The Case of the Inquiring Murderer

Just a follow up to yesterday’s post (“Life Sucks”). Some of the good people at Butterflies and Wheels seem to disagree vehemently, and I’m not sure what the disagreement is really about. What I said had an ethical component and a factual component.

The ethical component is pretty uncontroversial. I said if you can foresee that publishing a cartoon will lead to violence and death, you have to take that into account. Although it won’t be you that directly does the killing, you bear some indirect responsibility. Perhaps the costs will be outweighed by other benefits, but the costs can’t possibly be ignored.

To disagree with this, you really have to say some odd things about the sanctity of speech, or some such. Or maybe take a Kantian line on truth telling. Kant was an absolutist about lying–you shouldn’t do it, ever, even in his famous case of the inquiring murder. The bad guy comes to your door and asks about the whereabouts of his wife, who he plans to kill. You should tell the truth. The guy goes and kills his wife. Is that your fault? No, says Kant. The bad guy killed his wife, not you.

It’s a different situation, but I suppose someone might think that as long as the cartoonists are telling the truth, it doesn’t matter how many people get killed in foreseeable riots. It could be 10, 100, 1000, even a million. They’d still be completely innocent, and only the killers would be guilty. This is not very plausible.

On to the factual component. It seems possible (that’s as far as I’ll go) that the Danish cartoonists could have foreseen the violence that resulted (Christians killed in several countries) especially because of the earlier Rushdie affair. If “The Life of Brian, Muslim style” is in the works today (as Ibn Warraq says in his Point of Inquiry podcast), then you really have clearcut foreseeability.

Supposing the violent outcome of the cartoons was foreseeable, that’s not the end of the story. In Nazi Germany, it could very well have been worth the risk to print a nasty caricature of Hitler to turn around a population that was too enamored of him. But from what I can tell, the west is not enamored of Mohammad. The cartoon that depicts Mohammad with a bomb turban delivers the news that Muslim countries are violent. Whether that’s true or not, it’s old news. It’s just the establishment position, the conventional wisdom. Sure, people in Muslim countries don’t believe it, but the last thing that’s going to persuade them is a deliberately provocative cartoon offensive coming out of Europe.

The ethical point that we’re accountable for our impact is, well, “to die for”. The facts? Well, facts are always very messy. No doubt there are many other relevant points to be made.


  1. Is it ethical to surrender a freedom, or freedoms, to a force of evil. The beneficiary of that act being evil, and so served ,the ethics of the act itself is absent any proper moral base.
    Those willing to abjure a freedom however take it upon themselves to do so at the expense of of many others and with no guaranty of either safety and the possibility of further concessions.

    It follows conversely that the consequences of acts taken due to the exercise of that freedom accrue to the perpetrator of them, not to those who chose to practice a right established in law and tradition.

    In effect the burden of accommodation would rest on those threatened, and force or fear is not a bedrock of ethics. Instead it is destructive of ethical and moral behavior.

  2. Eric MacDonald

    The cartoon that depicts Mohammad with a bomb planted in his head delivers the news that Muslim countries are violent. Whether that’s true or not, it’s old news. It’s just the establishment position, the conventional wisdom. Sure, people in Muslim countries don’t believe it, but the last thing that’s going to persuade them is a deliberately provocative cartoon offensive coming out of Europe.

    Ah, I see, this is where we differ. That’s not what the cartoon of Mohammed says to me, nor, I suspect, is it true that people in Muslim countries don’t believe it. Many do and fear. Look at Iran, for instance, or the power of religious forces in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, etc. Do you really think that Muslims do not believe that Islam is violent? Is that what most Muslim women would say, if they had a chance, without repression, to say? I’m not so sure.

    But one thing the cartoon does warn people about is that there is a form of Islam that is very dangerous, that it has evident effects already in Europe, and that people’s freedoms there are in jeopardy. You look at the cartoon and see it as affront to Muslim countries. What does this mean? What is a Muslim country? Jean, you speak as though this is a legitimate concept, that it is alright that this, or any other religion, should govern the daily lives of millions of people, and especially that women should remain subservient to men, shrouded in anonymity. Because it is, after all, a Muslim country? Europeans see that as a clear and immediate threat. Is it morally right to say so? Even if some people take offence? What if the offence is huge? Doesn’t that really show that the danger is correspondingly great? It’s not just old news. It’s very current news. And for some people, who feel that their freedoms are threatened, it’s very germane to the world they are living in. Oriana Fallaci may be an extreme version of this sense of threat, but, make no mistake, many others feel it too.

    A lot of people say that Muslims in the west are peaceful and just want to get on with life. Maybe so, but as a number of people have pointed out, they’re remarkably silent about it. Hundreds of little girls disappear from Britain every year, forced into marriages they did not choose, into lives that are, for too many of them, living hells. Demands for the application of sharia law have been made, and supported rather idiotically by the Archbishop of Canterbury, laws that, as Muslim women’s groups in the UK have pointed out, would subject Muslim women to even more arbitrary religious rule. Isn’t it about time that someone said something nasty about some of these practices, and the beliefs which ground them? Very few in the Muslim community are prepared to do this, because it is dangerous. Just ask Ibn Warraq or Ayan Hirsi Ali.

    But we have a clear responsibility to the people and the culture of the west, where freedoms that so many people want to enjoy were bought at a high price. Americans know the cost of this freedom, and now, with great power, sometimes do not serve it well. But what, I wonder, would that freedom mean to so many in so-called Muslim countries, or in India, in so much of Southeast Asia, and elsewhere where they live in virtual bondage to religious rule.

    Kant’s truth telling, whatever the consequences, really has nothing to do with this. Certainly, before we do something, if we are moral, we must weigh the cost. But what the costs? Where do we stop counting? And if, as I believe, the freedom of so many throughout Muslim controlled parts of the world is at issue, should we only count the immediate casualties of an expression of freedom, like Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses or a few cartoons by Danish cartoonists? By those standards, would the American colonists have started a revolution?

  3. I’m starting to think our disagreement is really about the factual component, and there really are a lot of facts. Probably we are mainly disagreeing about psychological and sociological facts–how to reach hearts and minds. But the ethical thing was my main point, so I’ll leave it at that.

  4. Jean wrote “The ethical component is pretty uncontroversial. I said if you can foresee that publishing a cartoon will lead to violence and death, you have to take that into account. Although it won’t be you that directly does the killing, you bear some indirect responsibility. Perhaps the costs will be outweighed by other benefits, but the costs can’t possibly be ignored.”

    Hi Jean,

    Reading what you’ve written over the last couple of days has made me so angry I could kick the cat. Did you take any account of that possibility when you published your stuff? Will you feel morally responsible for any injury to the cat?

  5. Should I have been able to foresee your cat-kicking propensities?

    I think what I said here was very moderate, and so it shouldn’t make you kick the cat. In fact, so moderate as to be quite boring. The only reason I said it is that, amazingly enough, some people actually do think that authors and artists can carry on in any fashion, without being to blame for any consequences. I’ve read and heard people say this.

    To add to the boringness of what I’ve said, I’ve also acknowledged that other things count too. So a cartoonist could, in some situations, reasonably think the risks are worth it. It’s a question of balance.

    The only place where things get slightly more exciting is when it comes to cases. I made the radical suggestion that “possibly” the Danish cartoonists could have foreseen future violence. Well, “possibly” only means possibly. They actually seemed to want to upset people, and I think when that’s your goal it’s a risky business. Especially in a world where we see examples of very upset Muslims blowing things up practically every day. Still, I’ll stick with “possibly foreseeable” not definitely. Again, nothing to kick the cat over.

  6. I keep saying to myself, “Yeh! Let it go.” And then I say, no, it’s not just a difference about the ‘factual component.’ It’s more than that. It’s something related to moral responsibility. And if people kill other people because I draw a cartoon, then there’s something really wrong with this picture. If I can predict that some people will get killed if I draw a cartoon, then what is going on? There’s something deeper and more menacing happening, and if I’m a cartoonist with some sense of moral responsibility, I want to know what it is, because cartoons shouldn’t be able to cause a world-wide protest.

