The Papers Continue Fatuous

by Kieran Healy on February 11, 2006

Matt Yglesias and the Poorman have already pointed out what a staggeringly stupid contribution Andrew Sullivan recently made in the wake of the Great Cartoon Debacle. But something that boneheaded may need more than one or two blows of the mallet in order to crack. Sullivan is appalled to see the head of Hezbollah threatening to “defend our prophet with our blood, not our voices,” as if threats of violence like this were anything new from that department. He insists that it “is outrageous to be informed by a crowd of hundreds of thousands that the West must give up its freedoms in order to avoid violence.” Well, of course it is—but it’s also a lot of posturing, and Sullivan obliges by striking a pose in return. He then gives us the inevitable non-sequitur: “I’m relieved to see that this moment has forced some very hard thinking on the left.” Matt has already covered why this is bollocks. But then he goes on to employ one of the favorite tropes of this genre of bullshit, the anonymous liberal correspondent with second thoughts. “Another liberal reader,” he says, emails to say that

I’m honestly starting to suspect that, before this is over, European nations are going to have exactly four choices in dealing with their entire Moslem populations—for elementary safety’s sake: (1) Capitulate totally to them and become a Moslem continent. (2) Intern all of them. (3) Deport all of them. (4) Throw all of them into the sea.

Jesus wept. As it happens, I’ve been re-reading Alan Bennett’s diaries. In an entry written towards the end of the Falklands War he notes:

The papers continue fatuous. Peregrine Worsthorne suggests that, having won this war, our troops emerging with so much credit, Mrs Thatcher might consider using them at home to solve such problems as the forthcoming rail strike or indeed to break the power of the unions altogether, overlooking the fact that this is precisely what we are supposed to object to about the regime in Argentina.

It’s a hollow joke that Sullivan’s blog is graced by a tag-line taken from Orwell—and one about not being able to see what’s in front of your face, at that. Instead of being impressed by the keen eliminationist realpolitik of his idiot correspondents, he’d be better off re-reading Lord Hoffman’s remarks from December 2004 on the real threat to the life of the nation. They go double for cartoons. I certainly hope European countries are not about to “capitulate” to demands from some radical muslims that civil society be brought to an end for the sake of the prophet’s honor. (Whether certain newspaper editors deserve a kick in the pants for pointlessly stirring-up shit is another matter.) Nor, I take it, are they about to round up and dump “all of them” (for any value of “them”) into the sea. And if some countries have started down one or other of those roads, it certainly isn’t because some clerical thugs are so awesomely powerful that they are in a position to destroy the institutions of western democracy. You’ll have to look elsewhere to find people with the leverage to do real damage there.

{ 48 comments }

1

Brendan 02.11.06 at 3:39 pm

Of course it has been a trope in radical Islam for some time that Christian Europe is heading towards some form of Muslim Holocaust and like most people I dismissed it as the ramblings of the usual suspects, but with statements like: ‘Throw all of them into the sea.’ (where they will all die, presumably, all 20 (or 35, or 50) million of them) becoming acceptable in whatever strange circles Andrew Sullivan moves in, maybe not.

2

neil 02.11.06 at 3:39 pm

The Ken MacLeod essay referred to in the recent CT post, The Liberalism of Fools does a better job explaining Andrew Sullivan than anything else I’ve read.

3

P O'Neill 02.11.06 at 3:41 pm

Even the spelling Moslem is a tip-off that something is weird about Sully’s e-mailer, much like the occasional ‘liberal’ who is disillusioned with the Democrat party.

4

otto 02.11.06 at 3:45 pm

I agree with AS going loopy on this.

But I am no fan of Hoffman. The comparison with Spain was bizarre. Spain expells non-citizens to coutnries that torture all the time. (And the predictable result of the law lords’ decision (but not Hoffman here IIRC) was the end of habeas corpus for British citizens – thanks). And in a later case he was quoting the Israeli supreme court on why torture was not acceptable, when coercive methods of interrogation are routine practice in Israel. One of the problems with loosening the adjudication standards for judges has been the enabling of credulous and bizarre understandings of foreign behaviour to influence British legal decisions. (I leave aside his non-recusal in the Pinochet case).

5

abb1 02.11.06 at 4:04 pm

Europe is lucky to still have a choice of becoming wingnuttia or drowning THEM all in the ocean. Too late for America.

