Knee-jerk liberalism and me

I tend to describe myself as a knee-jerk liberal.  But free speech seems to be an issue where conventional liberalism and me have parted company.  The recent incident in Garland, Texas is a case in point.  Pam Geller, as far as I can tell, is a creep, and her “Draw Muhammad” contest was a deliberate provocation.  On the other hand, here is the New York Times:

Those two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event.

Actually, sure it can.  Here is the conservative David Frum (inventor of the phrase “Axis of Evil”) in response:

Anti-Muslim bigotry is a real and ugly phenomenon. But there’s a necessary distinction to be drawn between vilifying people and repudiating their beliefs. Blasphemy isn’t bigotry. Applying the single term “Islamophobia” blurs that difference: conflating the denial of a belief with discrimination against the believer.

Is that such a difficult distinction to make?  And later:

We owe equality and respect to persons. Ideas and beliefs have to prove their worth. Pamela Geller, the organizer of the Garland, Texas, “Draw Muhammad” contest, attracts criticism because she so often pushes up to and over the line separating criticism of ideas from vilification of groups of people. She’s an uncomfortable person to defend. But that’s often true of the people who test the rights that define a free society.

This all seems perfectly sensible to me.  I don’t think I’m becoming grumpy in my old age.  I think conventional liberalism has lost its way here, and that’s bad for the country.

Here’s another long-time liberal who is having problems with this.

I don’t think Geller’s goal was to provoke a murderous attack. Perhaps verbal attacks, but of course that’s Charlie Hebdo’s goal, too, for the reaction to its mockery of all religions was absolutely predictable. Charlie Hebdo existed to mock and provoke. By all means, says the Times, let’s not publish cartoons of the prophet, for whatever one’s motivation, it will “serve only to exacerbate tensions and to give extremists more fuel.” That goes for both Geller and Charlie Hebdo. What is the newspaper saying here? Apparently, that we should keep our hands off religion, at least those faiths whose adherents become murderous when offended.

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I’m still Charlie

I’ve changed back to my regular header image, but je suis encore Charlie.

I’ve seen some people (like David Brooks and Glenn Greenwald) complain that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were stupid, racist, and unfunny, and where was the outrage when someone or other published published an anti-Semitic cartoon?  This seems to me to miss the point.

A few years ago an atheist science blogger, P.Z. Myers, got hold of a Eucharist.  He dithered about what to do with it for while, and then finally he threw it in the trash with torn-up copies of the Koran and The God Delusion.  This was a childish stunt designed to make an obvious point.  But if he had been murdered by an enraged Catholic or Muslim (or, I suppose, Richard Dawkins), it changes from being a childish stunt to a fundamental issue of what we should be allowed to do and say in our society.  Most of us don’t go out of our way to offend people, but we need to stand up for people’s right to be offensive.

Our Jordanian correspondent on Ramadan — plus, when we come back more of our exclusive Olympics coverage

In less than two weeks our intrepid Jordanian correspondent will be rotating stateside to take up the prestigious Somerville/Medford assignment.  Meanwhile, here are some of his observations on Ramadan.

During the parade of the athletes in the opening ceremony, the NBC announcers mentioned the problem of Ramadan occurring during the games.  Of course, they couldn’t say “Some of the Muslim athletes are totally blowing it off because winning a medal is the most important thing in their lives”; they simply allowed as how some of them are postponing their fast till after the games.  Here‘s an article about the various complexities the Olympics have to deal with when it comes to religion.

As part of our training for the Olympics we re-watched Chariots of Fire.  Some utterly random comments:

  • The movie hasn’t aged especially well, or maybe I have just become bored with feel-good sports movies.
  • One of the many funky (and endearing) things about Friday’s opening ceremony was the decision to give Rowan Atkinson five minutes of prime time to do a spoof of the movie’s iconic music and opening.  Does the entire world think Rowan Atkinson is as funny as I do?  Or did people in India or China watch the skit in utter bafflement? Anyway, here it is:
  • I once saw Simon Rattle (the guy conducting the Chariots of Fire theme) conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The LA audience was getting restless during a bleak Shostakovich symphony (is there any other kind?) and he turned around and glared at them during the performance.  I guess everyone doesn’t like Shostakovich as much as I do.
  • Does everyone watch old movies the way I do, with IMDB ready at hand?  The stars of the movie mostly have had solid careers since then, but none really broke out.  I was sad to see that Ian Charleson, who played Eric Liddell and was probably the best actor in the movie, died of AIDS a few years later–the first celebrity death in the UK openly attributed to AIDS, according to Wikipedia.  IMDB tells me that Kenneth Branagh and Stephen Fry were both extras in the movie, but I couldn’t pick them out.
  • Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who wouldn’t run on Sunday, became a missionary to China and is now on the calendar of saints for the Episcopal Church of the USA–the day after John Henry Newman, who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism, and two days after Frederick Douglass.  I had no idea the Episcopalians had such an interesting calendar of saints.  Yesterday they honored Bach, Handel, and Purcell.
  • The religion/Olympics conflict goes back to the first time the Olympics were held in London, in 2008.  Here is the famous photo of the American hurdler Forrest Smithson holding a Bible while running to protest the scheduling of races on Sunday.  Apparently this was a posed photograph, and he didn’t actually run his race with Bible in hand.  He won the gold medal in a race held on Saturday.

There, that about does it for today’s Olympic coverage.