"Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed."
(Swans - September 24, 2012) FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Besides all that can and should be criticized about the United States of America, this small publisher, co-editor, and occasional writer feels lucky and privileged to live in this country. Imagine Swans being located and published in any country of the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) or other Muslim-dominated countries in the world. The publication would have long ceased to exist and I would either be in jail or dead. In almost 17 years, I have never had any interference by the US government or one of its myriad agencies -- not once. I've been left alone, and mostly ignored, although I have published and written lots of highly critical articles and keep advocating socioeconomic and political change. I can condemn war, the US foreign policies, argue that Hamas is not a terrorist organization but the US government can be viewed as terroristic, and Wall Street is peopled by banksters and the profit motive is doing us all in. I can poke fun at the pope once a year on the occasion of our Infamous Predictions, or belittle Christian fundamentalists, Republican ideologists, anti-gay activists, and the like. The US government has never interfered. Only individuals have, with scathing accusations of whatever, to which I always answer: "Glad to add to your quality of life..." Idiocy demands humor or wit whenever possible.
RODENTS, MORE THAN THE GOVERNMENT, in the form of mice, have been giving us much more aggravation. They have managed to destroy my wife's sport coupe over the years to the point that now the car's engine does not start any longer. The mechanics are telling us that they found five mice inside the engine compartment and that it will take over $6,000 to fix it (without guarantee), which is just about what the car is worth on the market. In other words, mice have totaled the car. Mice have also been gnawing at the wiring inside the house multiple times. They have been much more disturbing to our operations than the US government ever has. I wish I could have them declared a terrorist organization, but I'm afraid that an army of rodents would then launch a frontal attack on our place and lives, or poison our water tank. So, we shut up, fix what needs be fixed, and will purchase a cheap car to replace the beautiful coupe.
INTIMIDATION, whether from mice or men, appears to be a powerful tool to try to dissuade people from acting against one's interests or set of beliefs -- though is mostly impotent in an historical context. Just check how successful the French have been in Vietnam and Algeria, or the U.S. in (also) Vietnam, then Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. So here comes a short video portrayed as a trailer of a movie that apparently does not even exist. This video is described as crude, revolting, and insulting to Muslims all over the world. (I personally do not know since I have not watched it, but being informed of the characters behind its making I suspect it had to be particularly inflammatory toward Islamic sensitivities.) The result is an outburst of violence and many deaths all over the Muslim world arranged by a minuscule minority of Islamicists that are mostly attempting to destabilize their own national governments, which are facing huge socioeconomic challenges, but -- what's new? -- accuse the West, in particularly the U.S. -- here too, what's new? -- of belittling Islam and its sacred prophet. The video had to have been concocted by the Zionists with the support of the US government -- argh, those darn Israelis! -- because in countries where all the media are controlled and muzzled by their respective governments, one cannot conceive that an offensive video may be produced without the authorization of the US authorities. There is no First Amendment to the constitution in the Muslim world... Can you envision Obama sitting in the Oval Office in the midst of a re-election campaign, fomenting a destabilizing video, he who is constantly accused of being a Muslim in disguise? How does one counter irrationality and ignorance?
OVER THERE, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the much beloved Gallic land (except when it's not), some 250 people demonstrated in Paris close to the American embassy; an infinitesimal number in a country that has between 3.5 and 5 million Muslim citizens or residents (the exact number is not known because the French state does not keep a census according to religions or ethnicities). The riot police took care of them in a hurry. Next, the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which makes a business of provoking people to think with the help of outlandish cartoons that are of good or bad taste (depending on your point of view and sensitivities), took the opportunity to publish an issue with several cartoons mocking Islam and the sacred "prophet," drawing him naked, etc. (Personally, I found the cartoons hilarious, especially the one on the front page depicting an imam in a wheelchair being pushed by a Jewish orthodox integrist with a caption, "you must not mock.")
MORE MAYHEM came to pass in the Islamic world and in France. The French state department decided to close its embassies, consulates, cultural centers, and schools in some 20 countries. Opinions varied. For some, the publication was bad timing, a marketing buzz, an irresponsible gesture, a call to racial or religious hatred. For others it was a long-time French tradition to satirize society -- whether it's Christ, the pope, Sarkozy being sodomized by Hollande, or whatever. However, everybody concurred that free speech and freedom of expression were a foundation of our Western societies, including French Muslim authorities, who while deploring the content of the message acknowledged the freedom to publish that "despicable" work. I suspect that they are also starting to figure out that the more they criticize the secular system, the more backlash they get from certain segments of French society. At the end of the day, after a meeting with the minister of the interior, who indicated that he understood their sentiments but would not permit any demonstration -- and the police were present en masse to make certain there would be none -- no demonstration took place and calm prevailed with the exception of ten strollers here and there, including women wearing the niqab or the burqa, one chanting j'emmerde la laïcité ("I fuck secularism"), who were immediately disbanded by the police.
OVERALL, the Middle East has quieted down until the next outburst -- they have to get back to finding food for their families -- freedom of expression has once again prevailed as it always will, but once more the price to pay is heavy. Stupidity is speechless. It reminds me of another time when after much destruction people in Europe saw beyond hatred and les emmerdeurs ("the shit makers"). It was fifty years ago. From September 4 to 9, 1962, Général de Gaulle crisscrossed Germany. He delivered some ten speeches, six of them in German beginning with Meine Herren ("Gentlemen"). The last one was in Ludwigsburg in front of young Germans. He congratulated them for being "the children of a great people" and cemented with Konrad Adenauer the reconciliation between the two nations. It was all about respect, understanding, embrace of the other that is us, and it was the embodiment of rationality and knowledge -- a different France in which people were not being vilified and killed in the name of whatever "prophet." It was a time when we were all learning with much difficulty how to grow out of prejudice and hatred. Niqabs and burqas did not exist. Freedom of speech did. Hopeful times that are presently much challenged...and education is not helping...
FRENCH EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM AT WORK: A Parisian journalist asked several young people in their late teens or early twenties where the Treaty of Maastricht (treaty on the European Union) was signed. Very few could answer that it was in the Netherlands. It was in Belgium, or Luxemburg, or Denmark, etc. One respondent was particularly imaginative. He answered Germany. The journalist then asked in what city... The respondent answered Strasburg, a city that is located...in France! No wonder the French government has decided to hire 40,000 new professors and educators.
IN OUR LITTLE SPHERE, that of Swans, we feel privileged indeed to live in a country that lets us have freedom of expression (within the laws) and allows us to promote knowledge and rebuke obscurantism. Don't watch videos that may hurt you. Don't read or buy a satirical publication that may hurt your feelings. Don't tell us to go "fuck ourselves." Read Swans. It will enlighten you.....Time to go and take care of the mice!
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.
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