Come Pop My Bubble

When I read this article by Mark Adomanis in Forbes online, I find myself a bit confused. Adomanis mantains that there is a significant strain of American conservatism that looks at l’affaire d’Pussy Riot in Russia and doesn’t get past the fact that the underlying offense occurred in a church. For that reason, while Vladimir Putin and the Russian government may not exactly be good guys, they are at least on the side of justice here, because they are pushing back against bigotry directed at Christianity.

And I think, “Really?” I don’t know anyone who thinks that way. Come Pop My BubbleI live in a pretty conservative part of the world, after all, enough so that I often find it necessary to submerge my own politics and views into bland non-statements when confronted with sometimes repugnant opinions. Here, at the online outpost I help man,* there is a near uniformity of thought that imprisoning Pussy Riot is a miscarriage of justice and an obvious abridgement of civil liberties, tempered only by the concession that maybe a slap on the wrist for trespassing in the church would be reasonable.

But Adomanis maintains that my “internationalist” world view is paired with a significant opposition from the “traditionalists.” It seems more like libertarianism versus super-Christianity-boosterism to me, and even most of the enthusiastic Christians I know are not particularly pleased with the idea of a political protest being punished to this degree; they can readily see that expressing one’s political point of view, even if done in a clumsy and vulgar fashion, ought not to earn years of prison time. Like the Pauline Kael of legend, I don’t know anyone who approves of sentencing these women in this way.

So, is Adomanis right? Are there really a lot of people out there who see this as an attack on Christianity? Because maybe I live in a libertarian bubble, one in which there is broad and deep consensus on at least some things. I don’t want to live in a bubble, no matter how comfortable it might feel. If there is real and significant disagreement out there in society about what this thing even is, I want to know it, and at least try to engage with those who disagree.

 

* That’s a verb, not a noun. Every one of the front pagers really would like more women writers on the masthead here and I know Rose doesn’t even appear on the masthead button yet and if my skillz weren’t so weak, I’d change that myself.

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88 thoughts on “Come Pop My Bubble

    • Link. Dreher writes:

      These three nasty pieces of work will do their prison time, then be released and emigrate, where they can make a handsome living going into Western venues, conducting orgies in museums, shoving chicken legs up their privates in supermarkets, and parading before Western liberals as free-speech martyrs.

      Not much indication he thinks the punishment is at all inappropriate.

      Andranik Migranyan at The National Interest seems to take a similar view.

      In this case, the authorities could not show themselves to be weak, and not because they wanted to bestow vengeance on those women or scare off the opposition. The issue here is far more serious, and those pleading for forgiveness for Pussy Riot have no idea what dangers lurk in such an action. If the group could desecrate a Christian temple with impunity, thereby insulting the dignity of tens of millions of believers, and get away with this, then why is it not permissible to do so in a synagogue or a mosque? The government cannot allow such permissiveness to take place, especially in a multi-cultural and a multi-confessional country, where the offending of national or religious feelings can provoke mass disorder and inflame conflicts on nationalist or religious grounds.

      No doubt there are plenty of conservatives who disagree. But these folks do exist.

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        • I have the same feelings about Michelle Bachmann.

          Dreher is a very hardened culture warrior who says something interesting every now and then (he seems to have some concepts of economic justice and fairness) but is largely a religious theocrat to me.

          Then again, I like a lot of the shocking art that gets the paleo and social cons all riled up.

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          • There are times when I sincerely wonder if Dreher is a piece of performance art.

            Me too. I read him because he represents a worldview completely alien to my own and because he’s a good writer, but he’s definitely something of a theocrat. Hence his vicious (and misogynistic) takedown of Pussy Riot isn’t all that surprising. I certainly got the feeling that he thought they got off easy with only a two-year prison sentence.

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      • Migranyan writes:

        “If the group could desecrate a Christian temple with impunity, thereby insulting the dignity of tens of millions of believers, and get away with this, then why is it not permissible to do so in a synagogue or a mosque?”

        …which isn’t exactly defending Christian sacred places, now is it?

