Thursday, June 21, 2007

Denying Agency

OB solidly criticizes the "tendentious manipulative hostile language" in reports about Salman Rushdie's knighthood. Apparently the event "provoked" protests from angry Muslims. OB thinks this is unfair on Rushdie. But it's also worth pointing out how appeasement disrespects Muslims. ('Shouldn't we know better than to prod the animals?' one imagines the journalist asking. 'They might bite!')

Human beings have agency; we make choices. When someone says or does something we don't like, we can choose how to react. We aren't animals, to respond to any 'provocation' with a bloodthirsty snarl, threatening violence. Such behaviour is not to be expected of decent human beings. To consider it par for the course for Muslims, then, is soft bigotry. It denies them agency, and treats them as mere animals.

Granted, some Islamic extremists (apparently including Pakistan's religious affairs minister) behave like animals, with their obscene death threats. But we should expect better of them. Their degraded state is not simply 'par for the course', or 'to be expected'. They're human. They should start acting like it. We should expect no less. Violent behaviour is, and ought to remain, remarkable. So, next time an extremist chooses to act like an animal, remark on it. Show them that much respect. They're not animals; their behaviour stems from their own agency, not our poking and prodding.


  1. It should be noted, also, that the outcry starts at the government or clerical level and then is used to rally regime supporters. Very few in Iran or Pakistan has read Rushdie's books, probably not even that crazy religious affairs minister, and that half-assed policy of "inter-faith harmony" sounds more like a totalitarian tool for control.

  2. "But it's also worth pointing out how appeasement disrespects Muslims."

    Absolutely. I did point that out at least implicitly, by emphasizing that some Muslims chose to be 'offended' as opposed to all of them having been 'provoked'.

    But it's well worth leaning on, the disrespect in this weird media assumption that all Muslims take umbrage at books they haven't read and cartoons they haven't seen. That's 'offensive' if you like.

  3. Tangent: isn't it a bit of an insult to animals to compare them to Islamic extremists? That's not a cheap one-liner; animals don't generally give a damn about blasphemy.


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