Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 16, 2010

Mob Rule in Sweden

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.

Read Less

Required Reading

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

Read Less




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