Thursday, March 30, 2006
  Making something out of nothing: Melanie Phillips' Straw Man ravings
There are more positive ways to make a comeback than by assailing an intellectually impoverished bigot, but such is the negativity in Melanie Phillips' post "Britain's man of straw" that any critical response will do a bit of good.
Phillips doesn't like Jack Straw, one of the men who connived to get the war in Iraq, which she still has only praise for. She has moaned about him on numerous occasions because it seems that this warmonger is a bit too soft for her. Not just in the sense that he looks, behaves, and even sounds a bit like Mr Smithers, but also because she believes that he is fawning and accommodating in the face of Islamic terrorism. Her latest evidence [I'm not going to stoop to the level of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and other Sunny Delight-quaffing airheads, so you can damn-well put your own ironic quotation marks around the word evidence] comes in the form of a speech he gave at the Muslim News awards. I know, I haven't heard of them either. And neither has she, for had she done the two minutes research I have just done she would have found that they are called the Muslim News Awards for Excellence, a cloyingly titled ceremony that aims to honour Muslims for their achievements in all aspects of British society. Past winners include the boxer Prince Naseem Hamid [sad but true: Prince Naseem has never been condemned for Islamic violence, even though he's paid to hit people]. As Jack Straw put it himself: "We are celebrating the very significant contribution which Muslim communities as a whole make year on year to our country."

Her problem Straw's conduct at this celebration was that: " no point in his speech did he even mention Islamic terrorism." Now, people from a minority faith who have turned up at their own celebration to see people honoured for their positive role might not appreciate this, especially coming from the man who any other day would be arguing in defence of his cruel war. Melanie Phillips wants these people to be integrated and appreciate British values, but doesn't even need to think twice to attack them at a ceremony about their contribution to this very society. Honestly, how many terrorists did she think were in that room, waiting to receive awards? And what makes her think that anybody in that room even condoned Islamist violence? I know I would feel patronised and under attack if I was lectured on the violence committed by white people, or Catholics or the English simply because others who looked like me had indulged in it.

One subject that had to come up was the issue of those poxy cartoons. I managed to dodge the whole debate on censorship when it was in full swing in late January, one of the reasons being that it seemed obvious: You can print what you like [within the law] because you are entitled to free speech, but you should [and "should" is a loaded term here. I'm using it in a way suggesting what a human being at their best should do, knowing that there are 6 billion others out there that think and feel the same way as them in most situations] not use it to deliberately hurt people. Predictably, and rather sadly, many Muslims shot back by saying that Jews wouldn't like it if the Holocaust was abused. My favoured example is jokes at the expense of the disabled. One of the reasons why Little Britain has become such a pile of shit, and that new film The Ringer will be, is because they apply the same principle the Danish cartoons did against the disabled: "we can say it, so we shall". Jack straw seems to concur with this view, saying in his speech:

"The right to freedom of expression is a broad one and something which this country has long held dear. It was the focus of our human rights work during our recent Presidency of the European Union. But the existence of such a right does not mean that it is right – morally right, politically right, socially right – to exercise that freedom without regard to the feelings of others.
A large number of Muslims in this country were – understandably – upset by those cartoons being reprinted across Europe and at their deeply held beliefs being insulted. They expressed their hurt and outrage but did so in a way which epitomised the learned, peaceful religion of Islam. In doing so they were not being 'unreasonable' or 'un-European'. They were not threatening anyone's values."

Sentiments which don't sit well with our witch, who shot back:

"Thus Islamist violence is sanitised, excused and even airbrushed out of the picture altogether. The crisis in relations between the Islamic and Western worlds is entirely the fault of the West. The protest against clerical fascism represented by the Danish cartoons -- whose target was not Islam but the intimidation practised in its name -- was instead an insult to deeply held religious beliefs. And so it was that protest, rather than the clerical fascism, which should not be tolerated." [my italics]

Her criticism misses the point so much that getting hold of the issues would be like mud-wrestling with a greased eel. Still, lets not let this eel get away. Firstly, Jack Straw is not blaming all Islamic violence on the cartoons. He has babbled about jihadists enoug in past speeches for her to know this. He was referring to Muslim alienation in Britain, and citing the cartoons as a prime example. She uses the word "entirely", not Jack Straw. She is entitled to think that the cartoons were about oppression carried out by Muslims rather than Islam itself [although she has never been rave enough to come out and say that she despises the whole damn faith], but since the cartoonists must have known that using Mohammed as a synecdote for this oppression was going to upset many, and that reproducing them in other newspapers across Europe after the initial bad reception was going to inflame this, her view is totally misplaced here. It would be convenient if Jack Straw didn't mention the nasty element of these largely peacful protests in his speech. But, oh no:

"A handful of Muslims reacted in a distasteful and unacceptable way."

