Little Green Footballs

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The cartoon crisis


Once we get an obligatory link to the Muhammad Drawings out of the way, there’s plenty of blame to go around on all sides of this one.

First, to some of the outraged Muslims for not helping their cause any with profoundly anti-democratic statements and sentiments (As an aside, we have always been somewhat amused by the tendency of some Muslims to sneer at the Christian belief in Jesus’s partially divine parentage, while deifying their own prophet (about whom no claims of divinity have ever been asserted) to a far greater extent than Christians ever have. There is an extent to which Muslims have failed to delineate Islam the religion from Islam the personality cult). To act as if the Danish government is supposed to do something about this is almost as culturally insensitive as the cartoons themselves.

And let’s not forget, either, the grotesque antisemitic imagery that circulates in some of the Middle Eastern media.

Second, to the Danish newspaper that published the story originally. They cannot pretend to be totally shocked that this sort of thing would happen. The drawings were not incidental to the story; they were the story. To feign surprise over such a reaction is disingenuous to say the least.

Third, the conservatives exulting over this in the blogosphere. Some of these people are the last ones who should be tut-tutting over such a public temper tantrum to the insult to someone else’s faith. We seem to recall a television show they recently ran off the American airwaves.


It's also worth pointing out that the right-wing élite's unswerving devotion to freedom of expression does not extend into the halls of Congress.
From the perspective of one who might take Islam seriously, it’s not so much the irreverence here as the insouciance that would give offense. Even though the butt of the jokes is not always Muhammad (one, in fact, skewers the original instigator of this controversy, childrens’ book author Kåre Bluitgen as a publicity hound), it’s the offhanded way it’s used that strikes one as understandably rubbing the wrong way. Hah hah, it seems to say, everything’s material. Coming up next, a sitcom about the zany workplace antics of the two guys whose job it was to drop the Zyklon B crystals into the gas chamber.

Throw that out in a society where very few Muslim immigrants have a way of making their voices heard, where one political party has made their continued presence in Denmark a campaign issue, where younger Muslims see a media mirror of their world from which they are conspicuously absent, and it’s hard not to see the whole affair as culturally insensitive, if not willfully so then recklessly.

It's somewhat ironic that European regressives often cite the United States as a shining model of social, political, and economic enlightenment, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the U.S. is arguably the most successful multi-ethnic (if not exactly "multi-cultural," whatever that means) society in the world. A young American who happens to be black, or Latino, or Asian, can turn on his TV and see other black and Latino and Asian faces -- starring in commercials, reporting the news, and generally participating in the American mainstream. In Europe, especially in countries (unlike the UK) whose multi-ethnic experiment is relatively recent, this rarely happens. It would of course be fatuous to suggest that hiring a few more Moroccan newsreaders would solve all of Europe's problems, but it would be equally fatuous to insist that the contempt some European Muslims have for the societies in which they live is entirely one-sided. Which is why SW's description of the Jyllands Posten affair as "recklessly insensitive" is so apt.

On some level, people in the U.S. still seem to realize that deliberately inflaming the sensibilities of the most powerless and downtrodden members of society is not very nice, which is why no major American newspaper would ever dare to print a cartoon mocking, say, the Virgin of Guadalupe. Sometimes "political correctness" is, well, correct.


dawud al-gharib said...

a few comments: sullywatch misses a few things:

i) there are some extremely stupid muslims who are trying to represent 'the muslim perspective' on this by either a) caving competely to Western perceptions and arguing that this is merely free speech or b) going ape-s**t and abusing Danes and the West generally. these shouldn't be taken seriously, except where they're engaging in violence or threats.

ii) it's not deification of the Prophet, it's respect and the original reason for not allowing the image of the Prophet to be drawn was precisely to avoid deification. the story goes that a sculptor in Madinah admired the Prophet very much and wanted to make a picture of him, when the Prophet saw it, he feared that people would start admiring it more than remembering God [much as the Catholics & Orthodox Christians 'worship' icons of Christ and Mary] and disallowed pictures of Prophets completely, and generally forbade the depiction of the human form.
This is a more complex issue than described.

iii) to paraphrase what I wrote elsewhere: the word right is paired with responsibility:
one has the right to say what one thinks,
and one has the responsibility to consider the meaning and consequences.
[as an example] if one wants to walk through Harlem, and happens to think that poverty comes from laziness and that race is the factor behind industriousness, thus white people are rich and black people are poor, one is welcome to say so openly on the street. the response, if verbal, is also protected speech - and if the response is physical, i would guess that the police when they arrive would advise you strongly not to return, and to keep your fool mouth shut. i believe the analogy is clear.

iv) it’s really not required to insult Prophets and degrade oneself in order to be critical of muslims and the practise of Islam; one can fairly do that through mocking the living and concerned individuals; recognizing that 1.2 billion muslims, the majority of whom are concerned with precisely the humane and mundane concerns of the rest of humanity, nonetheless love this man who lived 1400 years ago as if he was their own father, mother, and grandparents (all at once) - should give one pause before insulting them.
thinking about what you say before you say it isn’t self-censorship.

v) there are irrational and abusive muslims, but to call even those whose entire worldview is based, not on the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet, but on arab nationalism, sectarian bigotry and blind admiration of a rather angry iconoclast who lived amongst the bedouin of 18th-century Arabia; to call all of these ‘wahhabists’ or think that somehow disregards their humanity and right to be respected is similar to the argument that many others present.

That being that secular humanism has excused the crimes of Europe and imperial expansionism, that under the banner of ‘democracy’, ‘humanism’, and ‘human rights’ the West has supported dictatorships, overthrown legitimate governments, brutalized populations and built nuclear and biological ‘WMD’, the better to terrorize the ‘brown people’. In that context, between the powerful and the powerless, especially in Denmark where the right-wing anti-immigrant parties have been gaining strength and using ‘free speech’ as a club to bash the heads of immigrant muslims, are you surprised by the reaction of angry muslims?

vi) at the very least, i’d like to hear those who defend the 'free speech' in this issue recognize that while violence and destruction are ‘out of line’, the economic boycotts are, as the current line of interpretation of the US constitution asserts, ‘protected free speech’ as well.

Do have a nice day.

oh, and I'm still reading this blog, I just don't post, though I appreciate that there's no Pablo to make things too 'exciting'.

Winston Smith said...

Nice to see you back.

Regarding your point (ii), I'm no Bible scholar but there are some passages in Deuteronomy that quite explicitly forbid the production of "graven images." Granted, the reaction of some Muslims has taken this concept to extremes, but if right-wing Christians took Deuteronomy as seriously as, say, Leviticus, this discussion would start looking rather different.

adultmalebluegrouse said...

It's the most coherent, sensible analysis I've read all week in Blogland. Thanks Dawud.