Who’s Blaming Whom For What? Retaliation As ProvocationPosted by Phil Ferguson on September 18th, 2012 – 1 Comment – Posted in Uncategorized
Post by Jim Newman
I watched a lot of Westerns as a young man as they were as ever present as vampire and zombie movies are now. A common motif was the hero, usually aggrieved, the underdog, the rising star, in a saloon. The bad guy, aggressive, twisted, vicious busts through the swinging doors and confronts the other. He taunts him. Calling him a coward, a cheat, a dead man—his mother wears army boots. Will our hero provoke?
In sixth grade I was walleyed (one eye wandered to the side like Sartre’s), fat, and a poor athlete. Now and then I would get my books knocked out from me, locker slammed, or teased with the ubiquitous “hey oldwoman”. In Jr High my shining achievement was when Joe Pseudo Athlete tried to body slam me on the field and I happened to be standing square on the ground and he bounced off me like a tennis ball onto his ass. I wasn’t fast but solid and though I had been blind sided my body stood firm intuitively. You can be strong without attacking.
Last weekend I watched “Freedom Writers” the true story of a teacher who has her urban students engage with education by having them write journals about their lives—and more by showing how much she cared for them and their issues. What stood out was how much ethnic and group solidarity counted—it was the most important aspect of meaning in their morality. A young woman, Eva, must decide whether she will lie in court to save a fellow Hispanic, her own.
In the movie “Fanny Girl” Nick (Omar Shariff) must decide whether he can withstand the fame of his wife; as in Mideastern culture men must be the big money makers, the important people, their self-worth, social status, civil success revolving around material dominance. Who hasn’t seen the provocation to violence by an insult. The classic “Sheik” film where being slighted, or having one’s friends or family slighted, is enough to engage in sword play. Honor as ultimate virtue, where honor is the wellspring of success.
In California a Christian idiot published a ridiculous video depicting Mohammed fornicating. A week later, the riots escalate. True some of them are part of the preplanned response the anniversary of 9/11. Some of them are sleeper cells opportunistic to violence. Newscasters now note the negative reaction with worry that Arab Spring has vaporized—as if the political dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood were not the elephant in the room.
Respect, sensitivity, and compassion are more important in plural society. As we overcrowd ourselves in a shrinking world we must lubricate the friction with greater acceptance of diversity. Yet, as resources shrink, and power polarizes, the disenfranchised of all ilk seek solace in solidarity as its own virtue.
Unfortunately, this top down view doesn’t help in the particular. The people involved gain little comfort in reflecting on Malthus or the need for Islamic reformation and Christian compassion.
Personally, I struggle with the News Commentators bemoaning the insensitivity of westerners unwilling to respect the egregious blasphemy mores and laws that promote a “hands-off” negative consideration of any religious act. In their minds we must respect any lunacy if based in religious sincerity, or apparent religious sincerity–as perhaps the issues are material.
These hyper-pseudo-liberal free speech deniers say free speech is not an anything goes but that which promotes violence. If I am in prison and I convince someone to try and kill the president and they do, is that a free speech issue? I think not. If I ridicule, in a post, the New York Fashion Runway as being inherently misogynous, superficial, and dehumanizing and someone takes out a few models, am I responsible? If I see my wife in bed with a lover and he sniggers and calls me names, am I more justified to rage and revenge? If I write an article claiming the Koch brothers to be the biggest swindlers in political finances and responsible for the downfall of democracy as we know it (exaggerating appropriately) and publish a cartoon making them look stupid, and someone acts on that am I responsible?
What is the difference between a sincere criticism of someone like Hitler, or Kaddafi, or Hussein and a lampoon, caricature, or sarcasm? Why do we more allow the black humor of police and military? Why is it more OK for a black man to use the word nigger? Or a gay to call someone a dyke or fag? We tend to want to conflate the term respect with passive agreement—respect often means allowing the other position without comment: I respect what you say, but … But what? Clearly, the next clause cannot be respectful if it is in disagreement, can it? Does it merely mean more polite language? Or retreat to privacy, vote as you will?
The virtue and value of political engagement, exchange of ideas, and confrontation of needs becomes hijacked if the rules do not allow criticism, even if it is stupid and banal.
The degree and balance of this tension varies. A New Yorker camps on you justifiably. A Southerner demurs. A Northern Midwesterner stays silent put acts passively. It is in the plurality of social morality that consequences elevate. Do you poke the bear? Taunt the near psychotic? Tempt the sociopath? Blame the victim? Egg on the weak? Knock the strong off their pedestal?
I don’t know a perfect solution for all situations and neither does John Rawls the best current author of Social Justice. But I do not think problasphemy law is helpful.
Islam, Persia, overran the great land of the Greek Ionian enlightenment. Alexander won it back. Persia took it again. Pericles rewon it. Christians destroyed it and then went to Jerusalem after going North. The Ottoman empire reclaimed Ionia, Greece. Anatolia is now Turkish Muslim with a secular government, so to speak. Over and over again we have seen religious ideology as the motivator of war. Even when material issues may have been a root cause, the battle cry has been over theological purity.
From my position as outsider having never been raised in a religion, I do not understand why it matters if religion is criticized; how is personal theology more important than personal philosophy? Indeed, to my mind, most religions if not all, are worthy of criticism if not outright contempt. If material issues are easily hooked into religious ideology one must ask why and exorcise that bias.
On a humanistic level I prefer witty criticism, and direct debate to dufus videos but a response with murder is unbalanced, to the extreme. The news should be filled with anger at the retaliation.
Oddly enough the Koran says nothing about blasphemy. It is part of the human made law called Sharia. In Chrsitianity, Mark 3:29 says blasphemy is an eternal sin, unforgivable. In Judaism, Leviticus 24:16 says he who blasphemes the lord shall surely be put to death. We wonder why there is such a reaction? Well, actually I do. I read a lot of books but don’t trust them to be ultimate authority. Even my mother can be wrong
The Greeks took disagreement to high art in what is called the Socratic Method:
“…a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.”
Blasphemy like blind solidarity is ethical jingoism designed to thoughtlessly protect members of a group. It has no merit other than blind protectionism. It is mechanical identity security. Without heart, soul, and compassion, it is a dead end to inquiry, adaptation, and compassion.
Our hero in the Western, does not provoke. He sips his whiskey. He plans his defense but does not react. I’m not sure this is the best solution but it is right to allow people to be stupid, or aggressive, and not commit violence in return. Justice is not overreaction. Even the idiotic eye-for-an-eye, the most ancient Mesopotamic moral jingo of do unto others, is not a body for an eye.
Jim Newman, bright and well