What Progressivism Looks Like: Terrorists’ Murders Are Your Fault for ‘Insulting’ Them

November 15, 2015

Truly bizarre.

In light of the Charlie Hebdo shootings last winter and the terrorist attacks this week in Paris and elsewhere, I posted on Facebook, without comment, a link to where people can buy a T-shirt with the drawing of Mohammed from the contest in Texas earlier this year.  It drew several responses from a person who is intelligent and well educated, who works in one of the cultural centers of our country, and who is also a relative, my own flesh and blood.  Nevertheless, because he is also of the left, he said that I shouldn’t be “insulting” Muslims by spreading others’ drawings of Mohammed, and seemed to blame the artists and people like me for the murderers’ actions.  I pushed back—surely he didn’t really mean that?—but he reiterated that it’s our own fault—“those who generalize and insult religious groups serve to fan long-burning flames”.

Below, the exchange in its entirety, unedited except to remove our names.

  • [Mr. A:] That looks like him
  • [Mr. B:] The sword is not curvy enough
  • [Relative:] Because directly insulting Christianity based on the actions of some self-labeled Christians would be a very productive and loving thing to do.
  • [Chillingworth:] Not so, but far otherwise! If some people (regardless of whether they described themselves as Christians) claimed to be insulted by the mere visual depiction of Christ and threatened to kill people for depicting Him, then yes, people should draw Christ for just that reason. You don’t have to be against Islam to be against bullying.
  • [Relative:] You understand that such visual depictions are insulting to many who would never suggest a drawing entitles or requires them to kill, so why insult and pretend that the actions of bad apples represent the views of the many?

    Why, in response to those few, would you find the malice to insult so many other Muslims? Religious restrictions aren’t “bullying” because they aren’t identical to your religion. The irony of your post, in my view, is that bullying by definition is to threaten OR INTENTIONALLY AND UNNECESSARILY INSULT others.

    I fully support your freedom to draw what you want, and there are many ways to articilate the importance of freedoms and question folks’ views, but why would you use your freedom to be malicious?

  • [Chillingworth:] “. . . so why insult and pretend that the actions of bad apples represent the views of the many?”

    I never said that; you’re adding that.

    “Religious restrictions aren’t ‘bullying’ because they aren’t identical to your religion.”

    I don’t recall ever suggesting that Muslims who tell each other that their religion prohibits them from depicting Mohammed were thereby bullying me.

    “. . . why would you use your freedom to be malicious?”

    You seem to be arguing with someone other than me.

    Do we agree that killing people for drawing Mohammed is one kind of bullying? If so, the masses of Muslims who would not kill a person for depicting Mohammed are beside the point. At that point, drawing Mohammed is an essential part of resisting the bullies, however few they may be. The fact that some other Muslims’ feelings will be hurt in no wise makes such peaceful resistance an act of “bullying” or “malice”.

    Some people are going around killing people for merely depicting Mohammed, but those who try to spread non-insulting depictions of Mohammed are the ones being called bullies and “malicious”. That’s pretty weird.

  • [Mr. B:] Was this the same draw Mohammad contest in Texas that some muslims attempted to shoot up before being stopped by an armed civilian, [Chillingworth]? Or was that a different incident
  • [Chillingworth:] Yes, that was one instance, and that was the one this particular cartoon comes from.
  • [Chillingworth:] I think they were stopped by a policeman
  • [Relative:] [Chillingworth] ” The masses of Muslims who would not kill a person for depicting Mohammed are beside the point.” Those people are the very point you are missing. You are intentionally insultingthem. If your intent was to have a conversation about certain freedoms, there would be many productive ways to do it.

    Imagine for a moment that there was a pejorative term that clearly applied not only to you, but also a billion other people. I didn’t initially intend to ever use that pejorative term, but then you threatened to kill me if I used that term. In response, I didn’t say it back to you to make a point to you about freedom of expression, or even take the higher road by starting a conversation with you in the abstract about it, but wore that very word on a T-shirt for the population to see. I’d be perfectly within my rights, but an inconsiderate jerk to all the other people to whom that term applied. And I’d worsen relations between people like you and me. So no, we clearly don’t agree that distributing drawings of Mohammed are “an essential part of resisting the bullies [who threaten to kill folks for doing just that]”.

    If you want to take those people on, start a conversation about how the Quran doesn’t explicitly forbid images of Muhammad (according to Wikipedia only some of the hadith do). Or better yet, don’t take them on, but use it as an opportunity to learn and ask them why it is so important to them. I’m no scholar here, but imagine it’s out of reverence.