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        • Wow, am I not entirely proud to be the one to know this! But, he’s referring to a Russian performance art group called Voina (I don’t know how to get the Cyrillic letters to work here, but it basically means ‘War’), who did a piece in which a member actually stole grocery store chicken in the way he described and made a video of the theft. They were, at the time, living without unemployment and squatting and stealing most of their food. I don’t believe there’s any overlap between the group and Pussy Riot, aside from being Russian, anti-government performance artists, and drawing some attention to vaginas through their art. As far as I know, Voina did not make a handsome living through their art. But, hey, free chicken!

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              • Yup. I heard of Voina a while back, but only saw the linkage via that DM post recently.

                Rufus, how come you don’t write here anymore except the occasional comment? I always enjoyed your stuff, back when I was still mostly lurking. You got anything coming up?

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                • Oh, you didn’t see the chicken video? I saw it on an art site and it was certainly memorable.

                  It’s funny you mention me, since that’s a topic I love to talk about! I’ve actually been writing a ton lately. Aside from my dissertation, which I’m sort of rushing to finish right now, I’ve been writing lots of pieces that I’d like to post somewhere or other- lots to do with art and my life and random observations- usually about 1,000 words a day- but I’m frequently unsure if I should clutter up the front page with them. I’ve proposed doing a subsite- I’m thinking “The Cranky Pedant”- but Erik’s pretty busy now, so it’ll have to wait until he’s less busy.

                  At any rate, the dissertation should be done soon and, given the joys of the academic job market right now, I might have a lot more time to write here. Like others have done before me, I’d like to give the writing a more serious go of it here. Thanks for the encouragement.

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      • I’m not at all certain this is a shame, actually. I obviously vehemently disagree with Dreher on this, but I think he does a real service by putting the perspective out there in an honest way that generates far more light than heat. It adds a certain amount of complexity and nuance to the discussion, revealing how there are real values beyond mere insulation of Putin from criticism that may be coming into play here. To be sure, they are not values I share, but they are values I can at least respect.

        That to me is why I hold TAC, and Dreher and Larison especially, in high regard – they’re challenging and intellectually honest even when I disagree with them.

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    • Good point. I’m sure at least some of the outrage is anti-Russian outrage, not necessarily anti-denial-of-rights outrage.

      It’s a lot easier to muster up outrage when the folks engaging in the behavior are “bad guys”.

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    • Yes.

      Whatever my individual thoughts on Pussy Riot’s actions, I find it hard to believe that if a similar U.S. group had jumped on stage in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (or someplace similar) they wouldn’t be prosecuted to the fullest extent of U.S. law.

      Sure, there would be folks making 1st Amendment arguments (I imagine Greenwald would get quite excited), but they would be dismissed as “kooks” by all reasonably and “right-thinking” centrists, and the demonstrators would be tried, convicted, and punished rather quickly.

      In fact, with the conventions coming up, I fully expect we’ll see the arrest of several political protestors making political statements. Now they won’t be arrested/tried/convicted FOR their political statements (at least not explicitly), we’ll get them on some time/place/manner exception. But in the next few months American protestors will go to jail for protesting American political candidates. And most of the American Pussy Riot supporters won’t see the slightest thing wrong with that.

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      • I find it hard to believe that if a similar U.S. group had jumped on stage in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (or someplace similar) they wouldn’t be prosecuted to the fullest extent of U.S. law.

        I’m not so sure about this, actually – you may recall the infamous Opie and Anthony Sex for Sam scandal wherein they featured a couple having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on-air. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opie_%26_Anthony

        Opie and Anthony got kicked off the air (again) for the stunt, and Infinity got fined (which they never had to pay, apparently) a nice chunk of change, but neither was ever prosecuted, and the couple at issue only received a 7 day community service sentence. This in a city where, pour encourager les autres, Plaxico Burress was sentenced to hard prison time for the “crime” of shooting himself in the leg with his lawfully owned firearm (which was properly registered in NJ but not NYC).

