It Would Take a European to Concur in Both

The Frankfurt International Book Fair began recently.  It’s among the largest of its kind in the world and is regularly the setting for important doings in the world of literature and books.

This year’s fair was opened with an address from Salman Rushdie.  You’ll recall him; he was the author who found himself the subject of a fatwa in 1989 because some Islamic cleric didn’t like something he’d written.  For years he’s had to live quasi-underground, well-guarded.  Rushdie, by the way, is far from the only author who’s found himself the target of the Islamofascists;  Ayan Hirsi Ali, born Muslim and the victim of genital mutilation, has written extensively about we may gently call Islam’s woman problem.  There is now a price on her head.  To show their understanding and support for her ordeal and her courage in speaking plainly and publicly, in 2014 Brandeis University first offered and then withdrew, at the request of an unindicted terrorist co-conspirator organization (which is to say, the Council on American-Islamic Relations), the offer of an honorary degree.

Be all that as it may, Rushdie seems to have spoken pretty plainly, and in favor of freedom of expression.  The link above is to The New York Times write-up of his address.  It contains only the most bland of his statements:  “Limiting of freedom of expression is not just censorship; it is also an attack on human nature.”  True enough.  But it wouldn’t be the NYT we know and love so well if they didn’t suppress things that didn’t support The Narrative.

So let’s go to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s coverage.  Rushdie categorically denied that freedom of expression is a culturally-specific human value; it is, he says, “universal.”  In fact Rushdie characterized as “the greatest attack” on freedom of expression exactly that conceit of Western thinkers that the freedom is somehow specific to Western culture.  Ouch.  He specifically called out the rising tide of bullshit “trigger warnings” on American campuses and the general intent and effect of political correctness, which he firmly placed among attacks on freedom of expression.  And he apparently didn’t spare the examples, calling out the law students who don’t want to read case books and other materials that use the word “rape,” or the Columbia University (!!) undergraduates who object to reading classical poetry because it depicts the gods having their way with women.  And so forth.  Rushdie also called out the “remarkable alliance between parts of the European Left and radical Islamic thinkers.”  When an ideology — Islam — labels itself a religion, its enmity towards women, Jews, “and others” (homosexuals? Christians? apostates?), for some magical reason, gets “swept under the rug.”

Rushdie pointed out that while authors who are truly persecuted seldom survive, their art lives on.  He named the examples of Ovid in the Roman Empire, Osip Mandelstam’s death in GuLAG at the hands of Stalin, and one of Franco’s victims.  I will point out that he names no Western author . . . could that be because in fact we don’t kill our authors?  No matter how much they may bellyache about how awful it is to be black/Central  American/homosexual/female, etc?

In the FAZ‘s gloss, linked above, the author asserts that Rushdie’s address confronts the “error” that at the center of human are well-being and “the good life,” in which each may do as much of what he pleases as he will.  To demonstrate that this is an “error” the author cites us to the characters of slaves in Roman comedies.  They run the household, they go shopping, they celebrate; yet, they remain slaves, because everything is subject to the master’s reservation of approval (or not).  This demonstrates, so our newspaper article’s author, that freedom is not a hallmark of private action but rather of a political state of being.  And thus freedom of expression is the “test case” for freedom, because with “the impression that politics is more important begins self-enslavement.”  I do wish the editors had allowed the author to write at greater length, because I find those last sentences tantalizing.  Would it not be more correct to say that private actions are a hallmark of freedom?  In fact, the very notion of “private action” does not exist in the absence of freedom; Solzhenitsyn writes in his magnum opus of the politicization of sleep itself under Stalin.  What is more private than one’s opinions, formed from the processes of one’s own mind?  In other words, you cannot suppress opinion and expression without a receding, pro tanto, of freedom itself.

And here let’s pause again to point out that none of Rushdie’s points above made it into the NYT write-up.  Why not?  Well, what legacy media institution is more invested in precisely the kinds of self-censorship in the name of a political superstructure condemned by Rushdie than the left-extremists at the Gray Lady?  For them, the personal truly is political.

Well, so much for Salman Rushdie and his slap at the face of the apologists for Islamofascism.  From Tuesday’s FAZ we have another article, on a Pegida demonstration in Dresden.  The supra-headline is “Pegida radicalizes itself,” and for Exhibit A they trot out a photograph, at the linked article, of a toy gallows carried to the demonstration.  On it are two miniature hangman’s nooses, with — what? an effigy? a photograph? — no, with two placards reading “Reserved for Siegmar Gabriel” (actually they even misspelled his name: it’s “Sigmar”) and “Reserved for Angela Merkel” printed on them.  Take a real good look at the “gallows”:  You couldn’t hang a slab of bacon from it.  It’s a model, fer Chrissakes.

As Lutz Bachmann, the movement’s founder, correctly points out, every year during the Carnival parades around Germany there are many more explicit, and explicitly grisly depictions of currently-hated politicians.  Geo. W. Bush was a favorite target.

But hist! we must not allow this expression to stand, must we?  And sure enough, the prosecutor’s office is “investigating” the incident.  As of press time no name had been announced of who made or who brought or who was carrying the gallows and its — O! the horror — two placards.  And what is the alleged crime?  Breach of the peace through threat of criminal action, and encouragement to criminal action.  Really?  This toy gallows was being carried in the middle of a hetzed-up public demonstration; if the peace had been disrupted then precisely in what increment did that toy increase the disturbance?  And “encouragement”?  Where, exactly, is the encouragement?  Where exactly is there a statement that, “I’m going to hang Angela Merkel,” or “I want you to go fetch Siegmar Gabriel so I may hang him”?  How in the name of illogic can you get any further than, “I think Merkel and Gabriel should hang”?

Remind me again how this pursed-lipped investigation by the prosecuting attorney’s office squares with the paean to freedom of expression so praised coming from Salman Rushdie’s mouth?

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, no less than for the NYT, the commitment of Europe to freedom of expression has to be written down in the “pious platitudes” column.

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