Joel_Whitney-small.jpgI recommend Reason magazine’s Hit and Run blog, which shot in record time last month from grandstanding to kowtowing, in a post intended to bolster critics of Islam. In the original post, web editor Nick Gillespie revels in the website’s participation in a so-called “draw Mohammed” contest:

“… it’s worth meditating on the whys and wherefores of the contest, which was inspired by a jihadist death threat against the creators of South Park and was originally suggested by Seattle artist Molly Norris. Soon after asking everyone to draw the Prophet in solidarity with the arguably millions of people repressed by threats of theologically justified violence, Norris herself went into ideological hiding, suggesting instead that everyone draw another target of South Park satire: former Vice President Al Gore.”

Gillespie soldiers on:

“Who can blame her? People have been killed for representing Mohammed in ways that displeased Islamic terrorists. People have been punched and kicked and forced into hiding. No wonder, then, that Norris, like Galileo in front of a Catholic tribunal, apologized to ‘everyone of the Muslim faith who has or will be offended ’ by her drawing (visible at the right). This conditionally unconditional language is the language of the forced penitent, of the prisoner in a totalitarian world, of the sad sack on the Catherine Wheel who will say anything, will confess anything to get off the rack. We all understand exactly why such language is being used: The threat of violence.”

For some reason, Gillespie then generously decides to bring me into his waltz over the fault lines of absolutism, which, I have to admit, I wasn’t really in the mood for. This, via my interview with Paul Berman:

“Our Draw Mohammed contest is not a frivolous exercise of hip, ironic, hoolarious sacrilege toward a minority religion in the United States (though even that deserves all the protection that the most serioso political commentary commands). It’s a defense of what is at the core of a society that is painfully incompetent at delivering on its promise of freedom, tolerance, and equal rights. It’s a rebuttal to the notion that we should go limp in the clinches precisely because bullies and bastards can punch or blow us up. It’s a rebuttal to the mentality evinced in the recent interview between liberal intellectual Paul Berman and Joel Whitney in the May 2010 issue of Guernica, where the sound you hear in the background is the sound of the interviewer pissing his pants:”

Had I been scared to interview Berman in the privacy of his home, I surely wouldn’t have appeared in public (the day after the attempted car bombing in Times Square) with Berman and others for a _Guernica_ discussion at PEN World Voices.

Gillespie then cites an exchange where I try to pin down Berman’s view on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and whether there is a prudential line between speaking our mind about, say, Islam—or Islamism (which is different)—and all-out incendiary attack. Berman’s interpretation of what he sees as a failure of liberal intellectuals to defend Hirsi Ali rests on what he calls ‘third worldism,’ a kind of perverse racism made nice and palatable; it inverts racism against former colonized lands and peoples by holding them up as “special” or exemplary. Or it could just be her rage, I thought. So I pressed Berman on this very much for the sake of argument. Worth a discussion? I thought so.

Reading Gillespie’s self-congratulatory rollick surprised me a little. I stipulated clearly in the interview, as I had when I reviewed her Infidel, that I admired Hirsi Ali’s courage. In sum, it was a long, ranging conversation which ended with Berman affirming his position that Hirsi Ali has saved lives via her work to end honor killings, and me essentially repeating at least that much. Consenting? Wasn’t my place to consent as the interviewer, but merely to probe.

So I’ll say it clearly here on this blog: I take all of our rights, Berman’s, mine, and Hirsi Ali’s even to call the Prophet a pedophile as a given, a must-have, a starting point.

But to be characterized as pissing my pants? Silly. Had I been scared to interview Berman in the privacy of his home, I surely wouldn’t have appeared in public (the day after the attempted car bombing in Times Square) with Berman and others for a _Guernica_ discussion of the same topic at PEN World Voices. Had I been scared of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ideas I wouldn’t have “interviewed her”: on this site, and given her the chance to repeat and explain them. But this isn’t really about me, is it?

Enter the Janus mask. Apparently, the fear Gillespie was projecting came from deep within, and landed at home, as it were. You can’t see the unadulterated Gillespie post, by the way, at anymore (see it here, where Gillespie spells “vaya con Diablo” like this: “via”—or is that petty to point out?). Why do I have to send you to the world-famous U.S. Constitutional Free Press to read Nick’s original “hit and run”?

Because within a day or two of writing it, Gillespie decided he had better edit it. Not the body of the post, per se. Just a little extra rollicking at the front and back. Namely, he added an innocent disclaimer in the form of an author’s note distancing himself and from those nefarious Mohammed cartoons he was having such fun summoning. At the tippy top of the piece, Gillespie notes that the images are from a dossier in 2005, etc.—that is, from the far-away Elsewhere. A snippet: “The images below may indeed give offense, not just to Muslims but to people of all faiths and even atheists. If they do, remember who created and distributed them.

Aw. Sweet how is willing to wear their PC bona fides on their sleeve. (In case you forget, that’s politically correct, not this extension of your hands and face you are now reading—but the erstwhile mantra of multiculturalism, the very tendency folks like Nick Gillespie can’t stand as they see it as having nudged us all inexorably into a cower in the face of militant Islamism.) But, lest you edge forward to call Gillespie a “sad-sack on the Catherine Wheel,” it wasn’t just the preamble to the post that was adulterated into appeasement. A bold ‘update’ at the end stipulates (emphasis mine):

“Due to the high, server-crushing volume of comments and the gratuitously insulting imagery of many of them—it seems that if there’s one group of folks more obsessed with gay sex than Islamic terrorists, it’s critics of the same—we’ve decided to shut down comments to this post. For those who wrongly equate this with censorship, please note that the Web, like the world itself, is wide and there are plenty of places you can go to post your comments about just about anything.”

To get this little capitulation straight: the contest whose purpose was to show your courageous freedom of speech? …you disavowed. The right to comment on the blog post? …you shut down.

Ah, the moral courage of opinion journalists, fighting against censorship, multiculturalists and cowardly liberals like me! Ah, light unto fearful Danish newspapers everywhere. O me. What exemplary courage.


Joel Whitney is a founding editor of Guernica. Read his interview with Paul Berman here. Read his last recommendation of Alain de Botton’s Twitter page “here”:

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