September 15, 2012
At least one way of measuring the freedom of any society is the amount of comedy that is permitted, and clearly a healthy society permits more satirical comment than a repressive, so that if comedy is to function in some way as a safety release then it must obviously deal with these taboo areas. This is part of the responsibility we accord our licensed jesters, that nothing be excused the searching light of comedy. If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming special privileges which should not be granted. –Eric Idle, comedian, actor, and author
I tire of having to listen to the left’s incessant, public ranting of how Mr Sadek’s puerile trailer depicting Mohammed as a lecherous incompetent, in the words of a September 12, 2012 New York Times editorial “did true damage to the interests of the United States and its core principle of respecting all faiths.” True, the purported denizens of free speech all gave the obligatory lip-service-condemnation of the savage murders in Libya, the simultaneous attacks on other United States embassies around the world, and the public burnings of American and Israeli flags. However the juxtaposition of the two “wrongs” in the same breathe clearly implies some degree of empathy or understanding for the Islamic Neanderthals, even though the Times would never agree – at least openly – that two wrongs may have made a right.
Anyone with an intelligence quotient north of double digits who tried to view this trailer – I could only make it through around nine of its fourteen minutes before my brain waves started to flat line – would know instantly that it was not possible for any sentient human to be offended by this banal production. Thus any purported outrage over this clip was simply a pretext to carry out the murders and terrorism that we now know had been planned for September 11th last. This trailer is too trivial, too ridiculous to be able to rise to the level of being condemned. I have seen better acting and better make-up in my children’s kindergarten plays. The risible computer animation would, in comparison, make the “killer bunny” on a string in Monty Python and the Holy Grail appear to be worthy an Academy Award for special effects.
The hypocrisy of the left’s double-standard political correctness is almost palpable. Compare for example the New York Times’ support in its October 2, 1999 editorial of the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to display Chris Ofil’s painting entitled Holy Virgin Mary. If you are unfamiliar with this vile but proper exercise of freedom of speech, the description of it from Artnet is as follows:
“A very black woman cloaked in a stippled, Prussian-blue robe hovers over an intricate golden ground of enamel dots and glitter. Her mantle is open to reveal a black breast made of elephant dung and festooned with pins. The painting rests on two clumps of dung; one is decorated with the word Virgin, the other with the word Mary.
The figure is surrounded by 100 cutouts of female genitalia and buns. At first these variously colored bottoms look like little putti, a celestial choir; it’s only when you get close to the painting that these flickering cherubs turn rude. Ofili loves to mix the sacred and the profane — the image of the spirit with the stuff of the earth. Absurdity and humor mingle with something intensely penetrating and rise off Ofili’s image like a dank perfume.
Here was the New York Times’ view of this exhibition: “…[A] Daily News poll shows that the majority of New Yorkers support the museum over Mayor Giuliani by a ratio of two to one. Those numbers show a broad-based support for New York’s role as the nation’s cultural capital. The people understand intuitively what Mr. Giuliani ignores for political gain. A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time.”
So where is the outrage at this “painting’s” violating America’s “core principle of respecting all faiths”? Is Roman Catholicism entitled to less respect that Islam? Is it a second class religion?
Take also the Monty Python films The Life of Brian, which closes with a dancing “kick line” of crucifixions, or The Meaning of Life, where Catholics are skewered for their rejection of birth control in one vignette which shows a poor Catholic family with what seems like a hundred children and the mother unceremoniously dropping yet another baby from her womb as she continues to clean her house.
What would the Times have said if Italians murdered the American Ambassador to Italy in protest to any of these? What would the Times have said if instead of the Virgin Mary, Ofil’s painting had been of Mohamed similarly depicted?
Obviously, no Roman Catholic ever considered engaging in any of the rabid responses as did the Islamic fundamentalists, no matter how they were offended, because they understood that such a response had no place in any civilized society, because they understood that freedom of speech meant that we must also suffer the utterances of fools who wished to make asinine and hurtful statements, and because they are a decent people, respectful of life and property.
So why is it that the left is offended by gross insults to Mohamed but not when made about the Virgin Mary? Are they saying that they are only offended if the targeted group engages in extreme violence? Are they saying that we know it is offensive only because it incited violence; indeed, if that be the case, are they not giving the Islamic fundamentalists an incentive to riot?
The fact is that, according to the left’s political correctness policy, Islam is a protected class, whereas the Catholic Church is not (perhaps due to its opposition to another sacred totem of the left, namely abortion). According to that theory, cultural relativism requires that we Westerners engage in yet another affirmative action policy, and abase ourselves by being more sensitive to the mores of another culture and that not criticize it merely because its customs are not ours.
I contend that that dogma is obscene. There are fundamental norms of all civilized societies which are universally true. This therefore means that there are practices which are universally unacceptable as being reflective of a barbarous, uncivilized people. The generally accepted practice in certain societies of clitoral circumcision is but one example.
But that is beside my point. For these terrorists have, it appears, successfully brainwashed the liberal elite into sacrificing their otherwise stalwart defense of Freedom of Speech so as to be thought “tolerant” of what is in reality merely a barbaric sect.
