Fisking Berlatsky

Posted by on April 29th, 2010 at 1:10 PM

As I once said about another commentator on these pages, the way to ignore someone is to ignore them.  However, if a fellow insists on making a spectacle of the chip on his shoulder, one may succumb to the temptation to knock it off . . .

R. Fiore has a recent article up about the South Park censorship brouhaha in which he takes a brave, world-weary stand against cowardly corporations, crazy Muslims, and simplistic theists. As always with Fiore, it’s stylishly written…and as sometimes with Fiore, it’s pretty thoroughly vapid. He’s got that just-plain-common-sense-man-on-the-street approach, which involves repeating things everyone already knows, retailing banal prejudices as shocking insights, and patting yourself rhythmically on the back all the while.

The point I made was not brave or world weary or any kind of condemnation of cowardice, it was Machiavellian.  What I was saying is that this is a set of circumstances which renders principles beside the point, and that things being what they are the actions of Viacom were all but inevitable.  The fanatics will achieve a trivial victory at a cost primarily of the humiliation and suffering of other Muslims.  Though I didn’t bring it up, most of the people who were killed or injured in the violence over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons were Muslims, and it’s as much to keep Muslims from getting hurt as anything that we acquiesce.

Fiore’s argument is basically that we’d all get along better in this old world if we acted as if we didn’t believe anything. Or as Fiore says, “What the West has learned is that even if you do sincerely believe in God, if you want any peace you can’t act that way.” For Fiore, the South Park incident shows the eminent reasonableness of the Western world, and the fact that reasonableness is essentially useless in dealing with nutzo Islamist thugs:

No, what I said was that we in the West are better off because we practice the principles of religious liberty and that countless people in the Muslim world suffer terribly because they don’t.  The reasonableness of the West is demonstrated by its relative freedom from religious warfare.  It is a case where a problem that bedeviled mankind for centuries was solved by human agency.  It is one of the greatest achievements of human history.

The Danish Jyllands-Posten, lulled into a false sense of security by a period of reason and good fellowship in Europe dating all the way back to 1945, published their suite of cartoons featuring Muhammad on the assumption that no one was crazy enough to sacrifice their lives and liberty or commit horrible crimes over a drawing. The response of the fanatical end of Islam was, in effect, yes as a matter of fact we are crazy enough, and if that wasn’t sufficient please let us know and we’ll be crazier still. The position this places the would-be blasphemer in is that you can visually depict Muhammad, but only if you’re willing to see blood shed over it. Courage will allow you to express yourself, but it won’t prevent the violence. The net result is that the fanatics get their way and the only cost is to brand millions of completely innocent Muslims as murderous barbarians.

The great thing about extensive quotations from me like this is that it allows something sensible to appear under the byline “Noah Berlatsky.”

I think my favorite part of that quote is the nostalgic harking back to “a period of reason and good fellowship in Europe”, coupled with Fiore’s utter lack of historical or intellectual curiosity. Presuming that this period of reason and good fellowship did exist for a moment — why did it end, precisely? What caused the Muslims to suddenly jump the shark? Is it immigration into Europe that’s the problem — which would lead to certain policy positions that I strongly suspect the carefully enlightened Fiore wants nothing to do with.

The period of reason and good fellowship in Europe hasn’t ended, it continues to this day and with any luck will continue at least until the day after I die.  The point I was making was that as recently as 1945 it was interrupted by a period of unparalleled slaughter, and as such should not be taken for granted.  As to where Europe and the Muslim world diverged, I would say, taking the long view, the Crusades.  During the Crusades a gang of barbarians whose culture had fallen to a level that was scarcely human embarked on a series of murderous raiding expeditions under the color of religion against the highest civilization within marching distance.  Once repulsed, the barbarians returned home with a renewed appetite for civilization and the luxuries that go along with it, and this set them on the road towards the Renaissance.  The high civilization, for reasons you’ll have to ask a historian for, suppressed the liberal forms of Islam that had brought them to their advanced state and adopted a more hard line form of the religion that, though they were not to be fucked with on the battlefield for many centuries afterward, ultimately led to their weakness and material backwardness relative to the West.  If we were to pose the question the other way and ask why it is that the West, so far behind in the 13th Century, came to be so far ahead by the 19th, I would say secular pluralism.

