Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Man for All Squeezins

Just when you assume it's some standard-issue April Fool's Day column, you realize, "oh hell, it's Goldberg again", which suffices as explanation enough. It's hard even to find a salient excerpt, since it meanders in its lameness. But Goldberg starts off with the usual plaint that European politicians are too craven in the face of the rhetorical aggression as practiced by Islamic governments and fundamentalist clergy, here in the context of the outcry provoked by the short documentary Fitna, by Dutch director Geert Wilders.

Predictably, various Muslim governments have condemned the film. Half the Jordanian parliament voted to sever ties with the Netherlands. Egypt's grand imam threatened "severe" consequences if the Dutch government didn't ban the film.

This has been a particularly rich vein for the usual neoclown pundits to ply their trade and preach to their choir. It's easy pickins, and in their habitual sophistry they can double-dip with Muslim-baiting and lib-baiting. Apparently we are now required to issue pro forma declarations in every instance of official and semi-official Muslim radicalism, as if "liberals" (which, recalling Goldberg's creative redefinition of the term, are down with the fascism) have more patience with riots over cartoons than they do with the gibbering retards of Jesus Camp.

I do think that Islam is in danger of allowing itself to be defined by its most vocal and radical spokesmen, if moderate Muslims do not step up. But where are they supposed to step? Islam is too diffuse and too decentralized, and in its home countries it is too inextricably entwined with social culture and canonical law. Islam needs its own Reformation and Enlightenment, but that is much harder to accomplish without a centralized hierarchy. Even if an Islamic Martin Luther is waiting to be heard, where exactly does he nail his theses?

So I'm not sure exactly what Goldberg and his intemellectual peers wish to do about all that, but then neither are they. The European governments are treading lightly because they want the immigrants to assimilate, which is hard to do if an inflammatory issue is stoked. The Islamic governments are taking the opposite tack and making an issue out of the movie's propriety because religion is a mode of social control. This is not exactly a secret, but people like Goldberg make entire careers, secure contracts to write unreadable books with untenable premises, by regurgitating exactly such canards. People believe what they want to believe.

Which brings us to Goldberg's main point, after a useless diversion into a anecdote about drinking in Turkey that amazingly doesn't end in some lurid Midnight Express scenario.

Me? I keep thinking about Jesus fish.


In America, the easiest place to find this ancient symbol is on the back of cars. Recently, however, it seems as if Jesus fish have become outnumbered by Darwin fish. No doubt you've seen these too. The fish symbol is "updated" with little feet coming off the bottom, and "IXOYE" or "Jesus" is replaced with either "Darwin" or "Evolve."

I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there's the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

Here's Goldberg's entire basis for taking offense -- it seems as if Jesus fish are outnumbered by Darwin fish. This is at least as rigorous an intellectual standard as can be found in anything else he's ever written, I suppose. It's practically a tic with him at this point, he's been doing it long enough.

But it takes a complete and utter moron to baldly assert that, in this particular dilemma, it's the people who profess not to guide their thoughts, actions, and emotions by superstition, who do not proselytize to hapless strangers, who are "smug", smug to the point where our boy actually takes offense.

Listen up, Lunchbox -- nearly all of human history has been written in blood drawn by smug motherfuckers who each thought they had a direct pipeline to the omniscient superdude in the sky. It is only in the past 150 years that the semblance of rational thought and reason-based deduction has begun to crawl out from under the holy thumb various breeds of god-botherers have kept everyone under for the previous millennia. Isn't that offensive?

I couldn't care less about the Jesus fish or the Darwin fish; I am indifferent to what people choose to broadcast on the bumpers, tailgates and windows of their rolling shitboxes. The Calvin praying window sticker means about as much to me as the Calvin-pissing-on-a-football-team-logo window sticker. Both are just cheap, pirated expressions of id and poor impulse control. But all that is another matter from the constant smug assertions from the religious that they are inherently more moral, that they would rather vote for a crook who talks a good Jesus game than an upstanding atheist. There are plenty more openly gay politicians than there are atheist ones, if one wishes to make thumbnail comparisons of stereotypically reviled minorities.

