On Baltimore and Wedding Cakes

tyranny of - RS

This year began with the horrible slaughter at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. A bright and memorable spot in the whole affair was the way the people took to the streets to tell the terrorists they were not relinquishing control of their minds. A group marched with a lighted sign that read, “NOT AFRAID.” Rose survived a similar attack a few years ago – mentally and physically.

It’s a Joke, Son

Years ago, Rose and his colleagues had come under death threats for something published in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Rumor had it that an author was having problems finding somebody to illustrate a kindly enough book on the Prophet Muhammad. Feeling the call of duty from the free press, Rose took the responsibility of challenging the cloud of fear seemingly hovering over Western Europe. He sent letters to forty cartoonists, soliciting pictures of Muhammad.

Many refused. One colleague described the exercise saying, “It’s about p***in g on people who have another belief, something they hold dear.” Many cartoonists who responded made fun of the paper’s request, as in one with a police lineup in which nobody could identify which dude was Muhammad and another of a cartoonist sweating it out trying to draw a picture. None were as offensive or horrendous as those, which nobody had ever published before, presented by an Egyptian delegation in order to concoct a straw man argument to incite global retaliation against the Danes.

“Two reasons to publish the cartoons,” wrote Rose, were, ”First to highlight self-censorship and its effect on cultural life, and second to fight the fears that underlay self censorship. The more frequently the taboo was challenged, I thought, the more difficult it would be to maintain intimidation.”

Needless to say, the death threats followed. Kurt Westergaard, an old hippie grandfather, was the primo target, having drawn a picture of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Rose had his own steady stream of threats and state protections. In what became known as the Cartoon Crisis, Rose was blamed for 200 deaths in uprisings protesting the cartoons worldwide. He kept finding himself looking over his shoulder and such, but had to remind himself, “If you let this get to you and stop doing things you want, then they’ve already won.” Fear is the high-octane that fuels tyrants.

A Man, Not a Number

One important factor historically separating Western Civilization from other civilizations was its belief in individual rights. Among these would be freedom of speech, the right to worship as one pleases, and freedom of assembly. Individuals are respected and held to high expectations. Today, “rights” is but one word whose definition is being shifted to compromise personal freedoms.

In Europe, now, people talk about community rights. They advocate for rights to housing, healthcare, and other characteristics of a welfare state. This form of rights is harder to defend on a premise of natural rights, endowed by a Creator, since groups are human inventions. A more serious problem, notes Rose, is that dilution of the definition eases civilizations glide down a slippery slope from a “free society” to a “fear society.”

Admittedly the individuals in groups vary in their sentiments, but I recently spoke with a man named Mohammed about his religious beliefs. He explained that the law required the severance of a hand for stealing, but not many hands are cut off. The objective was to create fear in peoples’ minds so they would stay in The Way. How different this was from Christianity, where charity suffereth long and nothing more than gentle persuasion is permissible to help brothers find the love of Christ. Mohammed was OK with living in fear.

Rose interviewed a number of people who have been outspoken for individual rights. One of the few who did not live under death threats was Amos Oz, who wrote, “The essence of fanaticism lies in the desire to force other people to change: the common inclination to improve your neighbor, mend your spouse, engineer your child, or straighten up your brother, rather than let them be. The fanatic is a most unselfish creature. The fanatic is a great altruist . . . he wants to save your soul, he wants to redeem you, he wants to liberate you from sin, from error, from smoking, from your faith or from your faithlessness, he wants to improve your eating habits, or to cure you of your drinking or your voting habits.”

Salman Rushdie, viewed by many as an infamous provocateur of Muslim unrest, told Rose, “Any attempt to restrict that impulse [to tell a story] isn’t just censorship or a political violation of freedom of speech; it is an act of violence against human nature, an existential assault that turns people into something they are not.”

Keep Talking

Rose argues well that, “Violence is the antithesis of speech. Through speech, we try to persuade others with the force of our ideas. Violence, on the other hand, terrorizes with the force of arms. It shuts off opposing points of view.” Counter to some scholarly claims, Rose says attempts to silence speech in the Weimar Republic paved the way for totalitarianism. Nazis used the controls to their advantage.

Humanitarian Agnes Callamard argues, “Experience shows that restrictions on freedom of expression rarely protect us from abuses, extremism, or racism. They are usually and effectively used to muzzle opposition and dissenting voices, silence minorities, and reinforce the dominant political, social, and moral discourse and ideology.” Rose adds that attempts to control speech in the name of protecting a minority can usually be exposed as attempts to silence a different, political group.

Defending people of the free world and many Muslim individuals who ran to his defense, Rose would do the same thing again today. “When asked if we would have published the drawings had we known they would lead to violence and killings, the answer was always no. But that response meant that we effectively handed the job of editing the newspaper to fanatics and terrorists thousands of kilometers away.”

“We know from history that if we submit to terror and threats, what we do not get is less terror and fewer threats. What we get is more terror and more threats. When an individual, media, or society submits to intimidation, the message it sends to the terrorist is that his despicable and contemptible actions work.”