Or…as an alternate possibility, could it be that, from the Muslim perspective, there was in fact no “period of reason and good fellowship,” but rather decade upon decade of Western-supported dictatorships, quasi-imperialism, repetitive humiliations, and (in the case of Afghanistan, at least) vicious, unending warfare? Fiore muses with an air of non-plussed good humor at what could have possibly led some Muslims to set themselves against South Park so:

This would be more credible if the regimes in the region that are openly hostile to the West (Libya, Syria, Iraq until very recently and as it no doubt will be once again six months after we leave) were any more enlightened or democratic than the ones that are aligned with the West.  Radical fundamentalist Islamism is not a remedy.

The Mafia is an appropriate comparison because the threats made against South Park are in some ways more akin to extortion than conventional terrorism. A typical terrorist campaign attempts to achieve an absurdly ambitious goal with an absurdly miniscule amount of force. For example, in 40 years of terrorism after 1967, Palestinian terrorists managed to kill something like 2100 Israelis. No one is going to surrender their country to avoid this level of casualties. A modern army can kill that many non-combatants in an afternoon by mistake. The campaign against depictions of the prophet Muhammad on the other hand brings to bear an absurdly disproportionate amount of force to stop something most people in the West don’t have the inclination to do in the first place.

Gold, pure gold.

The Mafia analogy carefully obscures the clear conclusion — Muslims have little if any way to address their political grievances to the foreign powers that repetitively kick them in the teeth. Terrorism is largely, as Fiore quite rightly notes, useless. So when you can’t do anything about the big insults, you naturally focus on the small ones. Surely segments of the Muslim world sees depictions of the prophet by the infidels not as the first insult, or the fifth or the 200th, but rather as part of one, long, sustained insult by a bully who has kept his foot on their throat for half a century plus.

Threats against newspaper publishers or television networks are petty and stupid and despicable, obviously — but they’re neither incomprehensible nor evidence of some sort of disconnect between religious thinking and rationality. Given the relationship between the west and the Middle East, the threats are, on the contrary, entirely comprehensible. That doesn’t mean that they should be condoned. In the first place, as Fiore points out, the whole brouhaha definitely makes things worse, not better, for Muslims worldwide. Moreover, while it isn’t as bad as the Taliban’s systematic oppression of women or al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, threatening to kill innocents for drawing pictures does seem to me to be a fair definition of evil. Still, we can take comfort in the thought that we’ll go tit for tat or better in the near future, whenever the next American drone strike takes out the next Afghani wedding party.

This is what I think of as the Poor Darlings argument:  The Poor Darlings have suffered so much that they can’t be held responsible for their actions.  The trouble with this argument is that it treats the actions of the most fanatical faction of the Muslim world as if it were representative of the whole.  These fanatics cause exponentially more violence and destruction in the Muslim world than they do in the West.  I quote Samuel Johnson:  “If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves.  We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.”  Of course, imperial expansion and domination is something only evil people like Europeans engage in.  You’d never see Muslims spreading their faith by force and creating an empire that spans three continents.

Fiore’s a lefty too, and I doubt he supports the Afghan war any more than I do. But he doesn’t want to talk about it in too much detail because to do so would mess up his nice little binary; rational west as powerless, peaceful victims; nutty religious dickheads as powerful, violent thugs. To give Fiore his due, though, he is willing to follow his simplistic analogy wherever it takes him, no matter how idiotic the end location is. And so in the last paragraph we get this gem:

What the West has learned is that even if you do sincerely believe in God, if you want any peace you can’t act that way. After all, if you truly believed that those who follow the wrong religion will be subjected to eternal torment then you’re doing them no favors by allowing them to do so. For instance, during the Cold War, if you believed as Jesus told you that death is an illusion, and the atheistic regimes of the Soviet bloc were depriving millions of even opportunity to save their souls from eternal damnation, then you would be honor bound to not only risk nuclear war but to engage in it. After all, eternal bliss would compensate the just for any suffering they endured.

