Sunday, May 13, 2007

Submission 101

Another rejected column. From back in the wake of the Summers kerfuffle and the riots over the Pope's speech. Hope you like it!

The jury’s still out on whether Pope Benedict XVI had any intention to provoke anything except polite applause during his now infamous speech on “Faith, Reason and the University.” For those who missed it, in the middle of a speech in German, the Pope quoted a 14th-century exchange in which a Byzantine emperor criticized Islam for spreading itself by the sword. Within days, once the remarks had been translated and exagerrated by the usual suspects in Friday prayers, the Pope, long thought ineffable, was in fact burning in effigy around the world as radical Muslims firebombed churches, murdered a nun, and made themselves generally unpleasant.

Regardless of what one feels about the speech, its fiery reception and the Pope’s subsequent reaction can teach us a great deal. When compared with a somewhat similar incident closer to home, we discover a pattern that, if not reversed, will lead to the death of free speech.

When former President Summers made his own gaffe, he did not have much to fear; even at their fiercest, feminists burn bras, not infidels. Yet rather than grasp this teachable moment in his stubby fingers and champion academic freedom, Summers apologized so often and with such ingratiating relish one half-suspects that were it not for the intervention of more level-headed advisers, he may have castrated himself, cries of repentant glory piercing the skies, on the Science Center lawn. Now it is the Pope’s turn, and the enemies he faces are infinitely more bloodthirsty and vicious, despite very few among them having tenure. If you are at all interested in Italian Renaissance artwork, I recommend you hurry over to the Vatican right away and check out some of the frescoes before the Sistine Chapel gets painted over in its conversion to the Joseph A. Ratzinger Center for the Study of Jihad as a Peaceful Internal Struggle. Summers showed us that as soon as you apologize, even if you don’t really mean it, it’s over. Your enemies are emboldened, you become weakened, and you might as well retire because you’ll be watching your step so carefully the rest of your life that you’ll never be able to speak truly freely again.

This – these groveling apologies for voicing one’s opinion – is submission. And what the radical Islamist world has done to its women, it now means to do to us. There are too many of us to be hung in public, like their homosexuals and their dissidents. Instead, like their women, we will simply be forced to show respect and to stay in our place. And while it may appeal in the short term to please – to dutifully shut our mouths and censor our newspapers – in the name of peace, we must recognize that such submission is our assent to any future beatings we receive should we ever be perceived as stepping out of line again. Banning pictures of Piglet from work and copies of Animal Farm from school, as they have done in parts of Britain, censoring cartoons of Mohamed, as they have done all over the world, apologizing for quoting obscure Byzantine emperors in boring academic lectures, as the Pope has done – these small, absurd acts are acts of submission, and each instance of such accepted guilt implies an attitude of deserved punishment. Like a wife assuring her friends that the bruises are from falling down the stairs, a misplaced sense of love or duty might move us towards denial, but this only guarantees that the beatings will continue.

Is this what we want the world to come to? Do we want to grow up to a world in which you can barely get a word out before your likeness is up and burning in cities around the globe? Do we want to live in fear of matches striking every time we open our mouths? The alternative is not pretty, either. Those who refuse to apologize, like those who refuse to convert, tend to get their throats slit. Still, I know where I stand. Freedom means never having to say you’re sorry.

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