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David Hines [userpic]

notes on Rich Johnston, and drawings of Mohammed

January 3rd, 2010 (10:13 am)
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This just in: Rich Johnston is a coward.

What's more, he's a weaselly and despicable one.

If you don't know who he is, Johnston runs Bleeding Cool, which is the successor website (and current host for) his long-running comics news and gossip column, "Lying in the Gutters." One of his recent posts mentioned the attempted murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who was one of several Danish cartoonists to draw Mohammed in contravention to Muslim religious law. As you may recall, this innocuous gag (very few of the images were in any way critical; most were very mild jokes or weren't jokes at all, just drawings of a bearded dude) resulted in death threats and riots, during which major news outlets that have cheerfully run everything from pictures of crucifixes dunked in urine to gruesome war photography to photographs of Amy Winehouse tied themselves in knots to cover the stories while avoiding running the cartoons.

On New Year's Day, an axe-wielding fanatic -- who had, in a feat of staggering chutzpah, claimed asylum on the grounds that he would be persecuted in his home country -- broke into Kurt Westergaard's house. Westergaard locked himself in the bathroom, which had been fortified to serve as a panic room. Police arrived and shot the attempted murderer, who survived. This is where Johnston comes in. He posted about the attempted murder. Quoth Johnston, at the conclusion of his post: "The cartoon in question featured Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban. No i’m not reproducing it here. I like my door axe-free, thank you very much."

Seven posts earlier, Johnston had provided his thoughts regarding the comic-related Visual of the Year. Among his candidates: a pair of boobs, strategically covered by hands wearing those Lantern Rings that were part of DC's recent promotion. The photo, I gather, originally had been contributed to a store contest run by a singularly unpleasant comic store owner who has been the subject of ire from feminists and people who just thought it odd to insult potential customers. After being reproduced in Johnston's column, the photo became a cause for considerable critique of Johnston. For the end of the year, Johnston decided to tweak feminists and his critics by running the photo again.

He thinks it's funny. Y'know what? It's not.

I find the boobs picture tackier than I do offensive, but I *am* extremely offended that the reason Rich is willing to post a picture that offends feminists and not willing to post one that offends Muslims is that there are Muslim fanatics who are willing to kill people who offend them. Nice incentive scheme you set up there, Rich! Obviously, feminists need a fanatical subset willing to kill people. Then Rich Johnston will realize their opinions as valid and worthy of respect, no matter how invalid or unworthy of respect those ideas may actually be. Heck, Johnston posts stuff that I vehemently disagree with from time to time; maybe I should nag like-minded folks to start killing people who have the temerity to disagree with us. Because if there are enough of us, we'll be rewarded for it.

I mean, I *was* under the impression that political involvement, friendly discussion, and living by example, were the way to win friends and influence people in a democracy, but apparently breaking into people's homes with axes is the way to go.

Do you know why this is especially offensive to me? Because I'm a gun nut. We know we have an image problem. One reason I post about guns -- which I need to do more often! -- is that I want to put a good face on the issue. When some yahoo open-carries at an unrelated political rally, I grit my teeth -- if I were there, I'd march up and yell at the asshole. The jokes we make are *important.* The way we comport ourselves is *important.* Because I'm not just in this for me, I'm in this for everybody in the shooting sports and -- more importantly -- everybody who meets me who has some preconceived notion of what a gun nut is like, because maybe those preconceived notions keep them from going shooting, too. And if they were to go shooting, maybe they'd find out they like guns. And when lots of people like guns, *then I win.*

In the meantime, we're advertised as being everything the guy who tried to kill with an axe actually is, but nobody is afraid of us. As they shouldn't be.

Rich Johnston, meanwhile, is happy to tweak the tails of feminists, and Christians, and conservatives, but when it comes to Islam, he is afraid of their fanatical wing, so he does something that's really alien to him: he shows respect.

To borrow a phrase from Glenn Reynolds: if you reward something, you'll get more of it. That's how it works.

I'm not just worried about Muslim fanatics, who murder far more Muslims than non-Muslims; I'm worried about animal rights fanatics, whose low-grade terror campaigns are already having a chilling effect on individual scientists, and about anti-abortion fanatics, who might realize that occasional murders are one thing but they could be even more effective if they had a larger body of people willing to throw away their own lives to murder for the cause, and about environmentalist fanatics who like destroying things already, and about the anti-government fanatics who cheered Timothy McVeigh or said, "Y'know, he's got a point there," and about fanatics of every single stripe who just haven't realized that having a large body of people willing to commit murder is the way to get respect in this day and age. Rich Johnston from his own writings should be bloody worried about the BNP's fanatics realizing this. And every time somebody kowtows to murderous fanatics, it's another gentle nudge for other fanatics to wake up and realize what they can do, if they're only willing to kill for it.

Way to go, Big Rich.


This is Westergaard's cartoon:

The cartoon in question.


Posted by: unix_jedi (unix_jedi)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)

to draw Mohammed in contravention to Muslim religious law.

I don't think this is a nitpick - in contravention of some interpretations of Muslim religious law.