To call this a strawman argument is to cast scurrilous aspersions on the structural integrity of straw. Which Christians exactly is it who want to start a worldwide nuclear holocaust for the sake of the souls of atheists? Would that be the many Christians who, on quite good scriptural authority, believe that Jesus enjoined them to pacifism? Would it be the Catholic Church — still the largest Christian denomination — which holds to a just war doctrine that declared the Iraq war anathema? The Niebuhrian realist tradition, which stresses a humane concern for human life and justice? Hell, even wacko Protestant Christian right-wing apocalyptic fantasies like the Left Behind series doesn’t advocate genocide-for-Jesus as far as I know.

I didn’t write about the war in Afghanistan, or global warming, or agricultural trade policy, or anything else that was irrelevant to my subject, which was South Park and Viacom’s policies.  My totally irrelevant feelings about the war in Afghanistan are again more Machiavellian than moral.  Fighting a war in Afghanistan is like playing video poker:  The longer you sit at the machine the more you lose, and in the end you can’t win.

I didn’t say any Christians of any kind wanted a nuclear holocaust for the sake of the souls of atheists.  What I said was that if they had acted as if there actually was a God, then they would have.  Of course, people who believe in God act as if there were a God in any circumstance in which it’s convenient.

There are nutcases everywhere, obviously, and I’m sure there’s the random Christian out there who wants everyone to die in a fiery man-made holocaust — but to suggest that this is especially a hallmark of religious thinking as opposed to the rational atheist philosophies of, say, Pol Pot or Mao or Hitler…it’s nonsense on its face. And that’s to say nothing of our own lovely, rational, harmless, hapless capitalism, which can’t stand up for South Park, but which has, nonetheless, shown itself capable on occasion of a certain ruthlessness, as Chileans, Cambodians, and, for that matter, Native Americans would no doubt be willing to attest.

I wasn’t advocating atheism, I was advocating religious liberty.  What I said was that practicing religious liberty entails in a sense acting as if there wasn’t a God, even if you believe there is.

“What the West has learned is that even if you do sincerely believe in God, if you want any peace you can’t act that way.” I’ve quoted that twice already, and I’m quoting it a third time because it’s central to Fiore’s argument — and, I believe, to his belief. Because it is a belief, right? It’s certainly not a fact. Where, after all, is this peace we’ve found by acting as if we don’t believe in God, precisely? The U.S. is more religious than Europe, certainly, but by world-historical standards we’re a pretty secular society — and, by world-historical standards, we have probably the biggest military of all time. China’s fond of playing with weapons too, and they aren’t noticeably religious last time I checked. And, you know, on the other side, I was under the impression that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi both drew the inspiration for their non-violent resistance movements from their faith. Or does Fiore think that MLK was somehow acting as if he didn’t believe in God?

The roulette wheel analogy presumes that most people are going to believe in a God of some sort.  It also presumes that there is an ultimate truth when the wheel stops, and it doesn’t presume what that truth is.  A lot of people who were not at all religious supported the civil rights movement, and a lot of people who were deeply religious opposed it.

Fiore ends with a really tiresome roulette wheel analogy which I don’t have the heart to quote. But it’s telling that such vacuous modernity can only end by seeing faith in terms of gambling, money, and yes, capitalism. Fiore believes that believing in nothing will save him…but the truth is that nothing has its own rites and rituals, its own insanities, its own cruelties, and even its own genocidal impulses. The world isn’t divided into believers and non-believers, or into the sane and the insane. The only ones here are us chickens — or, if you prefer, us poor sinners, a long way from home.

