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Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Pen or the Sword?


Eugène Delacroix, "La Liberté Guidant le Peuple" 1830 Louvre Museum
Living where I do and being an artist, I cannot help but reflect on the reactions already rising in the art world and in the angst of good-hearted people of the world. How can cartoons push one to murder in the name of religion? And, the corollary, could the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have been irresponsible by printing images perceived as disrespectful to Islam in its pages? Did the victims bring this on themselves?

What I have noticed in the political context of Israel, is that it doesn't much matter what the 'trigger' is. If people's point is to strike terror, they will act, and the 'logical' hook that is given, here cartoons, is only useful as a gut and mind-wrenching red herring for those who soul search to understand these acts.

It is fairly clear by now that Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount did not start the first intifada. Nor did suicide bombings have anything to do with complaints about resolving the peace process. Missiles from Gaza did not have very much to do with extending the area for fishing rights. There is no understanding, violence is the end point.

Blaming the victim is a useful tool and obfuscates the fact that the violent one is the one who chooses to be violent. The staffers of the Charlie Hebdo were as responsible for their murders as women in high heels are responsible for being raped.

Any accommodation to demands for curtailing the freedoms that are the foundation of democracies are the steps which will chip away, one small infringement at a time, to rendering those democracies unrecognizable. A case in point: Nazi Germany.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, I see pretty much everything through that prism. Can’t help it, that’s how I roll. The Nazi plans for the Jews did not happen in a single day, they took years to build up through the restrictive Nuremburg laws, see here or here. 

From the Nazi rise to power in 1933 until the militarily-enforced Anschluss annexing Austria in 1938, the general populations became conditioned to the changed climate.

This wasn’t accomplished through gently persuasive op-eds in the local papers. This was accomplished by violence, by thugs, by fear. And by law. By the time Austria (where my father was from) was annexed following a farcical plebiscite, it took months – not 5 years, for the population to accept those infringements as the new normal. Some willingly, some by quiet acquiescence.

The pogroms of Kristallnacht were pinned on the pretext of an assassination.

Insulting cartoons are a pretext too.

Terror does exactly what it is meant to do: terrorize. It forces anyone with a pen in their hand, everyone at a computer screen, all sharers of social media, to think twice, to adjust, to make ever-so-slight accommodation as they pull up the mental picture of today’s storm troopers in the guise of supposedly devout Muslims before making the mark, choosing the word, selecting the image, or picking the story that runs.

And sowing fear and intimidation works. We already know that the news coming out of the war in Gaza was skewed. There was intimidation, threats on lives, and threats to journalists to lose access. Matti Friedman’s influential article covered the tip of that iceberg here.

It starts with violent intimidation against journalists. It won’t end there.

Understand this: It isn’t about cartoons, it isn’t about tolerance. It’s about fear.

Cartoons are the pretext. Destroying freedom is the goal.

Silence is the enemy.


This was originally published on the Times of Israel here or

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-pen-or-the-sword/