I am informed by Iranians of my acquaintance, that carrying images of Mohammed is quite the norm in Iran. Also note the many many mosaics and frescos where Mohammed (put in by people closer to him) were later chipped out - or not.

That missing context is like talking about Catholic - or Baptists - as canonical representatives of Christianity. But we're usually close enough to those branches to understand there are some major policy differences between them.

Also usually left out of the discussion is that the "Danish Imams" who complained *made up 2 images of Mohammed* themselves (and one picture of a guy at a USA BBQ wearing a pig mask). So obviously, it's not that big of a deal (or why aren't they getting hacked up?)

we're advertised as being everything the guy who tried to kill with an axe actually is, but nobody is afraid of us. As they shouldn't be.

Yup. Sarah Brady's not _really_ scared of us. The protesters who try to disrupt hunts don't _really_ believe their own rhetoric. (Or would they dare go try and irritated "blood-crazed fanatics" with "unfair, heavy weaponry?")

It's rather amazing how this whole situation does demonstrate the innate hypocrisy and lack of grasp of many people. They sneer at the "armed society is a polite society" axiom, and then bow and scrape to those who they really worry about shooting/cutting/attacking them.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)

Very accurate not a nitpick.

Posted by: Risky Robby (robby)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
I Agree

It's becoming clear that this Somali was more than "an axe-wielding fanatic", but more of a terrorist hit man, sent by others. He has been tracked by various security agencies, and recently was trailing Hilary Clinton in Africa.

I agree that there's a cowardly unwillingness to confront these evil murderers. They count on the good will and openness of western society to go their evil deeds.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)

It's not the "unwillingness to confront" that bothers me -- I don't dedicate my entire life to calling out things I see as wrong, after all. It's the defining confrontation down so that "not confronting" becomes the same thing as "utter acquiescence" -- and utter acquiescence to the lunatic wing, at that.

I don't want to unnecessarily offend people, but there's a world of difference between being respectful and polite, which everyone should be, and not doing something innocuous because you're afraid someone might try to kill you with an axe.

Posted by: Vvalkyri (vvalkyri)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)

semirelatedly, Ireland just enacted an anti-blasphemy law; these articles are about response:




This seems different from the attempt to put such things through the UN, but that bit did come to mind.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)

I've been watching this. It's an interesting issue.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)

I'm a feminist. I'm also a Christian. Does that help?

I probably wouldn't post anything IRA-baiting either though.

But yes, it's true, I'm also a coward. Always happy to run away from a fist fight. It's why the good Lord gave us legs.

Wouldn't say I'm weaselly or despicable over it though.

"Coward, every time" - The Doctor

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)

I'm guessing this is Rich! Hey, dude.

Running away from fistfights is often a wise strategy. What's unwise is announcing loudly that you're doing that, because it tells the bully his strategy works; what's weaselly and despicable is merrily teasing only the people whom you know don't escalate their disputes to fistfights. Talk about perverse incentives.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)

Yep this is me.

I continue to tease comic book professionals who have sent me death threats. But then, you know, it's comic book professionals. Fat ones too. Fatter than me, I mean. So, again with the legs.

I thought the line was a funny one. Reminiscent of Stewart Lee when asked if he's make a Jerry Springer The Opera about the Muslim faith, saying "No, because I don't have a life steeped in that culture, belief, history and values and also because I'm not stupid"

Posted by: Sophomore Hipster (bats_eye)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)

The difference between that joke and yours though is that he actually gave a serious reason as to why he wasn't doing it and then made the joke.

If you morally don't think that you should do things which have no other purpose than pissing off the muslims, (and presumably because you're not muslin yourself you feel like you have less lee way for mockery) for reasons beyond just not wanting to be attacked, then fair enough. But that only takes a line to put in there and you can still add the joke at the end. As it is, your only stated reason is cowardice and so you are always going to be accused of being hypocritical and weaselly.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 01:16 am (UTC)

I can be accused of whatever you like. Doesn't make it true though. Now go buy Holed Up #3.

Posted by: masgramondou (masgramondou)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)

Dear anonymous coward

speaking from experience I can tell you that you won't get any actual serious death threats for hosting those cartoons. I should know because at one point I was about the only guy on the internet who did host them (here - http://di2.nu/files/Muhammed_Cartoons_Jyllands_Posten.html ) and I got masses of hatemail (and a very slow webserver) but no one has yet come up and tried to kill me.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 01:17 am (UTC)

Yes. I know. It was a joke.

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)

Johnston is an asshole on the issue of sexism, but I can appreciate the desire not to become a target.

People regularly address controversial topics with strategic distance for various reasons - complaining about a friend without naming them, not linking to a site one is criticizing because you don't want to give them traffic or draw trolls, using an alias on livejournal, and so on. Not wanting to put up with death threats or cyber-harassment by determined extremists is a valid rationale, even if one courts outrage debate elsewhere. It's something of which feminists are well aware.

Plus the Danish cartoon controversey wasn't clear cut. It was a stunt by a nationalist newspaper with exclusionary and hardcore pro-Isreal stance. The violent response was inexcusable fanaticism, but the provocation also involved intolerance. It's possible to condemn the reaction without further supporting the trolls.

