In the debates on the Innocence of Muslims I came across an interesting argument after learning that the French magazine Charlie Hebdo would publish cartoons about the prophet Muhammad. Several people on my Twitter told this was a great idea, ‘we should publish cartoons and films mocking Islam over and over again until the Muslims learn that they should not protest (violently) against it’. The most clear example is Pat Condell’s older video:
But also others, usually less islamophobic, people have expressed such sentiment: let’s teach them.
What do I mean by teaching them? governmentality | Tumblr
“Liberal democratic polities place limits upon direct coercive interventions into individual lives by the power of the state; government of subjectivity thus demands that authorities act upon the choices, wishes, values, and conduct of the individual in an indirect manner… The citizens of a liberal democracy are to regulate themselves… Citizens shape their lives through the choices they make about family life, work, leisure, lifestyle, and personality and its expression. Government works by ‘acting at a distance’ upon these choices, forging a symmetry between the attempts of individuals to make life worthwhile for themselves, and the political values of consumption, profitability, efficiency, and social order… The government of the soul depends upon our recognition of ourselves as ideally and potentially certain sorts of person, the unease generated by a normative judgement of what we are and could become, and the incitement offered to overcome this discrepancy by following the advice of experts in the management of the self. The irony is that we believe, in making our subjectivity the principle of our personal lives, our ethical systems, and our political evaluations, that we are, freely, choosing our freedom.”
— Nikolas Rose, Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self
It is about teaching citizens to become liberal subjects not by repression and direct power, but by making clear what normal behaviour is and what is deviant and by making them realize for themselves that it is better for them to be ‘normal’. The argument of free speech is often combined with saying something ‘Look, if you are offended by watching the film, then just don’t watch it’ (somewhat later followed by condemning those Muslims who protest but ‘didn’t even saw the film’). Now if magazines like Charlie Hebdo really were concerned with freedom of speech / freedom of the press they probably should consider running the photo’s of a naked Kate Middleton as well together with, for example, cartoons made by the Arab European League depicting Anne Frank with Hitler (they were fined for publishing these). But that is not what they or others do. It is directed at Islam and Muslims.
There seems to be this idea that it is religious people in general but in particular Muslims who feel offended (too) easily. Therefore ‘we’ make videos, cartoons and so on in order to make more thick-skinned. These videos and cartoons do not just depict Muslims or key symbols of Islam but they represent them in a way the makers know can be taken as an insult: terrorists, sexmaniacs and so on; the classic orientalist visualizations often like in the Innocence of Muslims by sexual references. In order to teach them the blame for all the reactions against the insult is put on the target of the insult:
The Innocence of White People – StumbleUpon
Innocence is simply the playground bully calling your mother a slut after already breaking your jaw, and then wondering why you can’t take a joke.
As I explained earlier in the case of the Qur’an burning by Jones:
The Ritual of Provocation I – Burn, burn the Quran – C L O S E R — C L O S E R
the insult, provocation or criticism is a ritual form of teaching a group subordination by way of humiliation (Guimarães 2003: 142). It is more or less like saying this is the way we do things here, and you better acknowledge that and act accordingly. It not only expresses and reproduces the desired social order but also reproduces and legitimizes the hierarchy between Muslims and non-Muslims and is form of including individuals Muslims in the group as long as they meet certain criteria that are determined by the dominant groups in society. At the same time the accusations by some Muslims that these films and the Quran burning constitute blasphemy is an attempt to block the transgression from the side of the secular or Christian politicians and opinion leaders.
Releasing ‘offending and provocative’ films and other performances is a means to express, legitimize and naturalize elements of the social order that are deemed fundamental in the discourses about how a society should be (non-Islamic), in times when these same elements are perceived as threatened (by Islam).
This already shows to some extent how humiliation may work. Joel Robbins, elaborating on Marshall Sahlins work on the study of cultural change in Melanesia, takes us a step further not only seeing humiliation as a psychological factor but also a cultural one. According to Robbins in Sahlins model humiliation gives an answer to the question as to why people ’embrace’ so-called Western values and development instead of maintaining cultural continuity. Humiliation instils a ‘global inferiority complex’ that results in people themselves wanting to change and to accommodate to Western dominance in multiple ways. But as Sahlins also explains this humiliation can also lead to a self-consciousness that makes people resist Western dominance. It should be clear then that humiliation is, apart from being psychological, also a social fact (as Robbins explains based upon other writers such as Rorty and Margalit) shaping experiences, expectations, motivations and social processes for example how people search for belonging and connections (and where). The emphasis on integration and becoming liberal subjects makes clear what Muslims ‘lack’ (according to some) but also gives the promise that it is possible to overcome it; much in the same way as religion, ic Islam, does. The latter can be used by militant activists as a way to mobilise people, while the former can be used by secularists to subordinate people.
An interesting way to dilute the power of humiliation is, I speculate, using humour. As their Dutch counterparts already did, Charlie Hebdo and Newsweek appear to have discovered that using particular stereotypes on Muslims sells. Newsweek came with the headline Muslim Rage featuring so-called angry Muslims on their cover (and with a piece by Ayaan Hirsi Ali). Instead of getting angry, many Muslims on Twitter turned the #muslimrage hashtag into a joke. Or does this form of resistance come about after discovering that getting angry is indeed less beneficiary? It remains to be seen what happens furthermore of course, on Monday ads will appear in the New York metro saying that civilized people should support Israel and counter jihad.