But he's all butt-hurt that a few people tweak these sacred cultural signifiers, cheap adhesive totems slapped on hickmobiles far and (especially) wide. Awwwww. Yeah, that's far more offensive than squads of goobers infesting the government at every level from the DoJ to red-state school boards with their anti-intellectual inbreeding, fools poisoning the well of science to tell people with a straight face that the Grand Canyon was created 6,000 years ago by the Noah's Ark flood. With priorities like that, it's no wonder we're falling behind.

As Christopher Caldwell once observed in the Weekly Standard, Darwin fish flout the agreed-on etiquette of identity politics. "Namely: It's acceptable to assert identity and abhorrent to attack it. A plaque with 'Shalom' written inside a Star of David would hardly attract notice; a plaque with 'Usury' written inside the same symbol would be an outrage."

But the most annoying aspect of the Darwin fish is the false bravado it represents. It's a courageous pose without consequence. Like so much other Christian-baiting in American popular culture, sporting your Darwin fish is a way to speak truth to power on the cheap.

Again with the false equivalencies, especially since Jews don't actively proselytize like that (not to mention the revolting idea that lobbing a "usurer" slur at a Jewish person is comparable to having the nerve to separate science from religious dogma). Goldberg presumes that the Jesus fish is nothing but a cultural signifier, a secret handshake to be experienced on the highways, or something. Fine, but spare us this incessant whinging every time the bubble gets poked just a little. It's expected that religion can intrude on a great many aspects of public life, but a cheap plastic sentiment making fun of another cheap plastic sentiment sends the squeamish into perpetually high dudgeon.

Religious people like to tell themselves, each other, anyone who'll listen that the godless secular heathens are picking on them, persecuting them for their belief. I hate to spoil the fun for them, but here's the secret -- we don't care enough to persecute you. Really, we don't give a shit. Go to your megachurch and clap to white-guy rhythm; festoon your car in Jesus fish and praying Calvins and Virgin Mary tire carrier covers. Knock yourselves out. Just leave the rest of us alone, and quit acting like the future of the universe depends on the Pledge of Allegiance having "under God" in it, or political speeches ending with "God bless America".

The same is true for Islamic fundamentalists -- when movies and cartoons get significant subsets of your culture violently upset, their conduct should be repudiatd. They need to grow the hell up. All the Abrahamic religions point to God as being the judge of these matters; it would be nice if they'd just leave it to Him, and get on about their lives.


thedevilzone said...

So I'm not sure exactly what Goldberg and his intemellectual peers wish to do about all that, but then neither are they.

Actually, you and they know very well what they want and intend to do about it! In no particular order: point fingers, call names, make fart noises with hand under armpit or covering mouth. Bidness as usual, in other words.

You've probably read both Roy and IOZ jeering at this latest Jonanism; one of them had a comment to the effect of how Goldberg whines about this being "courage without consequence", as if calling Muslims names and insulting Muhammed from a keyboard in fucking America is somehow brave. As if we're required to prove ourselves to a waste of sperm 'n' egg like Jonah by traveling to the Middle East in order to wipe our ass with a Koran and fornicate in the streets. As if the sewer-crawlers at LGF or Free Republic are in danger of anyone sawing through their flabby necks and watching the McDonald's gravy spill out.

Hey, you obese fucking oaf - we already did our job by neutering a religion that used to do things like this and this as a matter of course. In a mere couple centuries, we've done more to establish a tolerant society that respects everyone's right to imagine that the whole fucking universe revolves around you and your favorite sports team than a millenium and a half of Decalogue and Beatitude-spouting morons ever did - all while making it possible for professional shitstains like Jonah and O'Reilly to dress up as persecuted victims for shits and giggles without ever coming anywhere near a lion's gullet.