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        • All I know about that case comes from your wikipedia link, so take this for what’s it’s worth, but based on the link:

          – The couple was having simulated sex in a vestibule
          – The couple was arrested and charged with public lewdness.
          – Infinity was fined a total of $357,500 by the FCC, the maximum amount allowed by law, and the second-largest indecency fine in American radio history. Which they did not pay… no idea how they avoided it.
          – One member of the couple pleaded guilty a month later to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to seven days of community service. I imagine that if she had not pled guilty the charge and the penalty would have been higher. (The other died roughly a year after the incident.)

          While not quite Plaxico Burress hard time, I think the reaction to the stunt was a bit more than a slap on the wrist.
          Also, Burress hit on one of Bloomberg’s hot-button issues = guns. I wonder what the treatment of the couple engaged in the St. Patricks stunt would have been, had their stunt contained an aggressive political critique, rather than just “frat-boy shenanigans.”

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          • I’m not saying they just got a slap on the wrist, just that they didn’t get hit with the book, either – Plexiglass took a guilty plea as well. O&A, after getting fired, returned with an extremely lucrative deal on XM just a year or two later, and it doesn’t look like that fine was ever actually enforced.

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        • The whole sex in church thing was written up very well by this psychiatrist. I had a friend who was seduced by the pastor’s daughter in his father’s church and always preferred sex on the altar. Scared the hell out of him so he figured he was better off as an atheist so it wouldn’t be a sin.

          Pussy Riot got what they wanted, a bunch of publicity for their less than mediocre talent. The 2 years in prison is a bit much, but will add to their bona fides for their European tour as envisaged by Migranyan above (HT to JH).

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          • Pussy Riot got what they wanted

            We don’t have to guess what Pussy Riot wanted, as they’ve released multiple statements outlining their goals and motivations: a Russian government which honors free expression, independent press, fair elections and a Russian church which does not simply serve as an arm of the state. All of these things have been long absent in Putin’s Russia, and Pussy Riot’s stunts have made that absence even more obvious to a wider audience. And their reward is two years behind bars.

            But that’s all a-okay because you and Dreher and Migranyan have looked deep into their souls and deduced that they’re simply in it for the wealth and influence that comes with a lucrative career in the feminist anarcho-punk industry. Let this be a lesson to you kids: you can protest for a noble cause, you can be abused cruelly by your oppressors in direct example of the point you’re making, but all will be for naught because Rob Dreher thinks you’re vulgar.

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          • And those who oppose Pussy Riot are clearly all good, upstanding citizens, right?

            “Eduard Bagirov, a prominent writer who campaigned for Putin earlier this year, wrote on Twitter: “Not one normal Russian person would ever support the ‘acts’ of these cunts. Note that only emigrants, fags and kikes support them.””

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        • The gun Burress was keeping (not very successfully) in the band of his sweatpants? It’s pure chance some bystander wasn’t hurt, and I’d hope that we could all agree that reckless endangerment really is a crime.

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      • Whatever my individual thoughts on Pussy Riot’s actions, I find it hard to believe that if a similar U.S. group had jumped on stage in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (or someplace similar) they wouldn’t be prosecuted to the fullest extent of U.S. law.

        Indeed – and what U.S. laws would they have been breaking? “Disorderly Conduct” (a violation http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article240.htm#p240.70), probably “Disruption of a religious service” (a misdemeanor – http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article240.htm#p240.21), maybe “Unlawful assembly” (also a misdemeanor, and maybe not likely to stick – in our hypothetical there is no violence, which is specifically mentioned in the articl http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article240.htm#p240.10), maybe trespassing if they were asked to leave and stayed.

        The fullest extent of U.S. law, in the analogous case, isn’t very extensive – and nor should it be.

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        • Yes. They would be breaking those laws. And they could get up to a year in jail for the the class-A misdemeanors (as opposed to the two years Pussy Riot received). If the hypothetical protestors actions occurred in a church a clever prosecutor could probably throw on a hate-crimes modifier as well.

          The hue and cry over Pussy Riot is based on a head-in-the-clouds belief that we’d NEVER prosecute someone for political speech in America, but as your comment ably demonstrates, we certainly have the means to do so. What’s more, we have in the past and we will in the future.

          Many of the people upset about prosecution and sentencing of Pussy Riot because of some unspecific free speech concerns will hardly bat an eye the next time some occupiers get thrown in a van for parading without a permit or blocking an intersection.

