "preserving" the Western culture until the West was able to receive it back. Most of the Arabic culture was founded on non-Hellenistic conquests, even if much of Greek philosophy was incorporated into the learning system. There was no original mathematical thought in any of Europe prior to the XVth century--a time when Arabic civilization was already in a steep decline (largely due to a combination of Mongol conquest in the East and Christian conquest in the West).

It is simply stupid to pretend that the Arabs simply borrowed from the West. Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Ghazali (Algazel), Averroes, as well as a number of Jewish philosophers, had a profound influence on Western philosophical thought. The fact that popular culture does not recognize their contribution is the result of centuries of massive historical purges that elevated the Greeks to the role of culture-givers and eliminating all non-European cultures from consideration (even though the bulk of Hellenistic culture was not based in Europe). The Western origin of Western Civilization is as much a myth as the Illiad or the Oddysey.

The key elements of what we considered Western culture are Greek, Roman, and Germanic. What *influence* comes from Muslim intellectuals?

Germanic? This is simply laughable!!! Germanic origin of Western "culture"??? No wonder people think that Bush is a great president!

minnie wrote,

this was a deliberate attempt on the part of that newspaper to strike back at what it perceived to be Islamic intolerance of freedom of expression, and hardly the random work of the cartoonists.

I have now heard similar stories (like coming from similar sources) from three different people. This was my understanding. The whole process is reminiscent of someone trying to provoke a school-yard bully, who never fails to rise to the occasion. Several commentators, including some moderate Muslims, have observed that the reaction demostrates precisely the reason behind the theme of the cartoons. Neither side deserves any praise or defense. Both positions are quite indefensible.
2.5.2006 11:55pm
minnie:
Buck: Well stated.
2.6.2006 5:15am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Buck,

As to Germanic I think it is you who are ignorant.

You might want to look at the history of English common law for a look at the Germanic roots of Western Civ.

English common law to make it plain and clear had Germanic influences through the spread of culture by the Vikings. Who are at least in some sense Germanic.

It is why English as it exists today has so many Germanic roots. The French stuff didn't come in in a big way until 1066.
2.11.2006 11:48pm