The Spectacle Blog

The Cartoon Intifada

By on 2.3.06 | 1:09PM

Jed -- quite right to name-check Salman Rushdie. The crucible for the European will to liberty is the howler you quoted: "Freedom of the press and of artists must be protected. But it ends where you start trampling on people's dignity."

By this standard, Mapplethorpe and Serrano would have been run out on a rail long ago. Marilyn Manson, who is a very good artist if you like that sort of thing, would be banned out of business. Whose dignity counts? The trouble is that "people's dignity" is a legal netherworld when definitional reliance is placed upon the indignant. That problem is illustrated by Salman Rushdie, someone who should know about the dilemmas stirred up by dignity and Islamist censorship. Writes he, back on December 10, 2005 in the Times of London:

When we, as individuals, pick and mix cultural elements for ourselves, we do not do so indiscriminately, but according to our natures. Societies, too, must retain the ability to discriminate, to reject as well as to accept, to value some things above others, and to insist on the acceptance of those values by all their members. This is the question of our time: how does a fractured community of multiple cultures decide what values it must share in order to cohere, and how can it insist on those values even when they clash with some citizens' traditions and beliefs?

Let's pause at the phrase "according to our natures." Trick or trap number one is the sonorous inslip of the s, which polytheizes "human nature" and lends some subliminal metaphysical heft to the sea of psychophilosophical fantasies that has given us multiculturalism itself. Multiculturalism is, absurdly, an attempt to force culture not to work itself out; its pernicious unnaturalness cannot understand that real immigration control is not measured in size of portions but in quality of digestion; Nietzscheans among us might see states in Europe and beyond that have gorged half-chewingly at a national-cultural buffet line of immigrants and now complain of dyspepsia. Patience! Eat with good table manners, treat your stomach organs with some reverence --.

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