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  1. I suspect that we live in similar bubbles. This is the same bubble that lead Pauline Kael to make her famous quip about Nixon being reelected in 1972. The only people I know from Evagenlical households fled the scene and are no secular or wiccan sometimes. Two converted two Judaism. The Christians I knew growing up in the suburbs of New York tended to be Irish or Italian Catholics with the random Mainline Protestant here and there (usually Quakers or Unitarians). The African-American churches seem to be the most active ones in the Bay Area and our fundies exist far into the East Bay or keep very quiet. In other words, all the Christians I know are still liberal-Democrats for the most part. The Romney supporter I know is a woman from high school who works on Wall Street.

    To be fair, the people mentioned in the Forbes article live in similar bubbles.

    There was an article a few weeks ago in the New Republic about a youth pastor in Pennsylvania being charged with kidnapping. The columnist wrote that this is a mock exercise done in Evangelical circles to make sure kids pick their faith over life when threatened. The author of the column grew up in Evangelical circles and wrote that they truly believe they are constantly under siege.

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/105588/why-would-church-youth-group-pretend-kidnap-teens

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  2. Oh, I know those conservatives. They all hang out at that one bar. You know, the one with the other conservatives that say women should be the property of men, and those liberals who argue that they want the government to control everybody, and those gay people that are secretly trying to give the gay to your kid.

    Yeah, those guys all hang out there. The draft pints are cheap, and the wings are to die for.

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  3. Stalin dynamited Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, where this Pussy Riot incident took place. Twenty tons of gold were smelted out of its ruins and its benches were installed at subway stops. For years, the site stood empty. Khruschev turned it into a swimming pool.

    After the fall of of the USSR, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt with the financial support of millions of Muscovites and ordinary Russians. This is no ordinary religious building. The last Tsar, Nicholas II was beatified as a Russian saint in the rebuilt cathedral. This cathedral is to Moscow what St. Patrick’s Church at Ground Zero is to NYC. The Pussy Riot incident deeply angered ordinary Russians in ways you may not understand.

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      • It is a stiff sentence. I suspect the Pussy Rioters will be used as pawns at some future date, when a particularly egregious violation of human rights will require some positive action, whereupon they will be released.

        The Russian Orthodox Church occupies a unique role in Russian society and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is just about as close to the core of Russian society as can be imagined. It represents Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812 and has come to represent the revival of Russia in present times.

        Seen from outside Russia, we castigate the Russian Orthodox clergy for their full-throated support for Putin. Seen from within, Russia has coalesced around the Russian Orthodox Church exactly as the USA coalesced around Ground Zero. This comparison cannot be overstated: if anything, Ground Zero is but a balsa-wood model, a Tinkertoy replica and the Ground Zero Mosque Controversy a silly joke compared to the sentiments surrounding the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Pussy Riot incident. This is not an insult to a few hoary old prelates and their altar. This incident was a poke in the eye to Russia itself, a nation where jingoism, paranoia and xenophobia have been raised to art forms.

        Patriotism is the first refuge of the scoundrel, Ambrose Bierce tells us. Patriotism, to my mind, contains all the bad aspects of a religion with none of its good. Pussy Riot kicked the hornets’ nest. The Russian Orthodox Church has attempted to defuse this debacle by publicly forgiving these girls. The Russian ultra-nationalists who rally around the Cross of St Andrew are dangerous people, no friends of the Church itself nor of its message: these ultra-nationalists have also been seen to rally around the symbols of fascism.

        Putin wants to be a Tsar, well let him try. The tsars came to a bad end as they became ever more firmly entangled in the affairs of Europe. Putin will eventually overreach as such jumped-up dictators always do. If he currently enjoys the adulation of star-struck Russians, that nation was put on earth to show the rest of mankind what suffering really looks like, lest the rest of us whinge overmuch.

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  4. One of my dear friends married a lovely gal from Russia. (Yes, they met online.)

    We went over to their place for dinner last year and discussed, among other things, religion. “Americans are all crazy”, she told us. “You never shut up about religion. Even the atheists! You talk about Religion all the time. In Russia, everyone is Christian and no one talks about it.”

