Sorry it’s been so quiet here all week. Our cat Tetrys is very sick and the vet detected a lump on Tuesday (this has nothing to do with the whole “I’m radioactive” scenario last summer). He survived today’s exploratory surgery (we weren’t sure he would) but it’s now 5 days of waiting on a biopsy. He’ll be home sometime in the next few days. The whole thing’s very sad, emotionally draining really and contrary to appearance of confession on this blog (and the genre in general), I don’t feel like writing much about it. At least not now.

I do feel like writing short takes on two other topics, so here we go.

–The cartoon scandal. I’d originally hoped to get together a Bad Subjects oped, but it’s not happening right now. The whole thing is a textbook case of the liberal free speech scenario presented in John Durham Peters’ Courting the Abyss. Peters writes that liberalism’s enchantment with free speech is essentially satanic in that liberalism derives its nobility from hanging out with objectionable characters. The moral crediblity comes from, essentially, “tolerating” morally in-credible speech in order to sanctify the virtue of free speech itself. So basically, you have a Danish* newspaper doing a very stupid thing by running cartoons of Mohammed for no good reason, and a bunch of people who are not hailed by the discourse of liberalism getting extremely pissed off. There has been some spectacularly bad editorializing in the Globe & Mail by Rex Murphy and others arguing that this proves how uncivilized and “different from us” the Muslim world is. Let’s see what happens when Danish newspapers start running caricatures of Jesus. Already, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are complaining about a cartoon featuring Donald Rumsfeld which might pass as a caricature, but from the sound of it stikes me as grounded in reality. None of this excuses violence around the world in response to the cartoons. That is inexcusable and I have no patience for religious absolutism of any kind. My point is simply that the same kinds of reactions are just as available in the “west” as they are elsewhere. And free speech for the sake of free speech is not very free at all.

–what’s up with nationalism here? It has been a topic on my mind lately (partly beause we’re doing the whole nations-and-media imagined communities thing in my undergrad class, or rather just did), but Canada is really the only place I’ve ever been where leftists put forward earnestly nationalist discourse — both Anglophones and Francophones. Maybe I don’t travel to the right places, but it’s just a bit weird. Of course, in the U.S., where nationalism is so clearly articulated to the slaughter of thousands and thousands of innocent people, the objection is more obvious. But still.


* I am totally embarassed that I originally typed “Dutch” as Denmark and the Netherlands are REALLY different places. I’m going to chalk it up to sleep deprivation.

7 replies on “Various”

  1. Sometimes I think much of (anglo) Canadian nationalism is a remnant of – and hasn’t evolved much since – the Trudeau era. I feel like the ways it gets expressed is usually either as something wistful and romantic or as a way to voice a harsh opposition to the US.

    … I still miss Canada – though less so after the recent election.

  2. It was a Danish newspaper that originally published the cartoons in September 2005. Several other European newspapers reprinted them as an act of “solidarity” and commitment to the “principle” of free speech. Much of the press coverage has made use of the fact that it all started in Denmark to contrast a small, peaceful Scandinavian (i.e. “progressive” and/or “reserved”) culture against masses of seething Muslims who can’t control their anger.

  3. When one of my little guys was sick, I just kept thinking “be well… be well… be well…” over and over again. I’m thinking the same thing for Tetrys right now.

    As for lefty Canadian nationalism, it is certainly well-steeped in the Trudeau era, but to some extent it precedes it as well. In its various incarnations, Canada is conceived of as a nation that is defined by certain of its social policies: universal health care (Douglas) and the peacekeeping doctrine (Pearson), as well as muticulturalism and government-free bedrooms (Trudeau). Of course, our less sparkling social and economic policies are conveniently overlooked (e.g. Chinese head taxes, the War Measures Act, three years of dithering in the House of Commons about whether or not to admit Holocaust survivors) which allows us to feel smugly superior to our American neighbours, who are constructed as the right-wing thesis to our antithesis.

    It is, of course, a seductive standpoint, and one that I’ll admit gets me feeling a little wistful in my weaker moments, but it doesn’t really stand up to historical scrutiny. But then, you knew that already…

  4. Sorry to hear about Tetrys.

    The idea of a free press is definitely something that gathers unsavory people. But the idea of self-censorship is something that exists to prevent what are usually decent people/papers/ what have you from embarassing themselves. The fact that the Danish paper ran this in the first place is unacceptable. The fact that it was re-printed by others is abhorrent. I agree with you 100% on this.

    To bring you back a little memory of Pittsburgh I liken the situation to an incident that occurred in the Oakland Zoo (student section at Univ. Of Pittsburgh, for anyone who doesn’t know) earlier this year: while playing a game against Notre Dame the Zoo chanted a rather foul and demeaning statement directed at an opposing player. Afterwards there is a renewed emphasis to reduce/eliminate these istances from within, as there is a club that helps run the Zoo that collaborated with the Coach and players to get the word out that we are better than this, while obscenities may be lobbed at our players elsewhere, our arena should be free of this. Since then it has been a much cleaner atmosphere.

    I must emphasize that this is merely an analogy and that it by no means is nearly on the same level as what has ocurred with these cartoons. I commend the American press for not running these cartoons (at least as far as I know).

  5. Thanks for all the replies. I’ll pass on the well wishes to Tet when he gets home. We’ll know more about him in a few days but the prognosis isn’t good.

    On the cartoon scandal. First, a big d’oh! for writing “Dutch” when I should have been writing Danish. It’s been fixed. The rest of Setare’s comment is exactly what I’m talking about–the whole thing was really a game about displaying a certain kind of liberal moral superiority. The speech act had no meaningful content other than “we are unafraid to publish offensive things.” It was an exercise, and that makes it more offensive. Which in no way justifies any of the violence that’s happened in response. It just reveals the darker side of European self-congratulatory cosmopolitanism.

    Of which I sometimes get a whiff here in Canada, per Villa’s post about the selective forgetting in Canadian nationalism.

    Dan — I’ve got a long history with U of Pitt football and obscenity, but that’s a story for another time. I don’t really think of it as an issue of self-censorship. There is a lot of self-censorship in the news media already on matters of great public importance — and occasionally when the press doesn’t do it for themselves, governments will step in, as happened with reporter Gary Webb, who broke the CIA/Contra Crack story. I guess I’m looking for judgment. I believe in speaking out when it matters. But those cartoons (or slurs from a crowd) are not moments that, to me, matter very much in terms of defending the rights of the speaker.

  6. I think so-called Canadian nationalism is very hard to understand outside Toronto and, just maybe, Ottawa. Seriously, Toronto’s the only place where Trudeau is actually a good guy, not some name to be spat after. They actually believe in multiculturalism there. It’s nutty.

    Of course, our less sparkling social and economic policies are conveniently overlooked (e.g. Chinese head taxes, the War Measures Act, three years of dithering in the House of Commons about whether or not to admit Holocaust survivors) which allows us to feel smugly superior to our American neighbours, who are constructed as the right-wing thesis to our antithesis. The Canadian nationalism I’m familiar with is the one which says: these were bad things and we’re all about moving beyond them. Not: let us unabashedly embrace all that the Canadian state has done. In fact, I can’t think of any nationalism which does that.

    On Canadian nationalism, Jody Berland’s work is a great place to go. On Quebec nationalism, there’s by now a fair bit of cultstud-friendly analysis; see also Quebec Studies, a whole journal devoted to it.

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