Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Don’t Draw Mohammed It’s Not Worth The Risk [Anthony McCarthy]

Dan Savage and I agree on some things, we don’t agree on others. Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is one of those we don’t agree on. While I would be against the government suppressing sacrilegious expression, such as the intentionally offensive and, we now know, deadly, Danish cartoon images mocking Mohammed, I’ve got no problem with Comedy Central choosing not to broadcast South Park when it contains similar content. Savage’s and other’s contention that their doing what media owners and producers and editors do, making decisions that reject content, is an abridgment of The First Amendment, is just simply and stunningly wrong.

The First Amendment doesn’t ban media from suppressing itself or those with which it contracts to produce its content, it applies ONLY TO SUPPRESSION OF SPEECH BY THE GOVERNMENT. If Comedy Central doesn’t have a contractual relationship with the makers of South Park that allows them to assert editorial control, they’ve got some pretty stupid lawyers. And any relief that the, uh, creators would have would be on the basis of contracts, not the constitution.

NB: I’ll, with great effort, resist the temptation to veer into necessity of the Fairness Doctrine at this point.

As I’ve said here before, though, I’m less interested in the protection of cartoons or the identity of religious entities than I am in the lives of living people. And what applies to religious issues applies to sacred assertions of secular ethics. That’s my bottom line. I don’t want anyone, Moslems or Danes or even clueless American graphic artists, killed over a stupid assertion of abstract, secular or sacred ethics. In the end, if they don’t serve to preserve life, they’re not ethical.

I’m not happy with the reactions in a number of Islamic societies to satirical images of Mohammed. I’m not happy that they have no sense of separation of church and state. Beyond question, I’m entirely unhappy with the position of women and gay people in those societies, issues which get insufficient attention from our iconoclasts. But I don’t have any more control over the behavior of the people who reacted badly to the offense than I do with the intended offensiveness of EDMD. I don’t live there and the people who do aren’t about to care what I say about it anymore than Dan Savage probably will. The elevation of the reaction to the reaction over the possible lives lost, is to compound the depravity. To elevate the issue of the stupid and ignorant satire, by “artists” - of second rank ability and next to no knowledge from what I saw* - above the lives that were lost in the reaction is far more morally depraved than the stupid cartoons were.

The people who claim to be doing this for the First Amendment are, clearly, quite ignorant of what the First Amendment actually says. So that isn’t really at issue. They also are not going to convince the people who react badly to what they’re doing by doing it more. I’ll grant that none of the ones I’ve read have been silly enough to make the claim that’s what they intended**. So they are doing it for some other reason. Stupid, irreverent iconoclasm of a kind that gets a lot of fleeting attention, perhaps. But putting that above the possibility of generating more riots that get more people killed is certainly a more important consideration than their tedious transgression. Other than that, it’s jr. high level taunting from the relative safety of locations removed from the likelihood of resultant violence.

While a written, intentionally inoffensive, critique of the immorality of putting the sacrosanct identity of a even an esteemed man, long since dead, over the lives of living human beings would have been little noticed, it would have had a chance to make a point about the issue. I doubt it would have caused the outraged and very likely violent reactions that the original cartoons and their republication did. If that idea turned out to be wrong, it would have to be reconsidered, if for no higher reason, than internal contradiction. Consider the issue of internal contradictions, because this issue is full of them.

It was, clearly, the images that were the problem to begin with. Graven images are particularly offensive to many Moslems. I doubt the Danish cartoonists had much of an idea of the reaction their drawings would produce. If I’m wrong and they did it with foreknowledge, they were stunningly irresponsible. By drawing more images, by risking further violence, by dishonestly using the First Amendment as an excuse, the pop iconoclasts are doing exactly the thing they’re pretending to criticize, they’re putting their preferences and alleged principles in a position over actual, real, lives. And they don’t have the excuse of ignorance of the likely consequences. Very possibly they’re knowingly risking the lives of people entirely uninvolved with the cartoons or the over-reaction to them. If they didn’t think of that before, well, now they can’t claim it hasn’t been brought up as a possibility.

So, I’ve just given you my First Amendment protected take on Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I’m sure I’ve transgressed many an idol of leftish and libertarian culture in the process, though I hope I haven’t sparked a riot. Let me know if I have and I’ll reconsider.
* How entirely stupid does a piece of pop-culture have to get before people will just admit the person who produces it is an idiot with no talent? “Transgression” of this kind, continually relied on to produce the buzz it fleetingly gets, turns out to be a sign that they have no talent in large quantities.

** What they intend with a full knowledge of the recent violence that has resulted in deaths.

Looking around the web, the promotion of this seems to be quite short on thinking it through. As is the reaction to it. The always ironically named “Reason” magazine blog was particularly lacking in reasoned consideration. And the comments were the opposite of a celebration of reason and a display of juvenile venting. You’d think that “Reason” would at least try to grow up. You can look it up, I choose to not give links to any of them.