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The Real Offense is the Killing

Life, Death and Cartoons

by Dr. SUSAN BLOCK

So I’m back from another sensational Sex Week at Yale, about which I will commit bloggamy shortly. In the meantime, I just have to bloggamize a bit on the monumental, murderous "offense" being taken by both the Right and the Left, the Mob and the Elite, over those dorky Danish cartoons.

I didn’t have much time to follow the news as I traveled back and forth between students at UCLA and Yale, smart energetic young people from a variety of cultures, ethnicities and religions, all of them eager to learn the Facts of Life in as uncensored a manner as possible. But in airports, lecture halls and bars, I kept hearing about fatwas, condemnations and protests turning into deadly riots from Lebanon to Libya, Pakistan to Afghanistan, Nigeria to Indonesia, all apparently over a bunch of comics.
The notorious Danish cartoons, first published in Jyllands-Posten, then further disseminated in various other right-wing publications and on one crazy Italian politician’s T-shirt, are not what I would call fine art or good political commentary. They’re not even very funny. Well, except the one where Mohammed stands on a cloud with his hands up to a fresh crop of suicide bombers as he says "Stop! We ran out of virgins!" That one made me laugh. And the one with Mohammed wearing a bomb in his turban is powerfully drawn. The others are rather ham-fisted renderings of guys with turbans and beards that could as likely be Mohammed-Next-Door as Mohammed the Prophet.

So, they’re bad drawings. So what? We all have a right to think and fantasize and express those thoughts and fantasies through art or attempts at art, literature, journalism, propaganda, advertising, erotica, education, communication, conversation. The cartoonists have a right to publish their bad drawings, just as I have a right to blog, and you have a right to send me hate mail, and Tom Cruise has a right to babble on about intergalactic travel, and neo-Nazis have a right to publish books that say the Holocaust is a figment of Elie Weisel’s imagination. This last right is a rather vital one to uphold these days, and all those guilt-ridden Holocaust Denial Laws must be repealed to uphold it. Those of us who are "offended" by Holocaust deniers (and I am one of them) must not mortgage our beliefs in Free Speech to try to assuage our hurt feelings that some ahistorically-minded loon says the concentration camps were summer resorts. It is a travesty of justice and a blow against Free Speech that crackpot British historian David Irving should be sentenced to three years in prison by an Austrian court for the Speech Crime of "Holocaust Denial." We must remember that these are only words Mr. Irving is spouting. We shouldn’t make a Free Speech Martyr out of a guy like this, but should just let him spout away, along with the Creationists, believers in Martian abductions and people who say Cheese Whiz is cheese.

But back to the cartoons, a few lines, a few brush strokes, some words and pictures. It’s true that sometimes people riot, rape and kill because they are inspired or upset by words or pictures. That does not make the wordsmith or artist guilty, as long as he or she did not specifically instruct those people to riot, rape and kill. If we as a society adhere to any different standard, we might as well throw the Internet and all of modern art, literature and science right through the hole in the ozone layer and return to the serfdom and silence of the Dark Ages.

Being a sex educator, artist, bloggamist and staunch defender of Freedom of Speech, this is a no-brainer for me. If anything is *sacred* on this unholy, heavenly Earth, it is my right and the right of my fellow humans to think, feel, speak, draw and publish what we want without being harmed or arrested. This is one of my most precious rights as an American, enshrined in our First Amendment. And, though I do not support invading other sovereign nations to make them "free," it is a right that I wish for people around the world.

Thus I defend the right of the Danes to publish their crude political-religious cartoons, along with the rights of all the other magazines and T-shirt manufacturers that reprinted them. I don’t agree with the right-wing politics of these publications and fashionistas. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not defending their point of view. I’m simply defending their Freedom of Speech.

Are the cartoons offensive? Of course, they’re offensive. A political cartoon isn’t worth the paper it’s scribbled on if it doesn’t offend someone. In my opinion, offending underdogs like Muslims is a lot less honorable than offending elites like the Bushites. But Freedom of Speech must be extended to everybody if it’s extended to anybody. One of the rather selfish but vital reasons that I support YOUR Freedom of Speech is so that I may speak next and counter whatever load of horsepucky you just delivered. By the way, I fully support the rights of Muslims and cartoonophiles around the world to boycott yogurt and other Danish goods; that’s part of Freedom of Expression. It’s the killing-over-cartoons that I’m against.

I can’t believe I’m on the same side of this issue as Ann Coulter and Christopher Hitchens. Actually, I’m embarrassed about that. But Free Speech is an ideal to which I adhere without regard for my bedfellows. And it is interesting and disheartening to see how many of those I thought were my fellows have left the bed of Free Speech, as well as lost their marbles, over these cartoons. Many so-called "liberals" and "leftists" have turned themselves into ideological pretzels in their attempts to condemn the cartoonists and the publishers (for the moment, they’re letting the T-shirt manufacturers slide). Even more disturbing, many try to defend the rioters and their virulent "morality."