    Of course, as Ophelia points out on ButterfliesandWheels Notes and Comments, a lot more was happening, and the fact that that lot more is not being recognised in all this puts us all in a moral quandary, doesn’t it? As I said before, it took more than the cartoons, it took a bunch of bullies trying to stir up trouble, to do this. But, let’s suppose, just for a moment that the cartoons were enough to ignite the cauldron. What’s wrong with this picture? And why should we be concerned?

  7. Jean, you didn’t say only ‘that “possibly” the Danish cartoonists could have foreseen future violence’ – you said several things that were much more definite than that; definite and (by being so definite) quite accusatory in tone. You made the cartoonists out to be much more certain that there would be ‘future violence’ than they could possibly have been in September 2005. You’re simply wrong on the facts about this, I’m afraid. There was no certainty about future violence at that time. And rightly so: there was no violence for several months.

    You also left out several crucial facts. All this in combination seems quite distorted and, thus, unfair. There’s also something rather dubious about now pretending you said only ‘that “possibly” the Danish cartoonists could have foreseen future violence’ when you claimed so much certainty in the previous post.

    You said

    “when one knows that it will bring about dire (albeit illegitimate) consequences”

    “If your action leads predictably to a certain result, you’re accountable. It’s not precisely as if you did that thing, but the weight of it is on your shoulders.”

    “I don’t see that Rushdie’s bycatch was foreseeable, whereas today’s provocateurs are precisely trying to provoke…but then turn around and say the fallout is entirely someone else’s doing.”

    “I would say yes, consequences should always be considered. Often we can predict them with reasonable accuracy. The bycatch that goes with shrimp is inevitable. A certain number of cancer deaths from selling cigarettes is a sure thing. Some deaths from religious violence will happen if you create deliberately provocative cartoons and movies.”

    “I bet you will agree that people are in fact responsible for the predictable outcomes of what they do.”

    It just isn’t true that ‘Some deaths from religious violence will happen if you create deliberately provocative cartoons and movies.’ I could give you many examples of ‘deliberately provocative cartoons and movies’ that have not caused some deaths from religious violence, or religious violence period. Your case rests on the idea that it was obvious and inevitable in September 2005 that the Motoons would cause some deaths from religious violence, and that the cartoonists should have taken that into account. But it was neither obvious nor inevitable at that time, any more than it is obvious and inevitable of such things now. (I won’t name them, so as not to seem to incite the very thing we’re talking about, but links to some are on Butterflies and Wheels.)

    You’re blaming the wrong people. You’re blaming the victims, and ignoring the perpetrators (specifically the mullahs who carted the fake cartoons around the Middle East). It’s an unpleasant business, in my view – not improved by calling the cartoons things like “trivial exercises of the right to free speech.”

  8. I hope that clears up what the disagreement is really about. It’s about the mistaken idea that the deaths were entirely predictable, the omitted facts, the censorious tone, and the sneery dismissals.

  9. Keith McGuinness

    Two situations:

    (1) With the aim of causing panic, I shout “Fire” in a crowded theater and many people are injured.

    (2) Mistakenly thinking a fire has broken out, I shout “Fire” in a crowded theater and many people are injured.

    Am I less, more or equally culpable in (2) compared to (1)? Am I culpable in (2) at all?

  10. What I said in the original post ((“Life Sucks”) was awfully careful–

    I’m not trying to say, necessarily, don’t eat shrimp, and don’t publish provocative cartoons. My point is just that there’s no way you can ignore the bycatch. You have to figure out how things work, look at the past (we’re in a post-Rushdie world now…we know that making fun of Islam has deadly consequences), assess the probabilities, look at all the hidden costs.

    I suspect there are cases where a particular exercise of free speech is worth people dying over. I admire the bookstores that carried The Satanic Verses and I do have it on my shelf. The cartoons seem an awful lot more like trivial exercises of the right to free speech. And then there’s this example. In another Point of Inquiry podcast I listened to recently, Ibn Warraq says someone in the Danish Parliament is working on a “Life of Brian” for Islam. Worth a couple of lives? I don’t quite see it.

    I do consider the cartoons trivial exercises of free speech. The reason they’re trivial is because they tell people something they already think. Islam has the image of being violent. They tell people Islam is violent.

    Responding to comments has a way of creating polarization, so I did occasionally move toward more definiteness on the issue of foreseeability. I wasn’t happy with that, which is why the next day I posted again and stressed uncertainty–

    On to the factual component. It seems possible (that’s as far as I’ll go) that the cartoonists could have foreseen the violence that resulted (Christians killed in several countries) especially because of the earlier Rushdie affair.

    It does seem possible. They lobbed a provocation into the world, which provoked more than they expected. Well, provocations are dangerous. Especially when the people you’re provoking have a penchant for terrorism. (Isn’t that what the cartoons say? Could the cartoonists not have been aware of that?)

    Blaming the victims. I don’t see the cartoonists simply as victims. They chose to do something they didn’t have to do. They took risks. People died. Simply calling them victims doesn’t quite do justice to their role.

    “Censorious tone” and “sneery dismissals”–hello? Your reading of my tone is amusing, as I don’t think of my tone as as being anything like that.

  11. Keith, I worry about what I’d be falling into if I answered your question, but I’ll do it anyway. The person who yells fire by mistake isn’t blameworthy, at least if he’s got some good reason to think there’s fire. (Maybe a holographic movie showing a fire in the middle of the theater?)

  12. I take issue with your “fire in the theater” analogy, Keith. I rests on the assumption that reasonable people would react in a panic when fire is shouted. We all know this, and that’s why it’s the premier example of restricting frivolous speech that will result in injury.

    It does not hold for the Motoons situation. If it did, we’d have to concede that it’s *reasonable to burn buildings and kill people* because you don’t like a cartoon. Really, that’ s what it entails. I’m going to draw a line in the sand here and say that it’s not. I cannot believe this conversation has gone on so long – I’m shocked that so many people seem to think we should be quibbling over the culpability of the cartoonists (one under death threat – even if that continually and conspicuously goes unmentioned, ahem), and just blithely passing over the violent aggressors who committed the actual acts. And yes, I do believe you’re glossing over it Jean. Not to mention the curious leaving out of the opportunistic ways some miscreants actively stoked the flames by using faked cartoons. Where’s the indignation against those who *actually helped incite the violence?*

    As Eric has pointed out very eloquently, you’re letting unreasonable, dangerous people circumscribe the speech of others by assuming that their unreasonable, fanatical propensity to violence gets to shift the ground of speech. You’re letting them shift the territory so far in the direction of nuttery, and you don’t seem to see the problem with this. I have to also ask – how far will you let this go?

    There’s also an unspoken and hugely patronizing assumption going on here – that these “offended muslims” can’t be expected to behave in a civilized manner and fight words with words. They’re just not at that level, so all of the rest of us have to be extra-special-careful of their feelings, the way we don’t treat children harshly, because after all, they’re incapable of adult analysis.

    Well, I think some have certainly demonstrated they’re incapable of that, but I am not willing to let their (brace yourself) uncivilized, barbarous, and violent reactions redefine freedom of expression in the public sphere. Sooner or later, people of that ilk, whatever their religion or agenda, are going to have face a harsh lesson: it doesn’t matter if you don’t like being offended, we are not going to tolerate you killing people over it. We can’t even begin to get there if we keep ceding ground to them.

    You’re on a dangerous slope not only by ceding that ground, but by agonizing over the responsibility of the cartoonists for bloodshed while ignoring the culpability of the violent offenders. Respectfully, I find the argument ethically perverse.

  13. Keith McGuinness


    You misunderstand me. Indeed, your entire post attributes to me a view that is almost exactly the opposite of that which I actually hold.

    My (poor) analogy was only intended to prompt more discussion of the role of the person’s intent, which it seemed to me had perhaps not got the attention it deserved. (Although I may well be incorrect.)

    Other points had, I thought and you seem to agree, been very well made by Ophelia and Eric.

  14. Josh,

    On the issue of whether the cartoonists really had the power to foresee the number who would die, I addressed that in a previous comment.