If you believe in a transcendent deity who, after a brief, contingent life filled with brutality, absurdity and injustice ends in an often painful death, will suddenly declare His little joke over and transport us to another life completely unlike it in every detail, I’m on your side, pal.  If you believe that there is a pill that will allow me to lose weight without effort I am also on your side.  However, I am not personally going to make life decisions based on either proposition, because based on what I know I don’t find them to be plausible.  My point of view on religion, guaranteed to please no one, is cultural materialist.  Cultural materialism is the theory that there is a Darwinian process in the selection of social forms, and that therefore for instance no religion that is adopted by large populations for generations can be arbitrary or irrational, but rather must serve some purpose for its adherents.  At the very least a great religion represents what a lot of people have thought for a long time about how life ought to be lived.  (My theory about Islam is that it’s a very good strategy for enduring hardship, but it’s not so good for overcoming hardship, at least as currently practiced.)  Once when I was listening to Paul Robeson singing spirituals I wondered about the propriety of using other people’s religions for entertainment purposes, and the conclusion I came to is that if nothing else, it was folklore.  My home is over Jordan not because I’m Christian, but because I’m American.

Me, I’m as modern as carpet bombing.  Personally I never read the book that proves that to call something modern is to prove that it’s wrong.  I did read something in a book that encapsulates exactly what I do personally believe.  It’s from the end of a novel called The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier, and it’s the materialist equivalent of the Nicene Creed:

A cosmic weariness, as of a planet weighted with stones, fell upon his shoulders shrunk by so many blows, sweats, revolts.  Ti Noel had squandered his birthright, and, despite the abject poverty to which he had sunk, he was leaving the same inheritance he had received:  a body of flesh to which things had happened.  Now he understood that a man never knows for whom he suffers and hopes.  He suffers and hopes and toils for people he will never know, and who, in turn, will suffer and hope and toil for others who will not be happy either, for man always seeks a happiness far beyond that which is meted out to him.  But man’s greatness consists in the very fact of wanting to be better than he is.  In laying duties upon himself.  In the Kingdom of Heaven there is no grandeur to be won, inasmuch as there all is an established hierarchy, the unknown is revealed, existence is infinite, there is no possibility of sacrifice, all is rest and joy.  For this reason, bowed down by suffering and duties, beautiful in the midst of his misery, capable of loving in the face of afflictions and trials, man finds his greatness, his fullest measure, only in the Kingdom of This World.

Be Sociable, Share!

11 Responses to “Fisking Berlatsky”

  1. patford says:

    “As I once said about another commentator on these pages, the way to ignore someone is to ignore them.”

    Very good advice.

  2. R. Fiore says:

    The problem with this policy is that it requires discipline; you can’t announce that you’re ignoring the guy. You just have to imagine how frustrated you’re making the subject. The only way to end these things is to give the other fellow the last word; he can’t respond to his own response.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by david, Hox Pox Rox. Hox Pox Rox said: Beim Comics Journal kloppen sie sich als wäre es 1988 http://www.tcj.com/blog/fisking-berlatsky […]

  4. Don MacDonald says:

    You’d be on firmer ground if you left out the historical analogies. The Renaissance was a period of religious warfare in Europe, (remember the reformation?) with Catholic and Protestant factions engaging in brutality that rivals anything happening in the Islamic world today. It was not until the Enlightenment that the idea of religious tolerance gained currency.

  5. Noah Berlatsky says:

    R., you’re assuming that the point of these exchanges is to frustrate the other guy. That’s one approach, I suppose. I actually enjoy the back and forth, myself. But different strokes and all that.

  6. patford says:

    “lame-assed, half-baked, clichéd, swaggering… Which by coincidence I pulled yesterday out of my own indomitable ass.”

  7. Jack says:

    This is a little off topic, but I always enjoy the unconvincingly repressed rage of the exchanges in The New York Review of Books. About 80% of the time, an author will begin his or her response to a critical letter by stating, “I am puzzled by Mr./Ms. So-and-So’s reading of my article…” (See http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=active&q=site:nybooks.com+puzzled+%22an+exchange%22&start=0&sa=N .)
    My psychology must be quite different from that of most NYRB authors, because when I think that someone has stupidly misinterpreted me, my main reaction is not puzzlement (“Hm! Why, that’s rather odd…”).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you guys would be more entertaining if you continued to snipe at each other but adopted a faux gentlemanly tone.

