For decades, one of the best ways to sell a movie was to say that it was
being protested by Christians. It was a narrative, a useful trope, by
which it was announced that an established story, known to all, was being
replayed one more time: Brave, speaking-truth-to-power artist attacked by
prissy, philistine, Peyton Place christers.
And for some years now, one of the best ways to ruin a movie’s box-office potential is to have it denounced by Muslims—in part, of course, because there is no frisson of baiting the bourgeoisie in saying something mocking about Islam, but mainly because the theater owners don’t want to take the risk of violence that Muslim protests
bring. This imbalanced treatment seems awfully unstable, and it is bound to
resolve itself in one direction or another. The hopeful direction would be a
greater appreciation of free speech and democracy among Muslims. But if
somewhere along the line, a few Christians get the idea that more forceful
protest is the answer, who would be surprised? So, speaking for a
documentary film called The Da Vinci Code—A Masterful Deception, Cardinal
Arinze, an important figure in Rome, suggested: “Christians must not just sit
back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget. Sometimes it is our
duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all
Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others.” As Reuters
reports, Arinze’s comments were released only ten days after another Vatican
cardinal called for a boycott of the film: “Both cardinals asserted that other
religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and that
Christians should get tough.”
The thoughtful legal blogger Eugene Volokh (http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_05_07-2006_05_13.shtml#1147057578)
has called this “censorship envy.” It’s important to note
that criticism, mockery, and even a call for Christians to boycott something are
not necessarily species of censorship. Then, too, Arinze’s comments were made in
Europe, which lacks the free-speech protections that the United States knows. If
Muslims can have recourse to ostensibly neutral laws banning offences against
religions, then why can’t Christians?....
Volokh's blog linked to above explains the term "censorship envy":
The Catholic Church, the da Vinci Code, and "Censorship Envy": As senior
Conspirator Eugene Volokh has warned, one of the dangers of censoring
"offensive" speech is "censorship envy." If one group is given the power to
suppress speech offensive to it, others are likely to press harder to get the
same privilege for themselves. As Eugene points out in the post linked above,
many of the European Muslims who sought to suppress the Mohammed cartoons were partly motivated by the fact that many European countries ban Holocaust denial and other anti-Semitic speech. This dynamic is clearly at work in the
efforts of some Catholic leaders to ban the Da Vinci Code. As Cardinal Francis
Arinze, one of the chief advocates of banning The Code puts it, "[t]here are
some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just
talking. They will make it painfully clear to you." The Reuters article where
this quote appears notes that the Cardinal was referring to Muslim calls for
censoring the Mohammed cartoons. He and at least one other cardinal "asserted
that other religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and
that Christians should get tough [too]." The cardinals are arguing that, if
Muslims have the right to ban speech offensive to them, so too should
Christians. Just as the Muslims previously made the same argument with respect
to Jews! The rapid spread of "censorship envy" makes it all the more important
to crush this vicious dynamic at its roots - by denying EVERY group the power to
censor its critics. It is true that some of these critics are more offensive
than others. Certainly, Holocaust denial is far worse than anything in the Da
Vinci Code. But "censorship envy" ensures that such distinctions are unlikely to
deter the spread of repression once it has begun.
Update: It is worth noting that Cardinal Arinze - the leading would-be censor of the Da Vinci Code - is not a minor fringe figure. As the Reuters piece I linked to notes, he was viewed as a serious contender for the papacy when John Paul II died last year. And he will likely be a contender again after the passing of the current pope (who is almost 80 years old).
Related Posts (on one page):
The Catholic Church, the da
Vinci Code, and "Censorship Envy":Cardinal Wants Da Vinci Code Legally
Joseph Bottum continues:
The answer is that the European laws are not, in fact, neutral.