Fear is not respect. Bullies might force people to withdraw to a safe distance in the short term, but they produce contempt, resentment and ultimately advocacy for their own demise. Picking and choosing one's battles is something everyone does - even Salman Rushdie, who one could argue kowtowed to bullies by going into hiding for years after the fatwa.

The reason it is easier to call out jerkwads like Johnston, the reason women have made progress in a century after mellenia of men stacking the deck, is because feminism isn't a jihad or bullying movement. The term "feminazi" indicates chauvanist frustratin with how well protest and "political involvement, friendly discussion, and living by example" is working.

Radical fundemantalism, from Islam to teabagger, indicates how powerful such things are as they can only win by silencing doubt with violence and mindless shouting.

Nuance is also something people who like guns need to appreciate, because there are gun nuts just like the axe weilding guy, like Richard Andre Poplawski, except they're more successful at killing people due to being armed. Their extremism and fear is openly encouraged by gun extremists who deem any regulation as an unacceptable threat, and until the dominant voice of gun advocates is not the NRA but people who respect the need to control a killing machines, people have a reason view them as reckless and dangerous.

Edited at 2010-01-03 05:41 pm (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)

Actually, the controversy wasn't really ignited until several Danish imams went on a tour of the Middle East with a compilation of the cartoons, which they had thoughtfully augmented with their own contributions: a photoshop of a dog humping a praying Muslim, a cartoon of Mohammed as a demon and pedophile, and a photograph that they claimed was a man mocking Mohammed by cosplaying the prophet in pig nose and ears but was really of a participant in a French pig-calling competition.

Radical fundemantalism, from Islam to teabagger, indicates how powerful such things are as they can only win by silencing doubt with violence and mindless shouting.

I can understand folks opposed to the Tea Party crowd disagreeing with them, disliking them, even looking down on them -- that's all human nature -- but no matter how you feel about their politics, grouping them with jihadists goes far beyond the pale.

until the dominant voice of gun advocates is not the NRA but people who respect the need to control a killing machines

Well, if you think the NRA needs to put a different face out there, one that looks more like me -- look, I hate to quote a cheesy marketing slogan, but in this case it happens to be true: I am the NRA. Specifically, I'm an NRA life member and an NRA-certified firearms instructor; I teach gun safety and basic marksmanship, and this kind of thing is exactly why I believe in being a visible gun nut. People unfamiliar with guns don't know the NRA does or who its members are, or what we do, or -- for example -- that the hardcore non-compromise gun groups are organizations like Gun Owners of America and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, who complain about the NRA selling out by (for example) being initially very opposed to the Heller lawsuit, which made gun ownership possible in the District of Columbia.

(Poplawski is an interesting case study for effectiveness of firearms regulation: he bought his guns legally from a federally-licensed dealer, but should not have been able to, as he reportedly had a dishonorable discharge from the military and a former girlfriend had put up a protective order against him, both of which would have prohibited him from owning guns. He lied on his form and the background check missed his disqualifying characteristics. He was also an active white supremacist who believed Jews were running the country which, despite what a lot of my lefty friends believe, makes him very far into "loon" territory, and not the sort of guy in mainstream righty circles. Not that guns are necessarily a lefty/righty issue anyway.)

Posted by: unix_jedi (unix_jedi)
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)

until the dominant voice of gun advocates is not the NRA but people who respect the need to control a killing machines, people have a reason view them as reckless and dangerous.

You know nothing of their work.

Period. I'm *not* a member of the NRA, for the reasons detailed above. I've been in quite a few arguments over it, but suffice it to say that even though I'm not an NRA fan, this obligatory slander of the NRA is tiresome and wrong.
"I support gun ownership, but not the NRA". Then you don't. Period. You don't even know what the NRA stands for, you're repeating Joyce Foundation slanders.

deem any regulation as an unacceptable threat

And you know nothing of the current state of gun "regulation". The 2nd Amendment doesn't refer to control, it refers to condition.
That aside, you've got absolutely no idea, based on that comment, as to the huge amounts of law, control, and restrictions that are placed on the lawful ownership and use of guns.

Hey, don't believe me? Go buy one next week. Hell, go get a AK-47. After you get hit with the sticker shock there, go buy a lowly .22. Then find a place to shoot it to practice.

Their extremism and fear is openly encouraged by gun extremists

Did you pay your carbon credits on all those strawmen you set on fire?

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)

I'm an asshole on the issue of sexism? Where did that come from?

On the other angle, I did once write a comic book that had a family of US gun nuts dropped on the Middle East who proceeded to blow up a mosque in Mecca with a bazooka. And Avatar published it. So, you know...


Posted by: unix_jedi (unix_jedi)
Posted at: January 3rd, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)

Oh, and one of my favorite takes on the whole "controversy":


Posted by: vito excalibur (vito_excalibur)
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)

Cool, he heard you.

Incidentally, and on a completely unrelated topic, I hate hate hate your LJ layout. If I try to read it on my phone the two frog columns on either side compress the text area in the middle to a single pixel, and any text inside it gets a line break every word. I know "?format=light" is my friend, but I thought you might want to know.

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