I fully support - with money and keyboard strokes! - anyone living in a Muslim society who advocates anything remotely close to evolution, freethought or atheism while acknowledging that they're far more brave than I'll ever be. Maybe Pantload should do the same instead, hell, I cracked myself up before I could finish typing out such a ludicrous thought.

Also - if you haven't seen it yet, get yerself a copy and enjoy it as much as I am currently.

woodguy said...

Is Goldbrick anything more than the kid we all knew in grade school, the one who was last to be picked to be on anyone's team? It makes you want to teach your own kid to be nice to every misfit he encounters early on if for no other reason than we might all be spared yet another version of a poor pastey charlatan's vengeful literary diarrhea and pious pontifications later in life, when we're least expecting it. Fecal ambushes are rarely pleasant.

It might amuse you to learn that card carrying members of the DFH conspiracy here on the Left Coast were not satisfied with the now passe' and all too familiar Darwin rebuttal to the evangelical equivalent of the magnetic ribbon. No!! Lately, I've been delighted to spot evidence that the original "IXOYE" has evolved into a perfectly conceived and rendered "& CHIPS" emblazoned deep within the belly of the beast. I attribute this to our close proximity to the sea and an overabundance of televangelists soliciting cash 24/7 over the local cable channels. I think it raises the stakes in that it's not attempting to appeal to a confrontation on philosophical grounds, it's just in-your-face mockery. Or something.

Wanted you to know that I think this is amoung your very best efforts to date and, as usual, is both unusually perceptive and delightfully expressed. Particularly liked the "cheap adhesive totems slapped on hickmobiles." "Listen up, Lunchbox" had a certain elegance, as well. That there's some writin", I says. Thanks for doing what you do.

thedevilzone said...

Here's some stakes-raisin' for you, woodguy!

woodguy said...

Excellent devilzone. Thanks so much. Particularly like the "Luetfisk", the wife and I both being Scandihoovians. The fish with the hook in its mouth and the one with the bite taken out of it makes laudable statements, as well.

Many thanks.

Marius said...

Um, sorry to be such a ned, but IXOYE is not a word, guys. The letters accompanying the Jesus fish symbol spell, in Greek upper-case, the word ikhtus, sometimes also transliterated as ichtys. In ancient Greek, it simply means 'fish' -- hence 'ichtyology.' But why fish and Jesus, rather than fish'n'chips? One conjecture has it that it's because the ancient Greek 'ikhtus' has three letters in common with the monogram IXS, or iota, khi, sigma, which ancient Christians used to refer to Iesous Khristos, or Jesus the Anointed. Hence, that schematic fish became a symbol for Jesus and Christian places of worship in a time when you had to be cryptic, as a Christian, because of persecutions.

Also, Heywood: I am inclined to take issue with your argument ending in the claim that

Even if an Islamic Martin Luther is waiting to be heard, where exactly does he nail his theses?.

Although it's true that Islam does not have the highly codified hierarchic structure Roman-Catholicism has, that does not mean that it does not have an informal, yet visibly influential and largely acknowledged infrastrructure of leadership. For instance, in doctrinal matters, the theologians at Al-Ahram University in Egypt count for almost as much as the Pope's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. There are similarly influential clerics in Saudi Arabia, for Sunni Islam. Shi'ites have various theological figures in Najaf and Qof. Any religion with a sizeable following is bound to have a network of leaders and influential ideologues, which is where a Muslim Martin Luther might consider taking his grievances.

I also would like to question your assumption that Western governments need to tread lightly so as not to imperil the assimilation of their Muslim minorities. That model is not universal, in Western Europe. France, for instance, has in place a policy of ruthless secularisation, and vigorous cultural assimilation. If it has failed, it is because of racial and ethnic discrimination in economic opportunities by the establishment, not because they tried to spare French Muslims' religious sensibiities.

