November 16, 2004

Who van What Now?

Andrew Sullivan thinks he's found another damning indictment of the left's moral blindness.

One sentence from Roger Ebert. And a good piece on NPR. That's my summary so far of liberal outrage about the murder of Theo van Gogh. Do you think if a member of the religious right had killed a Hollywood director they would have managed to say something?

Sure, and if he'd dismembered Britney Spears and hung her body parts from the Empire State Building "they" wouldn't be talking about anything else. The difference is fame, not ideology.

I was going to say that a more fair comparison would be if a member of the religious right killed a a different obscure Dutch director. But wait, Van Gogh WAS killed by a member of the religious right -- just not the religion Sullivan was thinking of.

But even by his own definition of "religious right" it's not a good comparison. First of all, Islamic extremist commits murder is a dog-bites-man story. I'm no fan of the Christian right, but it's still news when a Christian resorts to violence, so greater outrage would be understandable. It's sad, but we're hardened to the idea that violence is intrinsic to fundamentalist Islam, and therefore see less reason to protest it.

This also goes back to the oft-heard complaint that the left protested the US invasion of Iraq, but was not adamant enough about protesting against Saddam Hussein. As I've said many times, I think the left should have been more vocal about Saddam's crimes -- but what makes someone or something a worthy target of protest is not only their sins but their accountability. The US is (at least theoretically) a democracy and an engaged member of the world community that can reasonably be expected to take popular opinion into account in policy matters. There was (again, theoretically) at least a chance to sway the US in a way that there never was with an isolated criminal state like Saddam's Iraq.

By the same token, greater outrage against a hypothetical (or not) killer from the Christian right than one from the Islamic right would have an explanation other than the one Sullivan implies: the Christian right is a major player in US politics and its agenda is front and center in the country right now. Protesting violence from that sector might actually have some effect.

Finally, who is "they" if not NPR? And how much has Fox News had to say?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Yep. And NPR has covered the Van Gogh story extensively--far more than one "good story" would imply They've done multiple pieces on the reaction in Europe, and on the documentary that was the alleged reason for the assault.

"But wait, Van Gogh WAS killed by a member of the religious right..."

I think that's Andrew's point. There are certain people who protest against our Christian religious right, but are silent when it comes to the Islamic religious right (which is a far greater threat to our actual safety.) And we shouldn't allow ourselves to be hardened by the violence of Islamic fundamentalists. There should be greater outrage when it surfaces.

"the Christian right is a major player in US politics"

Islamic fundamentalism isn't exactly an under the radar issue (nor is the rather sizable war that relates to it.) I think your explanation is close to the real one, but gives everyone a little too much credit. It has little to do with politics or shock or outrage. Van Gogh wasn't American, so nobody cares.

>Islamic fundamentalism isn't exactly an >under the radar issue (nor is the rather >sizable war that relates to it.)

Of course, but what I mean is not that the issue isn't central, but that the players are not -- at least not in the sense that they can be expected to respond to the pressures of media and public outrage. Writing angry columns isn't going to influence them the way it might influence the Christian right, so why bother? (I'm not endorsing this view, just explaining it).

But yes, I led with the Britney line because that's the main point that Sullivan is missing: the silence in this case is not an unwillingness to challenge radical Islam but an unwillingness to care about other countries' minor celebrities.

Before this week hardly anyone in America had heard of Theo Van Gogh. Now, he's not exactly a household name, but since his death he's become roughly as famous as, say, Jamie Gertz. I say, "Well done, American media!"

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