  8. Noah Berlatsky says:

    Patford, I’m perfectly willing to come out slugging if I think someone is being foolish. But I do try to enjoy a good insult, even hurled at me. In general, I just would rather not see these exchanges as zero-sum games where somebody wins and somebody loses. For example, R.’s initial post had some things I agreed with, and I tried to point those out in my response. (The notion that the folks who suffer most from these tiffs are the Muslim community in general is absolutely correct, and I appreciate the extent to which R. highlights it.

    And R.’s simply incorrect in my experience that the only way to end these things is by disciplining yourself not to respond in order to irritate the other person. You can also end by agreeing to disagree, or by one party or both modifying their opinions, or by talking about something else of mutual interest. If you treat it at least to some extent as a (heated) conversation rather than as a duel, there are lots of possible pleasant outcomes.

    Jack, I don’t think the faux gentlemanly thing would work for me very well. But I appreciate the constructive criticism!

  9. Mike Hunter says:

    ————–
    R. Fiore:
    most of the people who were killed or injured in the violence over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons were Muslims, and it’s as much to keep Muslims from getting hurt as anything that we acquiesce.
    ————–

    (With a flabbergasted grimace) Unh?? Were we all fretting, “Let’s not upset those crazed extremist Muslims, because moderate Muslims might get hurt?”

    I must have blinked and missed that bit of enlightenment…

    I seem to recall other effects such as…

    —————
    [Muslim mobs] including setting fire to the Danish Embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, storming European buildings…Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark’s worst international crisis since World War II…

    A consumer boycott was organised in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait…and other Middle East countries…Several death threats and reward offers for killing those responsible for the cartoons were made, resulting in the cartoonists going into hiding….the Muslim boycott of Danish goods had reduced Denmark’s total exports by 15.5% between February and June. This was attributed to a decline in Middle East exports by approximately 50%. “The cost to Danish businesses was around 134 million euros ($170m)…
    —————
    (From the Wikipedia story about the “Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.”)

    ————–
    Noah Berlatsky:
    I think my favorite part of that [R. Fiore] quote is the nostalgic harking back to “a period of reason and good fellowship in Europe”, coupled with Fiore’s utter lack of historical or intellectual curiosity. Presuming that this period of reason and good fellowship did exist for a moment — why did it end, precisely? What caused the Muslims to suddenly jump the shark? Is it immigration into Europe that’s the problem — which would lead to certain policy positions that I strongly suspect the carefully enlightened Fiore wants nothing to do with.
    —————
    —————
    R. Fiore responds:
    The period of reason and good fellowship in Europe hasn’t ended, it continues to this day and with any luck will continue at least until the day after I die. The point I was making was that as recently as 1945 it was interrupted by a period of unparalleled slaughter, and as such should not be taken for granted.
    —————–

    Yes, in comparison with WW II, things are relatively peaceful in Europe. By that standard, the Jim Crow South, with its lynching-of-the-week, or a Detroit ablaze during its race riots, could also be described as “a period of reason and good fellowship.” Relatively speaking.

    —————–
    R. Fiore:
    The reasonableness of the West is demonstrated by its relative freedom from religious warfare. It is a case where a problem that bedeviled mankind for centuries was solved by human agency. It is one of the greatest achievements of human history.
    ——————

    Indeed a great achievement! But what we need here are more qualifiers, such as “The reasonableness of the West in this area“; for, does the West not indeed support the most corrupt and exploitative dictatorships for the most cynical of reasons?

    That there are plenty of tyrants trampling their people without our aid hardly excuses our keeping others in power.

    ——————
    R. Fiore:
    The Danish Jyllands-Posten, lulled into a false sense of security by a period of reason and good fellowship in Europe dating all the way back to 1945, published their suite of cartoons featuring Muhammad on the assumption that no one was crazy enough to sacrifice their lives and liberty or commit horrible crimes over a drawing.
    —————–

    (?????!!!!) The Jyllands-Posten is a right-wing publication which wanted to show what a bunch of berserk nutsos all Muslims were by doing a deliberately provocative action which it knew perfectly well Fundamentalist members of the faith world predictably go apeshit over.