Not the strongest language, but it gets the job done, and I repeat, how many bad eggs were in that room, and why should their crimes be used in a speech addressing decent harmless people? Her piece climaxes with a burst of spiteful insanity, when she labels "ominous" this part of Straw's speech:

"The release of the British hostage, Norman Kember, and two of his companions has been very prominent in the media over the past few days. I believe the calls by many Muslims in this country and fellow British citizens for the safe release of those kidnapped victims and showing their solidarity with their plight may have contributed to their survival."

It's innocent and probably accurate. When the four hostages appeared in orange jumpsuits we knew that these were serious terrorists. The fact that three survived is incredible. But she wants to associate our Foreign Secretary with terror, and she'll be damned if she'll let what he actually said get in the way of that:

"Let us remind ourselves who these Muslims were who made these calls for the hostages’ safe release. After consultations with the Foreign Office, the Muslim Association of Britain – the British arm of the Muslim Brotherhood which works for the Islamisation of Britain and Europe -- dispatched its president, Anas al-Tikriti, to Iraq to negotiate with the kidnappers. The MAB also persuaded Sheikh al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s mentor and supporter of human bombs in Iraq and Israel, as well as the leaders of Hamas, Hizbollah and 23 other Muslim organisations, to sign a press release calling for Kember and three other hostages to be freed. The al Qaeda leader Abu Qatada was also pressed into service to appeal for their release from his prison cell, as did Moazzam Begg, the British man who had previously been detained at Guantanamo Bay, while Muslims at Finsbury Park mosque -- now run once more by the Brotherhood -- said prayers for Kember’s safe return which were played on televisions across the world."

The accusations that the MAB is an "arm" of the Muslim Brotherhood is a deliberate exaggeration on her part and further sloppy use of language to mislead readers. It does seem that they have links to them, but also that they are independent in the way that they act. They condemned the London bombings and held protest vigils several times last year, so their opinion of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims in Britain is quite clear. I have no reason to like them either, and never applaud their members at anti-war demos. But I'll wait for some hard facts before I claim that they are an "arm" and by implication are in existance to carry out Muslim Brotherhood policy in Britain. Qatada volunteered to be filmed and was used as a tactical measure because he knew he would influence the captors. The real proof of how the government regards him is illustrated by the fact that the message was filmed in his current home: Full Sutton jail. Hamas and Hezbollah are regarded as terrorist organisations by this government while Moazzam Begg was released from Guantanamo Bay an innocent man. Perhaps our witless friend might want to bear in mind that presumed innocence is another luxury that democracies enjoy, along with freedom of speech. He should be disregarded in her list of terror-sympathisers, but then, every sentient reader knows that these people were not the Muslims Jack Straw had in mind. Muslims repeatedly joined Christians in vigils for Norman Kember and put their names on the massive public statement calling for their release, while those of the same faith protested at his captivity across the world. Jack Straws failure to recognise the near-irrelevant subject of Islamic terror in this speech is superseded by her stubborn refusal to recognise the benefits of Islamic cooperation and goodwill.

Her final flourish is this:

"The British Foreign Secretary has now said, in effect, that the lives of Norman Kember and the other two hostages were saved thanks to the Muslim Brotherhood. What price will the Brotherhood now exact from Britain in return?" [again, my italics]

Readers of Melanie Phillips know by now what "in effect" means. It means: "if you substitute the words actually uttered with far nastier ones then I have a case". So, if I ate meat for lunch, then "in effect" I could have had roast orphans with my salad. Jack Straw said that Muslims helped him stay alive. Screw "in effect". If there is one lesson I would like her to learn, it is that you are not going to expose a hidden agenda by just altering somebody's words and changing the meaning of their sentence. Jack Straw didn't even claim that Muslims "saved" Mr Kember. He said they "contributed" to his survival. We know the SAS saved him because pro-war advocates have been crowing for days how, if the troops weren't there, these pacifists wouldn't have been saved. Nice. Had the troops not been there, of course, the pacifists wouldn't have felt compelled to go. But that's another debate.
So this is the big Mad Cow bashing essay you've been working on this past month? heh.

