The Rutgers prof who declares Islam off-limits for humorists

“I’ve just about had it,” she wrote in February 2006. Across Europe and the Islamic world, Muslims were rioting, committing acts of vandalism, and murdering innocent people in supposed outrage over the publication by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of a set of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed.

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Deepa Kumar

What was it that Deepa Kumar, an Assistant Professor of Journalism, Media Studies, and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, had just about had enough of? No, not the utterly irrational violence on the part of all those Muslims. She was, she explained, “sick and tired” of people on the left and in the U.S. antiwar movement who failed, in her view, “to defend Muslims against all the attacks they have faced both domestically and internationally.” She was incensed by what she described as “the steady rightward drift among sections of the left since 9/11 on the question of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism.” While antiwar Europeans were rallying “in solidarity with Muslims outraged over the cartoons,” she complained, their American counterparts had “done little.”

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Sasha Abramsky

She cited some specifics. In October 2005, Sasha Abramsky, writing in The Progressive, had argued “that Al Qaeda, a ‘classically imperialist’ force, must be vanquished by the West because it hates the best points of the West, in particular ‘the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment.’” Kumar wasn’t buying it: “Never mind that the emancipation of women is far from a done deal, or that even small gains like universal suffrage had to be fought for by workers, women, and minorities, hardly the ‘legacy’ of Enlightenment.”

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Christopher Fons

Equally appalling to her was Christopher Fons’s February 2006 article in Counterpunch, in which he dared to suggest that when Scandinavian social democracies open their borders to millions of immigrants with “backward ideas, like sexism, religious superstition, belief in inequality, etc.,” it could mean the end of equality and social democracy.

And then there was a Sydney Morning Herald piece (republished in Counterpunch in February 2005) in which Richard Neville defended the Danish cartoons and wondered aloud why the “rampaging Muslims are so angry.” After all, Christians don’t riot over cartoons mocking their religion. A very irate Kumar had an answer to that: “making fun of Islam is not the same as making fun of Christianity.” Why? Because “Islam and Christianity do not occupy an equal position in a world dominated by US imperialism.” You can’t talk about “equal-opportunity” humor, she maintained, “when you are talking about oppressed and disempowered people, who do not have equal access to the mass media.” Bottom line: “Jokes are political. The jokes of the dominant poking fun at the marginalized, unlike those of the powerless satirizing the powerful, are a way of communicating to the world, first of all to the marginalized themselves: their oppression is acceptable…even funny.”

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Richard Neville

All this may sound ridiculous in the real world, but in much of the American academy it’s sheer common sense, the product of a postmodern academic ideology which sees all interactions in human society as boiling down to the relationship between groups – power vs. powerless, oppressor vs. oppressed. In today’s world, moreover, oppression only works one way. Europeans, people of European descent, Christians, the West, Israel: no matter what the facts on the ground may be, these folks are always the oppressors, the imperialists, the powerful. People of color, Muslims, Arabs, blacks, and so on: these are always the oppressed, the victims, the powerless. Even if the President of the U.S. is black, in some sense he remains an oppressed individual, while an unemployed white coal miner in West Virginia is his oppressor. Similarly, Muslims in the Islamic world who, in reality, viciously oppress the Christians and Jews in their midst are viewed by Kumar and her ilk as being oppressed by those whom they beat, abuse, torture, and murder.

But Kumar had only just started down this road. More tomorrow.

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