Monday, February 20, 2006

Cartoon Bombs and Free Expression-Lite


Let us freely admit it, almost nothing brings American Liberals and Conservatives together like Muslims protesting cartoons. In a political age where words like consensus and bi-partisan are almost never found, a bunch of foreigners burning everything in sight and killing folks over some drawings helps to bring us together in a way only exceeded by the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.

We political types can't even agree on natural disasters, using Hurricane Katrina as just another opponent-bashing talking point, but foreign people freaking out over a cartoon is the perfect coalescent for U.S. Arch-Liberals, who value freedom of speech over just about everything else, and Arch-Conservatives who may not value freedom of speech much, but sure as Hell value their own religion over all others. Meanwhile, those more Moderate among us can't understand why anybody would get all that hot-n-bothered about anything. Hell, Moderates don't even vote, much less take the time to burn flags and flip windows-shattered cars over.

At the same time, there is a strong disinclination for any U.S. politician to come out and say what is on our collective mind at this point. The delicacy of the situation in that nobody wants to be the next country on the radical Muslim shit list has even largely silenced the U.S. media and its columnists.

To further confirm this point, your humble blogger started a 14-day trial of "Times Select" at the NY Times, scanning the now-premium columnist's pieces for mentions on the brouhaha (okay, full disclosure, I mainly did it to read a Sarah Vowell essay). Unfortunately, Frank Rich is busy writing a book, but I can report that outside of a passing remark by Maureen Dowd there was no mention in recent days about anything Muslim, Dutch or flag burning-esque. I know relying on the NY Times as a "paper of record" is a flimsy methodological pretense these days, but I also scanned Google News and failed to see any real expression of what is on our collective minds. I got no real expression of Western opinion, just alot of pictures of burning stuff. Btw, the Sarah Vowell piece was wonderful, but I'll pay $49.95 for web content the day they force my dead, cold fingers to type out my credit card number. It's just a two-week trial.

The careful reader might have noticed that I have twice said "what is on our collective minds" without saying exactly what is on said minds. That's because I too have experienced this same sort of mental keyboard lock-up when it comes to publicly expressing myself on the subject. For instance, the other day I wrote one of my alleged humor columns in which I tried some joke line about the Reappearance of Jesus and other religious figures. My original line included Mohammed, but I changed it to Buddha at the last minute.

What is up with that? As someone who values freedom of speech as highly as anyone I cringe that I even admitted the self-editing above. It fully creeps me out. I think it's emblematic of everything this country is against. Still, I'm not going there, and I'm thinking of taking out the name Mohammed in the previous paragraph just to avoid the chance somebody somewhere will Google Blog this meaningless, piss-ant little excuse for writing and go flip a burning car in Kuala Lumpur.

There is something insidious and alien about the whole matter, something that not only brings us U.S. folks together politically in a rather unique way, but also goes to show how foolhardy it was for us to think "American Democracy" could be grafted onto other cultures as easily as a new branch on a pine tree. Perhaps I'm being overly political and idealistic here, but maybe this episode will galvanize us to the realization of not only how different freedom of expression is taken elsewhere, but that trying to paternalistically force-feed concepts on those who think so differently was essentially stupid to begin with. Maybe we'll really learn this time.

Again, I might be a bit idealistic here.

1 comment:

John Marker said...

We haven't learned. After Vietnam I said the same thing. You'd think that Iraq would give some pause, but no. The crazies driving our foreign policy have Iran in their sights.