    But assuming it just for the sake of argument…then yes, if they could have foreseen the violence, then they would have had some responsibility for it. This scandalizes you, maybe because you think if the cartoonists have any responsibility then they get all of the responsibility. Everyone else is off the hook. That can’t be, so you find it shocking I’d assign responsibility to the cartoonists.

    But that’s not how responsibility works. Let’s say I buy a rug that’s made by child workers. I have some responsibility for the child’s suffering. Does it follow that the supervisor who beats her, or the parents who send her out to work, have no responsibility? Of course not. There’s lots of responsibility to go around.

    So no, I’m not absolving any rioters of responsibility. Of course not. So none of that stuff about how I’m patronizing Muslims needs to be addressed or the business about “ignoring the culpability of the violent offenders.”

  15. Keith McGuinness

    Jean K: “The person who yells fire by mistake isn’t blameworthy, at least if he’s got some good reason to think there’s fire.”

    So is the critical thing the author’s intention? Because in my examples (as Josh points out) the consequences are predictable. (The latter, as Ophelia points out, is at least debatable in the case of the cartoons.)

    I must admit that I am struggling a bit to see why I, in situation (2) am not (even a bit) blameworthy, but the cartoonists are.

  16. Keith –

    I apologize for misinterpreting your position. I think I did because I think your analogy isn’t the best comparison to what went on with the cartoonists and the protestors. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth.

    Jean –

    I don’t think I brought up the issue of whether the cartoonists had the power to foresee what would happen; I think that was someone else. What scandalizes me is your willingness to let barbaric and murderous activity shift the ground so much that you’re expending a great deal of energy criticizing political cartoonery and making sure it gets its fair share of the blame for some crazed murders. Oh, and your continual silence on the deliberate misrepresentation and provocation by demagogues who clearly set out to whip people into a frenzy on the streets.

    I’m curious to know how much responsibility you’d assign to yourself if some of your students decided to burn your office down, or issue death threats against you, because you “disrespectfully” discussed their religious beliefs. Please don’t come back to that by saying, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen,” or, “I’m always respectful in my dialogue.”

    Of course that wouldn’t happen – you live in a country and teach in a field where such things are not tolerated (of course), and you benefit from that freedom from intimidation. But also, you have no way of knowing how someone with a particular religious or political bent is going to view your words. Respectful? Blasphemous? How can you be sure? And should you be able to predict how your words will be used? If your peers were to sit in judgment and say, “Yes, Jean should have known this would provoke some students to burn her office down,” and you vehemently disagree, will you accept your responsibility? Somehow I think not (nor should you).

  17. Hi Jean,

    What you said that made me want to kick the cat was in the sickmaking discussion you started about why your favoured imaginary being created the world and all the species.

    Surely you must have realised some people find that sort of superstitious garbage offensive in what is supposed to be a forum for rational debate? Certainly I imagine that’s why you tried to fend off attacks by saying this was just a “what if” discussion.

    Well, now you have seen the effects of what you did, the “bycatch” involving the kicking of unknown numbers of your readers’ cats. I take it that in future you will refrain from publishing your vacuous thoughts about the motivations of imaginary beings.

  18. The alternative to “making fun of Islam” is “not making fun of Islam”. Both options have consequences.

    Perhaps Jean should give more thought to the “bycatch” of promoting the latter option; of treating the fastest growing religion in the world as if it is a special case; of giving its prophet and scriptures the respect its most vocal adherents demand with menaces; of, in effect, reinforcing its supremacist delusions.

    All other religions have learned to cope with ridicule. Islam must too. But that’s not going to happen by treating Muslim sensitivities differently from any other.

    Christianity used to be violent and intolerant too, but it was defanged by the Enlightenment. It is a painful procedure that Islam has yet to undergo, and making fun is an important and necessary part of it.

    The reaction to this second wave of Motoon publications is noticeably less extreme than the first time round. No riots, no deaths, no torched embassies – just a handful of demos, a half-hearted economic boycott, and a lawsuit from Jordan. That’s progress. Next time they might not even bother taking to the streets.

    Islam needs its own Life of Brian. I hope they make it, and I hope it’s funny.

  19. In this thread there seems to be two unrelated themes. 1. Could the cartoonists have foreseen the consequences of their actions and if so, are they responsible for them? 2. Whether in general it is a wise idea to mock the religious beliefs of what will soon be the world’s largest religion, Islam. It is quite possible that the cartoonists could not have foreseen or did not foresee the consequences of the cartoons. If they did not foresee them, their responsibility is certainly lesser than if they did foresee them. However, for me the central issue is whether it is wise to mock the religious beliefs of so many of our fellow human beings (mocking them with cartoons is quite different than constructive or even respectful criticism), and I say “no”, that it is not wise. It will create a world with more conflict, will escalate a conflict that already exists, producing a cycle of provocation, violence, more provocation, more violence and terrorism. I will repeat a phrase from Spinoza’s Ethics which I used yesterday in the previous thread: Ethics IV: p.69: The virtue of a free man is seen to be as great in avoiding dangers as in overcoming them. Caute.

  20. Josh,

    This issue of cartoons or no cartoons really needs to be seen in the context of a wider range of moral problems. I started “Life Sucks” by talking about bycatch. I am perfectly serious about that issue. I teach an animal rights class and I’m writing a book about animal rights. Because of foreseeable harm to animals, I don’t eat meat. As I continue to think about the matter, I discover there are more things I shouldn’t do because of foreseeable harm. Drinking regular milk foreseeably leads to the barbaric treatment of veal calves, so I switched to organic milk after writing letters to find out what happens to organic male calves.

    In other areas–I have written and thought a lot about extreme poverty, and the fact that by being a self-indulgent consumer, foreseeably there’s more death and suffering in other parts of the world. In previous posts I’ve talked about the environment and how the choice of a particular car can lead to more and less foreseeable damage to the environment int he long run. I am involved in human rights causes because what I realize that my actions can have an impact on people with serious problems in far away places.

    So yes, I’m happy to affirm what I’ve said–like anyone, people who write things ought to give serious consideration to their impact. The example you throw out is no different–I treat students with respect and I’m especially careful around sensitive issues. Debate allowed, ridicule not allowed. If I allowed a disrespectful classroom brawl, and a student committed an act of violence afterwards, I’d feel I’d contributed to the problem. I wouldn’t be very pleased with myself.

    DavidFT–The alternative to “making fun of Islam” isn’t silence.

    BernieT–I feel sorry for anyone who kicks his cat because he read the word “God” at TP a couple of weeks ago. Well, more than that, I feel sorry for his cat. I suggest soothing music and a cup of tea. Don’t go near the bible.

  21. Eric MacDonald

    I’d like to put in a plug for DavidFT’s note. This hits it right on the head, in my view. Caution, as Amos has suggested, may have its place. But I am particularly struck by this:

    Whether in general it is a wise idea to mock the religious beliefs of what will soon be the world’s largest religion, Islam.

    The suggestion is that this is a very large body of people indeed, and that their anger and resentment could be great. Yes, it could, although, I suspect, if we keep it up, they’ll get used to it, and some people may even see, in the end, that the beliefs are truely laughable. If we treat their beliefs with the seriousness they demand, they are actually enforcing their own view that these are serious beliefs. Then no one gets a chance to consider them freely and critically.

    Tariq Ramadan has said somewhere that what happened to Christianity is that it lost control of its (notice the word — its) culture. Well, Muslims are not going to let that happen, wherever they are. There they expect to be respected, and not to be made fun of. Well, I think they’ve got to learn, and so-called trivial exercises of free speech — has anyone read Voltaire recently for some cutting examples! — are one way of making sure that they get the point, day in and day out, until they accept that no one in a free society, gets to claim seriousness for his or her beliefs without question.That’s why jokes and cartoons are so important, and not trivial at all. No one has a right, in a free society, not to be offended by someone else’s beliefs. Have a look at this cartoon.

    By the way, no one, that I know, has been killed because of it yet.

  22. Eric, Your sense of the west being in a fierce cultural war against Islam strikes me as extremely counterproductive. All that “us” and “them”–good heavens. “We” have to keep it up “they’ll” get used to it…really. A Voltaire for Islam, if there’s to be one, will come from inside. It’s not going to be you or I or some western cartoonist that teaches “them” a lesson.

