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Sunday, December 02, 2007
The marvelous Mark Steyn...
The holiday season is here, and that means it's time to engage in the time-honored Christmas tradition of objecting to every time-honored Christmas tradition. Australia is a gazillion time zones ahead of the United States – it may even be Boxing Day there already – so they got in first this year with a truly fantastic headline:

"Santas Warned 'Ho Ho Ho' Offensive To Women."
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If I were a female resident of Sydney, I think I'd be more offended by the assumption that Australian women and U.S. prostitutes are that easily confused.
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But the point is that the right not to be offended is now the most sacred right in the world. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, all are as nothing compared with the universal right to freedom from offense. It's surely only a matter of time before "sensitivity training" is matched by equally rigorous "inoffensiveness training" courses.
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For example, when I said the right not to be offended is now the most "sacred" right in the world, I certainly didn't mean to offend persons of a nontheistic persuasion. In Hanover, N.H., home to Dartmouth College, an atheist and an agnostic known only as "Jan and Pat Doe" (which is which is hard to say) are suing because their three schoolchildren are forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Well, OK, they're not forced to say it. The pledge is voluntary. You're allowed to sit down, or, more discreetly, stand silently, which is what the taciturn Yankee menfolk who think it's uncool to sing do during the hymns at my local church. But that's not enough for "the Does." Because the pledge mentions God, their children are forced, as it were, not to say it. And, as "Mr. and Mrs. Doe" put it in their complaint, having to opt out of participation in a voluntary act exposes their children to potential "peer pressure" from the other students.
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Let us now cross from the New Hampshire school system to the Sudanese school system. Or as The Associated Press headline put it:

"Thousands In Sudan Call For British Teddy Bear Teacher's Execution."

Last week, Gillian Gibbons, a British schoolteacher working in Khartoum, one of the crumbiest basket-case dumps on the planet – whoops, I mean one of the most lively and vibrant strands in the rich tapestry of our multicultural world – anyway, Mrs. Gibbons was sentenced last week to 15 days in jail because she was guilty of, er, allowing a teddy bear to be named "Mohammed." She wasn't so foolish as to name the teddy Mohammed herself. But, in an ill-advised Sudanese foray into democracy, she'd let her grade-school students vote on what name they wanted to give the classroom teddy, and being good Muslims they voted for their favorite name: Mohammed.

Big mistake. There's apparently a whole section in the Quran about how, if you name cuddly toys after the Prophet you have to be decapitated. Well, actually there isn't. But why let theological pedantry deprive you of the opportunity to stick it to the infidel? Mrs. Gibbons is regarded as lucky to get 15 days in jail, when the court could have imposed six months and 40 lashes. But even that wouldn't have been good enough for the mob in Khartoum. The protesters shouted "No tolerance. Execution" and "Kill her. Kill her by firing squad" and "Shame, shame to the U.K." – which persists in sending out imperialist schoolmarms to impose idolatrous teddy bears on the youth of Sudan.
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Still, at exactly the time Gillian Gibbons caught the eye of the Sudanese authorities, a 19-year-old Saudi woman was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail. Her crime? She'd been abducted and gang-raped by seven men. Originally, she'd been sentenced to 90 lashes, but her lawyer had appealed and so the court increased it to 200 and jail time. Anybody on the streets in Sudan or anywhere else in the Muslim world who wants to protest that?

East is east, and west is west, and in both we take offense at anything: Santas saying "Ho ho ho," teddy bears called Mohammed. And yet the difference is very telling: The now-annual Santa lawsuits in the "war on Christmas" and the determination to abolish even such anodyne expressions of faith as the Pledge of Allegiance are assaults on the very possibility of a common culture. By contrast, the teddy bear rubbish is a crude demonstration of cultural muscle intended to cow and intimidate. When east meets west, when offended Muslims find themselves operating in Western nations, they discover that both techniques are useful: Some march in the streets, Khartoum-style, calling for the pope to be beheaded, others use the mechanisms of the West's litigious, perpetual grievance culture to harass opponents into silence.

Perhaps somewhere in Sydney there's a woman who's genuinely offended by hearing Santa say "ho ho ho" just as those New Hampshire atheists claim to be genuinely offended by the Pledge of Allegiance. But their complaints are frivolous and decadent, and more determined groups are using the patterns they've established to shut down debate on things we should be talking about. The ability to give and take offense is what separates free societies from Sudan.

3 comments:

Sarah Jo said...

I read that about the british school teacher today and i thought your sentence about taking offense destroying common culture was brillant. Though I must say, I'm deeply offended that you would call the Packers Posers just because they lost - if I remember correctly, in recent NFL history - they pummled the cowboys. I'm just saying...;-]

On a different note, I was driving the other day and saw a big sign in someone's yard that read "Dear Santa, define good." [I may have shared that with you already] I thought it was hilarious.

Sarah Jo said...

p.s. you should switch from librarything to goodreads :-)

Darius and Elisabeth said...

My brilliant sentence or Mark Steyn's? All I really wrote was the title of the blog post... :)

When did the Packers pummel the Cowboys? The game I was referring to was the Cowboys pummeling the Packers last week. :)

That Santa sign is awesome!

I'll have to check out goodreads.

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables


Darius Teichroew's favorite books »