Pigs and piglets
In spite of myself, I've been thinking rather too much about the current jihad taking place on the right half of the blogosphere: the "free Piglet" nonsense. Cerberus has pretty well nailed it, and if he left anything out, Chris Selley has provided his own eloquent analysis of l'affaire porcelet. Consider this a long footnote.
Religious intolerance, like racism, lies deep at the core of right-wing politics, and this latest joyful outbreak, coming not so coincidentally at about the same time as the beginning of Ramadan, has unsurprisingly spread like wildfire. Fuelled in part by yet another florid column by Mark Steyn, it's now taken the shape of a full-fledged campaign, led by that well-known (in parts of the blogosphere at least) paragon of loving kindness, Kathy Shaidle.
Now, selectivity and distortion never hurt a campaign, and we've seen quite a bit of it here. Take, for example, that poor lady in Leicester, Nancy Bennett, hassled by the, er, police for having some porcelain pigs in a window of her home. Well, there was more here than initially met the eye. It turns out that the pigs, placed in a window facing a street frequented by large numbers of Muslims attending a local mosque, were accompanied by a hand-lettered passage from the Qur'an. The display was meant to be observed, and it was meant to be insulting, in a Fred Phelps kind of way.
But the crowning incident, of course, was the Piglet coffee-mug in an office, a whiny complaint, and cackhanded official action. That sort of rank stupidity simply catalyzes the Right, just as, on the opposite side of the coin, a crucifix in a jar of urine led to legal restrictions on the type of artistic endeavour that could be supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (which hadn’t even funded the piece). The latter, I would argue, is a far more serious affront to liberty, but that was a different fight, and the Right were on the wrong side of it.
Never mind. Appeals to tolerance, even from those with suspect motives, strike a resonant chord in me. Banning Piglet mugs is right up there with the Surrey School Board's banning of a student production of The Laramie Project. It smells of the same unreason as was shown by the creators of a calendar over at the CLC one year, which indicated by name every multicultural festival you could think of but called December 25 "Christian holiday" instead of "Christmas." In other words, it's at the fringes of what is in essence a project of inclusion, derisively called "political correctness" (more on that some other time). And the fringes are always rich with examples to discredit the core of any movement, ideology or world-view. There is no idea, no matter how good, that doesn't have nuttiness at the edges of it, waiting to be used as a fulcrum by those who detest the idea itself.
And so the decent impulse to be sensitive to cultural difference has inevitably produced examples of condescension (inherent in the very word "tolerance") and pure silliness, as we have seen; just as the struggle of women for equality has seen its share of the same, and the fight against racism, too. But the conclusions to be drawn from this surely must not be that we go on being culturally insensitive, sexist and racist.
Obviously I object to this latest example of disingenuous synecdoche from the Right. It's not Piglet that is at issue here; it's Islam itself. In a coffee-mug incident we are urged to see the true face of that religion and its followers, caricatured as a teeming mass of intolerant fanatics. Just look at Steyn's raving paranoia: from a handful of instances of official blunderment in Blighty, he sees nothing less than a "descent into dhimmitude." That has to rank as one of the most breathtakingly stupid statements of this new century. It's worthy, in fact, of a Guinness entry.
But it reveals much about the current campaign, being waged--let us not mince words here--by a crowd of hateful bigots. "Show us your pigs," is their battlecry, and I am tempted to observe that we are seeing quite a few of them.
But let me conclude on a slightly different note. Could the fuss about gentle Piglet reveal more than the common-or-garden intolerance presently being secreted by the usual suspects? Could Piglet himself be a site of projection of their fear of the Other, Muslims as Heffalumps? I'll let the reader decide:By and by Piglet woke up. As soon as he woke he said to himself, "Oh!" Then he said bravely, "Yes," and then, still more bravely, "Quite so." But he didn't feel very brave, for the word which was really jiggeting about in his brain was "Heffalumps." What was a Heffalump like? Was it Fierce? Did it come when you whistled? And how did it come? Was it Fond of Pigs at all? If it was Fond of Pigs, did it make any difference what sort of Pig? Supposing it was Fierce with Pigs, would it make any difference if the Pig had a grandfather called TRESPASSERS WILLIAM? He didn't know the answer to any of these questions...and he was going to see his first Heffalump in about an hour from now!