In Britain and parts of Northern Europe, the policy has been to ignore the cultural dynamics of Muslim immigrants, in the (misguided) hope that multiculturalism will happily ensure everyone gets along. That was a mistake, I believe. First, authorities should have taken more steps to explain to incoming immigrants what will be expected of them in the future as citizens, and what it really takes to succeed in the West (hypocrisy and PC have prevented everyone from acknowledging that not everyone will make it in their new host country). Instead, immigrants -- that is, mostly uneducated, low-skilled labor from the backwoods of the Muslim world -- were led to believe that they can carry on with their medieval, rural ways, and everything will be OK. The results of that indolence are now British-born Muslim radicals, and savage practices like "honour" killings and forced marriages. Secondly, European state authorities could have taken their responsibiity more seriously and vetted carefully those who presumed to become an imam for a Muslim community in the West. I lived in England for a while, and I know for a fact that often, South Asian Muslim immigrants would look to the rural hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan for an imam when they needed one (probably because many of them came from those places originally). As a result, they ended with an unwashed, reactionary bigot whose knowledge of the West was gathered from 14th century sources. You tell me what chance of a successful assimilation people have, when they take their advice and counsel from figures like that.

Heywood J. said...


Although it's true that Islam does not have the highly codified hierarchic structure Roman-Catholicism has, that does not mean that it does not have an informal, yet visibly influential and largely acknowledged infrastrructure of leadership.

Sure, any 1400-year-old organization is bound to have some infrastructural capabilities. But given the rather unusual (to westerners) infusion of religion into seemingly every aspect of public life in Islamic countries, these clerics -- regardless of sect -- appear to be either unwilling or unable (perhaps both) to comprehensively address the more violent spasms of fundamentalism. And I have read and heard with interest knowledgeable people such as Fareed Zakaria, Reza Aslan, and others as they try to provide a coherent narrative to that dilemma.

I honestly don't know enough specifically about the impact doctrinal matters can and should have on political matters in Islamic countries. But the diffusion of sects seems to exacerbate the situation. And of course it's not the Sufis anyone is concerned with; it's the lunatic Deobandi/Salafi/Wahhabi bastards that are the problem. They seem almost to be an Islamic version of the FLDS assholes we have in America, only more numerous and confrontationally violent. But again, none of these clerics seems to be able to get a handle on their more psychotic acolytes, which of course is why many Westerners simply end up assuming that that's a feature and not a flaw from their p.o.v. Relative silence and inaction tends to get interpreted as either tacit encouragement or outright complicity, and the more conservative governments do very little to discourage that impression.

I also would like to question your assumption that Western governments need to tread lightly so as not to imperil the assimilation of their Muslim minorities.

I should have been more clear about that -- I actually do not personally think they should go out of their way to tread lightly. What I meant was that I can understand why many of them tend to do so, without the usual imputations of dhimmitude that emanate from the likes of Mark Steyn.

The thing is that when conservative commentators like Steyn actually have something useful to say, they dilute their own points with reactionary assumptions about dhimmi motivations. And encouraging affluent white Europeans to raise the birth rate to stay competitive with that of Muslim immigrants is exactly the wrong tack to take. The disparity in birth rates could eventually be a real demographic problem; prodding people into an ethnic breeding contest is not much of a solution.

I do think that in many cases they are being overly cautious, but when we are talking about large groups of people willing to violently riot over cartoons, official caution is understandable. The French and Dutch governments seem to be getting a bit more proactive about nipping that sort of thing in the bud. I suppose having a moviemaker getting stuck like a pig in the street just for making a film will tend to serve as a warning.

It is especially strange that in an otherwise rigorously monitored, heavily surveilled society like England, they would allow their immigrant medievalists to get away with such things. There's an interesting article in the LRB, attempting to draw some parallels between the British government's efforts to deal with Islamic terrorists and past efforts against the IRA.