Liberal lefty Stuart Pethic presents an impossibly convoluted argument that seems to be saying that the artists and publishers of the drawings do not really have "freedom of expression" because they don’t publish everything under the sun. Moreover, this freedom shouldn’t include publishing anything that might "antagonize Muslims." He goes on to complain that Jyllands-Posten turned down some cartoons about Jesus, which somehow negates their right to publish the caricatures of Mohammed. But Freedom of Speech doesn’t and can’t require that each speaker be fair. If I were the publisher, I might try to lampoon the sacred cows of all the major religions, attempting to skewer all religious myths as equally as possible. But equality is not always possible, not when it comes to art, opinion and cartooning. The political cartoonist focuses his or her pen on one or two objects of ridicule. It is not about fairness. It is about expressing a controversial opinion.
Then there’s "left-leaning" law professor Stanley Fish who wrote in the New York Times:

"[Liberalism] is itself a morality–the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors."

Liberalism is a morality all right, but it’s not "the morality of a withdrawal from morality." Not at all. Liberalism is the morality of secular humanism, tolerance, understanding, respect for independent thought, freedom of expression and peaceful discussion as a solution to disagreements as opposed to the mob or state use of force and war. Apparently, Mr. Fish prefers the morality of those who riot, bomb, burn and kill over those who express their feelings with pictures and words.

I wonder what Mr. Fish would say to someone who finds his words offensive? What if Mr. Fish’s commentary were found to be "blasphemy and monstrously evil" and worthy of execution? Will he give his own lynch mob "credit" for their impassioned "morality" as they stone him with real stones for crimes of his imagination? Will he praise the State that kills him for his commentary? Mr. Fish speaks of "blasphemy" as though it is something we can all agree on. But blasphemy, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. One person’s blasphemy is another person’s bloggamy. Call me a "liberal," but this truth I will not disavow.
Mr. Pethic and Mr. Fish are in bed and under the covers with Mr. Bush on this one, and it’s one pathetically Fishy Bush, when philosopher-pretzels and pretzel-swallowing presidents join forces. The Bush administration, which normally engages with Muslim populations like Dick Cheney goes quail-hunting, had this to say about the cartoons:

"We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive."

Tell it, Brother Bush. Bring it on.

The message is clear: The President supports the fanatical, murderous, mob reaction of those Muslims who are "offended" by a collection of mediocre drawings. I’m not surprised. This is a guy who bukkake-bombed the bejesus out of a country that hadn’t attacked us just because Saddam looked at him funny. This is a guy who empathizes with reacting violently and irrationally to abstract insults. This is the guy who raised the bar for torture. Of course, the Bushites have since condemned the rioting, but their original solidarity with faith-based killing and fear-based censorship has been firmly established.

Perhaps Dubya’s impassioned defense of the violent Muslim reaction to the cartoons also serves as a clarion call for "offended" American Christians and Orthodox Jews to riot against Hollywood, homosexuals, sex education and the ACLU. Perhaps this is the Bush Apocalypse: Mobs of easily offended, oil-hungry, trigger-happy, irrational, monotheistic, monomaniacal hotheads storming the barricades of Freedom of Expression, all streaming out of their own respective Houses of Worship.
Speaking of which, the Vatican issued this statement: "The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religionAny form of excessive criticism or derision of others denotes a lack of human sensitivity and can in some cases constitute an unacceptable provocation," This from the folks who locked up Galileo for spouting science (very "offensive") and initiated almost genocidal Crusades against people in Southern France who said that Jesus might have been their great-great-great granddaddy (molto offensivo).

Let me reiterate Pope Rat’s main point: Freedom of Speech "can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithfulof any religion." Might as well throw all of art and literature, philosophy, science and any form of satire, out that big black hole.

One stroke of genius about these damn cartoons is that, in their ham-fisted, badly-timed appearance on the world stage, they have revealed the true colors of many *freedom-fighters* on the Left and Right. Yet most of the news outlets opining about these cartoons do not actually print them. Clearly, they are afraid of becoming the objects of a fatwa. This fear is reasonable, but demoralizing. I, too, do not wish to have my studio firebombed. But it’s silly to try to discuss these cartoons without actually seeing them. So I am exercising my Freedom of Linkage by linking to them here.

See, they’re pretty lame. I personally prefer the one published in the Strand, a Victoria University student publication, because it’s very bonobo. It pokes fun at both Mohammed and Jesus, at the same time sending a message of peace through sexual love. Predictably, both Christians and Muslims are offended. Let’s hope they don’t burn down Victoria U. Just to be *even* among the monotheistic majors, I’ll link to an anti-Semitic cartoon, as well as to the Israeli anti-Semitic cartoon contest (ya gotta love us self-loathing jews)

It bears remembering that at the bottom of the fury that is Cartoon-gate, there is an even deeper issue than Freedom of Speech at stake, and that is Life and Death. Behind the rioting over the scribblings are the very real, extremely devastating, ultra-provocative Anglo-American invasions of Arab lands which have murdered their loved ones, destroyed their cities, stolen their resources and wounded their pride. I’d like to be able to bet that if the cartoons had been published without the bloody reality of Bush and Company and their multiple war crimes, there would have been little uproar. But I can never prove that, as the bloody reality just gets bloodier. And that is far beyond offensive.

This shouldn’t make us want to censor the cartoons. It should make us want to stop the killing.

Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cable TV host and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her BRAND NEW BLOGGAMY & POST COMMENTS at http://www.drsusanblock.com/blog/blog.asp

For reprint rights, please email liberties@blockbooks.com