Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More on Those Bloody Cartoons

I'm once again going to bare my neck on the chopping board that is the Aaronovitch Watch (incorporating Nick Cohen Watch) and say that - a dodgy prediction notwithstanding (see Cap Cab's post below) - David A talks some sense in today's column. The Friday Forecast comp was suspended as it was multiply overdetermined that Dave would choose to write about Those Wretched Cartoons, but a glance at his recent columns on adjacent topics, as well as his recent short blogpost, pointed towards the likelihood that he wouldn't go mad and start foaming, as have so many.

Dave's Decent, of course. He wouldn't be Decent Dave if he weren't. But whereas some Decentists are smashing through the Seals of Dacre on the inexorable conveyor belt that takes you on a one-way journey to the Land of Mel, Dave seems to have developed effective defence mechanisms against the Crazy Ranting Tendency to which so many succumb when they start talking about The Muslims.

So, rewind back to November 2004. Theo Van Gogh's been killed. What does Dave say? Dave says this, in a column for the paper not yet known as tehgrauniad, titled "All Muslims are not the same", about T van G's notorious film :
Imagine a similar film being made here featuring Lubavitcher Jews and suggesting the plight, say, of a child in a closed community. The child might talk about paedophilia in one of the many unregulated weekend classes, about the code of silence, all set against the background of a seven-branched candlestick, with the words of the Torah passing across her body. Then suppose it was made, not by a Lubavitcher, but by a rightwing member of the Conservative party, who had once called a Jew, a "Christ-killer", as Van Gogh once described a Muslim as a "goat-fucker.
He notes the way that in some public discussion the crazy, criminal actions of one Muslim become, "in a blink of a cursor", symptomatic of something that might have to do with all Muslims. And he ended this bit of his column with words that quite a lot of bloggers would do well to ponder:
The story of Muslims is of a backward, super-sensitive religion which mistreats women and suppresses dissent. It is as true and as useful as the story of Jews, and, if we keep on telling it, leads to a similar place.
Fast forward now to January 2005, and to the fuss over the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera and to the controversy over the play Bezhti. Here's Aaro, writing in The Observer:
Could we imagine a Prophet in diapers?

The Bezhti affair gives this question real salience. The editor of Granta, Ian Jack, writing following the Sikh demonstrations that forced the play's closure, seemed to suggest that some lines were unlikely to crossed, and crystallised the argument: 'The state has no law forbidding a pictorial representation of the Prophet,' he wrote, 'but I never expect to see such a picture...'

Back came a furious Salman Rushdie, pointing out that there was a tradition of depictions of the Prophet, and then asking, 'should we now censor ourselves because the current potentates of the Islamic faith are more repressive than their predecessors? Do we have no principles of our own?'

This seems to be one of the biggest questions of the moment, given additional topicality because of the proposed 'incitement to religious hatred' law. And it will get bigger because Jack is, I think wrong in his prediction. At the moment most of us don't have a Mohamed. Yet. Soon there will be hundreds of British writers and playwrights who were brought up as Muslims or with personal knowledge of Islam. And they will write about the Prophet, their Prophet, and they will depict him and his religion as seems appropriate to them.

What happens then?
Aaro was imagining cartoons of the Prophet, say, drawn by Muslims, just as he was earlier interested in how a film like TVG's might have been a different kind of work of art had it been made by a Muslim rather than by a Muslim-baiter. So his prophetic antennae weren't operating at 100%. Still, I dare say he came closer to anticipating the current spat than anyone else managed to do.

Now we move forward again, to the era of Aaro as Times columnist, and into the era during which Aaro has been Watched. There were two columns on the riots in France, here and here. In these columns Aaro said things like this:
Nor, given our own experience, does piling the blame on Muslims seem very credible. These riots would, I’d suggest, be happening even if every Arab and African youth in the suburbs had been brought up Catholic or Wiccan.
Or this:
Last Tuesday my e-mail box declared itself full after a small deluge of readers wrote in, most declaring that, although they weren’t French and hadn’t been there for a while, they knew — absolutely knew — that Islam was behind it all.
Or this:
I do try not to believe things for which there is no evidence, and there is no evidence for Muslim qua Muslim involvement in the ritual car-burnings françaises.
Or, ripping the piss out of Rod Liddle, which is always a sound strategy, this:
"These youths mention “jihad” three times in a brief conversation, and that’s it. This is the hard evidence for “The Crescent of Fear”. It seems to me that there is only one state of ignorance more complete than total lack of knowledge, and that is the one engendered by sending Rod Liddle somewhere for a couple of hours."
And then this:
"Constantly you can hear good, sensible people beginning to say stupid things about Muslims."
We might quibble about the words "good" and "sensible", but, moving on, there's also this:
"The vast majority of Muslims are not Islamists. They aren’t militant and they aren’t zealots. They are not anything really, any more than the rest of us."
Right: that's the context I think you need for understanding this week's Aaro column. Perhaps one of the other guys can take us through what that column actually says...

Oh, and finally: The phrase "Bongo-brains" intrigued me: where does that come from? I see Aaro's used it before, in the guise of Lynton Charles, which also suggests that it's been around for the better part of a decade. But it's passed me by.


Blogger Mark Holland said...

Off topic. Your man will be popping up on BBC 4 ce soir as a talking head in, oh dear, My Dad Was a Communist.


2/07/2006 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

Interesting piece from ken McLeod. I think he's identified what Dave doesn't have that a lot of the others do:

Is there another hatred that might be called 'the liberalism of fools'? The progressivism of fools? The libertarianism of fools? If anti-semitism is, in an important aspect, a rage against the machine, against progress, is there an opposite rage: a rage against reaction, a fury at the recalcitrance of the concrete and the stubbornness of tradition? A rage against what is sacred and refuses to be profaned, against what is solid and doesn't melt into air, against ways of life that resist commodification, against use-value that refuses to become exchange-value? And might that rage too need a fantasy object?


(he doesnt have permalinks).

I thought Aaro's piece was pretty sensible too, though I expected a punchline to the effect of "this is why we need laws regulating speech".

The fact that Dave is suspicious of unregulated speech in the first place does at least inoculate him from the temptation of picking up a cartoon and howling along with the mob

2/07/2006 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

(he doesnt have permalinks)

Yes, he does: it's here.

And, yes, it's nice piece.

2/07/2006 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschetta Boy said...

the opposite of "all that is solid melts into air" is surely "the status quo is no longer an option", in some perverted way.

I must say I thought that the moral of Aaro's story was "this is why we need those laws about glorifying terrorism", which our Home Secretary did in fact say not so long ago.

2/07/2006 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Shahid Malik was pushing the glorifying terrorism laws on tonight's Newsnight, too. This is clearly the lesson New Labour feels We Must Lean.

2/07/2006 11:52:00 PM  
Anonymous backword Dave said...

You don't think "bongo brains" is an unconscious reference to "Um Bongo, they drink it in the jungle" do you?

Oh yes, bongo brains on this page.

2/08/2006 11:27:00 AM  

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