Culture War Dispatches

from a Progressive People's Republic

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Robert Kuttner Boston Globe 2/11/06

Robert Kuttner's op-ed piece, "Preserve values in cartoons war" discusses the conflict between freedom of expression vs. the right not to be offended as evidenced in the Mohammed cartoon fiasco. He begins by reducing it to a clash between “faith and reason,” which puts himself and the left-wing Boston Globe on the side of reason, and fundamentalist crackpots who still believe in anything beyond cultural relativism on the side of faith.

Kuttner continues: “The other day, New York Times columnist David Brooks piously contrasted the enlightened West versus the Islamists: 'Our mindset is progressive and rational. Your mindset is pre-Enlightenment and mythological.' He could have been describing George W. Bush…Radical Islam may be more crude in its tactics, but one form of religious fundamentalism only foments another.”

Kuttner attacks David Brooks as being “pious” – one of the greatest insults the left can think up—for daring to call one culture superior to another—a cardinal sin in the multiculturalist mindset. At the same time his own essay argues the same point, that enlightenment values are superior to the fundamentalism of the Muslim rioters. He is just as pious in declaring one side superior—he just has a different cast of characters. Instead of East vs. West, it is left-wing liberals vs. fundamentalists. This allows him to oppose both radical Islam and George Bush—they are both fundamentalists and a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist. They’re all intolerant small-minded looney-birds. The pious black woman who attends her local Baptist church and a suicide bomber—both equally dangerous and inferior to the multiculturalist ideologoue who knows he is superior because he believes there is no such thing as superiority.

The contradiction and hypocrisy of the position is similar to the debate over good and evil. George Bush calls mass murderers evil and the forces that oppose them good. The left insists that this is fundamentalism, and that there are two fundamental classes of people: the evil people who believe in good and evil and the good people who see shades of gray everywhere they look, unless they are looking at a fundamentalist.

Kuttner goes on to spread a little hate-mongering in the name of denouncing hate-mongering. He begins:

"For starters, the mainstream media no longer is keeper of norms. If you can't find hate-mongering in your local paper, just look to the Internet."

Translation: the Boston Globe tries to maintain civilized norms by not printing the cartoons, but those right wing bloggers are a bunch of hatemongers. [Or perhaps the Globe is too cowardly to show solidarity with its fellow European journalists, while the bloggers are exercising freedom of speech.]

Kuttner continues:

"And Fox News has little respect for the norm that the respectable media doesn't do anti-Semitism anymore, with Fox's trumped up campaign against an imagined ''war against Christmas" -- most of whose offenders just happen to be Jews."

It’s probably not the first time the mainstream media bogeyman—Fox News—has been accused of anti-Semitism, but his evidence is very confused. To begin with, why does he assert so confidently that the “war on Christmas” is imagined? My children’s school has a “winter” assembly where they sing Hannukah, Kwaanza and pagan songs but no Christmas carols are allowed, so I know it exists at least in my little corner of the world.

Secondly I don’t know what Jews he is talking about, but the people who oppose public celebrations of Christmas are more likely to be from the multiculturalist secular left—a group that as a whole supports the Palestinians and labels Israel as imperialist, genocidal and racist. The supporters of Public Displays of Christmas are likely to be conservatives, who for the most part support Israel. It is possible that many of the names on the multicultural left are Jewish, but opposition to their secularism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It is a strange fact that the Christian religious right is a strong supporter of Israel, while the progressive Left opposes the only democracy in the middle east in favor of a fascist organization like the PLO, which oppresses women and hates homosexuals.

Kuttner’s concluding paragraph: “Enlightenment values, of reason, democracy, civility, and the coexistence of religious and cultural pluralism, are our most precious legacy as a society.”

I would not argue against the importance of any of these values. However the article starts out by discussing freedom of speech, and it’s noteworthy that his list does not include life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness, nor any of the 10 items on the Bill of Rights, like freedom of the press. For Kuttner, civility and pluralism are greater values than liberty. I doubt that Jefferson—or Edmund Burke, one of the progenitors of the conservative movement that Kuttner has the audacity to quote—would agree.