It is a preposterous, demeaning, and uncivilized spectacle, and it makes a mockery of the whole business of giving offense (whether intentionally or unintentionally, by word or by deed) and expressing earnest contrition, and of taking genuine offense and sincerely accepting an apology. These are real and meaningful and important ethical concepts. They have to do with the acknowledgment of moral lapses and the restoration of decent and proper relations between responsible people living in free communities. They play a fundamental role in the healthy give and take of civilized society – which is to say, society founded not on threats, bullying, vendettas, and the despotism of religious fanatics but on a shared reverence for individual liberty and a fully reciprocal tolerance for differences that do not imperil that liberty.
But what we have been witnessing in recent days, and what we have, in fact, been witnessing with what seems like increasing frequency ever since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, has nothing whatsoever to do with civilized human relations. In one incident after another, there has been an increasingly grotesque disproportion between the scale of apology and the scale of the action precipitating the apology. It is an unsettling and unworthy development. In allowing ourselves to be dragged down this path, we have left far behind us the realm of normal, rational human interaction and descended into the abyss of appeasement, into a situation that is not truly about offense and apology in any civilized sense but, rather, about the barbaric exploitation of those civilized concepts – an exploitation whose objective is nothing other than manipulation and, in turn, the steady accrual of power. It is, simply put, a form of jihad.
What’s next? I’m reminded of the “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984 – a daily ritual whereby the psychologically tyrannized people of Oceania are shown a brief film designed to whip them up into a ritualistic frenzy of hatred for Oceania’s enemies, foreign and domestic. Why not take this concept and flip it around to fit the actual circumstances of the present day – in other words, compel everyone in the West to watch a two-minute film every day that encourages them to cringe with guilt and cower in self-loathing over every possible statement or action by any Westerner, anywhere, at which any Muslim, anywhere, might conceivably take umbrage? A film that would inspire viewers to seek to outdo one another in the intensity and tearfulness of their expressions of regret and pleas for forgiveness? In other words, a “Two-Minute Grovel.” I’m sure there are plenty of filmmakers in Hollywood who’d be glad to take on the job, and who could do a bang-up job of it.
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