Blogs > Liberty and Power > Another Counterpunch Piece on the Cartoons

Mar 31, 2008 7:57 am

Another Counterpunch Piece on the Cartoons

Actually, Mark, I thought this piece by Michael Neumann at Counterpunch was much better.  Having attenuated free speech in our own societies in the name of protecting people from being offended, we are hardly in a position to be outraged by the Muslim response to the cartoons.   Hoisted on our own petard, as they say.  Key paragraphs:

I cannot say whether the official Western culture of piety, enthusiastically promoted worldwide, played a role in the reaction to the cartoons. I do know that Western piety has left the West without a leg to stand on in this dispute. It is no good trumpeting rights of free expression, because these rights are now supposed to have nebulous but severe limitations. From the moment Western countries started criminalising topless posters in locker rooms, hate speech, emotional abuse and many other sins of impurity, free expression was at the mercy of Western piety. It cannot be invoked against piety of another sort.

The point here is not that the West is hypocritical. Maybe it is; maybe it is just inconsistent: who cares? Hypocrisy is among the most harmless of sins; indeed that it has become such a fetish is one more indication of a culture of piety. The point is rather than the West has put ideological weapons in the hands of those it now wants to repel, and thrown away the weapons that might have proved useful in such an effort. The most basic notions of the rule of law -- that you should not be punished for what you cannot help, like the feelings you have, that no one should be expected to obey laws so vague that the criteria of obedience are mysterious -- were thrown away years ago. They cannot be picked out of the trashcan and held up as shiny Western ideals just because it is now convenient to do so.

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Sheldon Richman - 2/16/2006

I am not sure I agree with Sugg's remark. But I can say this: at least the hypocrite feels the need to pay lip service to virtue. Isn't that better than not finding that necessary?

Mark Brady - 2/15/2006

Truth be told, I nearly posted a link to this one too and perhaps I might be persuaded it's a better piece. That said, I still think that John Sugg's article has merit. See my comment <href=;bheaders=1#79285>here</a>.

Aster Francesca - 2/15/2006

"Hypocrisy is among the most harmless of sins."

I very much disagree with this.

Craig J. Bolton - 2/15/2006

Yes, I think that this is a much better approach than the other Counterpunch article.

The problem with this issues seems that most of the participants in the "debate" are out to "expose" the other guy and seem to think that the issue is whether the other guy is "evil" or "an imperialist" or "an orientalist" etc. Intermixed with that rabidly ad hominem emphasis is a confused notion of what are formal legal rights that have no reference to content.

IMHO the lessons to be learned from this episode are simple:

(1) There are fanatics everywhere. Some fanatics try to target their opponents fundamental faith premises and be as offensive as possible while hiding behind "free speech," other fanatics choose to threaten bodily harm. Generally, for such people, the choice of methods to express their respective fanaticisms are a matter of convenience and context more than any commitment to means being an intrinsic part of their ends.

(2) Most people, even those who are most interested in "protecting rights," apparently just don't have a clue what said rights are all about. In fact, we seem to have regressed to a universal primitive Marxist view where "[political] freedom" is equated to the "power to do."

(3) What civilization there was left seems to be rapidly sliding into a war of incompatible ideologies [including fundamentalist religious beliefs as an ideology]. That simply isn't functional. The point of a "free society" was to create a neutral context in which people could hold, develop, and rationally debate their fundamental ideological differences while still relating in other ways without getting on each others nerves or killing each other. When we start "Thinking in slogans, we speak in bullets" as Orwell observed. That is what it is coming to, very very quickly.