Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mute Button

The essay by Lewis Lapham in April's Harper's is too good to pass up. So for those who may not be regular readers, here's a quick summary of his argument.

By February 14, a day on which the armed resistance in Iraq murdered another eighteen people (three U.S. soldiers and fifteen Iraqis, among them an army officer and a policeman), I'd been told so often about the awfulness of the Danish cartoons (more destructive than roadside bombs, as terrible as the sinking of oil tankers) that I looked them up on the Internet. Not surprisingly, I didn't find them offensive. My bias and judgement having been formed in the secular realm of thought -- i.e., the one that we presumably value and wish to preserve, also the one that defends the Muslim minority in India against persecutions by the Hindu majority -- I thought the cartoons mildly amusing at best, in no way vicious or grotesque, well within the perimeter of what both Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin would have seen as fair use of ridicule in the service of political argument. [...] If I'm wary of religious belief in any and all of its ardent emissions, it's because I remember, as did the authors of the American Constitution, the vast numbers of people crucified -- also burned, tortured, beheaded, drawn, quartered, imprisoned, and enslaved -- on one or another of its ceremonial altars (Protestant, Muslim, Catholic, Aztec) over the course of the last 2000 years. Nor do I know why I must respect somebody merely for the fact of his or her belief, as if the attachment to a belief, in and of itself and without regard either to its substance or its object, somehow bestows a state of grace. I don't quarrel with anybody's right to believe, but passion isn't a synonym for truth. Must I respect a woman who believes that oysters sing? Or the man who believes that his mother was married to a koala bear? If it's the intensity of the emotion that I'm being asked to praise, presumably with adjectives like those affixed to expensive wines and precious jewels, then how can I fail to admire the richness of Adolf Hitler's feeling (authentic, fervent, deeply felt) for Polish Jews? [...] The transference of value from the object to the subject -- from the author's book to the author's pain -- lends itself to the language of political and commercial advertising. The customer is always right, and where is the percentage in telling the suckers with the money or the votes that their poetry doesn't scan, that their disease is incurable, their god made of wind and sand? The market buys what it wishes to believe -- about the interest-free loan or the cure for arthritis, about the democracy coming soon to Iraq and the way in which as Americans we honor one another's totem poles; nine times in ten the promise is false, the miracle at the point of sale dependent not on the worth of the product but on the telling of a sympathetic and condescending lie. Show respect for the customer's feelings, pretend to an interest in astrology, inquire after the health of the canary. [...] The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, didn't confuse himself with Hamlet ("People can live according to their own customs," he said, "however, I think we have to insist on respecting our core values"); nor did Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish paper that first published the cartoons, repent of the decision: "When Muslims say you are not showing respect, I would say: you are not asking for my respect, you are asking for my submission...."

Word on the street is that Lapham will soon be retiring.
That sucks.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


1650, 1789, 1871, 1968...2006? (à Paris)

Plus de photos ici.

1650, 1789, 1871, 1968...2006? (à Marseilles)

More photos here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Escape From L.A.

It's good to see that somebody in North America thinks taking to the streets à la Paris is a good idea. More people should get off their asses more regularly for more of these demonstrations. Our cynical governments too often mistake apathy for acquiescence. Let's hope this recent wave of protests wakes people up.

And The Band Played On...

First the Crusades.

Then those damn cartoons.

Now this.

And this...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Keep It To Yourself

Here's a case of the blind leading the blind...right over a cliff! Bible-thumping Christians the world over are quick to point out that it's barbaric to execute poor Abdul Rahman for believing Jesus Christ and not Mohammad shall lead him to Salvation. Here's a sampling of Islamic reasoning as told by a Bible-thumping publication:

Rahman was put on trial in Kabul last week for the “crime” of converting from Islam to Christianity and faces the death penalty for refusing to return to the Muslim faith. But news of his case did not break until March 16, when Ariana TV announced it. According to the TV newscaster, Rahman was asked in court, “Do you confess that you have apostacized from Islam?” The defendant answered, “No, I am not an apostate. I believe in God.”

“We are Muslims, and becoming a Christian is against our laws,” the prosecutor concluded. “He must get the death penalty.” Rahman is being tried by Judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada, who has said he would issue a verdict on the case within two months. “We are not against any particular religion in the world,” the judge told the AP on March 19. “But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law. It is an attack on Islam.”

You also read stuff like this:

The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq's long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

...and so you have to wonder why people get so bent out of shape over the notion of "conversion." These wackos should be content that they're saving their own souls and leave everybody else the hell alone -- like the Buddha. At least Christianity's founder behaved nothing like his followers are now behaving; the same cannot be said for the reckless death dealing being meted out courtesy of Islam. Ibn Warraq pointed out in an interview just after 9/11 that "Maxime Rodinson, the great French Islamologue, said that violence is "existentially" Islam, that's the word he used, meaning fundamentalism is somehow an essential consequence of Islam itself."

And our Nazi pope thinks an invigorated Islam is a safer bet than unbelief? When will all of this madness end... and more significantly: How?