A newspaper in a small European country publishes a few cartoons of Muhammed, and millions of Muslims erupt in outrage – or in what we have become accustomed to seeing described as outrage. An obscure pastor of a tiny church in Florida threatens to destroy a Koran, and millions of Muslims erupt in that selfsame outrage. Some NATO soldiers inadvertently burn a few copies of the Koran, and millions of Muslims erupt, yet again, in outrage.
And the next thing you know, large numbers of people have been killed, Western embassies have been vandalized, mischief and mayhem of every imaginable kind has taken place. And meanwhile, the air is thick with apologies.
Not, of course, apologies by Muslim leaders for the primitive, brutal, and murderous conduct of their coreligionists, but apologies by Western leaders because somebody, somewhere, drew a picture or destroyed a book.
It is sheer absurdity. And yet innumerable Western politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and other highly placed clowns have long since accustomed themselves to discussing this balderdash in the most solemn of tones. A Muslim somewhere on this planet asserts that the burning of a copy of the Koran thousands of miles away causes him indescribable, excruciating personal torment. And in a world awash in authentic reasons for emotional distress, this statement is taken not as a baldfaced lie, or as evidence of mental instability, but as a sincere expression of legitimate anguish worthy of the attention of, among others, the President of the United States of America.
In short, the Western world – the civilized, modern world, the world built on the pillars of reason and Enlightenment values – has, in recent years, in the name of multiculturalism, decided to react with respect to statements and behaviors that we would laugh off as patently nonsensical if they originated from within our own civilization.
And so, as I say, the apologies flow like Niagara – apologies by everyone from the President on down: generals, ambassadors, cabinet officials. And the more ardent and numerous and overblown the apologies we offer this time for the present “offense,” the more “sensitive” the “offended” parties become, so that the next time they identify an excuse to take offense, the louder their cries of purported anguish will be and the more violent their acts of anti-Western remonstration. They'll expect even more urgent and passionate apologies, and they'll get them. And so it continues in a seemingly endless cycle: as we become ever more contrite in response to their remarkably exquisite “sensitivity,” the more and more “sensitive” they'll become, and the more deeply we'll bow and scrape, and so on.
It is a preposterous, demeaning, and uncivilized spectacle, and it makes a mockery of the whole business of giving offense (whether intentionally or unintentionally, by word or by deed) and expressing earnest contrition, and of taking genuine offense and sincerely accepting an apology. These are real and meaningful and important ethical concepts. They have to do with the acknowledgment of moral lapses and the restoration of decent and proper relations between responsible people living in free communities. They play a fundamental role in the healthy give and take of civilized society – which is to say, society founded not on threats, bullying, vendettas, and the despotism of religious fanatics but on a shared reverence for individual liberty and a fully reciprocal tolerance for differences that do not imperil that liberty.
But what we have been witnessing in recent days, and what we have, in fact, been witnessing with what seems like increasing frequency ever since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, has nothing whatsoever to do with civilized human relations. In one incident after another, there has been an increasingly grotesque disproportion between the scale of apology and the scale of the action precipitating the apology. It is an unsettling and unworthy development. In allowing ourselves to be dragged down this path, we have left far behind us the realm of normal, rational human interaction and descended into the abyss of appeasement, into a situation that is not truly about offense and apology in any civilized sense but, rather, about the barbaric exploitation of those civilized concepts – an exploitation whose objective is nothing other than manipulation and, in turn, the steady accrual of power. It is, simply put, a form of jihad.
What's next? I'm reminded of the “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984 – a daily ritual whereby the psychologically tyrannized people of Oceania are shown a brief film designed to whip them up into a ritualistic frenzy of hatred for Oceania's enemies, foreign and domestic. Why not take this concept and flip it around to fit the actual circumstances of the present day – in other words, compel everyone in the West to watch a two-minute film every day that encourages them to cringe with guilt and cower in self-loathing over every possible statement or action by any Westerner, anywhere, at which any Muslim, anywhere, might conceivably take umbrage? A film that would inspire viewers to seek to outdo one another in the intensity and tearfulness of their expressions of regret and pleas for forgiveness? In other words, a “Two-Minute Grovel.” I'm sure there are plenty of filmmakers in Hollywood who'd be glad to take on the job, and who could do a bang-up job of it.
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