Thursday, February 09, 2006

Socialism, Equality and Secularism

Counterpunch picked up the "chill out" post yesterday and I have received lots of email in response most positive but critics have brought up a few issues that I would like to clarify.

1) A few emails were from anti-semites and anti-immigrant racists who, I guess, can't deal with a mildly complex argument. To be clear, this site encourages a world without borders and capitalism that is controlled democratically. This assumes an equality of human beings. This site also recognizes that race, class and gender are intersecting forces that are used to oppress. In the last 400 years or so capitalism and industrialization have arisen from Europe which has put them on top. Europeans have taken advantage of this happenstance of history to dominate the planet using whatever methods they find at their disposal including diplomatic, religious, economic and military means. This has created a division of labor in the world that keeps primarily Northern "white" folks in charge of the levers of power. This unequal division of power and wealth needs to change.

2) Another set of emails ask the question, "what good can come of the cartoons?" None. But in a way this misses the point. Just because there is no socially redeeming quality to speech does not mean it should be banned. Racist and offensive speech needs to be protected. It should be protected because if the principle of free expression is respected across the board then true debate can exist. If we do not protect unpopular speech that we don't agree with, then who will protect unpopular ideas that we do agree with? We also can never get to the turth of the matter if certain taboo subjects are not allowed.

3) Lots of people tried to explain to me why Muslims would be offended by the cartoons. This also misses the point. A cartoon is speech. It will not hurt you. It is not claiming that the building you are in is on fire when it isn't. It was a cartoon that stereotyped Muslims and their most revered Prophet. Are people that easily offended? Do I get all upset when religious people say I am going to burn in hell forever? No, because I don't believe in hell. Agnosticism is something I think about everyday and is at the core of my being but if you make fun of me for it I don't care. For many atheists and agnostics religion is not only an illusionary way of thinking but a dangerous set of movements that have historically enslaved and oppressed people both literally and ideologically. For us the separation of church and state was an opening that not only stopped all kinds of sectarian violence but also gave rational thinking people the space to argue and yes lampoon mystical ideas.


Yohan said...

The major problem with the article is this: we cannot tell people how to react, and what not to get offended by. It is like Steve Biko said:

"The whites are not only kicking us, they are telling us how to react to being kicked!"

Ridiculing Muhammed is adding insult to injury. Muslims are not willing to just lie down and take it, because they see it as a wider attack on their way of life.

Personally I would love to agree. Everyone chill out and smoke a joint. But we can't force anyone to do that either.

Perhaps the Jews who chilled out while Hitler's cartoons were being circulated will have a different opinion!

anton said...


1) I don't really think "Muslims" per se are under attack by imperialists in the West. They actually are quite willing to use radical Islamists to their own ends like in Afghanistan in the 1980's or like they have allied with the Wahabism in Saudi Arabia.

2) Comparing a couple cartoons in a Danish newspaper to the propaganda of the German state under the control of the NAZI's in the 1930's and 40's is spurious at best.

Anonymous said...

Shorter version: Sticks and Stones may break my bones. . .

How preposterous your assertion that words don't matter. Are gays, blacks and women who strive to foster nuanced and accurate media wasting their time? If Americans were inundated with images of lazy, degenerate black people, would this not affect race relations? Would this not lubricate their oppression?

Those cartoons are assertions of Muslim inferiority vis-a-vis everyone else. It's propaganda nit wit.

And not at all surprised that a few 'anti-immigrant' racists crawled out from under their rocks to say howdy. They know a fellow traveler when they see one.

Anonymous said...

"I don't really think "Muslims" per se are under attack by imperialists in the West."

I fear we are in the midst of leftist who conflates dogged obliviousness and outright stupidity with iconoclasm. Christopher Hitchens, call your office!

That the West has, on occasion, made common cause with Islamic extremists does not speak meaningfully to whether or not Muslims are objects of imperialist aggression. Have you ever heard of a tactical coalition? The United States formed alliances with Islamic extremists at a time when two things appeared to be even greater threats to their imperial designs: Soviet expansionism and secular Arab nationalism.

That you would attempt to weigh this 'support' against the war on Palestinians, sanctions against Iraq and the invading and pillaging of Iraq and see it as a wash truly defies belief.

anton said...

I guess I will try to be clearer. I am typing this slowly by the way. Religion is not the reason for the Iraq war or the so-called war on terror. It's about oil, grand strategy and domestic politics not religion. They could care less if the people in the oil rich regions of the world worshiped rocks. They would still be bombing you.

Guerrillas in the Midst said...

What if it's a cartoon of Indians? Is the mascot issue any different?

It's pretty easy to tell the offended to go "smoke a joint and jerk off to Playboy", but it seems that responsibility and respect of those who make these charicatures ought to be the focus of your efforts. I think you might be telling the wrong people to "chill out".

Consider the work that Adbusters does. "Culture Jamming" and the like. Should we say, "Oh, just chill out you guys. Advertising is just an image. Go smoke a bowl."

Once the argument is "elevated" beyond race, then the picture is percieved whites.