Friday, February 03, 2006

What offends and the reaction to being offended

I've said for years that in any field of human discussion you can find someone, somewhere offended by the stance you take on it. Perhaps you're too broad or too narrow or too literal or too abstract. Whatever your stance, someone's going to think you've said (or not said) something that offends their sense on the topic in question. The reverse of that is equally true: regardless of how many people think a given thing is offensive, there will be some who wonder what the big deal is and view those offended as just a bunch of whiners who need to get a life. The pertinent questions, in my view, are:

  1. Is it considered reasonable by the society in which you live to find such a thing offensive?

  2. What is the acceptable range of response to the offense?

I recall very clearly as a boy that my sister got hugely on my nerves and made all manner of comment to me that was rude, mean, and - yes - offensive. When her taunts got to be too much to bear on one occasion I remember, I took a swing at her. This was an action she immediately protested to my mother who called me to explain. I did. I was confident that what my sister had said was so offensive my mother would agree. She did, but not to the extent of excusing my action in response. In fact, although my sister got told to knock it off, I was the one in the greater amount of trouble. I didn't think that was fair and said so. Mom told me that even though my sister had been offensive, that was no excuse for what I had done.

Even though what had happened was offensive to me and even though my mother agreed that I was justified in feeling that way, being offended didn't justify the level of response.

The Muslim world is - once again - inflamed to the point of mass demonstrations, burning flags and effigies, and generally displaying ill will toward anyone not Muslim over the publication of a dozen or so drawings in a Danish newspaper depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed. For details on the matter, I'd like to direct you to LGF (multiple posts), Michelle Malkin, or any of the sites they link to. Bottom line, it's against the Muslim religion to portray Mohammed in any way. No drawings, no sculptures, no needlepoint, etc. Anyone doing so immediately draws the effusive ire of Muslims everywhere. Muslims get offended by this kind of action.

The first question I've asked is regarding how reasonable is it to be offended by cartoons depicting Mohammed. Religion is, by its nature, not completely rational or reasonable, so to ask whether it's reasonable to get offended over a violation of religious dogma is a bit of a foregone conclusion. There are a lot of muslims in the world and a lot of them appear offended. This isn't a "gotcha" moment since anyone who's been fairly educated in the precepts of the religion would know this is one of their touchy points. Add to that the expressed reasoning for the paper to publish these cartoons being that the cartoonists believed the threats against them for considering drawing them were, themselves, offensive to the artists and you can't claim that the artists didn't know they were about to do something the Muslim faith found objectionable. So, it's reasonable to conclude that Muslims would be offended by the drawings and the mass of them who feel that way is sufficiently large to preclude blowing them off as just a few fringe people. The only purpose you could have in drawing these cartoons was to purposely poke at the line of offense of those of Muslim faith.

Going out of my way to be offensive is generally not considered a good behavior. I certainly don't like it when people of other faiths and the media purposely express themselves about Catholics in a manner they know is likely to be offensive simply because they feel their freedom of speech allows it. A person's religious faith can be disagreed with but I don't subscribe to the notion that it's completely OK to purposely shove stuff in a person's face when it's highly likely to offend them and simply expect that they have to sit there and take it.

The Muslim world reacts to such offense in a completely predictable manner. They threaten. They terrorize. They seek to use the laws of the societies they condemn in an effort to achieve a status for themselves that they would deny others. They kidnap. They behead. They blow up. Are these reactions within the acceptable range of responses to a non-believer committing an act that a believer considers offensive or sinful?

No. They are not. And like my behavior toward my sister who had offended me, reacting in the fashion they do completely negates their claim to victimhood. In civilized societies when one is offended, one first announces the offense and seeks to resolve that offense with the offending party in a manner consistent with civilized behavior and the law. In the case of a newspaper, that means you write the editor. You call the editor. You write a blog or call in to a radio show or any of the methods used to articulate your point without engaging in violent and unlawful behavior or threat. That is the first move and that is precisely the move the Muslim world didn't make. It's the move they never make. Any offense, no matter how small or how isolated is answered with threats of death and destruction. Such threats are the last thing before actually pulling the trigger on a gun and there are plenty of things to try before one gets there. Bringing suit in a court of law, for one thing. Boycotting and peaceful protest others.

The Muslim world is acting, frankly, like a petulant child in a daycare facility. They want everything, they don't feel the need for restraint or manners, and they have no empathy with the rest of the room's residents. The room in this case is the world and the Muslims need to start getting it throught their increasingly thick skulls that they aren't alone in it. The rest of us live here, too, and we're not going to start doing things the way they want things done simply because they're bullies and violent jerks.