As France gradually relaxes its laïcité bans on such Islamic clothing
as headscarves in public spaces like national schools, while retaining the bans on Catholic clerical dress, the purpose of French secularization seems clear: It was not anti-religious, as the old counter-Enlightenment conservatives
claimed; it was always merely anti-Christian. But, then, neither is
the American free-speech argument entirely neutral. When the Boston
Forms of Intolerance editorialized in the winter against the Danish publication of cartoons featuring Mohammed,
Eugene Volokh hunted down the Globe’s comments over the years on “Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ and the Brooklyn Museum’s painting of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung. (http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_01_29-2006_02_04.shtml#1139073913 ) And he found, naturally enough, that none of the Globe’s worries about good manners and respect for others had been deployed in favor of the upset Christians. We have not yet felt the full extent of the damage done by the European and American reaction to the Danish cartoons, but it will be deep and long lasting. The far leftists who support Islam against the West, and the middle-left fellow travelers who go along with them, were revealed then to be willing to set aside all of what one imagined defined them—the
mockery of religion, the belief that faith was an archaic relic that humankind
had outgrown—in favor of making common cause with an Islamic religion that had,
for their purposes, the advantage only of violently rejecting the
Judeo-Christian worldview. But that seems to be enough. One can wish for an
increase in good manners in the public square, at the same time that one
supports the principle of free speech. But if the lesson being taught is that
legal action and threats of violence will produce results for one group, it
should not be surprising that other groups learn the lesson of the
day—particularly when the group feels under active attack. That’s not envy. It’s
just successful schooling. Fortunately, a general Christian
prohibition against violence prevents all but a few wild-eyed extremists from acting on that lesson. But that’s what bad laws and bad situations do—they empower the fringes and set loose the crazies .
Some key passages from the Boston Globe coverage that Volokh researched:
Nov. 3, 1999: ...Giuliani is furious about an exhibit, "Sensation: YoungThe article writer goes on to lay out reasons to make Guiliani stance look like an attack on civil liberty. Quite a different tone to the later coverage of the Muhammad cartoons.
British Artists from the Saatchi Collection." He called the art "sick," withheld
operating funds, and started eviction proceedings against the museum.
One object of his anger is a painting of a black Virgin Mary spotted with
elephant dung. The mayor said: "You don't have a right to a government subsidy to desecrate someone else's religion." It's a passionate argument, but it ignores the facts and the law. None of the $2 million for the
"Sensation" exhibit came from New York City. Serious allegations have been
raised about the museum's fund-raising for the exhibit, but that is a separate
issue. The city's contract with the museum calls for the city to pay for
maintenance without, as the court says, "stating any conditions regarding the
content of the museum's artworks."
July 17, 1990:Not a lote of sympathy for the offended.
The National Endowment for the Arts is a federal agency
created 25 years ago to function as a friend and patron of the arts. It
was never intended that the NEA should serve as a moral arbiter of the projects it considers funding. But that role has been thrust upon the NEA by
Congress, following the outcry of Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and a band
of conservative congressmen and critics over the exhibitions of work by
photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano..... Congress
should grant the National Endowment for the Arts the five-year extension it is seeking and allow it to go about its business without restrictions that hamper the agency and discourage artistic expression.
May 20, 1990:
In its 25-year history, the National Endowment for the Arts has
become an invaluable friend and patron of the arts, funding an impressive array
of institutions and activities. Now the hysteria generated by a small
group of myopic arch-conservatives, led by Sen. Jesse Helms of North
Carolina, threatens the NEA's freedom.... However, until last year it had
never been charged with underwriting smut, as it was when it financed a restrospective of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and made an award to photographer Andres Serrano. The art of these two men has been used unfairly by Helms and an organization called the American Family Association as a device to discredit the NEA, overlooking the important work the NEA has
accomplished in fostering the arts...Congress should approve another five-year
reauthorization for the National Endowment for the Arts and allow it to continue
making its cultural contribution to the nation — without any
Volokh sums up:
On their own, also eminently plausible arguments; I agree with parts of them and
disagree with other parts, but they are certainly quite defensible.
in those editorials are the admonitions about the need for "respect" of
religious groups? The condemnations of the juxtaposition of bodily excretions
with religious figures as "schoolboy prank[s]"? The denunciations of the art as
undermining the "ultimate Enlightenment value" of "tolerance"? The condemnations
of the artists, and of those NEA and museum decisionmakers who used their
discretion to judge the work artistically excellent, as "obtuse"? And, of
course, the suggestion that the works are "no less hurtful to most [Christians]
than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those
victims of intolerance"?
Why the difference?