    You’re not obligated to revere Muhammad. But I’d appreciate it, in a world where too many people continue to die because certain Christians and Muslims can’t seem get along (and IMHO focus too much on their differences than their commonalities), if you exercised some respect. That seems like the loving thing to do.

  • [Chillingworth:] “If you want to take those people on, start a conversation . . . .”

    Again, are we talking about the same thing? “Take on” the people who murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists etc. by “starting a conversation” with them?

    “Or better yet, don’t take them on, but use it as an opportunity to learn and ask them why it is so important to them.”

    Uh…

    “You’re not obligated to revere Muhammad. But I’d appreciate it, in a world where too many people continue to die because certain Christians and Muslims can’t seem get along (and IMHO focus too much on their differences than their commonalities), if you exercised some respect.”

    Again, terrorists are actually killing people, but it’s our fault for not being sufficiently deferential to the murderers. Pretty weird.

  • [Chillingworth:] I don’t know whether this will do anything to clarify the discussion or bring us back onto the same page at this point, but I thought this article put it pretty well (first two paragraphs are free, rest requires subscription):

    https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/418362/free-speech-without-apologies

    In short, when people are no longer under threat of death for simply drawing Mohammed, _then_ we can have an argument about whether depicting Mohammed is appropriate, “offensive”, etc.

  • Relative:] I didn’t suggest you talk to the people involved in the Charlie Hebdo attack. This is the first time CH was raised in this thread. I asked you to not egg on others. I did suggest that it would be productive to engage in conversations about the above offense especially if there is a way to reach anyone inclined toward violence. That’s how peace happens. The next generation is watching and is capable of either continuing to demonize or seeing gaps bridged.

    Your words are that its “our fault” for folks killing people (I”m not sure who “our” encompases here), and that anyone should be “deferential to murderers”. I am weary of folks killing in the name of religion. I do think that those who generalize and insult religious groups serve to fan long-burning flames.

Unbelievable.

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8 Responses to “What Progressivism Looks Like: Terrorists’ Murders Are Your Fault for ‘Insulting’ Them”

  1. infowarrior1 Says:

    They say one thing and do another.

  2. Tevyeh Says:

    Islamic radicals regularly murder people as punishment for fornication. Do you think it’s important to stand up to them by fornicating? Will you be providing links to porn sites on your blog?


    • Interesting argument, but no!

      Obviously I’m not going to do things that are morally wrong just because Muslims also think them wrong. The difference is that there’s nothing objectively wrong with drawing a picture of Mohammed.

      The rough and tumble of free speech is essential to maintaining a liberal democracy. While the Islamists haven’t changed our laws, they’re doing an end-run around the law; in effect, by their policy of extrajudicial executions, they’re creating their own law, and they’ve partially succeeded in making it impossible to commit what they consider blasphemy, even in America. That’s bad, and I intend to do my part to push back on it. Toward that end, please enjoy this now-classic cartoon of Mohammed:

      Mohammed Charlie Hebdo cover

      Your question echoes recent Supreme Court jurisprudence in turning free speech on its head. The original First Amendment was especially about substantive philosophical and political speech, but in the last few decades, Supreme Court justices have sometimes acted as if it were mainly about protecting pornography, with a lesser degree of peripheral protection for political speech. If our goal is a free society or a democratic system, I think this is clearly the wrong way to think about freedom of speech.

      Or look at it this way. My relative and other Progressives accuse us of blurring categories together, when in fact they are the ones doing exactly that. In particular, in the conversation above, my relative elides the distinction between Muslims’ having a religious rule that they feel obliged to follow themselves, and their imposing the same rule on non-Muslims by force. I am not a Muslim. My religion does not prohibit me from drawing Mohammed. Some Muslims are attempting to force their religion on us to the extent of punishing the drawing of Mohammed with death. We will not go quietly into that good night. At the same time, I do have a religion. My religion encourages marriage, and prohibits me from fornication. I am saying that I will resist the forcible imposition of the religion of Islam on me, but of course that doesn’t mean that I will start disobeying my own religion for that reason. Again, that would be turning things on their head.

      • Tevyeh Says:

        “The difference is that there’s nothing objectively wrong with drawing a picture of Mohammed.”

        If you mean that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with drawing Mohammed, I’d agree with you–though the same could be said of painting a swastika or burning a cross.

