Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Racial hypocrisy from Andrew Sullivan?

After Kevin Drum, I consider Andrew Sullivan to be my favorite blogger. And unlike many I like the fact that he lets his emotions color his writing (other bloggers have called him "too excitable").

But sometimes this emotional coloring produces some strange results. Consider the recent row over these cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which has prompted outrage in the Arab world, causing Syria to recall its ambassador from Denmark among other things.

Andrew, as I would expect, defends freedom of speech.
Er, yes, we do have a right to ask Muslims in the West to respect freedom of expression, especially about religion. It's called Western civilization. Maybe not in Jordan. But in the free world, blasphemy is not a crime.
But, in September 2004, when the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published this cartoon he was in a different mood:

Man with the dog: "I don't think one should build walls between people."
The Jew: "Damn anti-Semite!!"

Instead of defending free speech he linked approvingly under the heading "ANTI-SEMITISM WATCH" to a post which saw this cartoon as evidence of rampant Swedish racism (I e-mailed Andrew about this at the time but he never replied).

In fairness, Andrew does point out that the Danish cartoons are "blasphemous to strict Muslims", adding "In the free world, you are also free to be an anti-Semite." And I've never seen him side against the "freedom of speech" movement.

But I find it a bit hypocritical that he implicitly condemns a Swedish cartoon featuring a Hasidic Jew as evidence of racism while staunchly defending the right of Danish cartoonists to depict Mohammed in unflattering ways.

Personally I think both cartoons are perfectly fine. By Scandinavian standards these cartoons are just funny, and there's nothing mean-spirited about them. We Norwegians don't start crying about "racism" when we see unflattering images of vikings, even though our ancestors were suppressed and mistreated by both Danes and Swedes for over 500 years.

"I promise (hiccup) to never drink mjød (Norse beer) again..."

Other countries may have different standards. Clearly Americans (and Israelis) are hyper-sensitive about unflattering images of Jews, and the Muslim world is sensitive about pictures of the Prophet (who is not to be depicted at all according to the Koran, as I understand it). But if you can't accept that other societies have different standards for these things then don't travel, and for God's sake stay off the internet.

UPDATE: Added links to the Danish and Swedish newspapers above. Also, multiple English-language sources reported that Le Monde and BBC ran the controversial Mohammed cartoons. Le Monde also ran this cartoon of their own (the text in the beard says "I must not draw Mohammad"):

UPDATE II: I have since learned that it is Muslim convention, not the Koran itself, that bans images of Mohammed.

UPDATE III: Andrew partially redeems himself.

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