Neville Chamberlain Meets Osama Bin Laden

How's this for appeasement:

Franco Frattini, the European Union commissioner for justice, freedom and security, revealed the idea for a code of conduct in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. Mr Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister, said the EU faced the "very real problem" of trying to reconcile "two fundamental freedoms, the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion".

Millions of European Muslims felt "humiliated" by the publication of cartoons of Mohammed, he added, calling on journalists and media chiefs to accept that "the exercising of a right is always the assumption of a responsibility". He appealed to European media to agree to "self-regulate".

Accepting such self-regulation would send an important political message to the Muslim world, Mr Frattini said.

By agreeing to a charter "the press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right", he said.

Let me translate that last statement from idiotic bureaucratese to English: "We'll give the terrorist fanatics who think it's okay to kill people over cartoons they find offensive the message that if they just threaten us long enough, we'll hand them our liberty on a silver platter and ask them if they'd like freedom fries with it." And this cretin has the words "justice" and "freedom" in his job title.

Frattini is clearly oblivious to what freedom actually means. This is not a clash between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. These people are obviously free to practice their religion, but that does not include the right to kill people who offend their faith. And there is no right not to have others ridicule your beliefs. Indeed, one thing you can be absolutely certain of is that in a free society, someone is going to find your views offensive or absurd and is going to say so. You don't like it? Tough. Life sucks, wear a cup.

And how about this ridiculous hypocrisy from French President Jaques Chirac:

President Jacques Chirac called the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, published again in France yesterday, "overt provocations" that should be "avoided".

His remarks, unusual in a staunchly secular country, coincided with the reprinting by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo of all 12 caricatures, plus a few of its own.

"I condemn all obvious provocations which could dangerously fuel passions," Mr Chirac said.

Let me get this's okay for the government of France to violate its citizens actual right to practice their religion with their oppressive laws against wearing religious clothing in schools there, but if a private newspaper or an individual draws a cartoon that they find offensive, this is a "provocation" that must be stopped? Unless France is in some alternate universe where the laws of logic work in reverse, this is utter stupidity. How far the French have fallen; from "ecrasez l'infame" to "if you promise not to kill us, we'll do whatever you say."


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Poor Neville Chamberlain has come in for a lot of abuse for his policy of appeasement, so I will go off topic to defend him. He was trying to avoid the reckless rush to war that had led to disaster in 1914. The issues at Munich were negotiable, the Germans had a strong case under the principle of self-determination, and the people of Britain were in no mood for another war. In addition, it is difficult to see what kind of meaningful military support could have been offered to Czechoslovakia. It should be remembered that Chamberlain coupled his concessions over the Sudetenland with warnings against future claims. It was Chamberlain who pushed for war over Poland and dragged the unwilling French with him. It is reasonable to say that Chamberlain followed the most judicious course available to him. His main mistake was in not underestanding the difference between imperial Germany and the Third Reich. It is a fascinating topic that I routinely use to show students the difficulties of making historical judgements and the dangers of sterotypical thinking.

Craven caving in to threats over a matter of basic principal is another thing all together.

Chamberlain didn't have many options: Britain was too weak to take on the Germans in a land war. As it turned out, so was France. The 1939 Wehrmacht had no match in Europe...

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 07 Mar 2006 #permalink

The discussion regarding Chamberland and Czechoslovakia is interesting, but it should be recalled that the die was pretty much cast, not in 1938, but in 1936, when Hitler remilitarized the Rheinland. The French tried to get the British to make a stand with them against the remilitarization, which was their right under the Treaty of Versailles, but the British refused. In remilitarizing the Rheinland, Hitler was taking a huge gamble, against the advice of the Wehrmacht, since, of the British and French did make a stand, the Germans were not in a position to put up a credible fight.

As it was, since the British and French did nothing, that merely furthered Hitler's confidence in himself, to the exclusion of the officers in the Wehrmacht. That was basically what led to WWII in the European theater.

The comments from Frattini didn't say anything about the reason for this being to appease terrorists. I think you're still coming at this from your own perspective that liberty trumps all, and that's clearly not the belief in european political thought. So naturally you think they are giving up liberty that they really feel doesn't exist in the first place. It's pretty much a completely subjective decision on the part of individuals as to which is right, so talking down to people probably isn't going to do much in the way of convincing them, but there are still arguments that you can make; such as that repression really doesn't work that well.

Matthew wrote:

I think you're still coming at this from your own perspective that liberty trumps all, and that's clearly not the belief in european political thought. So naturally you think they are giving up liberty that they really feel doesn't exist in the first place.

Of course I'm coming at it from my own perspective. How else could I possibly come at it? But I don't believe that "liberty trumps all"; I do believe that liberty trumps hurt feelings and I sure as hell believe that giving up liberty to assuage the feelings of violent thugs is insane. Look at Frattini's statement where he says that giving up the freedom to express one's opinion would send a signal that they are "aware of the consequences" of freedom. What can that possibly mean other than giving in to threats of violence? Those who threaten slaughter and extermination because they are offended by a cartoon are not just misled, they are completely insane and must be stopped. This is not a subjective feeling, it's reality any way you slice it.


an idea of preventive war against Hitler was floated around by Pilsudski in 1934, AFAIK. Alas, nobody listened to him.

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 08 Mar 2006 #permalink

I would note that the consequences of exercising your freedom to say offensive things about Muslims includes hurting the feelings of Muslims-- not just the violent kind, but the vastly more numerous benign kind.

