To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Friday, February 03, 2006

There's an interesting post in Online Journal today: Speaking in Tongues. Tunku Varadarajan reports that the mayor of Los Angeles delivered a response to the State of the Union address in Spanish.

Why not a gay response? A Teamster response? A vegan response? A gangsta response? More nitty-grittily: Why not a response in Farsi or Korean--languages spoken by people toward whom Mr. Villaraigosa has no fewer mayoral duties than he does toward his Hispanophones? There is, also, a radical question from which there should be no glib escape: If response there must be from the mayor of Los Angeles, why not one in plain old English?

I'm generally cold to the argument that people have to be stamped out of a cookie-cutter to be American. I think he does have an argument that the Persian and Korean, not to mention non-Hispanic whitebread American, people in Los Angeles might wonder if he takes his responsibilities toward them seriously. I have wondered that myself, when our black mayor has gone on the black radio stations I hear at work urging voters to vote for black candidates so "our people don't lose the gains we've made". That would make me feel a lot funnier if I didn't know some white people who've called the mayor's action center about some problem or other and gotten immediate results.

But this:

I am a first-generation migrant to this country. I believe that in settling abroad, foreigners make a brutal contract with their land of adoption. They may speak their language, eat their food and practice their religion--but at home or by private arrangement. That is as far as I would go with multiculturalism. All else--including an insistence on a public affirmation of ethnic frills and fancies--cripples the process of integration.

Does this go too far? I enjoy the ethnic character of different parts of my city. Areas where the restaurant signs or church marquees are in Spanish or some Asian language I can't recognize. Nobody is telling me I can't act like an nth generation Scottish-descent white Southerner.

On the other hand, the distress being reported in the Muslim world over the Mohammed cartoons is evidence of a severe culture clash. We in the Western world are used to being offended by cartoons (among other things). Maybe we shouldn't put up with these things, but we do. We've made a more-or-less conscious decision to tolerate a whole lot of offensive garbage because our freedom of speech is extremely precious to us, and we haven't been able to work out a way to eliminate the garbage without encroaching on our liberty. One could say that if western Europe had not seen a huge influx of immigrants from North Africa and other Muslim areas, Mohammed wouldn't have been brought to their attention and their cartoons would be about something else; so that if people have got to keep their culture exactly like it is, perhaps they should stay at home. But that's not realistic today. I used to read about globalization all the time and I thought it was a meaningless buzz-word. But it's not, it's happening in the economy, on the internet, and in real life as people mix together in unprecedented numbers.

Maybe it would be good if cartoonists developed some restraint about drawing cartoons that are gratuitously offensive - not because of fear or censorship, but just to be civil. It would also be good if Muslim women who have immigrated to France or Denmark enjoyed the same personal freedoms that ethnic French and Danish women do. Culture-clashing could be a very positive thing. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out when the dust settles. I wonder if that will happen in my lifetime.

3 comments:

Jason said...

oh i think mohammed has been brought to their attention. europe is right next door to the middle east. if muslims want people to be nice towards their relgion, perhaps they should try playing nice. but that's too much to ask most of them (at least the ones who protest the loudest). many can't tolerate any criticism of their religion.

i think that's a big problem. religions are run by people. imperfect, fallible people. we should be able to criticize religions. it's funny that they complain about these cartoons while arab countries run anti-semitic cartoons. europe is becoming flush with anti-semitism partially because of muslim immigrants.

these same muslims protest a holocaust remembrance day. hang girls who defend themselves from rape in iran. now they want everyone else to be tolerant of them. my heart bleeds for them. it really does.

while i'm sympathetic to the "play nice" approach (if only our politicians could), it doesn't work when only one side is willing to budge.

Jason said...

forgive the rant--that whole cartoon issue pushes my buttons.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I agree that religions are run by fallible people and that they must be open to criticism. Is the point of criticism to make things better or to sneer at ideas one doesn't happen to share? Is there a difference between criticism and taking cheap shots? How important is it to defend offensiveness in the case of a cartoon that doesn't really have anything meaningful to say? (I think about that one all the time when I look at the local rag.)

It's certainly true that the best way to get the behavior you want from other people is to model it, yourself. I would feel very entitled to ask people to be respectful of my religious beliefs because I am always respectful of others'. As I am of their political views, nationality, etc. There's another blog that I have been visiting, but today I found a rant about how the cartoons are an abomination, and right next to it a rant about how stupid Americans are, especially those who voted for Bush. I voted for Bush. Does the blogger have the right to say those things? Absolutely. Will I ever visit that blog again? Heck no.

Which brings me to this point: The time-honored, legitimate, and usually fairly effective method of handling offensive cartoons and such is the economic boycott. I think a boycott against the newspaper's advertisers would be more to the point than a boycott against the entire country of Denmark, but, whatever. We'll see what happens.