    So there’s that.

    This may also help with the bubble thing: imagine if you will a Female Muslim Punk Rock Group (“exposed ankle altercation”) storming the Dome of the Rock and singing about intolerance or something like that. Is it easy for you to imagine Muslims in other countries going batguano crazy? It’s easy for me to imagine, anyway. Hell, it’s easy enough for me to imagine that I can imagine people, IN GOOD FAITH, arguing that the Female Muslim Punk Rock Group ought to have known better.

    When I put the two thoughts above into the same space as the new information given by Blaise above (thanks, Blaise… good info), it helps me categorize the Russian response a bit better.

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  5. Have you forgotten that some in the American religious right approved of — and many more (outside the movement) were sympathetic to — the Ayatollah’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie?

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      • Let’s try to avoid cheap shots of this sort. Some of us American Lefties were trying to warn the world of the consequences of allowing the Shah to continue running a police state.

        Nor were we the ones selling arms to Iran. That would be the American Right, in the form of Ronald Reagan, who should have been impeached for selling arms to our enemies. Benedict Arnold only sold the plans to West Point. By contrast, Ronald Reagan would have sold them the cannons, shot and powder.

        Wobbly on free speech, my ass. The American Left has put up the only principled resistance to America’s continued folly in that time zone. Our track record of overthrowing regimes in that part of the world features an unalloyed record of the American Right laboriously sorting through its options and choosing the wrong one, every single time.

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        • I duuno who the “American Left” is here, Blaise. Do you get the Ayatollahs because you hated the Shah? Are you on the hook for the Arab Spring, however that comes out? Does the abandonment of the South Vietnamese in 1975 go into your column? Would all of the Korean peninsula be a horrific gulag today instead of just half of it?

          Who have you freed? Whose freedom have you preserved?

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          • Oh, that would be me, Tom. One exponent of the American Left. The Ayatollahs arose because the Shah didn’t murder them all. One got away, you see, fellow named Khomeini. If you’re a Shah, never forget there are no small enemies.

            As for the Arab Spring, it was more like an Arab Molting. I have previously threatened to write something about the Middle East but don’t see much around here about Foreign Affairs. I used to write a fair bit about it but mostly LoOG is about other subjects. Long story short: the Arab Spring is not much different than the “death” of Communism in the USSR and PRC. It was just a transformation.

            The abandonment of RSVN doesn’t bother me as much as America’s betrayal of the Hmong. We were only propping up a Catholic revanchist regime in Diem and Thieu in RSVN anyway. We should have backed Ho Chi Minh from the outset, then worked to democratise him: all we did was delay the inevitable reunification of Vietnam.

            Korea showed the Communists we didn’t really believe in establishing democracy beyond our own borders. Iran, Chile, our track record is pretty dismal on that front. We sat there and watched South Korea murder all those students at Kwangju. Now the South Koreans hate our guts.

            America’s not in the freedom business. It’s in the capitalism business. I don’t have to sort out who I would have saved and who I would have let drown: that was above my pay grade. The people I wanted most to save, the Hmong, were betrayed by Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and the US Congress. Sore subject for me. Goes without saying you’ve only angered me in asking the question.

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          • Interesting point, JB. Blackballed by the American Left for his pro-life views, says he.

            “As Hentoff told the Washington Times in a 1989 profile, his “curiosity was not so much the case itself but the press coverage.” Everyone on the media was echoing the same talking points about “women’s rights” and “privacy.”

            “Whenever I see that kind of story, where everybody agrees, I know there’s something wrong,” Hentoff told the Times. “I finally figured out they were listening to the [parents’] lawyer.”

            Hentoff dug into the case and the abortion industry at large, and what he found shocked him. He came across the published reports of experiments in what doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital called “early death as a management option” for infants “considered to have little or no hope of achieving meaningful ‘humanhood.'” He talked with handicapped people who could have been killed by abortion.

