Saturday, February 04, 2006

Pricey Cartoons

Hard to know what to think of events in the Muslim world.

A Dutch newspaper published some harshly satirical cartoons about Mohammed. Some Norwegian newspapers republished the cartoons and then French newspapers supported the right of Europeans to satirize religious figures of all stripes.

As a result, Islamic militants are threatening to take European hostages in Palestine. Muslim crowds are burning European embassies. People are rioting from Morrocco to Pakistan.

Islamic law bans any depiction of the prophet, and Muslims consider likenesses of Mohammed blasphemous.

Basically, lots of people are destroying things and threatening to kill people because they don't like some drawings on the editorial page in a few European newspapers.

Or maybe it's more involved than that.

Western governments have predictably denounced the insensitivity of the cartoons while supporting freedom of speech.

But more honestly, I would guess a lot of people in the west--including government officials--are now even more convinced that we're dealing with dangerous religious people who can't handle a satirical cartoon in a western newspaper.

Americans and Europeans are used to harsh cartoons about political and religious figures.

From the Muslim point of view, I'm sure this feels like the last straw in a long series of cultural humiliations at the hands of westerners. Insults don't get worse than blasphemy for religious people. So what's happening isn't simple mob violence and thuggery--in part it's principled hostility to the outrageously "other."

I've already tipped my hand with my last post MohammedScape about my thinking on religious satire. In my view, a religion that can't handle satire is a religion with some serious problems.

Certain folks--even some progressives--believe Islam is committed to violence from the get go and should be overcome or transformed rather than tolerated in its present form.

Others think westerners used their unprecedented power over the past centuries to humiliate Muslims. In that view the frustration boiling over among Muslims is understandable.

And some think the real issue is current western--and particularly American--military and economic supremacy. They think power corrupts and that state sponsored violence flows inevitably from elites against the weak, and that the rioting Muslim crowds understand all that intuitively. Because of that take, some people think our present US government has fanned the flames of greater hostility and division.

From a certain point of view, maybe insulting cartoons are just the tip of the iceberg.

Sort of complicated.

I'd love to hear any reflections.


Blogger ruth said...

You've touched on a lot of values that are very Western- the freedom to question authority, poke fun at institutions, and present any opinion in public regardless of who it offends.

On the one hand, I think it's reasonable to recognize that not every society shares these values. On the other hand it seems to me that wise people in every society have the ability to let things go.

I think overreaction, particularly when it's used to galvanize action out of already simmering tensions, is a characteristic of fundamentalism in general. Muslim societies aren't the only ones who have "dangerous religious people" who can't even handle small things that offend them.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yes, there are a lot of dangerous religious people around these days :^)

Great point about fundamentalisms of all types using small provocations to capitalize on already existing tension and division. Lots of that going on in American culture and politics right now on both the fundamentalist right and the left.

7:14 PM  
Blogger jon said...

I think that differing experiences of authority are at play here as well. I could be totally off on this, but whenever I hear the quotes from Arab Muslims in these stories I get the impression that they think Western governments exert far more control over their societies than they actually do. Absolutely anything that happens in Denmark is Denmark's fault, anything that happens in France is France's fault, anything that happens in America is America's fault, etc.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

I think you're right about that Jon. That's my experience too in talking with folks in those parts of the world--you've got a much stronger communal mind set and lots less experience of free institutions not controlled by governments or strong men. So it makes sense that many Muslims would blame governments or even cultures for the poor editorial judgment of a few newspapers.

10:16 AM  
Blogger jon said...

New things I found out recently that disturbed me.

1) Here are the cartoons. It's interesting to look at all of them:

2) The cartoons were published on Sep. 30th. All the protests are coming now because Muslim agitators are spreading the word about it and encouraging them to have an effect. Without that agitation, they would have been irrelevant.

3) A Jordanian paper recently published three of the cartoons (including the worse) in order to show everyone what the West had done. Apparently publishing photos of the prophet is okay if...I honestly don't know why that was okay. But I haven't heard about anyone burning Jordan's embassies yet.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Pastor Jordan said...

Evangelical Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam are so strikingly similar that they appear identical to a distant observer- only the details of their respective fables differ. Jesus or Mohammad, it does not really matter. The important thing is that we are ordered to kill and oppress in his name.

Hey let's all strive to return to the 12th century. Rights for no man. We exist to be subjugated by the will of a prophet ghost.

A free press is not only a forum for thought but it also acts as an independent observer and auditor of the state in a secular society. Democracy is secular. Freedom loving people around the world, regardless of their personal religious beliefs should cringe at the government ordering the press to either print or retract any article.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

I'm with you on your thoughts re a free press, pastor j.

11:20 AM  

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