Roger L. Simon

Rushdie, Rutten, Rose, Reynolds and the whole damn thing

Back in the early Paleolithic Age, when I was a Yale Drama student, I played the role of Quentin – the Arthur Miller surrogate – in some scenes from Miller’s After the Fall. I had a line – “How few the days are that hold the mind in place” – that I could never handle well. I thought it was the awkward syntax, but in retrospect I realize it was because I was too young to understand the meaning, at least in a visceral sense. Now I do – and how.

But today was one of those rare positive “mind in place” days, a part of it anyway, because Tim Rutten’s article in the Los Angeles Times – “Where is the West’s outcry?” – made me proud to be part of Pajamas Media. Rutten’s piece is about the lack of response in Western media to the Islamic worlds’ outrage at the knighting of Salman Rushdie. The exception Rutten cites is Flemming Rose’s article in Pajamas Media.

I am pleased to say I commissioned that article because I thought there was no one better than Flemming – the instigator of the Danish cartoons – to comment on the new campaign against Rushdie. But before you accuse me of bragging, let me go on to say that what I did, in normal circumstances, was painfully obvious. Many should have done that. And let me also reassure you that the good mood I referred to above didn’t last long. Thought instant to thought instant, Heaven to Hell, as the Zen Buddhists say.

The cause of my mood swing was my friend Glenn Reynolds. He also linked to the Rutten article with the following comment:

“Frankly, I think the best argument for electing a Democrat as President is that as long as a Republican is in office the media powers-that-be will refuse to condemn even the worst atrocities on the part of Islamists, for fear of helping the real enemy in the White House.”

How true and how pathetic.

And what a terrible pass that puts us in.

As one who is fundamentally disinterested in whether one is a Democrat or a Republican – or even a liberal or a conservative, since those terms have been reduced to intellectual rubble – I found what Glenn wrote terrifyingly dark. Because even though I don’t much care any longer for political parties – they come and go and rename themselves, etc. – I care passionately about the Enlightenment, free speech, separation of church and state, freedom of assembly and the rest of that short but delicate list that makes life decent in the West.

Therefore, I truly and deeply support Salman Rushdie as a fellow writer and as a citizen of the world.

But that’s the easy part. And I imagine many of the media-types who regularly read Rutten’s column will respond “Oh, yes, Tim’s right. We forgot… Go, Salman!”

Unfortunately, however, the curious absence of response to Islamic religious totalitarianism in our media is far more serious than the Rushdie Affair, as serious as that may be…

So I want to take this a little further. The partisanship of our society has struck us blind. Iraq, as everyone knows, has driven us apart. But looking back on it – it could not have been otherwise. We were doomed. In a society with a supposedly-free (though often reified) press, it becomes almost impossible to win an assymetrical war. The same prejudices that Rutten describes in his Rushdie article are the ones that have seriously undermined the possibility of victory for democracy in Iraq. A media that could call obvious fascists and religious fascists “insurgents” (a term once reserved for Pancho Villa) in the interest of “objectivity” encouraged a specious atmosphere of moral equivalence to democracy from the start. Whether this was conscious or unconscious is beside the point. Whatever it was, our enemies, the enemies of the Enlightenment, seized on it for propaganda purposes and continue to do so. (Note that in the new Daniel Pearl movie, Pearl’s beheading is not even shown – that was praised as tasteful by Roger Ebert.) And, as everyone knows, the playing field of assymetrical war is the media, far more than the battlefield. Only in the world of public opinion can we be defeated.

Now I am not accusing anyone here of lack of patriotism. This was partisanship and bias in action. But it was blind and it was stupid. And Bush and company weren’t too bright either. They walked right into it, having played the partisanship game themselves for too long. Now there is no question we are in the very heart of darkness. I am not sure how we will get out.