I believe that it is boorish to lampoon in public other people’s religious beliefs, no matter how preposterous you find them; I have great respect for the American military. That said, when you get a call from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that requests you to tone down your public criticism of another faith, the only proper response is to quote another great general: “Nuts.” Then you hang up the phone.
If it rings? Let it ring. To save anyone any additional shame, just let it ring, like it never happened in the first place.
I’ll get to this down below. Old-school screedage en route.
One hour before bedtime:
"Hey dad. Do have any fabric-transfer paper?"
"Why, yes. Of course. For what?"
Well, this is parenthood: tomorrow is One Direction Shirt Day among the kids at daughter’s school. This is a non-threatening boy band I call One Dimension, just to irritate her. She wanted to make a shirt. So she got a picture, I got out the paper, made sure I knew which side went into the printer - I swear, 21% of all paper used for home printers is used a test sheet with the word TEST printed out to see which side goes down or up - and then I printed them out.
You can’t iron them on an ironing board. NOR GRANITE. Most of the surfaces we have are wood or granite, but there’s a laminate in the laundry room, so down there we went. I had cut the picture with an Exacto knife, using the very large and colorless Restoration Hardware catalog as a base, and the smaller, equally wan Restoration Hardware adjunct catalog as a ruler. Was more precise than I expected; usually I’m bad at this.
Downstairs to iron.
“You know, my parents never ironed me a Led Zeppelin T-shirt,” I say. I’m thinking that I did have a Swan Song label T-shirt in high school, which my mother hated, and a Heineken T-shirt a friend gave me, which she threw away.
“Did you have these?”
“What? Of course we did.” Hold on. “No, we didn’t. We didn’t have printers.”
“But you had Led Zeppelin T-shirts.”
“Sure.” I would have had an Elvin Bishop T-shirt; he came to town. But I wasn’t a fan. Pretty impressive in concert, though. I believe he was on a double bill with Blue Oyster Cult, which was unbelievable for Fargo. The Cult. Man. The red and the black. Didn’t know what it meant, but it was cool. Better: it was DARK.
While waiting, she rearranged the magnets on the freezer door, until my OCD finally demanded it be allowed to speak.
“Don’t,” I said.
“Those were arranged. By genre.”
“They were not.”
“Then you’ve rearranged them before.”
“When would I do that.”
All I know is that I would not have rearranged them, having sorted them by genre. Nor would my wife. It is possible that brushing up against them would cause for minor variations in their locations, but that would not account for wholesale genre-mixing. Look, the Disney magnets are ALL MIXED IN WITH THE MILK BOTTLE CAPS.
I rearranged them to their proper order so I could breathe again.
“It’s not like someone is going to come in and say ‘wow, nice job arranging your fridge magnets,’” she said.
In a just and decent world, they would, I thought.
Oh, how I exaggerate! Somewhat. But if you’re going to have groupings of magnets, pell-mell displays make no sense. Do they? Please tell me they make no sense. Please tell me I’m not alone.
I mean, if I were sick, this would be neater, wouldn’t it?
Anyway. I applied the pressure as instructed; it’s like trying to stop bleeding on wound + rolling bread dough. After three minutes I was done; let it cool; lift off a corner.
Careful Spongebob, she whispers.
The corner comes up. Back to the ironing board, as no one ever says. It’s always the drawing board. I apply some more pressure, and then while it cools I look in the supplies cabinet, just to see where we stand. Still have four jars of peanut butter, purchased over several weeks when the store signs warned of an imminent peanut butter shortage. Never happened. Lots of pasta.
“Are these the emergency supplies?” she asked. Why no, child. That’s in the storage room, although the mobile emergency supply bin is in the garage. It even contains miniature bottles of liquor to be used for barter in case economic collapse renders currency useless! Also ponchos in case it rains.
