Sunday, February 24, 2008

Our Poor Nationalism (part 2)

I'm a poor pundit because I rarely keep up with the news. But I finally got around to looking at the facts surrounding the recent reprinting of an already controversial Muhammad cartoon by Danish Newspapers. I am, frankly, stunned by what this is all about. I am genuinely concerned about the state my country is in (no pun intended).

On Febuary 12, three men were arrested for conspiring to murder one of the cartoonists involved in the original crisis (he had depicted the prophet with a bomb in his turban). One of the them was a Danish citizen; two were foreign nationals living legally in Denmark. It has been decided that the latter will be deported. This was done as a purely "adminstrative" action, with no trial and no presentation of evidence against them.

Such deportations without trial are possible because of anti-terror legislation that was implemented after 9/11. It gives the Security and Intelligence Service (PET, in Danish) the authority to deport foreigners it deems to be a threat to the state.

On February 13, most major Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoons as a gesture of support for free speech.

So the plot to murder the cartoonist has been construed both as a threat to freedom of speech and a threat to the state. It's difficult to even begin to say how wrongheaded this is but let me give it a shot.

First, freedom of speech is threatened when the state prevents people from speaking freely. When your neighbour punches you in the mouth for saying something he finds offensive your freedom of speech has not been threatened.

Second, the power of the state does not hinge on its ability to control what its citizens to do each other. When three men plan to murder a fourth man, even in the name of a foreign deity, the power of the state is not threatened.

There are many people in Denmark who are bound by their faith to consider avenging their prophet or at least defending his honour. (They are not bound to do anything as radical as commit a murder.) Their private thoughts and conversations about this topic have now been all but criminalized, without even the suggestion that they might have their day in court.

More importantly, there are many people in Denmark who find the cartoons offensive in a non-violent sort of pissed-off way. When three men (allegedly) take their offense to the extreme, the Danish national media takes the opportunity to offend (again) the lot of them. That is, the preference not to see such drawings in the public sphere has been explicitly conflated with the desire to kill their authors.

At this point, I think, Pound would point out what a hopelessly weak state-media complex would result to this sort of pettiness. Three men are accused of planning to commit a crime and the nation is in a state (pun now intended). That is, the "intelligence" of the nation (the media the police) pull out all the stops. Frightful.

6 comments:

Kirby Olson said...

Geez, you think that conspiracy to commit murder is a form of freedom of speech? I doubt if even American authorities would agree. What laws apply here? Does Denmark have a Bill of Rights?

I think the law SHOULD protect the cartoonists rather than the assassins. I think Denmark did the right thing. Denmark generally does.

Thomas Basbøll said...

In a free society, the law should protect the would-be assassins until they actually commit the crime. But you are right: as in the U.S., conspiracy to commit murder is a crime even before the act is committed here in Denmark.

There should, in my view, not be laws against the "proximate occasions" of crime (I take that concept from Catholic theology, by the way.)

But that isn't really the issue here. Even if the cartoonist had been killed, these three men merely stand accused of having done it. There has been (and, as I understand it, there will be) no trial.

Finally, the newspapers have reacted to the discovery of the plot by offending everyone who believes the cartoonist was wrong to draw the picture. These people have not, nor are they even thinking of, hurting the cartoonist.

Kirby Olson said...

I'll have to ponder this, Thomas.

What is this doctrine called in Catholic theology, and why, by the way, are you drawing your ideas from Catholic, rather than Lutheran, theology?

Quite an interesting but very dangerous concept.

Thomas Basbøll said...

The Catholic tradition understands sin by gradations; it has a scale of values, as Pound used to emphasize.

There is something psychologically amiss with the idea (my caricature of my own Luheranism) that we are all fundamentally (and equally) sinful AND automatically (and equally) forgiven. Lutheran theology lacks a workable theory of evil, a mechanism by which one gains and loses one's soul. (I'm sure you can correct me on that.)

In fact, Kierkegaard considered converting to Catholicism. He ultimately stopped short of declaring himself even a Christian. He certainly did not believe that the Lutheranism of his day offered a practical context for salvation. Perhaps a Lutheran Surrealism would have done the trick for him.

Good place to start: "Occasions of Sin". (I should add that my moral advice would not be to eschew the proximate occasion: it is the site of morally interesting work.)

Kirby Olson said...

I'm going to have to ponder this: this is the reason I come here. You have a good mind.

Lutheranism does weigh different kinds of crime, but as for salvation, it's by faith alone, and is separate.

There are no peccadillos in Lutheranism. Masturbating seems to weigh equally with slaughtering schoolchildren.

At least in terms of salvation.

I think it's based on Jesus having saved the thief next to him at Golgotha. He had done many bad things, but he believed, and that was good enough for Christ.

His kingdom is of another kind.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thinking it over, "mechanism" was the wrong word. A process by which one (gradually) wins and loses one's soul.

The examples of sins not dissociated by Lutheranism are perfect illustrations of its theological problems.

Think out loud. That's why I come here.