Courtesan Holding a Fan, Kitagawa Utamaro, ca. 1793. From the series Beauties of the South.
Once again religion fans the fuel of hate. The embassies of Norway and Denmark are burning in Damascus because of cartoons depicting Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper several months ago. Now marches and protests are rumbling across the Muslim world, with the usual death threats and calls for violence. The crisis pits religious fervor straight from the middle ages against the secular democracies of Europe and their tradition of free speech. Politicians in Europe and the US are treading a thin tightrope, apologizing for the cartoons while at the same time stressing their belief in the freedom of the press and free speech – unless of course it pisses somebody off somewhere.
As this extraordinary editorial emphasizes, it is the very speech that challenges sacrosanct prohibitions that needs to be defended the most rigorously.
The great British philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, “Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being ‘pushed to an extreme’; not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.”
It is well worth reading this editorial opinion, more than any other link on this page. Ibn Warraq touches on some interesting issues, freedom of the press, the surging appeal of radical Islam, globalization and acculturation, and the colonial guilt that seems to afflict much of Western liberalism and pushes them into appeasement in the face of radicalism.
Following some links related to the Dazzle Ships post from last week, I came across an interesting piece from Cabinet Magazine on Abbott Handerson Thayer, an artist I always associated with a sort of Maxfield Parrish-lite oeuvre, especially all his cloud-filled portraits of angels and women. Hidden Talents by Emily Gephart showed me another facet of this artist.
Turns out Thayer was quite the amateur naturalist as well, and became a vociferous proponent of Darwinism and natural selection. The main thrust of his later work was devoted to exploring animal coloration and camouflage. In 1909 he released Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, a book full of remarkable images of animal disguise. It includes this amazing image, Peacock in the Woods:
Though Thayer’s hardheaded adherence to camouflage as the driving force in all animal coloration led to his ideas falling from grace, his study of disguise and coloration in contrasting disruptive or ‘dazzle’ patterns was adopted by the US military in World War I to camouflage warships.