            Hentoff’s liberal friends didn’t appreciate his conversion: “They were saying, ‘What’s the big fuss about? If the parents had known she was going to come in this way, they would have had an abortion. So why don’t you consider it a late abortion and go on to something else? Here were liberals, decent people, fully convinced themselves that they were for individual rights and liberties but willing to send into eternity these infants because they were imperfect, inconvenient, costly. I saw the same attitude on the part of the same kinds of people toward abortion, and I thought it was pretty horrifying.”

            The reaction from America’s corrupt fourth estate was instant. Hentoff, a Guggenheim fellow and author of dozens of books, was a pariah. Several of his colleagues at the Village Voice, which had run his column since the 1950s, stopped talking to him. When the National Press Foundation wanted to give him a lifetime achievement award, there was a bitter debate amongst members whether Hentoff should even be honored (he was). Then they stopped running his columns. You heard his name less and less. In December 2008, the Village Voice officially let him go.”

            http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2012/06/03/blackballing_nat_hentoff_106498.html

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            • What nonsense. Nat Hentoff is still widely admired on the Left. My education in American jazz is courtesy of Nat Hentoff. He wasn’t blackballed by anyone. Village Voice employed him for five decades and let him go when they got in financial trouble. Happened to a lot of good people around that time. Nobody stopped talking to Nat Hentoff. That’s just mendacious crap. Hentoff would publish a few more columns at the Voice, just not on salary.

              Thoreau once said If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Nat Hentoff once famously extended that metaphor, quoting the old sax player Ben Webster:

              “He said to me, ‘Listen, kid, when the rhythm section ain’t making it, go for yourself,’ ”

              “I’ve tried that with editors all the time,” Mr. Hentoff said. “That’s the fun of all this. You keep surprising people.

              “And angering them, I might say.”

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      • well, according to the book nerd i married – she has a little packet she uses when she teaches the satanic verses – at the time there was certainly a notion that rushdie was a kind of – if not an imperialist, than certainly being more british than indian, that sort of thing. and he had a personal rep for being a jerk. so the notion that he brought the whole thing upon himself wasn’t particularly rare, especially amongst literary types who weren’t fond of rushdie in the first place. he also had a lot of friends and champions among that same population, and once the violence jumped up most of his critics – even muslim ones – pulled back quite a bit.

        i tend to think the satanic verses was the last really brilliant thing rushdie wrote. and it’s such a strange book to consider banning, all things considered, as the most objectionable content is contained within a psychotic dreams of a single character. it’s still banned from importation in india, i believe. it’s hard to imagine anyone bombing bookstores in america now over anything – much less someone assassinating translators all across the globe – even though the book is still in print due to this particularly bloody example of the streisand effect.

        it’s like the book came to life in some of the worst ways possible, as a lot of the thematic elements were hit upon during the really active years of the fatwa – migrants and immigrants, clashes of culture and religion, etc.

        good doc on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-71XyNMzHY

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        • the notion that he brought the whole thing upon himself wasn’t particularly rare, especially amongst literary types who weren’t fond of rushdie in the first place

          This is what I remember (and remember being surprised by) the most.

          We had barely stopped arguing about Last Temptation when this happened. I remember watching the same people who argued the position that the Christians offended by something as silly as a movie should use that energy to feed people, etc (I’m sure you remember many of the arguments yourself) and leaned pretty heavily on the First Amendment… well, they suddenly became people who argued that we needed to be (remember this word?) “sensitive”.

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            • I was at Word of Life Bible Camp the summer that the movie was announced. The bullet points included:

              1. Jesus gets down off the cross.
              2. Jesus gets married to tons of chicks. It’s Sister Brides Season Zero.
              3. They also change all kinds of stuff from the Gospels on top of that.
              4. Seriously, he gets down off the cross and does multiple chicks.

              I remembered thinking “Christianity is the one culture that we’re allowed to make fun of for being different and backwards.”

              But I was young, of course. And at Word of Life Bible Camp.

              Those people are different, you know.

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  6. As has been suggested by other comments, the American general public might be more broadly hostile to Pussy Riot if they were more broadly aware of some of their antics. The evening after the sentence I happened to watch the ABC news report on it and noted that they were not detailing the content of their performances or even, amusingly, mentioning the group’s name.

    That said, the punishment still strikes me as quite egregious.

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