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<nettime> a letter to the editor
Brian Holmes on Wed, 22 Feb 2006 14:09:22 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> a letter to the editor

Joanne Mule wrote:

>While I certainly think the 
>Jyllands-Posten owes an apology to all those offended and I applaud them 
>for doing so, I don't think that justifies a violent reaction the way that 
>these people are doing.  Certainly, a letter to the editor may have done 
>the trick....

It would be useful to gather a selection of one-liners, plus 
the complete documents from which they are excerpted, and 
put them in a little time-capsule for three to five years, 
before republishing - a time short enough so that we would 
all still feel the sting of how foolish most of this 
discussion has been.

Since eveyone must "weigh in," let me say that I appreciate 
very much the angles taken by Gita Hashemi, Dan Wang, Coco 
Fusco, Jody Berland, Aras Ozgun, Siraj Izhar, and Louise 
Moana Kolff, among others. Maybe if Florian Cramer finally 
realizes he has more to say about other subjects, the center 
of gravity could shift a little here on nettime.

Freedom of speech is an extremely important right within the 
shaky construct of "democratic citizenship." Particularly 
when it must be defended against one's own government, 
because it is in that relation of tension between citizen 
and government that the right has its most positive effects. 
However, the principle of free speech doesn't trump 
international power relations of the kind that have 
unleashed the full-blown war in Iraq, and also the irregular 
war against the USA and its allies (known as Jihad or 
terrorism). In this particular case of the cartoons, arguing 
over free speech without addressing the growing problems of 
armed violence, and their underlying causes, is fruitless 
and just contributes to the ambient noise.

It also happens to be what the US has been doing since Cold 
War days, while of course, simultaneously exerting power by 
the multiple vectors open to it, including the use of the 
world's biggest military. And that parallelism, between 
one's own readiness todefend free speech in a racist context 
and the way the US operates, should really give one pause. 
Particularly to someone like Sascha Brossmann, who long ago 
in the discussion wrote another of my favorite one-liners:

"bullshit. this is about the freedom of anybody to say what 
he likes versus anybody who - naturally - does not like it. 
with everybody being free to return anything *with the same 

With the same means, Sascha? Did you think for a moment 
about what that means, in the bigger picture?

The problem is that the constant circulation of people, 
information, raw materials and manufactured goods from every 
point on the globe to every other has made situations of 
extreme inequality indefensible by any means accept the use 
of armed force, whether of the military or police variety 
(i.e. international or domestic, against foreigners or 
against a state's own citizens). We see it in the way the US 
and the British governments are operating internationally, 
with unparalleled military means, and we also see it 
differently in the way the Chinese party cadres, or for that 
matter, the Saudi princes, are operating domestically, with 
their incredible police apparatuses. As long as there is no 
strong principled position on the need to lessen this 
inequality, and no recognition that the root causes of 
warfare lie there, the talk about free expression will 
remain foolish and have no purchase in the face of rising 
conflict. Of course that is disastrous, because freedom of 
expression is a fundamental right and part of the very basis 
of peaceful human coexistence. But it can't be defended when 
you are willing at the same time to ignore, even 
momentarily, the huge inequalities that are currently 
structuring global social relations.

The point made very early on in this discussion by Louise 
Moanna Kolff, namely that Danish society has become overtly 
racist, is not a minor point. It is the real context from 
which the entire discussion springs. Long historical 
experience has shown that racism is a cultural strategy to 
exert oppression on particular groups despite the safeguards 
of human rights. It is urgent to focus on this concrete 
situation, which is simply the most advanced point of a 
gangrene that is spreading throughout Europe. Those who want 
to protect the entire edifice of human rights must also 
constantly look below them, to these kinds of cultural 
strategies which undermine them, and above them, to the 
sovereign relations of power which put entire populations at 
gunpoint. Those who have been bombed in Bagdad or the WTC no 
longer have their human rights. And the kind of racism that 
is being expressed in Denmark and throughout Europe, not 
only through the cartoons, is all too likely to foment our 
"tolerance" for future bombings. When these factors are not 
considered and made part of one's argumentation, the talk 
about freedom of expression becomes shallow and 
insignificant. I join many others in suggesting that we 
defend our rights of free expression by using them for more 
important subjects.

It's urgently important to make the ecologically viable 
human development of all the regions of the planet into the 
primary subject of our public debates. Which for those in 
the Western countries, means criticizing the increasingly 
naked imperialism of our governing elites. And which for 
those in the Muslim countries, means criticizing your elites 
for using these religious subjects as a smokescreen to cover 
the real problems. Without some major efforts from the 
citizenries, only war lies ahead.

best, Brian

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