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Jewish World Review
Dec. 3, 2007
/ 23 Kislev 5768
No offense is no defense
The holiday season is here, and that means it's time to engage in the time-honored Christmas tradition of objecting to every time-honored Christmas tradition. Australia is a gazillion time zones ahead of the United States it may even be Boxing Day there already so they got in first this year with a truly fantastic headline:
"Santas Warned 'Ho Ho Ho' Offensive To Women."
Really. As the story continued: "Sydney's Santa Clauses have instead been instructed to say 'ha ha ha' instead, the Daily Telegraph reported. One disgruntled Santa told the newspaper a recruitment firm warned him not to use 'ho ho ho' because it could frighten children and was too close to 'ho', a U.S. slang term for prostitute."
If I were a female resident of Sydney, I think I'd be more offended by the assumption that Australian women and U.S. prostitutes are that easily confused. As the old gangsta-rap vaudeville routine used to go: "Who was that ho I saw you with last night?" "That was no ho, that was my b-tch."
But the point is that the right not to be offended is now the most sacred right in the world. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, all are as nothing compared with the universal right to freedom from offense. It's surely only a matter of time before "sensitivity training" is matched by equally rigorous "inoffensiveness training" courses. A musician friend of mine once took a gig at an elevator-music session, and, after an hour or two of playing insipid orchestral arrangements of "Moon River" and "Windmills of Your Mind," some of the lads' attention would start to wander, and they'd toot their horns a little too boisterously. The conductor would stop and admonish them to bland things down a bit. In a world in which everyone is ready to take offense, it's hard to keep the mood Muzak evenly modulated.
For example, when I said the right not to be offended is now the most "sacred" right in the world, I certainly didn't mean to offend persons of a nontheistic persuasion. In Hanover, N.H., home to Dartmouth College, an atheist and an agnostic known only as "Jan and Pat Doe" (which is which is hard to say) are suing because their three schoolchildren are forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Well, OK, they're not forced to say it. The pledge is voluntary. You're allowed to sit down, or, more discreetly, stand silently, which is what the taciturn Yankee menfolk who think it's uncool to sing do during the hymns at my local church. But that's not enough for "the Does." Because the pledge mentions G-d, their children are forced, as it were, not to say it. And, as "Mr. and Mrs. Doe" put it in their complaint, having to opt out of participation in a voluntary act exposes their children to potential "peer pressure" from the other students. U.S. courts have not traditionally been sympathetic to this argument. The ACLU and other litigious types might more profitably explore the line that the Pledge of Allegiance is deeply offensive to millions of illegal aliens in the public school system forced to pledge allegiance to the flag of a country they're not citizens or even legally admitted tourists of.
Let us now cross from the New Hampshire school system to the Sudanese school system. Or as The Associated Press headline put it:
"Thousands In Sudan Call For British Teddy Bear Teacher's Execution."
Last week, Gillian Gibbons, a British schoolteacher working in Khartoum, one of the crumbiest basket-case dumps on the planet whoops, I mean one of the most lively and vibrant strands in the rich tapestry of our multicultural world anyway, Mrs. Gibbons was sentenced last week to 15 days in jail because she was guilty of, er, allowing a teddy bear to be named "Mohammed." She wasn't so foolish as to name the teddy Mohammed herself. But, in an ill-advised Sudanese foray into democracy, she'd let her grade-school students vote on what name they wanted to give the classroom teddy, and being good Muslims they voted for their favorite name: Mohammed.
Big mistake. There's apparently a whole section in the Quran about how, if you name cuddly toys after the Prophet you have to be decapitated. Well, actually there isn't. But why let theological pedantry deprive you of the opportunity to stick it to the infidel? Mrs. Gibbons is regarded as lucky to get 15 days in jail, when the court could have imposed six months and 40 lashes. But even that wouldn't have been good enough for the mob in Khartoum. The protesters shouted "No tolerance. Execution" and "Kill her. Kill her by firing squad" and "Shame, shame to the U.K." which persists in sending out imperialist schoolmarms to impose idolatrous teddy bears on the youth of Sudan.
Whether or not the British are best placed to defend Mrs. Gibbons is itself questionable after a U.K. court decision last week: Following an altercation with another driver, Michael Forsythe was given a suspended sentence of 10 weeks in jail for "racially aggravated disorderly behavior" for calling Lorna Steele an "English b-tch." "Racially aggravated"? Indeed. Ms. Steele is not English, but Welsh.
Still, at exactly the time Gillian Gibbons caught the eye of the Sudanese authorities, a 19-year-old Saudi woman was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail. Her crime? She'd been abducted and gang-raped by seven men. Originally, she'd been sentenced to 90 lashes, but her lawyer had appealed and so the court increased it to 200 and jail time. Anybody on the streets in Sudan or anywhere else in the Muslim world who wants to protest that?
East is east, and west is west, and in both we take offense at anything: Santas saying "Ho ho ho," teddy bears called Mohammed. And yet the difference is very telling: The now-annual Santa lawsuits in the "war on Christmas" and the determination to abolish even such anodyne expressions of faith as the Pledge of Allegiance are assaults on the very possibility of a common culture. By contrast, the teddy bear rubbish is a crude demonstration of cultural muscle intended to cow and intimidate. When east meets west, when offended Muslims find themselves operating in Western nations, they discover that both techniques are useful: Some march in the streets, Khartoum-style, calling for the pope to be beheaded, others use the mechanisms of the West's litigious, perpetual grievance culture to harass opponents into silence.
Perhaps somewhere in Sydney there's a woman who's genuinely offended by hearing Santa say "ho ho ho" just as those New Hampshire atheists claim to be genuinely offended by the Pledge of Allegiance. But their complaints are frivolous and decadent, and more determined groups are using the patterns they've established to shut down debate on things we should be talking about. The ability to give and take offense is what separates free societies from Sudan.
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Mark Steyn Archives
"America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It"
It's the end of the world as we know itů
Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a muezzin. Europeans already are.
And liberals will still tell you that "diversity is our strength"while Talibanic enforcers cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops, the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn't violate the "separation of church and state," and the Hollywood Left decides to give up on gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.
If you think this can't happen, you haven't been paying attention, as the hilarious, provocative, and brilliant Mark Steynthe most popular conservative columnist in the English-speaking worldshows to devastating effect in this, his first and eagerly awaited new book on American and global politics.
The future, as Steyn shows, belongs to the fecund and the confident. And the Islamists are both, while the Westwedded to a multiculturalism that undercuts its own confidence, a welfare state that nudges it toward sloth and self-indulgence, and a childlessness that consigns it to oblivionis looking ever more like the ruins of a civilization.
Europe, laments Steyn, is almost certainly a goner. The future, if the West has one, belongs to America alonewith maybe its cousins in brave Australia. But America can survive, prosper, and defend its freedom only if it continues to believe in itself, in the sturdier virtues of self-reliance (not government), in the centrality of family, and in the conviction that our country really is the world's last best hope.
Steyn argues that, contra the liberal cultural relativists, America should proclaim the obvious: we do have a better government, religion, and culture than our enemies, and we should spread America's influence around the worldfor our own sake as well as theirs.
Mark Steyn's America Alone is laugh-out-loud funnybut it will also change the way you look at the world. It is sure to be the most talked-about book of the year.
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