  23. Hi Jean,

    It wasn’t just reading the word “God” that upset me, it was the 7123 other words in the idiotic discussion about the motivations you ascribe to your imaginary friend.

    Given the sort of tripe you are apparently willing to believe, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you took my cat story seriously. It was actually intended as what you might call a parable, the aim being to illustrate the absurdity and unacceptability of your position on freedom of thought and expression.

  24. No, I think you’re wrong there Jean. I’m quite optimistic that Islam will be destroyed from outside, through the effects of education, scientific progress and the very freedom of expression you seek to curtail.

  25. BernieR–I really hate to delete people, but you’re contributing nothing to this discussion.

  26. What exactly do you mean by “delete people”???

  27. BernieR–2:16 was in reference to your 2:03.

    “Destroyed from the outside…” Perhaps you need to examine your own intense hostility. Is it really driven by are regard for life, human rights, and peace? I seriously do wonder.

  28. Delete their comments. Your gratuitous insults don’t belong here.

  29. ‘The alternative to “making fun of Islam” isn’t silence.’

    Are you talking about “rational discussion”?

  30. They’re not gratuitous, they’re justified. Your discussion about the imagined motivation of your imaginary god was worthless trash.

    Are you seriously threatening to remove comments critical of your pathetic Sunday Magic Club? In a discussion about freedom of expression?

  31. For the record: I support the cartoonists and their cartoons, I published one of them on my own blog, and I’m inclined to argue that they should have been published even if we could have predicted the consequences – and that’s mainly because some causes are so important that they’re worth sacrificing innocent lives.

    But I take issue with some of the criticisms against Jean because I think they are misguided both philosophically and factually.

    1. Most of the philosophical criticism seems to be based on the idea of “conservation of responsibility” – the idea that, if one party is morally responsible, then this takes culpability off the other party. (“How can you say it’s the cartoonists’ fault! That’s saying that the mullahs bear no responsibility whatsoever!”) Well, that’s simply not true. Like I wrote in response to one of Ophelia’s posts:
    “We all agree that a woman does not *cause* being raped by wearing skimpy clothes, but we will still criticize a mother who lets her young daughter run around naked in an area full of sexual predators – we’ll accuse the mother of doing something morally wrong, without thereby implying that she *caused* the rape or is responsible *for* it.”
    (I’m not saying this is analogous to the cartoons case – I’m just illustrating the idea of responsibility conservation here!)

    2. Factual claims about the predictability of the consequences: sure, the “consequences” (if we can even call them that, given how much more effort was needed to stir up the catastrophe), were far from entirely predictable. It was impossible to say exactly how many people were going to react, who they were going to be, how they were going to react, who was going to be harmed, in what way, to what degree, etc. etc. While I wouldn’t have predicted that anyone was going to die back in September, I could have predicted that deaths were at least a possibility when the cartoons were reposted all over the place (including my own blog!) again last month. (Like I already said, I reposted it because I believe that it’s worth the long-term consequences.)

    But it’s simply not true that the violent protests came as a shock, and we all know what tends to happen when angry people protest violently! Not only did we all know already that the cartoons were likely to be interpreted as offensive – that was part of their message!! That’s what they were trying to convey! Muslims are violent and they overreact when their religious sensibilities are offended! That was the whole idea for heaven’s sake!!! It just doesn’t make sense to say: “I published a cartoon that illustrated how Muslims like to kill people who offend them – and now, suddenly, for no apparent reason, Muslims are trying to kill me!”

    Now do I *really* need to add once again that I do think that Muslims are the bad guys here, that we should NOT give in to their demands (not even a little bit!), and that publishing the cartoons is worth it in the long run?

  32. DavidFT, I think it’s extremely complicated how ideas can spread from one community to another and make a difference. The types of spread are innumerable. No, not rational discussion, if by that you mean Sam Harris sits down with some cleric and they battle it out. A totally random list of examples–

    In relatively western Turkey a committee is working on a reformed version of Shariah, or so I read in the Guardian recently. This could be an influence on other less western countries.

    Another example–travel between countries. Getting to know people personally increases trust and makes an exchange of ideas possible.

    Another example (this is truly a random list)–there’s a gigantic Muslim population living in refugee camps in Chad, driven out of Sudan by the genocide in Darfur. A common problem is that the women in the camps have to leave to collect firewood. They are often the victims of rape, and their husbands reject them. The western aid agencies that run the camps are in a position to influence these attitudes.

    Again, it’s just a random list.

  33. Tea, I very much agree that after you’ve made your prediction of harmful consequences, the next question does have to be “is it worth it?” We can disagree about that in any of the three cases (Satanic Verses, Cartoons, “Life of Brian”) but it’s not a fight-to-the-death disagreement. It’s just a question of how people’s minds get changed. I do think minds need to be changed in Islamic countries. I don’t want to be too arrogant about that –really, we shouldn’t go around assuming all around superiority–but yes. Presumably we’ve all read some of the same books about human rights abuses, jihad etc. “Conservation of responsibility” is a great phrase, and I do think that’s behind some of the fury about what I’ve said.

  34. They’re not gratuitous, they’re justified. Your discussion about the imagined motivation of your imaginary god was worthless trash.

    Are you seriously threatening to remove comments critical of your pathetic Sunday Magic Club? In a discussion about freedom of expression?

    BernieR, Think about it. I’ve said throughout the discussion that I’m not for free speech at any cost. Your juvenile insults cost me something. I’d say they cost me approximate 2 seconds worth of peace of mind. But why should I lose those seconds?

  35. I participate in several other internet forums. In one there is a guy from Turkey, another from Indonesia, and an Israeli who has worked a lot with Arabs. Whenever the subject of Islam comes up there, they paint a very diverse picture of their Islamic neighbors (none of them is religious, except the Jew). Being a Muslim, according to them, is often just a sense of identity. There are Muslims who don’t pay much attention to any religious laws, who drink alcohol, who attend religious services out of a sense of tradition or of family obligation, who have much more interest in the football game than in the Sharia. There is no monolithic Islamic threat hungering to destroy the West. However, since they are Muslims, cartoons mocking their religion will offend them. Those Muslims described above will never riot or commit acts of violence, but they will feel offended when one mocks their traditions. Why do that?

  36. How can you offend *their* religion, if you just said they had none?

  37. You think about it.

    You’re threatening to silence an opposing voice that says things you claim are so insignificant they cost you just 2 seconds peace of mind.

  38. How about if you think about it? Why do you bother? I’d thank you to stop the gratuitous insults, and yes, even if you disapprove, your comments will be deleted if you don’t.

  39. Hi Tea,

    That’s just the way it is with religion. People have this tendency to identify with a particular group, no doubt this had some evolutionary benefit in our primitive past, and religion attaches itself parasitically to that tendency and perverts it. The concept of nations and national pride is very similar, that is exploited by political rulers. In some places the political rulers and the religious rulers are the same people.

    This is a really stupid way to behave, and quite unsuitable for conditions in the modern world. I’m optimistic we’ll grow out of it. Real progress is already being made in this direction, in Europe for example, with a steady dismantling of national boundaries and nationalistic affiliations.

  40. Eric MacDonald

    Jean, I’m sorry if I sound as though it’s a battle between us and them. Yes, I was talking about Muslims, or at least Islamists at the time. But I think the same thing goes for catholics and evangelicals. They’re just going to have to get used to The Life of Brian and Jerry Springer, the Opera, and Sikh’s are going to have to get used to the idea that their religion can be parodied from time to time, or addressed seriously in drama or criticism. We were talking about the Motoons, so I thought in terms of secular democracy contra the rather reactionary ideas of Islamism. But I’ll trade you a pope and raise you an evangelical anyday. I don’t think it’s about Islam, I think it’s about religion, or any other world view you care to name. It’s got to stand on its own two feet, and it doesn’t deserve respect just because it can threaten and bully.

    I think you probably underestimate the influence of radical islamism in ‘Muslim’ countries. It is likely more dangerous than you think. I could be wrong, but I grew up in a country where the Arya (Hindu) Samag marched through the city regularly in threatening mobs, frightening local Muslims into their homes. I read Meera Nanda’s books on the effects of Hindutva in India, and how this has restrricted people’s freedoms, and how Hindu-Muslim violence has flared up in places, as a consequence of Hindu ideas of Indian identity. These kinds of forces are very strong, and they need to be opposed. To the extent that they are exported to Europe, they need to be challenged. And to the extent that they threaten anyone’s freedoms, they need to be lampooned.