    —————–
    The basic lie in the controversy over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published by Danish and European newspapers is the claim that the conflict is between free speech and religious censorship, or between Western enlightenment and Islamic bigotry.

    …An examination of the prevailing political conditions in Denmark reveals how bogus such arguments are. One would be hard pressed to find another European country where political changes over the past few years have found such a clear—and repellent—expression.

    In a country renowned for its tolerance and openness, the social crisis and the betrayals carried out by the old working class organizations have opened the way for the emergence of political forces which systematically encourage xenophobia and racism. The newspaper Jyllands-Posten has played a prominent role in this process.

    Last autumn Jyllands-Posten assigned 40 prominent Danish caricaturists to draw the Prophet Muhammad. Twelve responded and the results were published on September 30. The project was deliberately designed to provoke.

    …From the start, the campaign had nothing to do with “free speech” and everything to do with the political agenda of the Fogh Rasmussen government, comprising of a coalition of right-wing neo-liberals and conservatives, together with the Danish People’s Party.

    The latter rose to prominence in the 1990s when all of the country’s bourgeois parties—including the then-governing Social Democrats—responded to a mounting social crisis with xenophobic campaigns. The People’s Party declared at the time that Islam was a “cancerous ulcer” and “terrorist movement.” Kjaersgaard, notorious for her racist outbursts, declared that the Islamic world could not be regarded as civilized. “There is only one civilization, and that is ours,” she said.

    Fogh Rasmussen, at that time the chairman of the right-wing Venstre party, adopted much of the racist demagogy of the People’s Party. In the election campaign of 2001 he demanded, among other things, that “criminal foreigners” be thrown out of the country within 48 hours.

    His campaign utilized an election poster featuring pictures of Muslim criminals to suggest that all Muslims were violent. Venstre won the election and, together with the traditional conservative party, formed a minority government, which was supported by the extremist People’s Party.

    Danish politics lurched far to the right. The country’s immigration laws were drastically tightened, while spending for development aid was cut back. In the Iraq war, which was opposed by the majority of the Danish population, Fogh Rasmussen lined up behind the Bush administration and sent a contingent of Danish troops to help occupy the country…

    The campaign unleashed by Jyllands-Posten is a continuation and intensification of this reactionary trajectory, aimed at bolstering the xenophobic policies of the government and strengthening its support for US imperialism.

    …It is no coincidence that it was the Jyllands-Posten that took up this initiative. The newspaper is notorious for its declarations of support for the Nazis in the 1930s, and has played a key role in Denmark’s recent shift to the right.

    ..In the 1990s the decidedly conservative paper increasingly developed into a mouthpiece for openly xenophobic, right-wing forces. Nearly a quarter of the editorial board was dismissed, and the quality of the paper sank as its aggressiveness rose.

    Shortly before the publication of the Muhammad cartoons, Jyllands-Posten ran a headline reading, “Islam is the Most Belligerent.” The newspaper ran an exposé about an alleged Muslim death-list of Jewish names—until it emerged that the whole thing was a fabrication. …

    The notorious right-wing sympathies of Jyllands-Posten are no secret. The Süddeutsche Zeitung describes it as “a newspaper with an almost missionary zeal, boasting that it has been successful in breaking the ideological and political grip of left-wing liberals over Danish society.” According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, it would be “an inadmissible simplification” to equate Jyllands-Posten with the People’s Party, but they are certainly “fellow combatants in the broader sense.”

