Friday, February 10, 2006

“Sticks and stones may break my bones” – but words can sometimes be a form of violence II

(First post is here)

Not a valid excuse for violent activity “speech”, in response to violent words, however, is simply being hopelessly outgunned/outclassed in the words department. That is, if more speech is contextually practicable, but the right words can’t or don’t come out, then the insultee just has to suck it and stew. (In both sport and war, the law of the jungle is thought positively desirable, or at least universally accepted, so why not in contests of education and wit?)

Saying this goes against a strong Australian tradition, admittedly – a tradition as diverse as the thoughts of PM John Howard (in giving license for non-violent “provocative” political protesters to be bashed, or worse), law-of-protests specialist Roger Douglas*, and the composition of the jury who acquitted, against all rational evidence, the bouncer who struck and killed David Hookes.

Zdravko Micevic was found to have killed Hookes in self-defence, despite the deceased not having thrown any punches. While the evidence on what Hookes might have said to enrage Micevic was murky, it appears that Hookes, at worst, threatened to use his media influence to have the pub closed down, or some-such. Plainly for Micevic, being a semi-literate fuck-knuckle, nothing less than king-hitting a quite-drunk man was going to be an appropriate form of “speech” in response to such a core-of-one’s-identity (NOT) insult (NOT). Whatever – but I’m flabbergasted that a jury would buy this argument. I only wish that they, and any other Australians who agree with this view, could be made to wear, whenever in public, a T-shirt that reads: “WARNING: do not say anything to me that might be construed as an insult. If you do, I reserve the right to murder you, with legal impunity”.

Which nicely segues us back to the Danish cartoons – although I start by making the point that the Muslim population generally is still an objective pillar of restraint, on an objective scale of insult-and-response, than Micevic specifically. A surprising recent twist is the evident hypocrisy of Jyllands-Posten's editorial standards: “offensive” Jesus cartoons were rejected by the paper three years ago.

While the editorship did change between the Jesus cartoons and last year’s Mohammed ones, the two editors concerned are determined to put up the semblance of a united front. Which first struck me as strange: surely it’s not too big a deal for the ex-editor to admit he made an oversight, or even mistake, in censoring the Jesus cartoons?

No sirree – it appears that we have got a Boomer Cabal on our hands. (Now, if at this point you’re frowning: “He just had to bring boomers in at some point”, please hear me out). I reckon that ex-editor Jens Kaiser and current editor Flemming Rose just have to both be boomers, based on their extraordinary logic of patent offensiveness being defensible if it is invited by the editor. (This is haute-boomer thinking because invitations/mutuality are a currency even more hoarded by boomers than money).

In response to “Jesus” cartoonist Christoffer Zieler (who I would guess to be an Xer, BTW, solely for (i) his being talented, but (iii) not toeing the boomer line) saying that Jens Kaiser rejected running the cartoons, because they would be considered offensive to readers, Kaiser prevaricates:

"My fault is that I didn't tell him what I really meant: The cartoons were bad [as in not funny]," Kaiser said in a statement. He said he told Zieler he had not used the cartoons because they were offensive to some readers.

So which is it, Jens? Personally, and constitutionally incapable of taking offence at either set of cartoons, I find the Jesus ones (described in same URL) as much funnier than any of the Mohammed ones (the running out of virgins one aside, perhaps).

Anyway, valiantly trying to cut through confused explanation of his (presumed) co-boomer, is current editor Flemming Rose, who emphasises the different treatment was because the Jesus cartoons were an unsolicited freelance submission, while of course the Mohammed ones were famously by invitation (only).

To me as an Xer, running a media by invitation (only) is a form of serious provocation. And in saying that, I don’t mean it in a “My speech can be better than yours” kind of way – rather, “provocation” as in justifying a psycho-unhinged Micevic kind of response. And so in the end, the Danish cartoons may be more about the (necessary) clash of generations than the (gratuitous) clash of cultures/religions.

* “Douglas . . . concludes that public order laws are part of the price which civil liberties law must pay for its legitimacy: ‘a legal regime in which people were free to offend and insult others, and in which those others were forbidden to retaliate (except for counter-offensiveness and insults) would be likely to arouse considerable resentment.’”

- quoted in Stan Winford & Peter Noble, “Activism, the law & social change” Overland no. 179 (Winter 2005) p. 22 at 26.


Not sure about the "they didn't publish the Jesus cartoons" point. If, as it's been said, they are a commercial outfit catering to a Christian, right-wing readership, why shouldn't they publish what their readers want to see - within the law of course.

Why would they have to only publish what doesn't offend anyone, anywhere in the world ? Isn't it a case of "if you don't like it, don't buy it" ?

Taking your argument to its logical extreme - Yes, no one would expect a church parish newsletter to publish anything hostile to that church.

Equally (almost), very few would expect a church parish newsletter to run a no-holds-barred Freedom of Speech crusade. And if it *did*, then the only logical starting (and ending) point for such a crusade would be to hit "home"; i.e. publish something directly hostile to the church (just to prove the point, mind).

A side issue (or maybe more) here is that when publications of the proverbial church parish newsletter sort actually engage in ambitious, and invariably ill-advised, controversy (e.g. holocaust denial, or somesuch), fingers are usually pointed at outside forces having infiltrated the publication.

In summary, a specialist, Christian right-wing publication has every right to stick to its narrow remit. But it can't both have and eat its cake, by also engaging in high-stakes controversy, particularly when it isn't putting its *own* body/beliefs under the scalpel. Moreover, "ulterior" controversy prima facie smacks of ulterior hands/motives behind the publication.

Your reply doesn't answer my point ... the cartoons weren't dropped by helicopter over Mecca, they were published in a Danish language newspaper in Denmark to cater to the tastes of people who buy that newspaper. Should Playboy etc not be sold in Australia to people who want to buy it because it offends people in Iran ?
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