With regards to the Danish cartoons, there is an understandable difference between what was morally right and a given Right (to freedom of speech). Do I believe the re-printing of the caricatures across Europe was in good taste? No. Do I believe the offended muslim community had a right to express their upset? Absolutely, apart from those who turned to violence or preached it. But part of me agrees that the original publication of caricatures was a much needed necessity in a culture where self-censorship was ever increasing since the murder of Van Gogh.

If you read my article last month, you will find that once you decide to be flexible with the boundaries of free speech, the lines will easily blur into a messy grey. As Yawning Bread noted, what if Christians one day decided that the use of the '+' sign in mathematical equations was offensive? Then we'd have to redesign symbols to appease religion. You see, once you decide to let others dictate these boundaries, free speech loses its essence. Self-censorship and appeasement for others has led to the politcally-correct culture that we live in now where we are given guidelines on what to say and how to say, and jokes are not allowed. Imagine if Christians had an uproar and SouthPark had to be scrapped, or if militant feminists started complaining about the lack of female characters in kids' cartoons, and scriptwriters had to scramble to 'sex-change' some of their characters.

Where does it all stop???

This is why I believe it is far more important to uphold and defend the borders of speech, even if it is not always favourable. In reality, most people only believe in free speech when they are not the target. Take for instance Isaac Hayes departure from SouthPark after making 9 seasons with frequent offensive christian content. But when they did Scientology, he walked. Why do you feel less guilty watching South Park than looking at the Danish cartoons?? The reason is simple. You let the offended people dictate your guilt. In other words, if Christians and Scientologists are OK with it, then it's OK with you. Or perhaps Tom Cruise and John Travolta should file a class act against Matt and Trey for libel damages... If you want to live in a sanitised society where no one stands a chance of being offended, try living in the island state of Singapore.

"I know I would feel patronised and under attack if I was lectured on the violence committed by white people, or Catholics or the English simply because others who looked like me had indulged in it."

You should have seen the forum debates surrounding the hanging of Nguyen! Even if you're not technically an 'Aussie' tsk tsk... You would have been shredded for every crime against humanity carried out by white people. All that to justify their agenda.
I don't let others dictate my guilt. The minute you reduce empathy to that you are in very cynical territory. The + sign is not employed to offend Christians, and a better Muslim equivalent here would be England changing to the Muslim calender because the Christian one offends them. Many of the people pushing for the Muslim cartoons to be shown had a wider grievance against Islam and capitalised on the manky reaction of the extremists. And don't start about scientologists sueing for libel, my point isn't that subtle. They don't have a case under any existing laws, nor any that need introduction. The only objection they can justifiably offer is to complain, and perhaps if they have the brains and the balls, hit back in a way that would offend Trey Parker and Matt Stone [something that would be highly desirable in my book. No matter how good South Park is, these two are small, small men]. If you bothered to ask, I also opposed the pathetic demand from Muslim groups for a law banning this type of cartoon. My definition of free speech is that nothing you say should be punished unless it is a direct incitement to criminal action. That creates some blurs, but not in this case.

And a word on appeasement: if one was to consider taking an unjustifiable and callous action, like printing those cartoons, they would be appeasing in a very different sense to those who retracted the + sign. I think this is not a very good example at all, since the use of + has been a norm in our society for centuries and retracting it would represent a genuine step back. We lose nothing by erasing those cartoons. If people want a mordant critique of Islam, there have been numerous articles questioning its role in the West and its compatibility with Enlightenment values in Time magazine, Vanity Fair, everywhere. And it even goes a bit further than that: Mohammed was gently mocked in South Park along with Jesus and Moses. It was done in good spirit, whereas the Danish cartoons were the equivalent of saying: "here's what I think of your religion" and pushing all the right buttons. And of course, it contributed to the view that many Muslims genuinely do have: that they are not wanted and are under attack. I think jokes about Muslims are fine too. But I do object to a large mass-media assault flanked by those who have a bigoted agenda. Perhaps I would feel less uncomfortable if I knew there were Muslim representatives that could have hit back and humiliated the paper through words.