Neville Chamberlain in his well-intended, foolish politically correct belief that Hitler was a reasonable man who could be bargained with, allowed Europe to be plunged into our most destructive war yet rather than mobilizing to stop the entrenchment and spread of fanaticism. Only time will tell if we intend to make the same mistake.
December 31, 2008
On December 23, 2008, Rabbi Marc Gellman published and open letter to Bernie Madoff, railing at his indecency, the harm he did to the financial markets and to the image of Jews in the world. (See, http://www.newsweek.com/id/176821) My response to the rabbi is as follows:
Whilst I do appreciate the learned rabbi’s righteous indignation, his analysis is both wildly off of the mark and naïve. So let us all step back for a moment so as to able to discern the forest for the trees.
Let me begin by pointing out that I refuse to be a victim. Indeed, I am here today because my ancestors did not believe that Hitler would never do what was written in Mein Kampf, or that the German people would never allow such things to happen; nor did they believe that “arbeit macht frei.” Unlike most of the sacred six million who stayed and walked meekly with foolish hopes into oblivion, my ancestors put their trust in themselves and their analysis of the facts, and not in the hands of evil. Israel was founded and lives still today, only because the surviving remnant of European Jewry decided that they would no longer seek to entrust their survival to others, but would instead take full responsibility for it themselves. As George Bernard Shaw observed, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
Similarly, no con game can ever succeed without the voluntary complicity of the target, and to obtain that complicity the con artist preys upon a serious character flaw in the other. Usually this flaw is hubris or greed; in the case of Bernie Madoff, both were present. But for his “victim’s” complicity, no fraud could have been committed. Have we never heard the expression that if it sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t? That is why you cannot cheat an honest man. Many people did not invest with Mr Madoff who had the opportunity to do so. Did the good rabbi ever consider why those people did not?
The answer of course is that Madoff required blind trust in his omniscience, and would reject those who wished for logic. This, of course, is the essence of idolatry which is abhorrent to our religion. And I am not an idolater. Those who chose such worship obviously forgot Jefferson’s admonition that we should “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.”
Of course idol worship has been a constant source of temptation to the Jewish people throughout our history, although in more recent times it has been the deification of tangible men or institutions above intangible ideas or the intangible notion of Emmet, of Truth. Keep in mind too that historically we have been a “stubborn and stiff-necked people;” we want to feel important, that we belong, that we are among the “knuckers.” Why else would one abandon reason when Madoff consistently paid one a “profit” on our investments when everyone else saw their portfolios devalue fifty to sixty percent? I personally never invested in WorldCom simply for the reason that I couldn’t figure out how they were making money, so I assumed that they weren’t. It was that simple. And it is always that simple.
Put your trust and faith in the Almighty; not in man.
The idealistic rabbi continues this naiveté, however, by blaming Madoff for besmirching the reputation of those “who sell real and honorable and legitimate money products.” Please, dear rabbi, have you been asleep for the past seven years? Let me make a short list: Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Global Crossing, the banks and financial institutions that had to pay out billions of dollars in lawsuits because they knew of and participated in the fraud of the foregoing intuitions; Arthur Anderson; Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac; AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Morgan Stanley; hedge funds, special purpose vehicles, sub-prime mortgages; oil going from $35 per barrel to $160 and back again. Need I go on? Hello, rabbi: there’s no there, there. Caveat emptor is as important a maxim today as it was in Caesar’s time. Recall Ecclesiastes (i. 9) observation that “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Finally, Mr Madoff did not cause any revival of insults relating to Jews and money. They have always been there. Take a quick look at the watch-dog reports issued the past few years by the ADL and you will quickly see that anti-Semitism has been on a frightening rise. You cannot make a man hate a Jew if he admires them merely because of Madoff. Those that hate us now did before as well; the only difference may be that now they have something new to whine about. Further, let us not forget that being Jewish does not entitle one to sainthood. Is Madoff any worse that Michael Milken? What about the fact that Jews were a major arm of the Mafia? The truth is that because we are frightened of being conspicuous for being Jews, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. This is, of course laudable and likely why we tend to excel as a group, but let us not take ourselves so seriously. It is only we Jews who invented the phrase of “a shande vor de goyem!” We will always stick out; we shall always be thirteenth at table. And no matter what we may do to hide it, there will always be a gentile around to remind us that we are Jews. Deal with it!
In closing, I must also give a piece of bad news to the rabbi: Madoff will not have lost everything and he will eventually be trusted again. I suspect that there likely is a billion or so dollars hidden somewhere to which he will have access. Perhaps like Milken he will “repent and find God” and then be forgiven. Then, too, we have yet to hear his defense which will portray him as a victim who really meant well, foolishly believed in his abilities to turn matters around, and thought that if he could only have stuck it out a little longer the corner would have been just around the corner and no one would have been hurt. No, rabbi, all will be forgotten, and only too soon.
My advice to the rabbi is to focus on what he could have done to have prevented his complicity in this scheme; find the fatal flaws within his own character that Madoff took advantage of. Forget about revenge; or, if he cannot, begin by first digging two graves.
Richard L Wise
Richard L Wise
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