If you’re wondering why you haven’t been able to follow all the columns and editorials in the American press denouncing all this homicidal nonsense, it’s because there haven’t been any [bold mine-DL]. And, in that great silence, is a great scandal.
Is there something beyond the solidarity of the decent that ought to have impelled every commentator and editorial page in the U.S. to express unequivocal support for Sir Salman this week? ~Tim Rutten
Something occurs to me as I read this. The first point has to be that everyone has already taken Salman Rushdie so terribly seriously for decades that many people are perhaps more than a little tired of hearing or talking about him in any context. Goodness knows I am. I have some difficulty feeling very sympathetic for someone who, given his background, knew perfectly well that his words would incite the responses they incited and went ahead and wrote them anyway, all the while claiming great victimhood in the process. Obviously, the man should not be threatened with death for what he writes–that is the bare minimum fundamental to a free society–but one reason you may see fewer excited apologies for Rushdie is that he had to be a fool to write what he wrote, knowing full well what it would mean to Muslims. Will we still be running around declaring our admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali in this fashion thirty years hence? With any luck, we will have forgotten all about her, just as we may one day be free of having to hear about Salman Rushdie’s ego.
The second point is that this claim of a “great silence” by Mr. Rutten is complete nonsense. There have been plenty of papers that have been decrying the threats made against Rushdie, just as many people defended the Jyllands-Posten when its editor chose to publish the “Muhammad” cartoons. More examples could undoubtedly be found, if I were inclined to waste more time tracking them down to disprove Mr. Rutten’s false hyperbole, but if both the Sun-Times and the Chronicle can agree that Britain should stand by its decisison there would seem to almost be a broad consensus across the gamut of mainstream opinion in support of Rushdie’s knighthood, or at least in support of Rushdie’s right to write whatever he might wish to write. If it has not become a week-long obsession for all media outlets, perhaps this is because the headline, “Innocuous event occurs, Muslims claim deep offense, begin rioting” has become rather predictable and uninteresting. Why, just today we have two columns rallying to Rushdie’s defense (while complaining about the supposed lack of concern everyone is showing), and I have yet to see anyone in this country saying that Britain should withdraw the knighthood under pressure or justifying the Muslim response to it. If there really is less commentary on this than on other controversies, perhaps some people don’t say much about a topic because the situation seems so clear that there is no need to say anything else. Mr. Rutten does understand that there are other things going on that may actually be more important than controversy over Salman Rushdie’s bauble, yes?
Rutten’s memory of the controversy last year seems distinctly skewed:
You may recall that most of the American news media essentially abandoned Rose and the Danes to the fanatics’ wrath, receding into cowardly silence, as mullah after mullah called for the cartoonists’ death, mobs attacked diplomatic and cultural offices and one Muslim country after another boycotted Danish goods.
Well, no, I don’t recall that exactly, because I’m pretty sure this did not happen, just as I’m pretty sure Rutten doesn’t know what he’s talking about with respect to the response of the American news media to the recent controversy. The only thing worse than the phoney tolerance and sensitivity that he attacks in his article is the even phonier intolerance against non-existent phoney tolerance. It’s absolutely right to mock the pretensions of multicultis when you can actually uncover them engaging in pretentious, faux tolerance of outrageous things. When the reality seems to contradict this criticism, it comes off as just so much lazy media-bashing. It would be like my saying, “Why don’t American academics speak out against the absurd attempt by some British academics to boycott Israeli academics? This is outrageous!” That would sound pretty good, except that many American academics have spoken out against the boycott. If I were someone who wanted to engage in some lazy attacks about the inherent anti-Israel bias of the American academy, because this already confirms my prejudices about the academy, I would not bother to have found this out, just as Mr. Rutten seems intent on doing with the media in this country.
A digression on this business of the proposed boycott of Israeli academics and universities: I can think of few more stupid and counterproductive efforts to a) force policy change in another country and b) advance whatever cause it is the people engaged in this boycott believe they are advancing. Even if we all agreed that Israeli policy vis-a-vis Palestinians ought to change (and I think it should), what possible good would it accomplish to punish Israeli academics and educational institutions with international boycotts? Are they the ones setting policy? Of course they aren’t. On the contrary, their members may well be among those pushing for different policies of the sort that the would-be boycotting academics want to see adopted. Punishing Israeli academics for the mistakes or even crimes of the Israeli government is like holding Turkish academics accountable for the repression of the Turkish state, even when that repression is directed against those academics themselves. It would be like other nations forbidding British scholars from participating in conferences because they oppose the policies of the Blair Government in Iraq, or banning American researchers from their work overseas because of something the Bush administration has done. This is an insane, unprincipled approach and one that is almost certain to perversely strengthen domestic political support for the policies the boycotters wanted to change, as it also lends to these policies now the respectability of being associated, in a roundabout way, with the cause of Israeli academic freedom. Incidentally, why has Tim Rutten not actively denounced this boycott? Silence is a scandal, or so some pretentious columnist once told me.
Rutten also mentions the higher numbers of journalist deaths during the last few years in the Iraq war than had happened during Vietnam, asking:
Why so little attention to this toll?
So little attention by whom? Journalists have been paying quite a lot of attention to the deaths of their colleagues in Iraq and around the world in the last few years. Indeed, it has been one of the distinguishing features of the Iraq war and has been the cause for a fair amount of reporting and commentary in its own right.
If you want to find a cause for why this has received less attention, look to the usual suspects who actively vilify all of journalism as the repository of disloyalty and anti-patriotism and who consistently inspire in their audiences contempt for news reporting by complaining about its insufficiently pro-war content. Can you imagine the outcry against ”the MSM” if they were to spend a lot of time focusing on the deaths of journalists in Iraq? You can almost imagine some Hugh Hewitt clone, if not the master himself, saying, “Serves ‘em right for refusing to report all the good news in Iraq!” We would see a lot of commentary talking about how these stories about journalists’ deaths are proof of why the media are undermining the war effort, and that this “explains” why the journalists are subverting the cause out of loyalty to their fellow journalists. The thinking here would be that if the war is getting journalists killed, this would give journalists some special incentive to help end the war. Any media critic would immediately recognise the absurdity of this, since it has been the major media that have made sure to make the possibility of withdrawing from Iraq seem absolutely crazy and irresponsible, but that wouldn’t matter to those who are already invested in the idea that all journalists in this country yearn for our defeat. Additional coverage of the deaths of journalists would simply confirm this prejudice.