I don't want to dwell on this too much, as it was only a small part of my main attack on MP. I tend very gently towards the view that a world without religion would be a very good one indeed, having held very hardcore anti-religious beliefs a few years ago. But talking to others of different faiths has compelled me to feel that they are just lie me in almost every way. When extremist papers printed jokes about Hitler sleeping with Anne Frank I wanted to throw up, just as I do when I hear demagogic jokes about "Pakis" and "cripples". I felt like collateral damage. I could only imagine how Muslims who had strived to be part of European society felt when they were caught up in this attack. But the fact that I bothered to imagine makes a more considerate and decent person than those who demanded that Muslims snap out of it. What you think is right determines the "limits" to free speech.
"Many of the people pushing for the Muslim cartoons to be shown had a wider grievance against Islam and capitalised on the manky reaction of the extremists."

I don't see much relevance in the judgement and merit of a caricature based on the response and reactions of the people who view it. My point about scientology and christianity is that if this caricature had targeted any other religion, would it have the same effect? And if not, does it make it any more morally-correct? There comes a point where to most people, a blurry line of judgment has to be drawn as to whether something was written out of pure humour, or a direct slur against a group of people. I see the original publication as something that was within their every right to publish, but was bastardised by other European papers and those who distorted it into propaganda against islam. The point is, it would be a fallacy to draw conclusions from our own interpretations of the cartoons and public reaction to place moral judgment on the original intent of the author. Generalising the underlying feeling of westerners through the represenation of the cartoons is itself up to individual interpretation, and you can easily see how violent protesters exploited this.

The example of the '+' symbol may not be as significant as the cartoons. But it follows the same principle. If someone makes a joke with no intent to incite or imply bigotry, and someone takes offence, does it then become a slur?? Remember, if we decide that something should not be published becaused it is "incitement", that factors in how much an offended person decides to work himself up to be. If fundamentalist christians, jews, scientologists and just about every other group offended by SouthPark, decided one day that they had enough and started verbal intimidation, threats and burning buildings, should Matt and Trey go into early retirement? We lose nothing by erasing cartoons, but we essentially lose our freedom of speech where one does not necessarily harbour contempt for any group.

I know this wasn't the main focus of your discussion. But I feel too many people take for granted their freedom to speech. Yes they immorally utilise it at times, but it is evident that an increasing number in western societies grow fond of becoming more and more vulnerable to self-censorship in the name of being "sensitive" and "responsible" and politically-correct. To a point where society can't take a joke anymore. I don't see Matt and Trey as small men at all. Their cartoon embraces what freedom really is, to be able to laugh at one's self without taking it too seriously. It's what distinguishes societies with such freedoms from the rest. To accept criticism, and to a further extent, laugh at your own stereotype or things untrue altogether. The problem is people hardly take the time anymore to see past humour and find that the authors harbour no real contempt for anybody (except maybe in that Scientology episode).

Which is why I find it even more bullshit that America, England and others are losing troops everyday in Iraq, trying to promote freedoms they themselves are losing.
bloody HELL, you were busy this weekend. pity you can't get a raise for this kind of commitment.

yes I do think angering other religions has the same effect, although this is cross-referenced with how vulnerable and alienated the group is. Sikhs were similarly vocal when a character in a British play used the image of a Sikh god to batter somebody in a fight. the difference was, this was not a deliberate and provocativce move. and do I really need to paint a picture of the reaction if Christ or Mary was targetted so deliberately and so crudely? and the point is not just what religion you are targetting, but which part you want to target. I would never go to my Catholic relative's house in Ireland and shred her lord to pieces, then hide behind free speech and the misguided idea that I was merely trying to critique. there is no concession in empathising and asking yourself: "how would I feel if this was done to me". if I was tring to differentiate between what is and isn't acceptable criticism then I woul engage with your ideas a little more, but it's not for me to say. that's why i can't respond to this:

"If fundamentalist christians, jews, scientologists and just about every other group offended by SouthPark, decided one day that they had enough and started verbal intimidation, threats and burning buildings, should Matt and Trey go into early retirement?"

because I don't see what it has to do with my argument. it's not the violence that I'm worried about when I'm thinking of other's feelings. that's just selfish.