Rose was inspired by Soviet dissidents, many of whom were sent to labor camps for refusing to, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn poetically described it, “live the lie.” The official lie of the state, he argued, concealed violence, intimidation, and coercion. Wrote he poetically, “The simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal nonparticipation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.”

Natan Sharansky put it this way. “The notion of no longer upholding the lie – of no longer pretending, playing the game of the regime, submitting to its intimidation – that had the most tremendous liberating effect on us. As dissidents, we found it gave us enormous strength to free ourselves from the second-guessing that so permeated Soviet society. The regime understood that perfectly, so it spent considerable amounts of energy trying to shut dissidents up, even though at first sight we were a small and insignificant group. But in the end, the Soviet Union did collapse. And what made the difference was the desire not to go on living a life of lies.”

Another dissident voice, Kanan Makiya, wrote, “Silence is a way of talking, of writing. Above all, it is a way of thinking that obfuscates and covers up for the cruelty that should today be a central preoccupation of those who make talking, writing, and thinking their business.” Totalitarian societies can exist only so long as people will submit to intimidation. Ironically, Rose observes, while freethinking Soviets were being imprisoned for talking about liberation, Western kids were protesting, under the protections afforded in the United States, to bring a Soviet-style system into this country.

Sleight of Hand

Having hopefully made a steel-case defense for free speech with such observations as, “Criminalization of speech is the closest a society can get to controlling the thoughts of its people,” Rose elucidates another trick used by spiritual darkness in high places these days.

Students of physics can get really confused solving problems when variables are not defined well. In a relativity problem, for example, one cannot refer simply to “acceleration.” One must specify which character is accelerating. A similar difficulty has been exploited with the word “tolerance.” At first, it meant we put up with each other. We turned the other cheek. Oh, defense was advised if lives, families, or homes came under attack; but if somebody wanted to avoid dirty movies, one would just go to the G-rated ones. Rose says, “freedom and tolerance are different sides of the same coin,” but both terms are being redefined and compromised.

Now, tolerance is being defined as the responsibility of the speaker rather than the one who hears the speech. According to the new definition, “Freedom of speech is not a duty to speak; it involves refraining from saying anything critical of, or offensive to, another group. That form of ‘tolerance’ closes its eyes to intolerance of individuals within the minority group, because to draw attention to that intolerance would be ‘racist.’”

“When we focus on nondiscrimination and equality and aim to empower the aggrieved, tolerance is no longer about the ability to tolerate things that we don’t like; it becomes the ability to keep quiet and refrain from saying things that others may dislike. . . . Those aggrieved by free speech are defended, while those whose speech is perceived as offensive to such a degree that they are exposed to death threats, physical assault, and sometimes even murder are deemed to have been asking for it. ‘What did they expect, offending people like that?’” Rose says what’s really needed is insensitivity training, to teach people how to tolerate in the traditional sense.

The Pen Is Not the Sword

Along these lines is the notion that people are not in control of their actions: Certain cartoons will automatically result in rioting. “What poses the greatest threat to our liberty is ‘insult fundamentalism.’ It supposes that feeling insulted is accompanied by a special right to react with violence, and it runs all the way through our era’s multiple efforts to impose restrictions on free speech. . . . It amounts to giving people who feel like reacting with violence a free hand to decide whether a speech incites terror.”

Rose coined the term “grievance fundamentalism” to describe how perpetrators are turned into victims and vice versa. The concept is absurd, as there is no way to predict how somebody will react. The simplest nuances can surprisingly set off strangers. Grievance fundamentalism presumes humans have some kind of magical powers because it makes each person responsible for the reactions of others.

Again ironically, those spouting this belief in so doing are calling themselves racist. “Assuming the cartoons would incite violence was the real racism – all Muslims are violent criminals,” wrote Rose.

Hirsi Ali, a dissident Muslim living in Denmark, explained her dilemma. “Those who talk of bullying a minority are guilty of the racism of low expectations. When you approach a blond, blue-eyed, white Dane, you expect a high degree of tolerance and reason. But faced with someone like me, you say OK, let it go. . . . The real bullying would be to let the minority steep in its own seclusion and fail to integrate its members into Danish society.”

Uncovered, the craze of crying victim is a tool of tyrants. Control freaks often use religion or some other cause to rally the masses to their ulterior motives. Rose said the same attempts by “the Muslim community” to silence him were used in the Soviet Union. “I countered by saying that their statement reminded me of the Stalin era, when ordinary Soviet citizens were brainwashed into putting Stalin and the Soviet state before anything else. Those who professed to love a religious symbol more than their closest family could be talked into committing atrocities against children, spouses, and parents in the name of their faith. In my view, it was perverse.”

Perhaps the biggest irony of all was this. “Diplomats skilled in the language of international rights and the rhetoric of grievance demanded that the world crack down on Islamophobia – an ambiguous concept that had wormed its way into UN documents, covering a hodgepodge of legitimate criticism of religion and illegitimate discrimination against Muslims –” while in their own countries, Christians were being persecuted, blasphemers were sent to prison, and apostates sentenced to death.

The book is full of insights, exposures of irony, and warnings from dissidents for whom “live free or die” has daily meaning. These people have chosen follow their conscience until succumbing to actual blows, as opposed to perceived threats. Many are of the opinion that it can happen here.

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