Didn’t tell her that. Bit too much of the immediate post-9/11 mindset there. But I do have a bug-out bin, because if we have to leave town for any reason, I can go to Fargo, where my family owns large underground tanks of petroleum products. So there’s that.
Seems like a long time ago, that underlying tremulous feeling of faintly possible craptitude. Until this morning, when bang! All comes back.
All comes back.
“It’s cool,” she says, and I lift the corner of the paper.
Careful Spongebob, she whispers.
It comes off. It comes off perfectly. The shirt looks great. One Direction day is going to be AWESOME.
And so she goes to bed happy.
Me, hours later: pressure gauge is still in the red.
So. I guess, this. Background: Chairman of the JCS calls babble-head raver and asks him to dial back the anti-Muslim stuff. American citizen, thus informed, is expected to reassess his personal trajectory.
You know what? You do have a dog in this fight. And it's the mangy, ugly, snarly dog that craps on your carpet and it your sister. I can't stand these "preachers" who've made a career out defining the acceptable parameters of Christianity down to a sliver so thin it makes dental floss look like transatlantic telegraph cable. I believe God has set aside a special room for the Westboro Baptist Church people, where it's always 104 degrees, which is what they deserve: a really lame hell. I believe there's actually a place where a Catholic, a Mormon, and a Muslim could sit around in the break room and talk about Star Trek, and that place is called - what's the word? It'll come to me. Damn.
Right: America. Anyway:
Various folk have called for a ban on the movie that supposedly caused the riots. There’s the usual professor advising that the idiot who made it should be jailed, which is a revealing opinion from a professor of religious studies. An opinion journalist suggests the government should prosecute people who had nothing to do with a video for expressing a positive opinion about it. Possible as an accessory to the murder carried out by foreign nationals on American soil. A rather elastic definition of culpability, to say nothing of the law.
I don’t want to go into theoretical examples of the academic response to a suppression of an anti-Christian video; it’s tiresome to even posit the obvious outrage. It’s no great insight to note there’s a carve-out for certain groups who must be exempt from ridicule, and another group whose ridicule is an expected component of enlightened thought. It goes without saying that when you suggest mounting a play about that religious figure mounting a child, you get censured, and when you propose a play about another religious leader accepting a man's proposition, you get backers.
This is all old and we are used to it - not because progressives have particular affection or respect for Islam itself, but because anti-”Islamophobia” is a sign of enlightenment, a way of showing solidarity with an indistinct group of people who are conveniently elsewhere for the most part, and also to differentiate one’s self from the people who point to the dangers of Islamism. They might have a point, sure, but the real agenda is Christianist neo-con oil! Jesus-is-a’comin’-back or whatever.
Okay then. Here’s something you might not hear; the BBC ran this a few days ago.
In post-occupation Iraq being gay, or even looking gay, can be a death sentence.
It's very difficult to determine how many homosexuals have died in so called "honour killings" by their own families or in the hands of the militias. But a BBC investigation has found that law enforcement agencies are involved in ongoing, systematic and organised violence against gay people, while the government refuses to acknowledge it.
Once targeted, most gay people in Iraq have nowhere to hide. There is only one safehouse in Baghdad which can house three people.
Aaaand I add that to the story about the Taliban killing a bunch of people because they danced, and think: forgive me if I add these anecdotes - isolated, non-representative, of course - to a large store of similar events, and draw some generalizations which may pop to mind when embassies are overrun. Again.
Forgive me if I note that one culture has a debate about allowing gays to marry, and another that seems to have concluded a debate about whether they should live.
And pardon the fargin’ hell out of me if I dare to note that the signature value of the West these days, Tolerance, is best exemplified in a tiny hangnail of a nation which stands apart in its neighborhood for letting gay people live lives, instead of gathering everyone else to watch their lives ended - and that this nation, according to a smart and cultured and Western-educated Huffington Post contributor who blithely tweeted disregard over the death of our ambassador, should just please STFU and die. She writes:
Israel has no right to exist. Break that mental barrier and just say it: “Israel has no right to exist.” Roll it around your tongue, tweet it, post it as your Facebook status update – do it before you think twice. Delegitimization is here – have no fear. Palestine will be less painful than Israel ever was.