    No ferocious war then, just a need to keep the top of freedom spinning, because it doesn’t take much to stop it. If, as Ophelia Benson says, 3000 British girls are forced into marriage every year, that’s a concern. And if there’s a polite, ‘we mustn’t upset them’ response from people who are concerned, there’ll be as many next year too. I don’t want to start a war, but I don’t want people to have to do too much moral calculation either when they decide to publish something that might offend some senisibilities.

    There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Holocaust Denial sites on the internet, everyone of them as offensive as can be. I don’t see gangs of lawless Jews wandering around trying to kill their neighbours because of this. Its objectionable, despicable rubbish, and we have a right to say so. So Deborah Lipstadt does, quite effectively. So why are we so sensitive, already, over Motoons? Just because gangs of lawless people kill others, once they’re stirred up enogh by bully imams and mullahs to do so? That’s not good enough. If these are the moral calculations we have to make before we publish something, well, we’re not free, and (in this case) its the bullys who have locked and double locked the doors.

  41. They lobbed a provocation into the world, which provoked more than they expected. Well, provocations are dangerous.

    Lots of things are dangerous. Crossing the street is dangerous. Lots of things are dangerous for other people as well as oneself. Driving a car is dangerous for other people as well as oneself (driving an SUV is dangerous for people in smaller cars, so it’s even more other-risking than is driving a car in general).

    The world is full of provocations in the media, in books, in conversation, in political discourse. They’re all over the place. If you declare provocations dangerous and therefore immoral, you’re declaring nearly all of mental life dangerous and immoral. Nobody would be able to say or write or perform anything but ‘Isn’t it all lovely?’ without being immoral.

    Blaming the victims. I don’t see the cartoonists simply as victims. They chose to do something they didn’t have to do. They took risks. People died. Simply calling them victims doesn’t quite do justice to their role.

    We all choose to do something we don’t have to do all the time. Some of them carry risks, but many of those risks are (or are considered) too small to consider. If we did nothing that carried a risk, we would do literally nothing. There’s plenty of room for debate (and there is debate) about which risks should be taken into account – but it’s not self-evident that it’s immoral to take any risk at all. And saying “They took risks. People died.” puts way too much blame on the cartoonists and way too little on the real provokers of violence (the Danish imams being at the top of that list). You seem to be convinced that it was obvious that deaths of bystanders were inevitable or easily predictable, but that’s just not the case. You’ve admitted that you don’t know much about the Motoon controversy; well, that makes a difference.

    But that’s not how responsibility works. Let’s say I buy a rug that’s made by child workers. I have some responsibility for the child’s suffering.

    That’s a terrible (and tendentious) analogy. Buying a rug made by child workers is already morally wrong; there is no need for prediction or guesswork about future consequences; the consequences are known. That is not the case with satirizing religion. The analogy doesn’t work unless you think satirizing religion is wrong in itself, wrong because of known, existing consequences rather than guessed-at consequences in the future.

  42. By the way, Eric, the 3000 girls forced into marriage in the UK claim came from news reports rather than directly from me. Here for instance –

  43. Tea: How can I offend their religion, if they have none? People identify with a tradition, even if they don’t necessarily believe in the dogma behind that tradition. If you mock that tradition, they feel offended. You know that as well as I do.

  44. Ophelia, There’s too much “straw man” in your response for me to take the time to straighten everything out. I’ve expressed myself in a very careful, nuanced way, and you’ve take all the care and nuance out of it.

  45. Jean – sorry, that’s bullshit. What straw man? You keep patting yourself on the back for how careful and nuanced your claims have been – and ignoring all the specifics about what’s wrong with them. There is nothing ‘careful and nuanced’ about comparing the Danish cartoonists with people who buy rugs made by children. There’s nothing ‘careful and nuanced’ about ignoring the role of the Danish imams, the added cartoons, the faked cartoon – there’s nothing ‘careful and nuanced’ about ignoring the genuinely deliberate provocation of violence and death while heaping opprobrium (carpets made by children indeed!) on the cartoonists.

  46. Postscript. I really was raising serious issues. I wasn’t, at least in intention, wrestling with straw men. I really don’t see why you consider the risk of the cartoons so unmistakably culpable when the world is full of risks. I really don’t see why you consider it such a then-obvious risk to other people as opposed to the cartoonists themselves. I also really don’t see why you consider carpets made by children an appropriate analogy. I think known, current, on-going consequences are very different from unknown, future, speculative consequences. The cartoonists were not part of a chain that ends in exploitation. I really don’t see why you blame the cartoonists while ignoring the genuinely active instigators. I flat-out don’t see any straw man there. I do see persistent refusal to answer important questions in your replies. You still haven’t acknowledged the fake pig cartoon or the role of the Danish imams. What is so careful and nuanced about that? What is so careful and nuanced about a picture that is so incomplete and thus unfair?

  47. Your comment last night (2:11) was also full of “straw man,” not to mention “ad hominem” but I did take the time to answer you carefully. (3:32) I just can’t take the time to do it all over again.

    Since you keep mentioning the rug example, do go back and look at the context. I think you’ll see the point was clearly not what you’re making it out to be.

    If someone does take the time to understand things I’ve written, I’m happy to respond–as I have to many objections throughout this thread and the last one.

  48. I’m serious about “no time” (class to teach, etc)…but I”ll just say I do see your point about a complex causal chain leading from the cartoonists to the eventual deaths. On the other side of it, though: is that kind of rabble-rousing stuff a known part of the world those cartoons were thrown into? Wasn’t there a risk that the people who got annoyed in Denmark would tried to spread that annoyance and inflame it? What should the Rushdie affair have told them about the way seemingly small offenses mushroom into huge problems, including death? These are the thoughts that leave me unable to say “violence not foreseeable” or “violence foreseeable.” That’s why I have in fact expressed myself cautiously…and yes, I have, over and over again.

  49. Eric MacDonald

    Jean, I know you’re busy, however … If this

    kind of rabble-rousing stuff [is] a known part of the world those cartoons were thrown into,

    then we have a big problem on our hands. Rabble-rousing stuff, by any other name, would look a lot like bullying. I think that’s what it is. It’s religious showmanship. Sometimes people get killed when this happens. Sometimes just a few flags get burned. But when people stop speaking because of it, freedoms are lost. Hitchens, I believe, was right. There was a simple capitulation to hooliganism, when the cartoons were published, when the ‘fatwa’ was issued against Rushdie, and just like negotiating with terrorists, if they get what they want the first time, they’ll do it again (for any ‘they’). I’m still not impressed by the moral calculus that says we shut up if they threaten to riot — whoever ‘they’ happens to be. Eventually, perhaps, they’ll throw their banners away and go home, and get an idea of what it might mean to be free. Who knows?

    I don’t like the idea of a moral calculus that says that we’ll shut up if you resort to the kind of riotous behaviour (whether stirred up by deception or not) in which people might get hurt. I’ve never quite understood riots. If you’re not in one, you probably won’t be hurt. If you are in one, then you’ve already made some moral choices.

  50. Bernie: From what I see in this discussion, I don’t see that the Europeans have transcended the need to identify with a particular group or doctrine, as you claim. Quite the contrary, you all seem to have formed a new sense of identity, directed against Islam. Congratulations on your new collective identity and on your new club. I will not apply for membership.

  51. Your comment last night (2:11) was also full of “straw man,” not to mention “ad hominem”

    No it wasn’t. What straw man, what ad hominem? What did I say? 1) I pointed out that you said more than ‘“possibly” the Danish cartoonists could have foreseen future violence.’ Is that what you’re calling ad hominem? Pointing out an inaccuracy? 2) I Pointed out that you had left out some facts, which is perfectly true (and you still haven’t acknowledged them). Is that what you’re calling ad hominem? 3) I said it was dubious to claim you’d said less than you had said. Okay, that is at least an accusation, though I don’t think it’s an ad hominem. But I’m sorry, I do think it’s dubious. You made a point of how ‘moderate’ and ‘boring’ your claims were. How can it be illegitimate to point out that many of them were not as ‘moderate’ and ‘boring’ as you said?