        Maybe my analogy to a principle as important as chastity took my point too far. I’ve tried to think through this issue, and have read a few very persuasive arguments–including one by Ross Douthat in which he reaches a conclusion very close to yours, if I remember correctly–about the value of these doodles in resisting the tyrrany of the violent. Still, I can’t get past my conviction that drawing Mohammed simply isn’t nice to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

        Don’t get me wrong, I would literally give my life to defend your right to draw or post pictures of Mohammed (and my right to say that doing so isn’t nice), and I would vehemently oppose any kind of “provocation” defense in the criminal prosecution of an individual who uses violence to enforce this Muslim taboo. Moreover, I’m disgusted by the emerging view that sees hurt feelings are a tragedy, and anything that causes them, an atrocity. That said, I also believe in being nice. There’s got to be a way to stand up to Islamic radicals without being rude to a quarter of the global population.


      • I’m sympathetic to the goal of being nice to everyone, but I’m afraid that firstly, I don’t agree that “There’s got to be a way to stand up to Islamic radicals without being rude to a quarter of the global population.” If all 1.5 billion Muslims feel bad when someone draws Mohammed, and the Islamists (or radicals, or whatever we call them) are going to murder people for drawing Mohammed, then you can’t offend the one without offending the other. That’s not our fault, and we can get back to negotiating how to be nice to everyone else as soon as people are no longer under threat of death for simply drawing Mohammed.

        Secondly, even if we were already there and could discuss this in a vacuum (apart from death threats), being nice only goes so far. I’m told that the Muslim world hasn’t always been unanimous on not depicting Mohammed, but even if it had, so what? Do people on the other side of the world get to dictate our art and exchange of ideas because they feel insulted when 100% of the world’s population doesn’t follow their minority religion’s strictures on this? Imagine if instead being “nice” would require us never to use the word “Mohammed” or refer to that person, or imagine if it would require calling all Muslims by gendered pronouns the opposite of whichever each individual actually is, or if it would require us to call black white or up down. Imagine if current self-censorship in the West were out of cultural sensitivity and a desire to be “nice” to everyone in the world (not out of fear of the terrorists); this has already taken us part of the way into a George Orwell-type dystopia in which it is impossible for our society to use language and images to discuss matters that are objectively important to discuss. After the Danish cartoons, newspapers in America considered the ensuing riots newsworthy, but largely couldn’t bring themselves to show the pictures of what the news was originally about. Yale University Press publishes a big serious academic book by a Brandeis University professor about the Danish cartoons and the ensuing riots, and plans to include the pictures of the cartoons as well as other historical depictions of Mohammed, but then ends up publishing the book minus any pictures.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cartoons_that_Shook_the_World

        http://hotair.com/archives/2009/08/12/disgrace-yale-removes-mohammed-cartoons-from-book-about-mohammed-cartoons/

        The world this creates is already weird and asymmetrical. When people are that sensitive, their sensitivities are incompatible with the free exchange of ideas in general, and certainly incompatible with the culture of our free society in particular.


      • In fairness to a quarter of the world’s population, I bet not all of those Muslims would feel equally offended by the mere depiction of Mohammed, if it were up to them. Have you seen this?

        http://zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_full/

        About a third of the way down the page:

        “This Iranian site contains a photograph of a mural which appears to depict Mohammed (sixth picture down) on a contemporary building in Iran. The mural shows Buraq (the animal that carried Mohammed on his Night Voyage, described as being white and having the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock, which this creature is and does) carrying a figure who could therefore only be Mohammed. A word-for-word transliteration of the Farsi caption to that picture is (according to this automated translation site), “The Messenger mounted mainland shiny door village (yzdlaan) (kvyry) village blinds to ascension wine river,” which obviously doesn’t translate well but which does make mention of “The Messenger,” a traditional epithet for Mohammed (as the messenger of Allah). Note: this image is hosted on the Web site of the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri, which is sponsoring a contest of cartoons about the Holocaust as an outraged reponse to the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in the West. Yet the newspaper itself is currently displaying this depiction of Mohammed. (This image also on the newspaper’s site appears to be a different modern image of Mohammed as well.) [UPDATE: All the images linked to in this caption have now been taken offline by the Hamshahri newspaper, apparently after having been exposed here; the search-engine caches for the pages have also now expired, meaning that the small photo shown above is the only known surviving image of this unusual contemporary Mohammed depiction.]”

        Obviously I can’t verify any of that at this point; I certainly can’t verify that there’s a building standing in Iran right now with an undefaced mural depicting Mohammed. My argument above stands regardless. We can’t remake our society into a quasi-Orwellian dystopia just to be nice to someone on the other side of the world, or to be nice to anyone here.


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