6

nik 02.11.06 at 4:17 pm

I’m not sure the head of Hezbollah was ‘posturing’, any more than Khomeini was ‘posturing’ in the Satanic Verses affair. To me it seems a perfectly genuine attempt to use violence to intimidate people.

Lord Hoffman was absolutely right that the real threat to the life of the nation comes from stupid laws. Though that’s not to say their isn’t currently a real threat to the lives of individuals who say unwise things about Islam. I’m not sure trying to bring this to public attention, or expressing solidarity with people on the receiving end of that sort of intimidation, is ‘pointlessly stirring-up shit’.

7

abb1 02.11.06 at 4:37 pm

Dixie Chicks received death threats, Michael Moore’s got death threats, it’s hard to name an individual who’s made a controversial statement and hasn’t gotten death threats; in 2005 89 journalists worldwide “killed in the line of duty, singled out for their professional work.” According to the International Federation of Journalists, U.S. troops were involved in five of the deaths of journalists in Iraq, bringing the total to 18 since the 2003 invasion.

But, of course, it’s Hezbollah’s threat to Danish cartoonist that’s going to bring our civilization down. Yeah, we need to stop ’em while it’s not too late.

8

Kieran Healy 02.11.06 at 4:38 pm

I’m not sure the head of Hezbollah was ‘posturing’, any more than Khomeini was ‘posturing’ in the Satanic Verses affair. To me it seems a perfectly genuine attempt to use violence to intimidate people.

Yes — though my point was, the kind of violence these guys can bring to bear ought not to threaten us in the way that Sullivan lets on.

9

otto 02.11.06 at 4:41 pm

abb1 reminds me of the claims that Bush was mulling bombing Al-Jaazera because of the political view point of that media outlet, until Tone talked him out of it. is there a parallel there? someone should ask Andrew Sullivan.

10

Tom T. 02.11.06 at 4:47 pm

I provoke thought, you shock the bourgeoisie, he pointlessly stirs up shit.

11

Raw Data 02.11.06 at 5:19 pm

What is this post about?
Might I suggest that it wanders aimlessly and ends up saying nothing except that you don’t like Andrew Sullivan.

12

y81 02.11.06 at 5:52 pm

Where does the part criticizing the newspaper editor come from? I don’t recall your criticizing the Brooklyn Museum for annoying Rudy Giuliani and a large number of Catholics. Really, it’s those constant little tics that make highly-educated careful readers like me think of you as “on the other side.”

13

Kimmitt 02.11.06 at 5:56 pm

Well, it is important for people to understand how unlikable Andrew Sullivan is; perhaps then he’ll stop getting work, and we’ll have one fewer moron being paid to pollute our minds.

14

e-tat 02.11.06 at 6:50 pm

Tell me, someone: what has the cartoon debacle accomplished? And from this point in the proceedings, what do you anticipate it will have accomplished by this time next year?

15

dsquared 02.11.06 at 6:50 pm

I don’t recall your criticizing the Brooklyn Museum for annoying Rudy Giuliani and a large number of Catholics.

really? gosh you should have been here in 1999, we were fucking furious.

16

John Quiggin 02.11.06 at 7:05 pm

I don’t recall your criticizing the Brooklyn Museum for annoying Rudy Giuliani and a large number of Catholics.

In fact, I posted on this very topic under the heading Don’t react, it only encourages them.

17

yabonn 02.11.06 at 7:07 pm

Impressing how the Eurabian Ragnarok is becoming a wingnut favorite.

Over here, the last sighting of the Muslim Angry Millions was a demonstration against the cartoons. 7 000. Woohoo.

I don’t think it will stop people like Mr Sullivan making racist little posts like his. Actually it’s interesting to see how they have to fantasize europe (more generally the world) in order to sustain their worldview.

18

Raw Data 02.11.06 at 7:14 pm

“What has the cartoon debacle accomplished?”

For one thing, it’s been very effective at scaring the West’s political and media leadership. The threat of violence is effective; there is fear in the newsroom.