    4) I quoted several things you said that were less ‘moderate’ and ‘boring’. 5) I disputed your account of how predictable the deaths were. 6) I said you were blaming the victims. I don’t see how any of that qualifies as either straw man or ad hominem.

    That’s why I have in fact expressed myself cautiously…and yes, I have, over and over again.

    Maybe (I find it less cautious than you do, I think), but you have (at least) also expressed yourself incautiously over and over again, as in the passages I quoted at 2:11. There is nothing cautious about saying “Some deaths from religious violence will happen if you create deliberately provocative cartoons and movies.” That’s just absurd. You must be able to think of exceptions to that without breaking a sweat.

    And the thing about that particular lack of caution and absurdity is that it is tendentious. Maybe that’s why you see ad hominems – maybe you think my reaction is out of proportion. But I think yours is – and that sentence hints at why. To me, that sentence looks like an unconscious effort to blacken the cartoonists’ reputation, as it were – to make them look much more guilty than they really were. Given all the circumstances – some of which, as I said, you have never acknowledged – I do find that highly irritating. A lot of people blamed Rushdie for the fatwa, too – he should have known better, etc etc. It annoys me to see reasonable people blaming artists for the actions of thugs who want to shut them up.

  52. Eric MacDonald

    Thank you, Ophelia. This exactly reflects my own sense of irritation.

    It annoys me to see reasonable people blaming artists for the actions of thugs who want to shut them up.

    In response to Amos. I think Bernie is over the top sometimes, but…. Here’s a quote from Simon Blackburn’s essay “Religion and Respect.”

    As far as toasting some subset of huamnity goees, I also wish people were not keen on separating themselves from others, keen on difference and symbols of tribalism. I don’t warm to badges of allegiance, flags, ostentatious signs of apartness, because I do not think they are good for the world. I am glad that the word “race” has lost most of its reputation recently, and I would rather like the word “culture,” as it occurs in phrases like “cultural diversity” to follow it. More moderately, we might keep it, but also keep a beady eye on it. When people do things differently, sometimes it is fine, but sometimes it is not. This is especially so with overt signs of religions affiliation. By all means be apart, if you wish, but don’t expect me to jump up and down with joy.

    A European identity, with no difference, what’s so wrong about that? My name is MacDonald. It comes from a time when people in the highlands of Scotland were a tribal people, warring with folks in the next valley, whose name might happen to be Campbell. If we don’t solve this problem of tribalism — and we won’t if we flinch at every transgression of it — then I fear, given the world that I see around me, there’s not much hope for us at all. And you want us to keep our mouths shut, just because someone threatens to riot? It could get much worse than that, as, living in Chile, you already know.

  53. I want to clarify a little – because that charge looks rather strong, so I want to explain. (Want to be cautious!) I do think it’s unconscious – but then that’s why I dispute the claims of caution and nuance etc; I think Jean should be giving some of this stuff a second (or third) look.

    Here’s the explanation.

    Saying “Some deaths from religious violence will happen if you create deliberately provocative cartoons and movies” means saying that the cartoonists knew for a fact, knew for certain, that the cartoons would cause deaths, because deliberately provocative cartoons always cause deaths. It is very far from true that deliberately provocative cartoons always cause deaths, so it’s very unfair to say by implication that the cartoonists knew for certain that theirs would.

    That’s why the claim riles me. I don’t think this is ad hominem stuff, I think I’m just addressing what was said. Sorry.

  54. Eric: There’s certainly nothing wrong with a European identify. What Bernie had claimed was that Europeans had somehow transcended the primitive tribal need to feel a collective identity, and I don’t find that to be the case. I myself don’t wake up each morning thinking of myself as Jewish or Chilean or Latinamerican, but when someone offends a Jewish symbol or when someone makes a negative comment about Latinos, I suddenly feel Jewish or Latino. The anti-semite creates the Jew, says Sartre in his book Reflections on the Jewish Question. I suspect that mocking Islam makes a fairly secular Muslim feel more Muslim than he or she did before Islam was mocked. Precisely because I live in Chile, a country where a crisis of mutual political disqualifications between left and right, of threats, of mocking the way of life of the other, of lack of respect for the opinions of the other, of provocations by both sides escalated and saw the results, a military dictatorship, I fear escalating spirals of provocation and violence. The good guys don’t always win or perhaps as the crisis escalates, there are no more good guys.

  55. Thanks, Amos, that’s helpful. I understand the underlying fear. But I also wonder about the remedy. I don’t think Sartre was right, by the way. As Hannah Arendt tells it in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Jews themselves had a lot to do with it. Once you focus on symbols and flags and identity, it’s hard to think of anything else. I still get jokes about MacDonalds and Campbells. I actually went through the valley at Glencoe, and saw where the Campbells murdered the MacDonalds in a treacherous act. It was an interesting retrospective on identity.

    I was just looking at the Dawkins’ site and Austin Dacey’s book about secular ethics (The Secular Conscience) was being noted. Here is what Ibn Warraq said (part of his blurb):

    Whenever I watch a riot over cartoons or meet another Muslim dissident forced to write under a pseudonym, I wonder, where are the Western secular liberals? Why do they shrink from defending freedom of conscience for all?

    I don’t know. I once mocked ‘clansmanship’ at a service for the ‘kirking of the tartans’. It wasn’t appreciated, and I wasn’t invited back, but some people got the point. If you’re stirred up from someone lampooning your symbols, aren’t you taking them a bit too seriously? (The words on my clan crest read: ‘Per Mare, Per Terras’, and ‘MacDonald’ itself means ‘Son of the Ruler of the Earth’ as I recall!) Maybe modern Europeans haven’t transcended tribalism completely, but, you know, it really is a wonder, seeing Europe ‘more or less’ at peace! Perhaps, just perhaps, they’ve discovered something through all those painful divisions that the rest of us have yet to learn.

    My question is, I guess: Do you find it if you keep silent? I’m not sure. Jean has raised some important moral questions about freedom. I won’t deny that, at some points, I felt, as I said before, ‘Just let it go.’ Perhaps she’s right, I thought. And then I remember the New Hampshire slogan: ‘Live free or die.’ And I wonder.

  56. I think I’d just be repeating myself if I went on. It seems like this debate got close to clarity at multiple points, though not to consensus. That’s something.

    A lot of wrangling and bashing here today–maybe we can do a little better at having a discussion without personal rancor in the future. Will be out of the loop for a while. Just a coincidence, but I need the R&R. Honestly, Julian should be paying me a lot more. (Joke.)

  57. Amos, taking offence is a choice. Nobody can offend you if you do not permit them to.

    You can say what you like about me, my beliefs, my nationality, my grammar, my mother – but I won’t be offended. I may think you are an idiot (in which case I’ll ignore you), or ignorant (in which case I’ll try to inform you), or possibly even that you have a point (in which case I’ll thank you) – but I take no pleasure in taking offence, so I won’t do it.

    Unfortunately, some people find the sensation of being offended so delicious that they actively seek out opportunities to experience it. Others seem simply to lack the self-control necessary to avoid it.

    If you find yourself becoming more Jewish or Latino when someone is critical of Jews or Latinos, you might want to ask yourself why.

  58. maybe we can do a little better at having a discussion without personal rancor in the future.

    Good plan. Here’s a hint: it’s not helpful to brush off detailed substantive comments by declaring them too full of straw men to answer. That tends to open the door to rancor.

    (Is there a named fallacy that consists of saying ‘straw man’ and ‘ad hominem’ when there is no straw man or ad hominem? If not there should be; I see people do that a lot.)

  59. Interesting discussion. I wonder if the recent spate of books by Dawkins, Dennett etc have changed the mood (at least in the UK end of the online world). It seems more difficult than before for someone to invoke ‘respect for religion’, or refer to their own religious beliefs in an argument about ethics, without provoking a set of responses of like those above (i.e. ranging from irritated counterargument to near-flaming derision).