Don’t worry about what will happen, though.
And no, nobody hates Jews. That is the fallback argument screeched in our ears – the one “firewall” remaining to protect this Israeli Frankenstein. I don’t even care enough to insert the caveats that are supposed to prove I don’t hate Jews. It is not a provable point, and frankly, it is a straw man of an argument.
She doesn’t hate Jews. How could she? Nobody hates Jews. She just wants their homeland dismantled and its residents scattered to - well, somewhere. Take it up with Germany, she notes. Fiddle-de-dee.
Read the comments, as the right-thinking folk of the West line up to applaud her. No doubt some of these people posted it as a Facebook update, leaned back from the keyboard, and felt that rush you get when you know you’ve finally shed some archaic inhibition that kept you from doing what you wanted to do.
It’s okay. You were fooled. You were misled. No one hates the Jews. As for the Yids, the Queers, the lower forms of life known as women - it'll all sort itself out once the millstone of Oppression is lifted from the breast of the Oppressed.
So that’s what we’re supposed to believe: good will abounds in the world. It flows from the human heart in unstanchable quantities, but now and then things happen. Bad things. Someone makes a movie. Someone dances in public. Someone sits with his wife in a Pakistan McDonald’s. The adults have to step in and make things clear. Calls have to be made. Speech has to be ceased; videos have to be blocked. If you don’t jazz the rabble they’ll come around. Any day now.
But yesterday was not that day, and when the mob came to the embassy, it seems there were no Marines to defend the place. Perhaps that’s for the best. In the blinkered, jingo-sodden mindset of Red America, the Marines might have thought weapons free, and mowed the lot of them down. Among the dead would have been a young man - not particularly political, really, caught up in the excitement, really, righteously offended by the existence of a contrapositive argument existing in ones and zeroes on a server in America. His grieving parents would tell the world he had no weapon, he was not a terrorist. Yet they shot him down. Within hours the story would have the Marines outside the gates firing on people who had assembled to list a legitimate grievance - nevermind the security camera footage; the Jews are devilishly good at faking that - and the story would morph in a trice from an act of dogma-sodden barbarism to a tale of conflicting stories that underlines the difficulties of reconciling two sides.
Because the existence of two sides proves the equivalence of two sides. In the larger meta-sense of it all.
Heartening: protests in Libya against the attack.
I hope that’s the general sentiment, even though two people are holding up the same sign in different pictures. But note the argument on one of the signs: No to insult our Prophet. No to insult Islam. No to terrorism. I get that. But the sentiment has the tensile strength of wet Kleenix if “insult” means “dispute” and “criticize,” and these simple basic assertions of the characteristic qualities of Western thought are viewed as a causus belli.
But it’s a guy on the street, with a sign. I get that. He doesn’t want his prophet insulted and he doesn’t want his religion insulted. You’d have to be an internet denizen with Cheetos-dust on your beard, posting to the atheism subreddit every five minutes not to get that. (Even then, you’d be careful to leaven your criticism with reminders about the Crusades, or the legions of abortion-clinic bombers who have set the nation ablaze) One on one, over a cup of coffee, you’d like to think you could explain America, our multitudes of yawping voices, our insistence on the primacy of freedom of speech over the sensibilities of others.
And he’d point out that the Joint Chiefs of the Staff called the man and told him to be quiet. So obviously your government has that power. And obviously your government does not use it as much as it should. Obviously free speech is not now you define it. Obviously speech has limits. What do you say to that?
I don’t know what I’d say. “The Chairman shouldn’t have done that” seems like too little. Too late.
Augh. Still spun up. DISORDER IN THE WORLD.
Better. A little. Not much. You do what you can.
Oh, did I mention there's a book?