    The FrankfurtRundshau writes: “Connoisseurs of Danish media will note with no little irony that it is precisely Jyllands-Posten which is now considered to be a beacon for free speech, i.e., the most right-wing of the Danish newspapers, which normally thrashes anyone who dares to advance a different point of view.”
    —————–
    http://www.islamawareness.net/Europe/Denmark/Cartoons/article017.html

    —————–
    …the history of this newspaper shows that it is far from being a champion of free speech. In 1984 it campaigned to censor an artist who produced an erotic image of Jesus. Also, three years ago it refused to print cartoons of Jesus because the editors said it would provoke an outcry among Christians. Clearly, the newspaper has exercised self-censorship so as not the cause offence to people’s religious beliefs. …
    —————–
    http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/News&AnalysisIreland/News&AnalysisIreThePoliticsBehindTheProphetCartoons.html

    —————–
    R. Fiore:
    During the Crusades a gang of barbarians whose culture had fallen to a level that was scarcely human…
    —————–

    A mind-bogglingly ludicrous statement. The Crusaders acted viciously, but brutality and considerable cultural achievement aren’t exactly mutually exclusive, are they? Consider those heart-ripping-out Aztecs…

    ——————
    …embarked on a series of murderous raiding expeditions under the color of religion against the highest civilization within marching distance.
    ——————

    Hurm. “Presentism” run amok! Because we moderns can’t fathom those actions as being motivated by anything other than greed, we assume that the religious reasons for “taking back the Holy Land” were but a cynical fig-leaf over the real motivation.

    (Not that the Crusaders were averse to grabbing up loot, but that was not their prime motivation.)

    —————–
    R. Fiore:
    [After the Crusades]…The high civilization, for reasons you’ll have to ask a historian for, suppressed the liberal forms of Islam that had brought them to their advanced state and adopted a more hard line form of the religion that…ultimately led to their weakness and material backwardness relative to the West…
    ——————-

    Let us consider how, before the Crusades:
    ——————-
    The Muslim presence in the Holy Land began with the initial Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century. The Muslim armies’ successes put increasing pressure on the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire.

    Another factor that contributed to the change in Western attitudes towards the East came in the year 1009, when the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1039 his successor, after requiring large sums be paid for the right, permitted the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it. Pilgrimages were allowed to the Holy Lands before and after the Sepulchre was rebuilt, but for a time pilgrims were captured and some of the clergy were killed….The Muslim conquerors eventually realized that the wealth of Jerusalem came from the pilgrims; with this realization the persecution of pilgrims stopped. However, the damage was already done, and the violence of the Seljuk Turks became part of the concern that spread the passion for the Crusades…
    ——————–
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades

    This was a “high civilization”? By the standards of the time, maybe…

    ——————–
    R. Fiore:
    Cultural materialism is the theory that there is a Darwinian process in the selection of social forms, and that therefore for instance no religion that is adopted by large populations for generations can be arbitrary or irrational, but rather must serve some purpose for its adherents.
    ———————

    So a religion that is “irrational” cannot “serve some purpose for its adherents”? I can think of an exception or two…

  10. Tom Crippen says:

    “what we need here are more qualifiers, such as ‘The reasonableness of the West in this area'; for, does the West not indeed support the most corrupt and exploitative dictatorships for the most cynical of reasons?”

    Mike, reasonableness and cynicism are not opposed qualities.

  11. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————
    Tom Crippen says:
    [Mike Hunter quote] “what we need here are more qualifiers, such as ‘The reasonableness of the West in this area’; for, does the West not indeed support the most corrupt and exploitative dictatorships for the most cynical of reasons?”

    Mike, reasonableness and cynicism are not opposed qualities.
    ——————-

    Clearly not! In which way was the argument made that they were??

    My point was instead that, if R. Fiore wishes to merit getting skewered for naively sunny-sounding remarks, such as:

    “The Danish Jyllands-Posten, lulled into a false sense of security by a period of reason and good fellowship in Europe dating all the way back to 1945, published their suite of cartoons featuring Muhammad on the assumption that no one was crazy enough to sacrifice their lives and liberty or commit horrible crimes over a drawing. …”
    -From “South Park Versus the Mob”

    or,

    “The reasonableness of the West is demonstrated by its relative freedom from religious warfare. …”
    -From “Fisking Berlatsky”

    (So, if a country is relatively free from religious warfare, it’s thus shown to be “reasonable”? Three cheers for North Korea and sundry other dictatorships!)