    I don’t think the world is very good at guessing the consequences of its actions. Many Germans supported Hitler because he was anti-Bolshevik; the West allied with Stalin to fight Nazism; then it allied with Saddam and Afganistan militants to fight Russia. Maybe it’s time we stopped being tactical and start living by our principles. Taking extreme umbrage at attacks on free expression – whether on death-threatening placards or dressed up as philosophical arguments – seems to me a good place to start.

  60. I’m going to have to swing with Jean on this one, at least partly. While I don’t think we should give in to fear inspired by the prospect of violence, I do think that we should not take risks for trivial gains. I can say my mind and insult a dangerous man on the street, but why? To what purpose? You can argue that the viciousness of lions curtails our freedom to pull their tails, but does this make us better for doing so? By all means deal with the lion when it comes to your village, but show some common sense.

    At the same time, I want to agree with Alan that those who limit freedom in society through the use of fear ought to be subject at the very least to strong public opprobrium. While there is no good reason to give license to unmindful insults, neither is there reason to give unreasonable respect to irrational and clearly dangerous beliefs. Certainly, there is no reason to make legal accommodations for these beliefs (as Europe is doing) when those beliefs clearly undermine the legal system itself. Fascists should not be allowed to vote.

  61. Picking fights with dangerous men and lions wasn’t really in my plans for this weekend, and I’m not sure how you stop Fascists from voting. I think the most practical issue here is probably about the tone with which public figures respond to the increasingly ludicrous controversies that arise. I know politicians want to maximise their fan base, but it deeply annoys me when one of them says “I deplore the violence/intimidation that has taken place in [wherever], BUT I also regret the insensitivity shown by [whoever] in publishing a cartoon, naming a teddy bear after Mohammed, writing the Life of Brian, showing Jesus on the Jerry Springer show”. This to me is an insidious form of connivance with the powers of darkness.

    Sorry for coming to this one after everyone else got bored with it.

  62. And, worse, many of those politicians went well beyond mere ‘I also regret’ – they said you mustn’t, you can’t, you must.

    Jack Straw:

    There are taboos in every religion. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect in this situation.”

    US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:

    Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief.

    The pope:

    The right of freedom of thought and of expression, as contained in the Declaration of Human Rights, cannot imply the right to offend the religious feelings of believers.

    EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini:

    The press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.

    Kofi Annan:

    you don’t fool around with other people’s religions and you have to respect what is sacred to other people.

  63. Oops. Sean McCormack should be outside the quote box.

  64. Nice illustrations, thanks Ophelia. Scary how many influential people who would no doubt claim to believe in free speech don’t really mean it.

  65. Alan: Besides the Pope, no one in the above quotes questions the right to free speech. They merely urge that it be used wisely or with respect.
    I can believe that you have every right to free speech and that you are using that right unwisely.

  66. Alan M wrote–

    Interesting discussion. I wonder if the recent spate of books by Dawkins, Dennett etc have changed the mood (at least in the UK end of the online world). It seems more difficult than before for someone to invoke ‘respect for religion’, or refer to their own religious beliefs in an argument about ethics, without provoking a set of responses of like those above (i.e. ranging from irritated counterargument to near-flaming derision).


    He seems to think that’s both how this thread has been and how it should have been. I’d agree that’s how it’s been.

    But never mind. There were some constructive and enlightening moments. Religion, respect, responsibility…these are just some of my favorite things. So I’m sure there will be another chance to discuss them. (In the future…)

  67. So nice to be quoted!

    I don’t think anyone here has a duty to be “constructive” (and “enlightenment” is in the eye of the beholder), but I do see a duty to argue in good faith.

    Jean, I find it strange that you initiate a debate such as this, and then become so defensive about the not-entirely-unpredictable negative postings it inspires – brushing aside arguments from Ophelia, and threatening to delete less-celebrated contributors.

    Your latest post is another brush off (what does “never mind” add to a philosophical discussion?) and seems like a second attempt to round off the discussion (after earlier claiming you’d be “out of the loop”) while reasserting ownership of it.

  68. Alan, Your thoughts on blog etiquette are interesting, but I think slanted toward commenters. They get to bash away with “irritated counterargument” and “near-flaming derision”, while I’m not allowed to say “enough.” As for ownership, yes, I’m the owner of the thread, and others own the blog. There are actually some rules. We decide who’s over the line and who isn’t.

  69. Jean, of course you’re ‘allowed’ to say ‘enough.’ You’re allowed to do anything, for that matter. But you accused me of resorting to straw men and ad hominems, without a shred of justification. You are of course allowed to do that, but I consider it cheating.

  70. Besides the Pope, no one in the above quotes questions the right to free speech. They merely urge that it be used wisely or with respect.

    That’s wrong. As I said, “many of those politicians went well beyond mere ‘I also regret’ – they said you mustn’t, you can’t, you must.” They did not merely urge; they said you have to, or we have to.

    “We have to be very careful” “Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images” “we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.” “you have to respect what is sacred to other people.”

    Have to; unacceptable; self-regulate that right; have to. That is not the language of urging, it is the language of imperative, and it comes from people with the power to enforce imperatives.

  71. P.S.

    As for ownership, yes, I’m the owner of the thread, and others own the blog. There are actually some rules. We decide who’s over the line and who isn’t.

    Owners of the blog: do let me know if I’m over the line. I certainly wouldn’t want to argue in bad faith here. That would be terrible.

  72. I could have just ignored your latest comments (I probably should have) but I figured I’d explain–the reason I ignored them was that yes, I thought there was too much “ad hominem” and “straw man.”

    One flagrant example– in your initial comments you described my post as “censorious” and as a “sneery dismissal.” That isn’t quite the “Jean, you’re an idiot” sort of ad hominem (which I would delete), but it’s an ad hominem nonetheless. It changes the subject from the topic at hand to me–my writing style, my attitudes, etc. That’s what an ad hominem does. It gets people off the topic and onto the subject of the people doing the arguing.

    As for “straw man”. You attacked my “rug” point several times, calling it a “tendentious analogy”. But if you just went back to look at the original passage, you’d see it was very obviously not an analogy at all. I was making a very simple point about responsibility. It was in response to the rather obviously silly idea that if someone bears some responsibility for X, there’s nothing left for others to shoulder. A million examples would show that’s not true. I chose one that involved buying a rug made by a child laborer. Calling that an analogy with the cartoonist case and then attacking it as a bad analogy is a “straw man.”

    In fact, there was a very full debate about these issues, both in the area of ethics and the facts in the comments to both of my posts last week (“Life Sucks” and “The Case…”). Lots of territory had already been covered in an interesting, friendly way. So saying “enough” when I did was not evading any issues, as far as I was concerned.

    However, if you have some specific, not yet covered point you still want to pursue, sure, why not? I’ve just spent four days in the woods of Arkansas (that’s why I was “out of the loop”) and sadly enough I did give the whole business some more thought.

  73. Hey, I didn’t say the thing about “bad faith,” Alan M did!

  74. I know; that was a bit of irony, or perhaps I mean sarcasm.

  75. I didn’t quite describe your post as censorious, I cited ‘the censorious tone.’ The ‘sneery dismissals’ (that was rude, I admit) was an overhasty reference to items like ‘trivial exercises of the right to free speech’ immediately above. I think your posts and especially your replies to comments all include manipulative language of that kind – words and phrases that (perhaps without your conscious intent) trivialize and diminish the cartoons and the cartoonists. I don’t think that is changing the subject, I think it is very much part of the subject. (I don’t defend ‘sneery dismissals’ though – I should have explained what I meant there and put it more civilly.)

    The rug and the analogy versus the example – I’m not sure the boundary is that clear. Maybe it is, and analogy was the wrong word – maybe I should have said it was a tendentious example. But it was tendentious. And it’s still not a good example for the kind of thing the cartoonists were doing, because there is nothing inherently unpredictable about rugs and child labour, which is certainly not the case with trying to predict who will get offended by what and what the consequences will be. The rug is a tendentious example in two ways: it exaggerates the predictability, and it (subtly) taints the cartoonists by being a particularly nasty example. I think you were (perhaps unconsciously) loading the dice against the cartoonists. If my calling the rug example an analogy was really a straw man, I don’t think it was a terribly outrageous one, nor that it shows my comments were ‘full of’ straw man.

