When Mohammedans are fuming and their western lackeys tie themselves in knots to make excuses for savagery, one constant emerges â€” the defective regurgitation of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Defective because, where Said wrote in pursuit of objective inquiry, his seminal work has now become the go-to defense for insipid moral relativism. It’s the fetishism of guilty souls â€” “let us not debate, for we are sinners.”
“If everybody minded their own business,” the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, “the world would go round a deal faster than it does.”
â€” Lewis Carroll,Â Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Cry insult and let loose the enemies of freedom.
Late last week, following days of media clamor, ABC FamilyÂ canceledÂ a pilot forÂ Alice in Arabia. The show was to have centered upon a young American woman as she attempted to escape from family kidnappers in Saudi Arabia.
To be sure, ABC’s critics were vociferous, both in volume and in number. But they should never have been able to succeed.
At a basic level, consider the hyperventilating banality that defined the censorship crew’s arguments.Â BuzzFeed’s Ayesha SiddiqiÂ scoffedÂ at the comparison of Saudi Arabia to Wonderland. In theÂ Guardian, Raya JalabiÂ declaredÂ that “the very premise of the pilot is deeply problematic â€” not least because it carries the very real potential for perpetuating negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)Â echoedÂ this sentiment, claiming thatÂ Alice in ArabiaÂ might lead to “things like bullying.”Â Coincidentally, CAIR receives quite a lot of money from Riyadh.
In an ironic twist of prejudice, Rega JhaÂ insinuatedÂ that, as a former Arabic linguist in the U.S. military, the writer ofÂ Alice in ArabiaÂ was inherently racist. The corollary implication: that U.S. military personnel kill innocent Muslims (tryÂ the opposite).Â Time’s Rabia ChaudryÂ rantedÂ thatÂ Alice in ArabiaÂ bears similarity to lynching narratives.
Facing this sea of anger, one could easily, like Alice, have become lost.
Luckily, however, Lily Rothman was on hand toÂ elucidateÂ censorship’s beneficence â€” why ABC is lucky to have those whoÂ know, to tell them what to speak. But Rothman’s summation also tells us something else.
Through all these various criticisms, one constant emerges â€” the defective regurgitation of Edward Said’sÂ Orientalism. Defective because, where Said wrote in pursuit of objective inquiry, his seminal work has now become the go-to defense for insipid moral relativism. It’s the fetishism of guilty souls â€” “let us not debate, for we are sinners.”
But let’s be clear. Fear of reaction is no excuse for self-censorship. Indeed, the opposite is true. As the Supreme Court has repeatedlyÂ explained, a democratic society must accept the risk of offense as the price of empowered dialogue. After all, is there any area of political discourse that we can guarantee will not cause offense to someone?
Of course not.
And let’s be clear about something else.
WhileÂ Alice in ArabiaÂ would likely have been somewhat cartoonish in its philosophy, it would still have been to America’s benefit. That’s because it would have illuminated the predicament of women in Saudi Arabia.
Yes, an expansive insight into Saudi Arabia would have been preferable. Nevertheless, we must accept the world in which we live. We must recognize that TV stations like ABC Family possess the avenues of appeal that C-SPAN-style debates (sadly) do not.
Because in the end, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are not a small concern. Because for thousands of women in the kingdom, each new dawn begets newÂ slavery. Because when a woman in Saudi Arabia isÂ accostedÂ for wearing nail polish, or beaten at a whim, or has her genitals forcibly mutilated, or isÂ leashedÂ like a dog every day of her life, these are not just small inconveniences. And when five-year-old girls live and die as humanÂ piÃ±atas, these are not simply “real-life difficulties.”
It doesn’t get more black-and-white than this.
Today, in America, the victorious censors, those likeÂ Salon’sÂ lifestyle editor, should look in the mirror.
Lifestyle. A word of subjective definition in a world of unequal freedoms.