Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Europe, the cradle of modern civilization is turning its back on Voltaire and John Locke:

The new enemies of Reason are not the enraged democrats who executed Socrates, the Christian zealots who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity, or the Nazis who burned books. No, they are a pampered and scared Western public that caves to barbarism — dwarves who sit on the shoulders of dead giants, and believe that their present exalted position is somehow related to their own cowardly sense of accommodation.

What would a Socrates, Galileo, Descartes, or Locke believe of the present decay in Europe — that all their bold and courageous thinking, won at such a great cost, would have devolved into such cheap surrender to fanaticism? Just think: Put on an opera in today’s Germany, and have it shut down, not by Nazis, Communists, or kings, but by the simple fear of Islamic fanatics.

Write a novel deemed critical of the Prophet Mohammed, as did Salman Rushdie, and face years of ostracism and death threats — in the heart of Europe no less. Compose a film, as did Theo Van Gogh, and find your throat cut in “liberal” Holland. Or better yet, sketch a cartoon in postmodern Denmark, and then go into hiding. Quote an ancient treatise, as did the pope, and learn your entire Church may come under assault, and the magnificent stones of the Vatican offer no refuge.

There are three lessons to be drawn from these examples. In almost every case, the criticism of the artist or intellectual was based either on his supposed lack of sensitivity or of artistic excellence. Van Gogh was, of course, obnoxious and his films puerile. The pope was woefully ignorant of public relations. The cartoons in Denmark were amateurish and unnecessary. Rushdie was an overrated novelist, whose chickens of trashing the West he sought refuge in finally came home to roost. The latest Hans Neuenfels adaptation of Mozart’s Idomeneo was silly.

But isn’t that precisely the point?

It is easy to defend artists when they produce works of genius that do not offend popular sensibilities — Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws — but not so when an artist offends with neither taste nor talent.

Note also the constant subtext in this new self-censorship: fear of radical Islam and its gruesome appendages of beheadings, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, barbaric fatwas, riotous youth, petrodollar-acquired nuclear weapons, oil boycotts and price hikes, and fist-chanting mobs. In contrast, almost daily in Europe, “brave” artists caricature Christians and Americans with impunity. Why? For a long list of reasons, among them most surely the assurance that they can do this without being killed.

Such cowards puff out their chests when trashing an ill Oriana Fallaci or Ariel Sharon or beleaguered George W. Bush in the most demonic of tones, but prove sunken and sullen when threatened by a Dr Zawahri or a grand mufti of some obscure mosque.

There are several very powerful institutions in modern society. There is the media, there is big business, there is the government, and there is religion.

Can you imagine how stupid a person would sound if they were to say, "We need to be more sensitive to those in big business, so let's tone down the criticism."

That would be absurd, right? And, ultimately, it would be very dangerous, because if we were not allowed to criticize big business, then big business would be able to run amok, using and abusing natural and human resources unchecked.

Same thing with the government. We must be allowed to criticize those who govern us. The national political debate which takes place on talk radio, in the blogs, and other media, is an integral part of enacting policy. We get to vote every few years, but our leaders here our voice and come to know our will through the daily political debate.

So, how is it that we, even for a second, would entertain the notion that we must be sensitive and refrain from criticizing religion?

It is arguable that religion actually exerts more power and influence across the world, and the United States, than does any other institution. How could we possibly allow such power to go unchecked by public criticism?

The answer is, we can't.