Consider if you would have a man slap you in the face to force a reaction to you. Should you grow up and not react? Yes. Will you? Under liberty, you have any right you wish to beat the crap out of him, but if you would, it would only feed his temper. Would you turn the other cheek? Admit that some things you wopuld do would, knowingly, caused people to react incendiarily as extreme laws on strict adherent Muslims would have reacted? Perhaps we should in fact start parading dung-covered Jesus more often and protect our rights to do so. In every town. Let's try it, and tell people to "grow up" because we were only being "free".

There is liberty, and there is liberty to excess, the lack of self-control and foreseeable consequences. The continued portrayal of the imagery was a lack of foresight and control, and so was the reaction. In my opinion, both sides erred, and justifying one over the other would be extremely intolerant.

By Jaime Headden (not verified) on 08 Mar 2006 #permalink


The problem is not "liberty to excess." The problem is failing to distinguish between what you have a right to do and what you should do. It is polite not to insult someone's religion. Most of us would agree that it's not advisable to do simply for the sake of it. But occasionally it may be advisable (in the service of some greater goal) and it is always something we are, and should remain, free to do.

There is a difference of opinion over whether the Jyllands Posten was gratuitously offensive, insulting for no greater goal. Some argue that the greater goal is in making a point against self-censorship, while others think it's more important to be polite.

It is particularly ironic that the response of Frattini to an attempted point against self-censorship should be to urge-- what else?-- self-censorship. Frattini is obviously on the "be polite" side, but he goes beyond that in using his official capacity to pressure politeness from others. In reality this only serves to make the Jyllands Posten's original point even more clear, and the distinction between politeness and lack of freedom muddy.

Gretchen: you're right -- in general, it's not polite to insult someone's religion. But a this raises a vitally important question: what exactly constitutes an "insult?"

Some people believe that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had kids with her, and treated her as an intellectual and spiritual equal among his core disciples. This is not merely a gratuitous slight or a porn-movie plot: it's a belief sincerely held by many people. But if enough orthodox Christians say they're "insulted" by this belief, and certain of its implications, should we censor or self-censor the belief in deference to the orthodox opinion?

A rule against "insulting" other people's "religion" can, and will, be used to shout down and stifle all attempts to question, criticize, or hold accountable an established or entrenched belief, merely by means of orchestrated tantrums trumping reason and fair play with raw emotion. In fact, this is already happening: a Jordanian editor who wrote "Muslims of the world, be reasonable" was not only fired, but arrested. The Western theofascist right know this, which is why their response to the Arab Toon Tantrum is so lame and muted.

Raging Bee-- I would say an insult is something that requires intent, at the very least. Simply having a belief that others find offensive would not count.

And I didn't endorse a rule against "insulting" other people's "religions." I said it's not polite to insult someone's religion. That's very different, and pretty much tautological since insulting is by definition not polite. But I came right out and said that I think it can be advisable, so obviously I am not using it to shout down or stifle anything. But perhaps you're directing a point to me which is meant for a greater audience.

Jaime wrote:

There is liberty, and there is liberty to excess, the lack of self-control and foreseeable consequences. The continued portrayal of the imagery was a lack of foresight and control, and so was the reaction. In my opinion, both sides erred, and justifying one over the other would be extremely intolerant.

Are you joking? You don't think that criticizing someone's religious views is more justifiable than threatening murder in response to such criticism? Violent responses to someone else's opinion is the very essence of intolerence, for crying out loud, and it is not intolerant to point that out. There is nothing wrong with criticizing someone's religious views or their behavior or the relationship between the two, and there is certainly nothing wrong with commentary, in whatever form, about how a group's violent threats are causing self-censorship through fear. That was the purpose of the cartoons, they were commentary on that fact - and that commentary has been proven absolutely on target by the ensuing reaction.

Religions are sets of ideas and ideas are entirely open to criticism, disproof, and even mockery. The fact that a given religion, or in this case a subset of that religion, will react to any criticism with violence is not an argument for ending such criticism, it's an argument for increasing it. Any religious view that prompts such a reaction needs to be criticized, examined, exposed and, yes, mocked. Mockery is a powerful tool for social change and if you don't believe me, look at what Voltaire, Diderot and others managed to do with Christianity during the Enlightenment. The fact that this group reacts violently to anything they consider an affront is all the more reason that we should not back down to assuage their feelings any more than we should have backed down so as not to offend the Torquemadas of Christianity in centuries past. Insulate such insanity from criticism and mockery and you will insure that they continue forever.

Yes, insult does require intent -- and those who claim to be insulted will, as a matter of course, always allege that the offending cartoon, joke, artwork, question, criticism, contrary belief or accusation was intended to cause the hurt they claim they're feeling.

I think we all agree that needlessly insulting others is wrong and that newspapers should not do that. And, in fact, they normally don't. But the cartoons in question here are not just cartoons -- they're NEWS, both because of the feelings they reflect and because of the things done allegedly in reaction to them.

Raging Bee wrote:

I think we all agree that needlessly insulting others is wrong...

To be honest, I don't agree with this. Rarely does one need to insult others, but that doesn't mean insulting them is wrong. I don't need to call Jerry Falwell a fraud; but he is one, and that's all that really matters. If the insult is accurate and deserved, I don't think it's wrong.

Ed: "If the insult is accurate and deserved," then it's not needless. Jerry Falwell IS a fraud, and saying so is beneficial to our species.