19

J 02.11.06 at 7:38 pm

Well put. I never cease to be amazed by views which Sullivan and his ilk impute to those of us who opposed Bush’s mad adventure in Iraq. Apparently we weren’t thinking that unecessary wars are best avoided, that unprovoked wars of aggression violate principles that we hold dear and to which we have solemnly committed ourselves, that even in the hands of the best intentioned and most capable leaders an invasion of Iraq was fraught with peril and ran the risk of making a bad situaton even worse, that in view of the fact that our leaders here in the US were anything but principled and competent, indeed were and remain a group of bungling mendacious zealots, chances that an invasion could succeed were that much slimmer, that elementary respect for the democratic values we trumpet so loudly would have required the government to present an honest case for the war, instead of the farrago of lies and half-truths we were given and so on and so on. No, it seems that we opposed the invasion of Iraq because we fondly imagined that all is well in the Arabic and Islamic worlds, where in our deluded way we thought enlightened values of toleration and open-mindedness prevail as they have in no other place and at no other time in the history of humankind. Now that we have been rudely disillusioned by the ugly reaction to the Danish cartoons and see–as we were unable to see before–that there are serious problems in the Arabic and Islamic worlds, we will be obliged to admit–ruefully–that these problems are ours to solve and that the solution can only take the form of randomly invading other Islamic countries.

20

William Burns 02.11.06 at 7:40 pm

If Sullivan thinks that ethnic cleansing or genocide of European Muslims is now a thinkable solution, is he going to apologize to Slobodan Milosevic?

21

P O'Neill 02.11.06 at 7:42 pm

Sully, writing in the Sunday Times, now says he knew all along the war against Islamo-Fascism was a lost cause:

Their hope has always been what can only be called creeping sharia. Bit by bit, free societies abandon small freedoms to accommodate the sensitivities of Muslims or Christian fundamentalists or the PC police or other touchy fanatics. Bit by bit, we cede our freedoms to fear and phoney civility — all in the name of getting along.

Yes, in this new war of freedom versus fundamentalism I always anticipated appeasement. I just didn’t expect the press to be among the first to wave the white flag.

22

Russell Arben Fox 02.11.06 at 7:55 pm

So what’s really going on here? Various neocons and hawkish libertarians, wrapping themselves in a free speech absolutism primarily for purposes of selling the line that there’s just no dealing with these people. The possibility that one can 1) oppose violent protests, and at the same 2) acknowledge that some people may find different things worth protesting about than we liberals do, respond appropriately, and yet civil society somehow yet endures, just doesn’t fit into their worldview.

23

Teddy 02.11.06 at 8:40 pm

If one has good arguments, one usually does not have a need to resort to expressions like “staggeringly stupid,” “bollocks,”, “bullshit,”, “idiot.”

24

J Thomas 02.11.06 at 8:55 pm

Tell me, someone: what has the cartoon debacle accomplished? And from this point in the proceedings, what do you anticipate it will have accomplished by this time next year?

1. It has distracted the blogosphere from Bush scandals. Various scandals have progressed without a lot of attention. It appears Libby has said Cheney told him to expose Plame, for example. A NASA scandal has resulted in the NASA Brown-equivalent getting fired before he got a whole lot of attention. Etc etc.

2. It has promoted support for attacking iran. If those guys are fanatics who can’t be reasoned with….

3. It has made christian fundamentalists look good. Christian fanatics are different from muslim fanatics. Christian and muslim fanatics both object to blasphemy. Christian and muslim fanatics both stage rallies. Christian and muslim fanatics both make death threats. But muslim fanatics burn down embassies, and christian fanatics don’t.

I’m sure it’s having other effects.

A year from now? Probably forgotten in the press of later events.

25

J Thomas 02.11.06 at 9:02 pm

If one has good arguments, one usually does not have a need to resort to expressions like “staggeringly stupid,” “bollocks,”, “bullshit,”, “idiot.”

Teddy, you’re right. Furthermore, when the argument you’re responding to is staggeringly stupid, the default thought is that it doesn’t need any response at all. Everybody who isn’t an utter idiot themselves will see how bad it is and they don’t need somebody to go through the steps to show them.

However, the 2004 election provides a strong suggestion that this default idea is wrong, at least among americans. Apparently a majority of americans voted Republican even after the preceding 4 years. So it makes sense to first say that you’re going to show it’s stupid, and then show that it’s stupid, and then say that you’ve shown it’s stupid. Just in case a lot of people didn’t notice.