get away from the idea that offending Muslims is bad in my book. those cartoons are the focus of my ire, not jokes about them in general, because I will never understand what they were supposed to acvhieve if not cheap publicity and a few easy laughs by a large and influential media outlet at the expense of an easy target. the reason why this became an issue, unfortunately, is because of the mad over-reaction by a sector of nutcases, who ranged from those who wanted laws banning such items [illogically putting them in the same category as libel and racial incitement] and those who wanted the editors killed. in a separate but similarly despicable category were those who shot back with the Holocaust cartoons. the problem here is, how could those saying that the Muslim cartoons were permissable then say that the Holocaust cartoons were not? THEY are the ones trying to draw lines over what we can and can't say, not me. these obssesive people have taken the debate in the other direction: to complain and express disgust at these cartoons seems to immediately place you in the same bracket as those who want them banned. that is sloppy thinking and in my view exposes just how much they hate Islam's apparently protected status in Europe [which in fact is often people expressing sensitivity, just as they would be obliged to do if they were visiting a foreign country and didn't want to make a scene].

the issue of the + symbol is not only less significant, it is entirely different. those doing maths do not think to themselves what would most upset Christians and then chose to go on an adding-up spree. if you want a Christian parallel then you should look at Cradle of Filth's artwork, or any fool that wants a cheap publicity boost by winding up devout Catholics. I find that just as childish and offensive, not to mention boring. do I want it banned by law? NO. it is in the same category as laughing at the disabled, yelling "slut" at a woman in a short skirt, sniggering at the Holocaust and Melanie Phillips writing a shitty column. It is the price of free speech, but one that people should be in no rush to exploit. so it is not the issue that it is Islam in the firing line, but the nastiness with which it was done. when a joke pops into my head about the disabled or the Holocaust [and I'm being truly honest here, if only to finish my involvement in this tired discussion once and for all. the mind is spastic and we cannot control a large proportion of what enters]and I choose not to articulate it verbally because I think it will be gross and crass, and I appeasing? am I drawing stringent limits on free speech? am I so scared of what others will think that I am staying quiet through fear?

the main reason why I think that they were aiming to offend and hit below the belt, rather than being a
light-hearted critique-gone-wrong is that I honestly can't see who they are aimed at if not those laughing at Islam. if you draw Mohammed with a bomb coming out of his head, you are going to see two groups. the ones who have done nothing wrong, have shunned violence, have not even considered violence and see their religion as peaceful. they are going to be the ones upset. the real bastrards, the ones who send suicide bombers out to maim and kill, in theory, wont care, and if they do they might want to stop and ask themselves: "if I am upset by pictures of Muslims carrying bombs, am I in the right game?"

Matt and Trey are very small tit-for-tat men outside of their glorious cartoon. I think their treatment of Isaac Hayes after he made a principled decision to quit was childish, and I do cringe when they go a bit too far with people like Tom Cruise and Michael Jackson. and perhaps you know why they chose to make Michael Moore a suicide bomber in Team America? it's a sad story. nothing to do with free speech, mind.

now, discard all legal ideas, suing, modifying our culture and the right to aggressively demand retraction. these are all inappropriate responses to free speech. but I'll finish with a word on "sides". If I heard that somebody [lets get logical and call them person A] was deliberately baiting a minority group [group B] in an offensive fashion, no matter who that group was, I would automatically not be on person A's side. whether or not I was on group B's side dependson the circumstances, most importantly their reaction. If person A was threatened [a disproportionate reaction]by group B, I would not be on group B's side and I would show support for person A. but I would never be pushed onto their side, frankly I wouldn't want to be in the same room as them. but I would stand up for them and their right to say it. too many critics have confused the two. this is a complicated issue, but for the likes of Melanie Phillips it is dead simple, and if this didn't happen they would have found another excuse to forward their nasty agenda
Post a Comment

<< Home
"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." - George W. Bush (March 24, 2004)

Recent Bastard Posts
Bastard-coated Bastards
Fetus Spears
Darth Vader
Sinner's Ark
Seditious Bastards
Brand New Malaysia
e pur si muove
I Really Don't Know
Mr Wang Bakes Good Karma
The Police State
Matrix Singapore
The Reader's Eye
Singapore Rebel (the blog)
Singapore Rebel (the film)
Xeno Boy
Yawning Bread
Retardation of the West
The Knight Shift
Melanie "Mad Cow" Phillips
Pentagonlies (cool conspiracy theory video!)
Sorry Everybody
System of a Down
Wake Up & Smell the Fascism
Pink Dome
Take the Political Test
Vox Day
Game of the Month

"I'm jacking your wheelbarrel bitch!"
Archived Bastardisation

Powered by Blogger