A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Price of Appeasement

It's not a one-time cost. Quite the opposite. Because those whom you are attempting to appease don't look at your concession and think, "That's all right then, clearly these are well-intentioned folk who meant no offense. Perhaps we over-reacted." They think something along the lines of, "Clearly violence works, my friends. Soon, perhaps even the threat of violence will be sufficient. Regardless, we must press our advantage and agitate for still more concessions."

Which leads, quite naturally and unsurprisingly, to this. An opera house canceling a new show before it even opens because it might be too provocative, and thus presented an "incalcuable risk". The show includes a scene with the severed head of Muhammad. Kirstin Harms, director of the opera, cited Muslim responses to the Danish caricatures-- violence, bombings, calls for assassination-- as a principle reason for canceling the show.

Oddly enough, though the opera also includes the severed heads of Jesus and Buddha in the very same scene as the one containing Muhammad's severed head, Harms did not include any concern that local Christians or Buddhists would riot, commit arson, or threaten death in response to the opera. How odd. Surely the sight of Jesus' head sans body would be somewhat disturbing, even distressing, for a Christian, and even a Buddhist might have some twang of apprehension upon seeing that jolly Buddha fellow rendered as a bleeding, severed head.

Yet nobody is worried about that.


Wonder what the difference could possibly be?


While I agree with your general point (that appeasing terrorists by self-censorship leads us down a dangerous path), I was surprised to see that you thought that a representation of a bodiless Jesus would be distressing to Christians. As a non-Christian, I find most depictions of the crucified Jesus to be gruesome at best. Not quite sure how a bodiless Jesus is any more or less gruesome...
Another cost, or unintended consequence, of appeasement could be showing other groups just how effective violence can be in response to real or perceived affronts.

How long until other groups look at the mohammed cartoon riots, or the furor over Pope Benedict's recent speech in Germany, and decide that they want to force the same concessions for their cause that the muslims are getting for alleged slights against islam?

Some scenes of Christ's crucifixion, and some crucifixes, can be gruesome. The sacrifice at Calgary is the central point of the Christian faith, it symbolizes God's love for us, it reminds us of Christ's suffering on the cross and it reminds us to imitate Jesus when dealing with our own sufferings in day-to-day life. The Kingdom of Heaven would be closed to us without that sacrifice and the subsequent Resurrection.

Christians don't focus on the crucifixion due to its sometimes gruesome depiction. Christians focus on the crucifixion because of its importance in the Christian faith and everything that it represents.

The severed head of the Son of God being pulled from a bag would be disturbing to many Christians. The horrible nature of the material aside, it might also represent to many people the decapitation of the Head of the Church and the Head of the Faith.
The sacrifice at Calgary? Was that when Canada gave us Bob and Doug McKenzie, eh? I kid, I kid.

But yeah, I think the severed head of Jesus would be disturbing. The crucifixion is also a disturbing image, but it has become a symbol of hope and renewal for Christians. Christ took one of the most barbaric manners of executing someone and transformed it into a tangible representation of the suffering he accepted to save all of us. His severed head gets none of that. It's disturbing with no redeeming features to it.

So, yeah, I think many, not all but many, Christians would find it disturbing. But Christians don't come out of the opera threatening to kill the writer of the opera, or the director of the opera, or the owners of the opera house, or maybe all of the above. Buddhists don't come out of the opera and begin planning the bombing of the opera house.

And most Muslims don't either-- but enough DO take offense at these "slights" and DO take out their anger and discontent in violent, uncivilized ways. Which leaves civilization with two choices-- back down to the uncivilized responses or stand up to it. Far, far too often our civilization backs down these days, and that merely confirms that uncivilized responses are not only acceptable, but effective.

Mojo's point is a good one. How long before other groups decide to stop playing by the rules? There are no repercussions when you don't, and indeed, you usually get what you want. So, screw it, if it works for them, it'll work for us.

The veneer of civilization is just that-- a veneer. A thin coating that, by mutual agreement, everybody pretends is a deep, heavy wall of protection. If that veneer starts to peel or crack and is not repaired, it does not take that long for more and more to peel away.

And not doing things because a segment of the population might get upset AND violent is a BIG FAT CRACK in the veneer of our society. One that must not be ignored, much less embraced.
I'm sorry. Calvary, not Calgary. The V and G keys are pretty close aren't they?

Preview is my friend.
But you have to understand that minus the belief attached to images of crucifiction by Christians themselves, the crucifiction is gruesome and gory, not transcendent nor symbolic.

I think it's interesting to note that many religions have the same theme that pain/torture/persecution=transcendence. Christians have it with the crucifiction, Muslims have it with martyrdom, and Jews have it with pretty much EVERY holiday (passover, for one).

True enough, but take a look at the ghastly images in horror films or in the goth scene for example. Most Christians would be disturbed by those depictions also. It is precisely the fact that there is meaning attached to the crucifixion of Christ that causes Christians to hold it in esteem, not because it is gruesome. Take away the meaning behind it, and it is just the material of the macabre.

Interestingly enough, many of those who reject Christianity and embrace the more gruesome side of things would probably embrace those same images of the crucifixion if the Christian meaning behind them were to be removed. The meaning and the belief is the key, not the gruesome nature of the event.
Are some in the West starting to get fed-up and lash out a little bit? From the Turkish Press:

British police revealed Friday they were investigating the dumping of a pig's head outside a mosque on the first full day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. [...]

Two British mosques were hit by arson attacks in August following the foiling of an alleged plot to blow up US-bound aircraft leaving Britain.

I've said it before; it is only so long until people in the West get fed-up and start to target muslims in retaliation. British hooligans might just be there now. How many more incidents like this until Joe Sixpack pushes back in the U.S.?
Did you see the op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman "Islam and The Pope" today? Excellent.
Did you see the op-ed piece by Thomas Friedman "Islam and The Pope" today? Excellent.
Friedman has some good points. We in the West need to stop chastising ourselves when muslims get bent out of shape over a statement or picture. We also need to make sure that we have no more pre-emptive acquiescence like we did with this Mozart incident.

The followers of islam, though, need to get their act together. Engage us with debate when there are topics on which we disagree. Engage in conversation amongst yourselves when there is disagreement within your own faith.

If muslims can't do that, and they instead fall into the primary categories which exist today of firebrand imam, violent reactionary, or silent/submissive follower, then they and their faith will be viewed in the light of those who are most vocal and visible.
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