26

Dan Simon 02.11.06 at 9:19 pm

I certainly hope European countries are not about to “capitulate” to demands from some radical muslims that civil society be brought to an end for the sake of the prophet’s honor. (Whether certain newspaper editors deserve a kick in the pants for pointlessly stirring-up shit is another matter.)

I certainly hope European countries are not about to “capitulate” to demands from some radical nativists that racial tolerance be brought to an end for the sake of the continent’s honor. (Whether certain left-wing bloggers deserve a kick in the pants for pointlessly stirring-up shit is another matter.)

27

JHM 02.11.06 at 10:15 pm

If you think Christian fundamentalists aren’t dangerous, try opening an abortion clinic in a small town anywhere in the American Midwest.

28

Half 02.11.06 at 11:27 pm

I’m not sure the head of Hezbollah was ‘posturing’, any more than Khomeini was ‘posturing’ in the Satanic Verses affair. To me it seems a perfectly genuine attempt to use violence to intimidate people.

“Yes—though my point was, the kind of violence these guys can bring to bear ought not to threaten us in the way that Sullivan lets on.”

No. It’s a mistake to assume that the actions of Hezbollah, et. al. are intended to indimdate or threaten the West (‘us’).

Some right-wing fundamentalist Islamic leaders are just as cynical in the manipulation of their own populations as you might suppose, and see this as an opportunity to demagogue them, with an eye toward consolisation of their own power.

Of course this plays both ways.

Some right-wing fundamentalist Western leaders are just as cynical in the manipulation of their own populations as you might suppose, and see this as an opportunity to demagogue them, with an eye toward consolisation of their own power.

Would that this thing being played out were in fact a just game…

29

Half 02.11.06 at 11:30 pm

…were just a game…

Ahem

30

Brendan 02.12.06 at 4:50 am

I read Sullivan’s stupid little article. Again, he bandies around the word ‘murder’ without pointing out that (to the best of my knowledge) all the people killed in the protests were Muslim demonstrators. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun to be in the embassies as they burn, but again, nobody got killed except a demonstrator.

And again Sullivan skirts over the major point: yeah, sure, many British newspapers haven’t published them. But that does not mean they were censored (as Sullivan implies) or that you ‘can’t see them’. In fact, put ‘Mohammed cartoon’ into Google and you can see them in under ten seconds.

31

Raw Data 02.12.06 at 8:52 am

Talk about “staggeringly stupid” and “boneheaded” — the author of this post knows such well indeed. A muddled post brings out muddled comments and both indicate muddled thinking. This post is not about anything at all except bile.

32

Slocum 02.12.06 at 9:00 am

Dixie Chicks received death threats, Michael Moore’s got death threats, it’s hard to name an individual who’s made a controversial statement and hasn’t gotten death threats

But none of them find themselves having to live as Salmad Rushdie did after the fatwa or as Ayaan Hirsi Ali does now. There is an enormous difference–and, of course, you know that perfectly well, despite pretending otherwise.

33

Jack 02.12.06 at 10:14 am

And Martin Luther King died too long ago to count?

34

abb1 02.12.06 at 10:16 am

I don’t remember mentioning Salman Rushdie. His case is, of course, much more extreme; contrast it with bombings of al-Jazeera offices or Serbian TV station in Belgrade, if you want.

Otherwise – no, I don’t really see much of a difference. Michael Moore has to have bodyguards, the threat is real. The only difference is that he’s rich enough to afford his own bodyguards. What about Alan Berg?

35

WhichFerdinand 02.12.06 at 2:02 pm

Talk about “staggeringly stupid” and “boneheaded”—the author of this post knows such well indeed. A muddled post brings out muddled comments and both indicate muddled thinking. This post is not about anything at all except bile.

This comment, on the other hand, is very civil, original, insightful, and evincing of the author’s exceptionally clear thinking, if said clarity of thinking were ever in doubt.

36

y81 02.12.06 at 3:13 pm

But doesn’t Michael Moore need bodyguards mostly because he’s rich? Most celebrities have bodyguards. I’m certainly not aware that Robert Mapplethorpe, who would be a better comparison to Salman Rushdie, needed bodyguards.

37

Dan Simon 02.12.06 at 5:31 pm

In fact, I posted on this very topic under the heading Don’t react, it only encourages them.