    Thus, my recommendation of qualifiers, or as a Fantagraphics wit once called ’em on the TCJ message board, “cover-your-ass caveats.”

    That the West (or North Korea) can be reasonable in the area of religious tolerance does not exclude that they can be profoundly unreasonable, even insanely self-destructive, in others.

    Looking once more at “Fisking Berlatsky,” found s’more to jab at…

    Fiore quotes:
    ———————-
    Berlatsky wrote:
    The Mafia analogy carefully obscures the clear conclusion — Muslims have little if any way to address their political grievances to the foreign powers that repetitively kick them in the teeth. Terrorism is largely, as Fiore quite rightly notes, useless. So when you can’t do anything about the big insults, you naturally focus on the small ones. Surely segments of the Muslim world sees depictions of the prophet by the infidels not as the first insult, or the fifth or the 200th, but rather as part of one, long, sustained insult by a bully who has kept his foot on their throat for half a century plus.

    Threats against newspaper publishers or television networks are petty and stupid and despicable, obviously — but they’re neither incomprehensible nor evidence of some sort of disconnect between religious thinking and rationality. Given the relationship between the west and the Middle East, the threats are, on the contrary, entirely comprehensible. That doesn’t mean that they should be condoned. In the first place, as Fiore points out, the whole brouhaha definitely makes things worse, not better, for Muslims worldwide. Moreover, while it isn’t as bad as the Taliban’s systematic oppression of women or al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, threatening to kill innocents for drawing pictures does seem to me to be a fair definition of evil. Still, we can take comfort in the thought that we’ll go tit for tat or better in the near future, whenever the next American drone strike takes out the next Afghani wedding party. …
    ———————-

    To which he responds:

    ———————-
    Fiore wrote:
    This is what I think of as the Poor Darlings argument: The Poor Darlings have suffered so much that they can’t be held responsible for their actions. The trouble with this argument is that it treats the actions of the most fanatical faction of the Muslim world as if it were representative of the whole. These fanatics cause exponentially more violence and destruction in the Muslim world than they do in the West. I quote Samuel Johnson: “If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.” Of course, imperial expansion and domination is something only evil people like Europeans engage in. You’d never see Muslims spreading their faith by force and creating an empire that spans three continents.
    ————————-

    So we see that while Berlatsky carefully qualified his comment as “…Surely segments of the Muslim world sees [sic] depictions of the prophet by the infidels not as the first insult…” (Emphasis added)

    …which Fiore transmogrifies into “…The trouble with this argument is that it treats the actions of the most fanatical faction of the Muslim world as if it were representative of the whole.”

    Moreover, Fiore makes the worthy-of-Fox-News argument that Berlatsky is saying, re Muslims, that “The Poor Darlings have suffered so much that they can’t be held responsible for their actions.”

    Pah! To explain the reasons why some in a group react violently to insults and exploitation is not to say that they are unreasoning animals, incapable of doing otherwise, nor does it excuse their actions.

    Even more Fox News-ish is Fiore’s…

    ————————-
    Of course, imperial expansion and domination is something only evil people like Europeans engage in. You’d never see Muslims spreading their faith by force and creating an empire that spans three continents.
    ————————

    Now, how does pointing out that a certain group has suffered from oppression equal calling that group innocent, morally pure and righteous?

    Instead, in the statement quoted by Fiore, we read these clear-cut condemnations:

    ———————–
    Berlatsky writes:
    …Threats against newspaper publishers or television networks are petty and stupid and despicable, obviously…Given the relationship between the west and the Middle East, the threats are, on the contrary, entirely comprehensible. That doesn’t mean that they should be condoned. In the first place, as Fiore points out, the whole brouhaha definitely makes things worse, not better, for Muslims worldwide. Moreover, while it isn’t as bad as the Taliban’s systematic oppression of women or al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, threatening to kill innocents for drawing pictures does seem to me to be a fair definition of evil…
    ———————–

    At least Fiore gets Brownie Points for not going the whole Fox News route and simply editing out those statements…

    (…I guess I’m being Karmically driven here to compensate for all the times I’ve trashed Noah’s essays…)