Sunday, October 01, 2006

Preventive Surrender

I saw this term in an editorial by Henryk M. Broder. It describes a reaction many people take in the face of threat. We saw it in Europe in the lead up to WWII, and we see it many places now in the face of aggressive militant Islamic protest.

He notes:

If we didn't already know it by the time of the recent scandal surrounding cartoons of Muhammad were published in a Dutch newspaper, that event confirmed to us that Muslims are especially sensitive when it comes to their prophet. We learned that their anger threshold is very low and that it's best not to overstep it. We also learned that they interpret the suggestion that they incline towards violence as a form of defamation -- one they like to respond to by burning flags and effigies, and by chanting "Kill Those Who Insult Islam!"

And how have we responded to this attack on Western sensibilities? In London, they are setting up teams to inform Islamic leaders when it's time to do a police raid. A political leader in the Netherlands says if enough people vote for it, there's nothing wrong with estabilishing Sharia law there. And everywhere, people are walking on eggs and making allowances lest they do something to rouse the ire of those who would protest in the name of their faith, even if it means curtailing freedom of speech guaranteed by local law.

Broder goes on to note:

During this year's Carnival festivities -- a time when, traditionally, no taboo is respected as long as overstepping it raises a laugh - Cologne's famed carnival societies decided to take no risks and do without jokes about Islam and Muslims. And so the festivities remained untainted by violence.

It was no great loss for the freedom of opinion, but it was another step in the direction of preventive surrender. When it comes to cultural events -- as opposed to politics -- fear is a potent weapon. At this point, no specific threat of violence seems even to have been needed. One "risk analysis" was enough, and the citation of concrete facts wasn't necessary either. Fear takes care of the rest.

The case of the Deutsche Oper is spectacular. When something like this happens in some small town, no one gets upset, because it happens there every day. Cabaret artist Hans Scheibner writes regular features for the daily Schweriner Zeitung. The paper is owned by the Flensburg-based media group sh:z, which publishes 14 dailies in Germany's Schleswig-Holstein region. When the Muhammad caricatures published by various Western newspapers caused such a stir this spring, Scheibner wrote a feature that began: "No, really, my dear Muslims, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but our God here in the Christian West is much stronger than yours..." That was more than the Schweriner Zeitung thought its readers could take. The feature was never published.

When the Pope visited his hometown in Bavaria, Scheibner wrote a feature that was just as harmless. "In Bavaria, the Bavarians have rendered homage to their very own guru, who's always walking around in those funny clothes and with a smoking lantern in his hand." This feature wasn't published either: The editors decided it constituted an "insult to religious sentiment" before even a single Catholic had a chance to complain.

What's next? Hamburg Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke, a liberal Catholic, isn't the only one who believes religious feelings shouldn't be hurt. If this attitude prevails, drama, art and literature will have a hard time in the future. Voltaire, Spinoza and Heine will be banned from the libraries. Even a drama as harmless as Lessing's "Nathan the Wise" could cause outrage. The play features a dialogue between a Christian, a Jewish and a Muslim character. But it doesn't present them as absolute equals. (source)

This preventative surrender, which is how people who don't want conflict deal with bullies, mafia types demanding protection money, tyrants, and all the other people who would compromise people's freedom, is a dangerous thing, because it will strip people of things, step by step, bit by bit, until they wake up one day and find themselves in a place they really didn't want to be.

One does not retain freedom by letting the freedoms one has fall through the fingers because it's just easier that way. It takes work and effort and the belief that it is worthwhile. I am reminded of the easy way the Nazis controlled the people in the Warsaw Ghetto, who let themselves be shipped off to the death camps with little struggle. By the time of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, it was too late, and although they were able to cause the Nazis great difficulty in shutting the ghetto down, the fact was they had lost when they gave in to the idea of surrender years before.

It is the small steps at the beginning where the attack on freedom is easiest to stop. Later, it may indeed be costly, or even impossible to even begin.



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