Sunday, February 05, 2006

Drum Beat

Here's a disappointing performance from one who ought to know better. Kevin Drum's reaction to the civilization-clash involving Danish drawings of the Prophet Muhammad:

I fully realize that I should be taking this more seriously — it involves issues of free speech, national sovereignty, gratuitous religious insults, Islamic radicalism, etc. etc. — but it's hard. I mean, just look at whose flag they're burning in the Middle East right now: Denmark's.

Cuddly little Denmark! Home of Hans Christian Andersen, delicious pastry, and tasteful furniture. Home of Tivoli and the Little Mermaid. Denmark!

If there's a lesson to be learned here — and I assure you there won't be — it's that Arabs rather obviously don't hate America any more than any other country. We just provide them with more opportunity to show it. If the Danes would just step up to the plate more often, maybe we could sneak our troops home from Iraq and no one would notice.

That's not an exerpt. That's the whole thing.

It is the mark of a political hack, when he confronts an issue where his whole philosophy requires him to make a stand for his beliefs yet he finds his political opponents already there with flags unfurled, that he chooses to pass by with a sneer and a jest.

Here is a blogger who many, me included, have held up as speaking for the genuine convictions of the old American liberalism, unblinded by partisan bile. Here, furthermore, is someone whose blog is published by a media outlet.

Here, furthermore, is a voice from a faction that proudly braves the chill of disapproval in the name of speaking unpopular views to political zealots and religious fundamentalists.

And here he confronts a case of open blasphemy -- for that is the crux of the Muslims' problem with Denmark's artists. Blasphemy! The charge which has sent so many great liberal men and women of history to the stake. The accusation which Robert G. Ingersoll, the great American agnostic, called "the bulwark of religious prejudice" and "the breastplate of the heartless." And from the mosques of the Middle East and South Asia comes a crudely violent, bigoted demand for a blood price of the blasphemers.

And all Kevin Drum can manage is a shrug and a snide dismissal of the Danes in this crisis as unworthy of his serious attention (a tone-deaf reaction from supposed internationalists, a la Michael Moore's mocking of the coalition partners in Iraq). All it rouses in him is a half-hearted attempt to twist the whole story back on itself so that somehow it becomes an embarrassment, not for men such as himself, but for the upholders of the Iraq War.

Who wants to speak truth to the power that butchered Theo Van Gogh? Not Kevin Drum. Unless there's a Jerry Falwell in the ranks on the other side, religious violence doesn't concern him. Those with vast audiences, like Drum, have the power to shape public sentiment. They have an obligation to stand up for core values, even when it means standing side by side, for the time being, with their political enemies. The peril of not doing so is far greater than the unpleasantness.

An artist's freedom to blaspheme sits in the same frail boat with the journalist's freedom to dissent from popular prejudices. Kevin Drum can't be bothered to take his turn at the tiller. Here, he is incapable of rising above political interest, and seeing on the level of principal.

For a true-hearted liberal's reaction to this, I much prefer Roger Sizemore:

We constantly see satirization of Christian symbols in the popular media, and that interest group doesn't have the power to force the US government to condemn the publications that carry them. Why should Muslims have the power to enforce their symbols' sanctity outside the confines of their mosques? ... There is no way to negotiate the absolute, and the sooner we realize extremity in religious belief is a dead giveaway of mental disorder, the sooner we can focus on issues of genuine importance to our future quality of life on this planet.

[Hat tip: Phylax, a great Greek-oriented blog]