A Further Perspective

Muslim Rage and the Lost Dignity of the West

When an insult goes unpunished, it lowers everyone.

By 9.21.12

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It does not really surprise me that a Scandinavian magazine called Se Och Hor should be the latest in line, following publications in Italy and Ireland, to publish nude pics of the Duchess of Cambridge when she thought herself protected by elementary courtesy.

Courtesy, as we know, is formal, often hypocritical; for that very reason it is valuable, worth teaching and preserving because the human animal does not always possess the sense of dignity, which in turn produces a sense of respect for others, which finds expression in good manners.

Why not? Why is the human animal not inherently dignified and respectful of others' dignity? Probably -- I am no anthropologist -- because he is corrupt, corrupted by a lousy education that starts with lousy parents and continues through lousy teachers, school systems, and democracy as we currently practice it in our politics and our culture and our social behavior generally.

That is more that I can bear by way of theoretical introductions, and what I really mean to say is this: these gutter editors, these loutish photographers, if you were an Englishman and you ran into them in a bar or better in an alley, you would, were you brought up with proper manners, have no compunction about giving them a thrashing. And you would be right to do so, although -- as a properly mannered gentleman -- you might give them a break if they turned out to be the 99-pound weaklings they probably are (or frails without police or army training), and merely slap them just hard enough to dislocate a nose, redden an ear, or loosen a few teeth. Magnanimity is the essence of power.

If you were an Englishman: or, I hasten to add, a person of the Anglosphere, the English-speaking peoples, and, by a stretch perhaps, the West, which very much can include, in these strange globalistic times we live in, individuals and whole communities from any geographic or cultural territory on the planet. Yes, even the republicans among us -- the editors of the Economist, for example, who for since 20 years or more, to my knowledge, have called for the abolition of the British monarchy.

You can be for or against the monarchy and you can be for or against the Windsors in particular and you can be for or against whatever you want, but you have to recognize the value of individuals and respect their dignity. You have to stick up for your side and what your side stands for, right or wrong in anyone else's mind. Even your own, in fact, if the challenge comes from a foreign tribe.

This is why I respectfully disagree with the thoughtful, intelligent, and even poignant essay by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, published in last week's Newsweek, that says that Muslim rage stems from the failure of Muslim cultures to internalize the Voltairian notion, itself footed in a uniquely Western faith in reason and rational discourse, that one may simultaneously object to another's opinions and yet fight to the death for his right to express them. I rather agree with Voltaire on this, up to a point, but only insofar as Western societies are concerned. In societies where reason has not been internalized, forget it. It has no meaning.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled her native Somalia to escape an arranged marriage that she did not want, traded the Islamic fanaticism in which she grew up for the West's liberal faith in reason. She writes that at 19 she took part in a demo supporting the fatwa to murder Salman Rushdie, though she had not read the book he authored, The Satanic Verses, and that offended the top Khomaniac. Many people died because of that fatwa, including the Japanese translator of Rushdie's novel, but not Ayatollah Khomeini, who was never even charged with incitement to murder, which is punishable under the criminal codes of most law-abiding nations. Arguably he could have been indicted under conspiracy laws, including the RICO act, as well, but that takes me away from my point.

My point is that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who settled in the Netherlands and later moved to the U.S. following the murder of a film maker with whom she produced a documentary about the treatment of women in Islam, believes, as does Salman Rushdie even after many years in hiding, under constant protection of the British police, that Islamic societies eventually will grow out of the "utopian ideologies" that political Islam, or Islamism, partake of. Her position is that they have a "short lifespan" and, therefore, we can wait them out. In the meantime, and here I find myself in agreement with her, we must not cede to the typical temptation to respond the way, by all reports, our own high officials responded to the latest expression of Muslim rage, namely by apologizing for what putatively caused it.

In the first place, the cause is not us, but them. As Mr. Tyrrell noted the other day in his news commentary column, there will always be some film or cartoon or what not circulating somewhere that a self-righteous and self-appointed guardian of the truth will find offensive.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is quite on the money when she writes that Western governments and intellectuals are completely incoherent when they profess steadfast adherence to free speech and at the same time condemn its results. Our government is reported to be investigating -- what in the world is there to investigate? -- the authors of a film which practically no one has seen that is supposed to have set off the riots around the Islamic world, under cover of which American diplomats were murdered in Benghazi, Libya, which we liberated from the tyrant Gaddafi at considerable cost though not, fortunately, with American blood. The French government urged a magazine not to publish satirical cartoons disrespectful on the prophet Muhammad, sort of the St. Paul of Islam.

These are exercises in blaming the victim, as Ms. Ali well knows. At the same time, if Ms. Ali believes we must resolutely defend free speech because to curtail it in the name of prudence and in the false belief it will make Muslim fanatics like us is simply to subvert our own civilization, she also believes that Islamic societies are capable of evolving in our direction, namely in the direction of separation of religion and public affairs and away from the totalitarianism of "despotic ideologies."

I hope she is right. But there is no evidence that she is right.

African Islam south of the Sahara differs from the variety that is known across the great crescent from Morocco to Iran and western Asia. This is because it is superimposed upon more ancient, more deeply rooted beliefs that value differences, because they expect them, between different peoples, and therefore do not go manic when people behave the way their people are expected to behave.

We are attempting to bring enlightenment and Voltairian free-spiritedness to Pak and Pashtun tribes that even the Brits, far more hard-nosed and resolute than we -- though their own policy debates essentially foreshadowed ours, advancing the almost exact same choices -- were unable to change over a much longer time during which they were in charge. The way our government is doing this is by saying, through the voice of our secretary of state, that freedom of expression is "reprehensible" when it offends people who hate us.

What is reprehensible, and casts some doubt on her fitness for her job, is to simultaneously express contempt for the First Amendment and demonstrate a remarkable absence of lucidity regarding our enemies.

Such willful blindness must be in some way connected to the slovenliness that characterizes our manners. Our societies produce leaders unable or unwilling -- are these not the same? -- to show that they have a sense of the moral hierarchy of things. The assaults on our embassies and our diplomatic personnel should be met not with apologies but with punitive expeditions: by no means in every circumstance, for these affairs must be done when conditions assure their success, but often enough to make it clear to the offenders that we are a Power, as used to be written, and we hold accountable both them and the governments in whose jurisdictions they operate.

The responsible projection of power is a dignified attitude. It sets a certain standard of behavior. The British government should not tolerate the offense to persons who represent it -- or for that matter to any British subject, even when, especially when, the justification is as stupid as the one given by one Carina Lokvist, the editor of the Scandinavian magazine that insulted the Duchess of Cambridge, "They are cute pics…" She should see just how cute they are when she (if it is a she) is hit by a lawsuit that will ruin her moronic rag.

Admittedly, the problem within our Western cultures is deeper than that. Another editor at the magazine, also quoted in a Reuters story that I picked up on the Internet but that I am willing to believe is accurate, so close is it to what we know to be in the minds of such riff-raff, said the editorial decision was sound because "It is in the DNA [of the magazine] that we shall entertain and satisfy the curiosity [of their readers]." That is the kind of rot we are up against, and while it certainly is of a different order from the Muslim rage that seeks to kill us (and often succeeds), we should ponder the connection between that rot and the lost sense of ourselves, and of our dignity, that is reflected in the way we react to it.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.