    “However, if you have some specific, not yet covered point you still want to pursue” – I’ve told you. You’ve still never acknowledged the role of the imams, the added cartoons, the fake cartoon, and the fact that none of that was remotely predictable when the cartoons were published. You’ve also never answered my point that it is simply not true that (as you claimed) ‘Some deaths from religious violence will happen if you create deliberately provocative cartoons and movies.’

  76. Frankly, Jean, I find it refreshing to see you on one side or another instead of always being – I hesitate to say philosophical – ummm….pollyanna(?) about all sides deserving merit as well as kind consideration. To better understand all sides, I choose to read a foot-stomper like Cal Thomas rather than the balanced columnist Leonard Pitts. It’s more instructive. A little ad hominem, a couple straw men, an occasional four letter word: such are the spices of discourse that keep us awake when examining how many souls fit on the head of a pin, how many neutrinos in one flake of snow, how many children in one rug factory. How many stones does it take to kill one cartoonist? How many verbal stones to smash one contentious poster (me)?

  77. manipulative language of that kind – words and phrases that (perhaps without your conscious intent) trivialize and diminish the cartoons and the cartoonists

    Very, very sorry to be picky, but I think that’s ad hominem too. You are claiming to know my intentions (to manipulate), and even to know my intentions better than I do (since you allege they may be unconscious). That’s all about me, not about the subject.

    But OK, if we must talk about me, then let’s! There’s no manipulating going on here. There’s just flat out assertion. I’m doing what the New York Times did when they said the cartoons were “juvenile” and “gratuitously offensive.” The various assertions I’ve made about them (many, in previous comments, from various angles) are of that direct sort.

    The rug example is not supposed to have any strong similarity to the cartoonist example. I brought it up in response to Josh, who seemed to think holding X responsible is saying “it’s all X’s fault”. It was nothing more than a counterexample to that claim. I think if you look at the context you’ll see that’s the case.

    The imams, faked cartoons, etc. I did actually respond. I said that sort of stuff is part of the world those cartoons were lobbed into. I probably should change the way I’ve made my point, from saying possibly the outcome was foreseeable to just saying the cartoonists should have been aware of the risks. Making fun of Islamists, with their obvious hypersensitivity, is surely a risky business. It’s sort of like driving too fast on a curvy empty highway in the middle of the night. You can’t foresee what will happen, but it’s foolish anyway. Or like speaking in an insulting way to students, when you know there’s a problem with school shootings in the US. It’s foolhardy.

    Then we get into the question of whether the risk was “worth it”…but that was pretty thoroughly discussed above, so I’ll leave it there.

    rtk–Yes, well, I actually do think I’m tediously balanced 95% of the time. Occasionally it’s fun to actually say something. About throwing words around and keeping things spicy–on the one hand, it’s fun. On the other hand, sometimes it’s not, because things get to have a personal, fight-to-the-death feel to them. There you go, one of my balanced opinions.

  78. You think that’s ad hominem; I don’t. Stalemate. I wasn’t claiming to know your intentions: the bit about ‘perhaps without your conscious intent’ was meant to disavow claiming to know your intentions. I think you’ve stacked the deck against the cartoonists throughout; I think you’ve been claiming some of the time to be making a case on pure safety grounds, while in reality you’ve betrayed hostility to the cartoonists. You apparently think tendentious language doesn’t matter; I think it does. Stalemate.

    Like ‘lobbed into’ for instance – that’s an emotive way of putting it. Why lobbed? That makes the cartoonists sound aggressive in a literal way. You’ve done that kind of thing over and over. I think that undercuts the caution and nuance you keep citing; you don’t. Stalemate.

    So I don’t agree that you’re only making assertions and never using manipulative language; I think you’re doing both. Sure sometimes you’re making assertions, but other times (and remarkably often) you reach for loaded words like ‘lobbed into.’

    The problem here (in my view) is the animus against the cartoonists in combination with the silence about the genuinely malevolent agents. It seems to me to be badly disproportionate, and therefore unpleasant. It wasn’t the cartoonists who got the Nigerian Christians killed: it was the people who killed them, and the imams who worked them up, deliberately. Yes I know you know that, but you’re still showing a remarkable amount of hostility to the cartoonists. Stalemate.

  79. This debate is beginning to sound as ridiculous as the “better dead than red” vs “better red than dead” that was popular around 1960. I was only 14 then, and I was a better red than deader, but besides the fact, that a third alternative could and did exist, there were so many unproven assumptions behind said debate that it was just sophomoric. Behind this debate, on both sides, are scores of assumptions about Islam and about freedom that would need to be examined before we could talk rationally, but I suspect there are some who just don’t want to talk rationally.

  80. Ophelia,

    I don’t mind a stalemate, but it seems silly to make it a stalemate about me and my tone and intentions. I prefer the stalemate I had with Tea, Eric, and some other folks last week about the real issues–responsibility, what’s worth a safety risk and what isn’t, freedom, etc. Obviously, I don’t buy that there’s a stalemate here over my intentions and feelings. I know what they are and, with all due respect, you don’t.

  81. That sounded too blunt. I just think the tone and intentions thing is a can of worms. I have lots of evidence that nobody else does–exactly what I was thinking when I chose my words, what I’d been reading, etc. etc. It just seems, as I said before, that ad hominem comments change the topic. Now I really am done.

  82. Jean,

    But I said I wasn’t claiming to know your intentions; I said that in the last comment. I’m not talking about your intentions, I’m talking about what you on the screen, just as in the discussion of the Secretary General on respect for all religious beliefs, I wasn’t talking about his intentions (having no idea what they are) but about what he said. Tone and intentions don’t go together as if they were one thing; they’re quite different things. To repeat (because most of what I say gets ignored, and the rest of it gets misread, so I have to repeat): I’m not talking about your intentions. The only reason I suggested that you might not have intended to load the dice was in order to avoid accusing you of doing it deliberately. But you’re quite right, I don’t know your intentions.

    I do however know your tone, or at least I know what words and phrases you put on the screen. I think you stacked the deck against the cartoonists by the words you used to describe them, the examples you chose, the amount of certainty you kept attributing to them about what the reaction would be. I think you stacked the deck against them by ignoring a slew of relevant facts. All that may be a can of worms but I don’t see why it’s not relevant to your argument.

    I quite understand why you prefer talking to other people, and after the spirituality discussion at Butterflies and Wheels a couple of weeks ago, I’d sworn off commenting here. But you mentioned Butterflies and Wheels in your post; you can’t expect me not to comment when you mention B&W by name.

  83. Furthermore – to be completely blunt – having read through the thread again, I think it’s quite extraordinary how thoroughly you ignored almost all of my detailed and substantive comments, only to end up with bogus complaints about ad hominems and straw men. You accuse me of changing the subject?! But I tried repeatedly to get you to address my objections (the trouble is, I followed the cartoons fuss closely, so I know something about it – so your mistakes are quite obvious to me), and you simply wouldn’t do it. I don’t know why, and I won’t speculate about your intentions, but as Alan said, you did simply brush them off. Well there’s no law that says you have to reply, but I don’t think it’s the ideal way to conduct a discussion, and I think it’s grotesque after all that brushing off for you to accuse me of changing the subject. Grotesque, unfair, and less than straightforward.

  84. Keith McGuinness

    I have, as the saying goes, followed this discussion with some interest.

    Ophelia: “I think you stacked the deck against the cartoonists by the words you used to describe them, the examples you chose, the amount of certainty you kept attributing to them about what the reaction would be.”

    I agree completely with Ophelia here.

    If you are going to use this as a case to discuss “responsibility”, then I think it borders on dishonesty to exclude any comment on, or discussion of, those who used the cartoons (including the invented ones) for their own political (not religious) purposes.

    Jean K, this looks an awful lot to me like an attempt to argue backwards from a predetermined conclusion. As I don’t know your intentions either, I am not saying that it is; just what it appears.

  85. I’d hate to see anyone waste any more precious moments on this discussion, so this is, for real, the last comment. I’ll just say, by way of explanation, “more heat than light”.