Turkey's pride and bane
Orhan Pamuk has won the Nobel Prize. Good for literature, good for him, good for free expression. Pamuk, you may recall, is the Turkish writer who was indicted on charges of “offending Turkish identity” recently, when Pamuk said in an interview in Switzerland that Turkey had committed a genocide against Armenians, and that it had bloody hands to this day in a lower-grade eradication campaign against Kurds, in Turkey’s eastern provinces. The indictment brought to reality for Pamuk a line he’d dropped in his novel, Snow, a couple of years earlier: “Let’s be clear that it’s treason to give a German paper a quote trashing our nation.” Speaking of Pamuk’s Snow (2002): The novel, had him squarely addressing the issues Islam and the West are drowning in these days: The story revolves around Ka, a poet-journalist who travels to an eastern Turkish province to investigate mysterious suicides by young girls who’ve been forbidden from wearing a veil in school. We get bits like this, from Ka: “The idea of a solitary westernized individual whose faith in God is private is very threatening to you. An atheist who belongs to a community is far easier for you to trust than a solitary man who believes in God. For you, a solitary man is far more wretched and sinful than a nonbeliever. […] you can embrace your religion and your community only if godless secularists like me are overseeing business and government affairs. A man can’t pray to his heart’s content in this country unless he can depend on the efficiency of the atheist who’s an expert at managing the West and the other aspects of worldly business.” Or this, from Blue, a differently rebellious character in the book: “Can the West endure any democracy achieved by enemies who in no way resemble them?” Or like this, from Pamuk himself, in Istanbul, his memoir: “Even the greatest Ottoman architecture has a humble simplicity that suggests an end-of-empire gloom, a pained submission to the diminishing European gaze and to an ancient poverty that must be endured like an incurable disease. It is resignation that nourishes Istanbul’s inward-looking soul.” Note that ironic use of the word submission, which, in its usual eastern context, means Islam. Not here.
Muhammad Cartoons, Again
“Less than a year after cartoons of Islam's prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper ignited worldwide protests against the Scandinavian nation, a new set of cartoons, this time featured in a video aired on Danish television and the Internet, has again sparked condemnations in the Muslim world,” the Christian Science reports. But this is an entirely different controversy than its original. In this case the video was the result of a secret infiltration of an ultra-right-wing Danish political group by people whose aims may have been to expose bigotry rather than to spread it. Its tactics backfired: “The film was made by a group called Defending Denmark which said it infiltrated the youth wing of the far-right party for 18 months "to document [its] extreme right-wing associations". It showed the junior members of the party, who appeared to have been drinking, holding a drawing contest during their summer camp,” the UK Independent writes. “One woman presented a cartoon showing a camel with the head of Mohamed and beer cans for humps. A second drawing showed a bearded man wearing a turban next to a plus sign and a bomb, equalling a nuclear mushroom cloud.” Ultra-right-wing groups will do their neo-fascist thing regardless. “Infiltrating” them is no attempted exposé. It’s stimulating provocation. Why bother expose the obvious, when the obvious in this case would have been too ashamed to expose itself—when neo-fascist groups by nature have to keep their activities circumspect for being so distasteful and unacceptable? The airing of the video was not an exercise in free speech, nor a defense of a principle. It was a politically motivated attempt at a journalistic coup. It fails various tests of defensibility on many levels, except the ultimate one: in the end, it’s all still protected activity, protected speech, protected “controversy.”
Self-Censorship Threatens the West, argues Cinnamon Stillwell in the SFChronicle: “All across the Western world, a worrisome phenomenon is spreading. Fear of incurring Muslim wrath is leading politicians, journalists, artists, professors, teachers and business owners to censor themselves. A series of historical precursors paved the way for things to come. The fatwa issued in 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini against the life of "The Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie, the 2004 murder of Dutch "Submission" filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and last year's Danish cartoon controversy are just a few. Each time, blasphemy was the claim and violence the solution. The recent comments of Pope Benedict XVI opened the floodgates once again. […] The very idea that sparking an interfaith dialogue through theological discussion should be deemed worthy of an apology, not to mention a death sentence, has apparently become acceptable in the Western media. A New York Times editorial scolded the pope for his insensitivity, while other voices in the media decried the "bad timing" of the pope's words in light of an upcoming trip to Turkey. […]Until legitimate criticism of Islam is no longer considered "provocative," this pattern of self-censorship is likely to continue. For fear is an incredibly effective weapon. There is more than one way to win a war, and societies that are weakened from within can be overtaken without firing a shot. The steady erosion of principles such as free speech can have a devastating effect. Both for the sake of the West and the possibility of reform within the Muslim world, the critics must not be silenced.” [See the full column…]
Speaking of which: Tony Judt is silenced just before addressing the issue of the “Israel Lobb”: “Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry,” the Post reported. “The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate. An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.”
So in the interest of debate, here’s Tony Judt’s OpEd for the Times from April 19: “A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy”
Jesus Christ: John Paul XXIII (remember him?) did away with them through Vatican II for good reason: no one gives a crap about Latin masses anymore. They’re just another way for the Church to act pretentious, to sound holier than thou (even though it is the church’s job to sound holier than thou), to reach back to its Medieval golden period when the masses were blessedly ignorant and the local prelate could have his way with them on behalf of the imperial prelate in Rome. Now Benedict XVI (or Benoît, as his MySpace profile has him in France) wants to bring back those Latin masses. What next? Papal adultery and illegitimate children by the cartload? That’s it. I haven’t been to church since Ronald Reagan was elected (not counting four funerals and a wedding). But this really does it.
Staggering poll of the Day
Australia’s police-state fixation: “Police have defended using capsicum spray on teenagers to break up "brawl after brawl" at an under-age dance party attended by thousands of children in Sydney's east last night,” says the Sydney Morning Herald. “The police riot squad was called in to control rolling brawls among 3000 children at the After Dark under-18s party at The Roundhouse at the University of NSW in Kensington.
Lebanon’s war is over (for now), Gaza’s isn’t: “ Israel Defense Forces troops killed six Palestinians, among them five relatives, during raids in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday, witnesses and medics said,” Haaretz reports. “They said troops backed by helicopter gunships entered the village of Abassan , east of Khan Yunis, at dark, touching off clashes. Of the five relatives, three were armed militants of the ruling Hamas party's militant wing. They were identified as Abed Rahman Kadiah, 25, Salah Kadiah, 25, and Naeel Kadiah, 22. The other two family members were bystanders, named as Adal Kadiah, 40, and his 13-year-old daughter Suhaib Kadiah.”
And finally: George Steinbrenner Fires Detroit Tigers: “mmediately following the Yankees' first-round playoff elimination last Saturday, George Steinbrenner released a statement announcing his intention to fire the Detroit Tigers, whose "inexcusable postseason performance stunned and saddened" the 76-year-old Yankees owner. "The Tigers' level of play during the ALDS was deeply disappointing and absolutely not acceptable to both me and the great and loyal Yankee fans," the statement read in part. "This is a mid-budget team with a payroll under $85 million, and I expected them to play like one."