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No Idols

August 20, 2010

One of the hardest arguments to make in the Mohammad cartoons shitstorm was that their objectionableness stemmed from the implicitly racist context in which they were produced.  In practice that isn’t an argument I have much sympathy for; almost every “moderate” denouncement of the cartoons ultimately smacked of petulant totalitarian (if pluralistic) hostility to open discourse and freedom of information.  While the dynamics and potency of a single offensive event can serve as a launchpad to attack racism, the situation largely prevented any realm of protest that didn’t smack of disproportionate suppression.

It’s particularly hard to say yall are being dumb when sufficiently large crowds react by violently calling for censorship — whatever the provoking factors any decent human being’s first act would be rallying to the defense of those threatened by such deplorable populism.  It’s not like we don’t have the energy to be both incensed by the tendrils of racism at play and revolted at the fascistic audacity of the muslim demagogues.  But the media narrative is not so expansive and critiques of European racism did little good when the Pro/Con stuck on the board was “should words be responded to with sticks and stones”.

Still it’s sad to see a situation like that go by without a truly nuanced opinion allowed to emerge.  It seems a bit Oppression Olympics to expect folks to simply postpone pertinent critiques because they’d feed into the douchebags down with censorship.  Better to attack the narrative structure itself.  And to my pleasure the Arab European League did precisely that (although alas they’re no champion of good themselves, a few copwatch programs notwithstanding).  The best strike for liberty in the entire affair was their counter publication of a holocaust denying cartoon.

This was by far the correct approach.  And the fine they just received for being (I shit you not) “unnecessarily hurtful” with said publication is an arrogant spit in the face of Freedom of Information at least every bit as infuriating as any toothless imam’s would-be totalitarianism.

This more than anything else perfectly highlights the ridiculous racism and hypocrisy of Europe.  …It’s just that the resolution to their hypocrisy should fall in the direction of liberty.  In the direction of a culture that expects individuals to mind their own hangups and neurotic weaknesses rather than turn to violence over a stray wafting idea.

All anarchists are anti-racist, but all anarchists also support intellectual and expressive autonomy.  The caveat to our anti-racism is that while wholly unviolent prejudice is worthy of our attention and limited action, our goal is always the reduction and eventual elimination of control.  The danger of racism is contextual — its capacity to advance populism and totalitarianism.  Of both there is no truer embodiment than in censorship.

Since freedom of information is critical in every campaign we might undertake, it’s a good rule of thumb to attack the censors first and THEN attack whatever racists organize.  (Or simply continue demolishing the rest of the existing racist system.)

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