There’s a big difference, John, between your “don’t react, it only encourages them”, and Kieran’s implication that the publishers of the Danish cartoons “deserve a kick in the pants for pointlessly stirring-up shit”. Would you agree with me, John, that if the protests against the anti-Christian art you dismissed as silly had turned into violent riots, then the rioters themselves would have been wholly to blame, and the artists–however vacuous and childish their scribbles–would not have deserved “a kick in the pants for pointlessly stirring-up shit”?

38

engels 02.12.06 at 5:57 pm

If one has good arguments, one usually does not have a need to resort to expressions like “staggeringly stupid,” “bollocks,”, “bullshit,”, “idiot.”

If one is capable of evaluating arguments, one usually does not need to resort to affecting offense at the language in which they are expressed.

39

Raw Data 02.12.06 at 6:02 pm

The problem is that the post is not well-written which is a tip-off that it is not well-thought.

40

Walt Pohl 02.12.06 at 6:13 pm

Raw Data: I’m sure that this will come as a blow to your surely-inflated self-esteem, but the fact that you don’t approve of the post doesn’t mean we give a shit what you think.

41

John Quiggin 02.12.06 at 6:20 pm

Dan, obviously the rioters only have themselves to blame for their actions [actually the riots mostly occurred in countries like Syria where the govt controls such things, so I guess they should share the blame].

But I don’t see how this outcome retrospectively changes our evaluation of those who produce this kind of stuff. If there were riots over Piss Christ, would that make Serrano(?) a martyr for free expression. As far as I can see, he’d be just as deserving of a kick in the pants as before.

42

Teddy 02.12.06 at 7:45 pm

Engels says that “if one is capable of evaluating arguments, one usually does not need to resort to affecting offense at the language in which they are expressed.” I hope no one will resort to affecting offense if I say that this is a staggeringly stupid comment.

43

engels 02.12.06 at 10:01 pm

Teddy – You have made two comments on this thread.

#23 If one has good arguments, one usually does not have a need to resort to expressions like “staggeringly stupid,”…

#42 …this is a staggeringly stupid comment.

There is a problem here. Can you see what it is?

44

Teddy 02.12.06 at 11:14 pm

Engels, it seems you didn’t catch the irony in my second post. Well, let me unpack it for you. Since you said that one who is capable of evaluating arguments does not need to resort to affecting offense at expressions like “staggeringly stupid”, I just pointed out that you should then not be offended IF that expression were applied to your own comments.

45

dirk 02.13.06 at 1:18 am

It’s you, teddy, that’s clutching at air. Sullivan’s drivel is a stark example of staggering stupidity, whereas Engels’ post #38 is a sensible observation.

Never mind.

46

Raw Data 02.13.06 at 1:50 am

Nope, sorry, Walt Pohl, it doesn’t.

47

Dave F 02.13.06 at 6:47 am

The assumption is that this is about cartoons. Come on, we know what it’s really about: an excuse to flex muscle by whipping up the Muslim masses. The cartoons were published many months ago.
The only reason the masses have seen them is that the radical Imams and Mullahs obligingly published them themselves in briefing documents sent arounf the world. So whose fault is all this then?

It’s odd that freedom of speech is suddenly a political issue in the West.

48

rollo 02.13.06 at 2:54 pm

Slocum-
I doubt very much that you know anything at all about how the Dixie Chicks were forced to live in the immediate aftermath of Natalie Maines’ honest and forthright statements regarding the deceitful and Unamerican conduct of the President.

.

It’s specious to insist there’s some kind of level playing field all this is happening on, where ideas can be weighed against each other purely as ideas, and freedom’s some abstract thing.
Deflating pomposity is the job description of political/social-issue cartoonists – viz. Daumier – whereas toadying to the powerful, going along with the program, reinforcing the propaganda and bigotry of the dominant is not.

.

Sullivan:

“It seems to me that one of the most urgent tasks for theological departments in Western universities is to pioneer scholarly research into the origins of the Koran, to deepen our knowledge of its origins, and shed the light of reason on the claims of Muslim fundamentalists.”

As though the light of reason were an owned thing, and as mechanically responsive as a lamp.
And should anyone take Sullivan’s suggestion fully to heart and then turn that pioneering scholarly research on the origins of the West’s theological documents, they would eventually stumble upon this admonition:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

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