TCS Daily


The Rights Stuff

By Constantin Gurdgiev - February 22, 2006 12:00 AM

A miniaturist in Turkish author Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, a tale of murder, art and clashing civilizations, once remarked that "An artist should never succumb to hubris of any kind, he should simply paint the way he sees fit rather than troubling over East or West." Anyone struggling to understand the historical context and cultural nuances of the current Cartoons Crisis would do well to read this novel set in 16th century Istanbul.

Apart from reigniting the ancient debate about the limits of free speech, the latest Islam v. West clash of values reinforces the argument made ages ago in the context of the Communist states - the more oppressive the regime, the more likely will its subjects focus on external threats away from the more pressing needs of their own society.

In the Middle East, North and Central Africa and pretty much the rest of the Muslim world, the social pressure created by poverty, restrictions on personal freedoms, corruption and endemic government abuse against citizens are being vented through well orchestrated actions of "collective outrage" against something that happened in far distant lands.

As a result, one sees mass protests against insulting, but largely benign cartoons and little outrage against thousands of Muslims killed and tortured by their own governments. An incidental abuse of power by the rogue military officer in Iraq or Afghanistan can transform a psyche of the whole generation of Muslim men and women, while routine slaughter and oppression by their own dictators provokes a torrent of abuse flowing in the direction of Israel and the US instead. Likewise, one hears loud complaints on the perils of globalization and Western exploitation of the Muslim world, but virtually nothing is said about the acts of the governments and the religious organizations that rape their own economies, people and societies with a truly frightening regularity.

The fact that both the protests and abuses follow a stable, predictable pattern of behavior that the rest of the world by now routinely expects from the Islamic societies stuck in the dogma of religious fervor means that we are becoming insular to the horrendous chasm that separates the West and the modern societies in general from the dark ages in which many of the Muslims live today. Yet, from time to time, it is important to take stock of the differences that mark our society from that of the worlds ruled by mullahs and paranoid megalomaniacs posing as the Muslim world leaders. The current events over the Danish cartoons are as good a chance as one gets to do so.

The first lesson of the latest "outrage" is one we've heard before: there can be no freedom and liberty in a society based on a dogmatic pursuit of compliance with the letter of religious or ideological encyclicals. This lesson was first delivered in the West during the dark ages, culminating in the major tenet of our society: the separation of the religious domain from the state in controlling the lives of citizens. Today, we may argue whether we have gone too far in secularizing our societies, but even ardent believers would be unlikely to accept the near lunatic state of affairs exiting in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Iran. By recognizing the failure of Islamic societies to restrict power of the dogmatic religious leaders on the state and culture, we must accept the fact that the majority of the ongoing protests across the Muslim world cannot be treated as anything more than the acts of desperation over largely self-inflicted wounds - the acts of the powerless, not the acts of the free agents empowered by a legitimate claim.

The second lesson from the Cartoons Crisis should be our own. Some in Europe claim that freedom of press has gone too far, that there is responsibility attached to the freedoms of speech and expression. We will be well served to remind ourselves that the only limits to our fundamental freedoms of having full rights to our life, body, thought and speech and private property are the rules that prevent us from using our rights to restrict the similar rights of the others. Any extension of this restriction can and will be used to legitimize murder, slavery, thought control and invasive censorship - something that is already commonly practiced in the majority of the Islamic states today.

The act of exercising one's freedom of speech bears no attached responsibility to ideology, culture, collective and individual values, no allegiance to the state - be it democracy or dictatorship. Its sole accountability is to the truth of the argument, artistic expression and personal freedom.

It is no excuse to argue, as, for example, Robert Fisk recently did in the Sunday Independent, that the Muslim protests against the cartoons are justified by the fact that some of the Western states have laws restricting the capacity of their citizens to exercise free speech in the case when such exercise can cause damage to the state or in some other cases, as for example in the case of denying the Holocaust in Germany. They may be examples of "Western hypocrisy" about free speech. They certainly do not justify attacks on free speech by Muslims.

Arguments such as Fisk's also ignore the role of libel laws in restricting speech in the West. Western laws distinguish between wrong of false reporting from the issue of damages inflicted on the subject of report. What matters in libel is not whether or not there was damage done to someone as a result of an exercise of free speech. Instead, the test is whether or not free speech concerned a truthful matter. Thus, pursuit of truth cannot be libel in a free society, unlike in the Muslim world. As far as the argument of the state interest goes, hardly anyone in the West would sit idly watching the journalists being stoned for disclosing a state secret in public whenever such disclosure was in public's interest. The whole notion of the distinction between the existence of a written law and the measured, balanced, tested application of the laws is a mark of the modern Western society and something that appears to be a foreign concept to the majority of the Islamic states.

Judging by the apologetic tone of some of Western media commentators responding to the cartoons crisis, we must re-learn the fundamental dicta of our Western civilization: there are rights that are simply inviolable. These rights include our ability to be free to exercise control over our lives, bodies, freedom of speech and expression (including religion) and a right to own property. These rights do not come with any attached "if", "but" or "only when" - they are absolute and not subject to the test "do they offend the unlimited sensitivity of the Muslim (Orthodox, Catholic or any other) masses or not". Full stop.

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2 Comments

The Rights Stuff
Consider:
The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view
of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.
Choose wisely...there are results.

Many problems in human experience are the result of
false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe.
The balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human
reason cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the
intellect can rise no higher than the criteria by which it
perceives and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure.
However, as with all measuring systems, a standard
must be greater than the value measured. Based on
preponderant ignorance and an egocentric carnal
nature, humanism demotes reason to the simpleton
task of excuse-making in behalf of the rule of appe-
tites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament,
cannot invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist
lacks a predictive capability. Without instinct or trans-
cendent criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with
foresight and vision for progression and survival. Lack-
ing foresight, man is blind to potential consequence and
is unwittingly committed to mediocrity, collectivism,
averages, and regression - and worse. Humanism is an
unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with
a functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the
foot-dragging growth of human knowledge and behav-
ior. Faith, initiated by the Creator and revealed and
validated in His Word, the Bible, brings a transcend-
ent standard to man the choice-maker. Other philo-
sophies and religions are man-made, humanism, and
thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival
equipment for today and the future.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the
universe.


Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly
developed, and sensitive perception of diversity. Thus
aware, man is endowed with a natural capability for enact-
ing internal mental and external physical selectivity.
Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends
itself as the superior basis of an active intelligence.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. His title describes
his definitive and typifying characteristic. Recall
that his other features are but vehicles of experi-
ence intent on the development of perceptive
awareness and the following acts of decision and
choice. Note that the products of man cannot define
him for they are the fruit of the discerning choice-
making process and include the cognition of self,
the utility of experience, the development of value-
measuring systems and language, and the accultur-
ation of civilization.

The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
creative process, is a choice-making process. His
articles, constructs, and commodities, however
marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own
highest expression of the creative process.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and
significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his
singular and plural brow.

- from The HUMAN PARADIGM

semper fidelis

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...and your point, in 50 words or less, is?
Briefly, just what is your point as it relates to the article's affirmation of life, liberty and property?

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