Friday, February 03, 2006

freedom vs blasphemy

The recent brouhaha about the political cartoons posted in a Norwegian newspaper opened up an international can of worms. Reason has a good write-up about it in a "hit and run" blog here, and gleefully add follow-up comments here and here and there.

They also mention the US Joint Chiefs of Staff's objection to a Toles cartoon here.

There are also links to the "offending images" in the cited articles, although if you haven't yet seen the Muhammed 'cartoons' you can find them reprinted in the Brussels Journal here, or here.

I have decided to neither host the cartoons, nor to display them here, out of deference to the only Muslim friend I have; a Lebenon-born immigrant named Issam with whom it has been my pleasure to work for the past ten years. I haven't discussed this issue with Issam because I'm inclined to judge him as an individual, and I don't think he's the type to threaten to kill people because they have offended him. I assume he's typical of most muslims, and I consider him my friend although he is certainly not an admirer of President Bush. (Most of the people with whom I work on a university campus are not admirers of President Bush, and I decline to discuss politics at the office; instead, I discuss politics here. It's a lot less stressful than declaring jihad on Liberals or others who don't agree with my political philosophy.)

I've looked at all of the cartoons, and frankly I don't understand the point of half of them. Most of them aren't obviously depicting the Prophet Mohammed (spelling varies, I'll use this because it's more familiar to me), but it's fair to assume that at least some of them do. Many of them obviously link muslims to violence, and considering the upsurge in violence caused by muslims, that seems fair to me, too.

However, I will provide a link to the Toles cartoon, in case you have never seen it, and a direct link to it here.

The images which muslims find offensive were originally commissioned and published by a Danish newspaper last September. I'm still unable to completely understand why the Danes did this, but I assume that they were trying to build circulation by publishing something controversial (Human Events suggests, in the above link, they did it to send the message that "we cannot be intimidated." That didn't work very well, I think.) Nobody paid much attention to them at the time, and it was not until the Norskis (who don't like that name) republished them in January ... presumably for the same reason ... that they appeared on the Event Horizon.

If I do understand at least part of this correctly, Muslims don't believe that the image of the Prophet Muhammed (Mohammad?) should ever be printed, as it is disrespectful. And when the image is presented in a deliberately disrespectful manner, it is considered blasphemous. Even when the cartoons are reproduced by a muslim editor to counsel moderation. In one case, the Jordanian goverment called for sanctions against a newspaper there which reprinted the images.)

And Norwegian Muslims want their government to establish "anti-blasphemy laws" against this sort of thing.

Anti-blasphemy laws? In a secular country? What IS the world coming to?

I don't know if they're right, but in the particular circumstances it appears that these 'cartoons' are deliberately disrespectful and incinderary. Muslims the world over are outraged, and I don't really blame them. Well, perhaps except for the anti-blasphemy thing.

One man's "blasphemy" is another man's "freedom of speech", and I've probably been too long an American citizen to believe that "blasphemy" is a justification for "hardline muslims" to occupy embassies in muslim countries; or for threats against the life of Danish or Norwegian nationals. As for burning the national flag of home countries of newspapers which published the images . . . well, people burn national flags all the time and frankly I believe it has become a legitimate expression of disdain. If you're an American, the sight of another flag-burning doesn't quite have the same shock value it once had, so go ahead and burn them. We'll make more. (Well, actually China will make more, and we'll buy them from the Chinese because they're so CHEAP! But don't get me started.)

"Blasphemy" is just one more step on the slippery slope which leads to assassination of movie-makers. I admit, I'm no fan of Michael Moore or Bareback Brokeback Mountain, but that's just because I'm not interested in the story of two lonely cowboys so lame that they can't get a date with a good-looking heifer on a Saturday night. I'm voting with my pocketbook, folks; I'm not threatening to assasinate movie producers

Let's compare the muslim reaction to images of their prophet, to the American reaction to the Toles cartoon.

Toles showed a person in a hospital bed, with no arms and no legs. The chart at the foot of the bed was labelled "U.S. ARMY", and the graph displayed was down-hill (a negative prognosis?) A figure labelled "Dr. Rumsfield". He says: "I'm listing your condition as 'battle-hardened'." The obvious implication is that the U.S. Army has suffered grevious wounds, and the Secretary of Defense refuses to acknowledge that it is no longer capable of continuing to function.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America pooled all of their power and . . . wrote a letter protesting the cartoon.

That's it.

Muslims threaten to kill people, Americans write a letter.

It's an amazing coincincence, if you believe in coincidence, that TWO cartoon-related incidents occurred within a couple of days of each other. Also, to compound the coincidence, consider that the Tole cartoont provided a perfect opportunity for the American government to demonstrate a civilized response, in direct contrast to the response of muslims the world over.

I don't really believe that Toles drew the cartoon at the behest of our government, but neither would I be surprised if he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for performing a great and valuable service. It set up a beautiful reposte, at no cost to America except for a measured response of righteous indignation.

When the Muslim world begins to understand that threats of violence, or violence itself, is not an acceptable response to insult (even an insult to your religion), then they will be ready to join the rest of civilization in building a world which allows different viewpoints to exist. Until we, and they, reach this point we won't have a reasonable chance of survival.

A couple of days ago, I read an article about a Muslim website for children, in which Hesbollah essentially demands the return of Seville to Muslim hegemony. I was surprised to learn that Muslims ruled Seville for a thousand years, and was even more surprised that this terrorist group has now decided that they could begin pressing their claim to a land and a people which they had controlled through right of conquest.

THIS is the most disquieting event in recent weeks, to my mind. A people so blind to the right of others to practice their own religion and culture in peace, is a people who are capable of any injustice in furtherance of their own agenda.

It may not be enough for us to provide examples of 'measured reaction', but ultimately it's encouraging that someone had the good sense to take that step, anyway.

Of course, the madmen who are orchestrating this violence-fueled drive to rule the world on their terms won't even notice what's going on. I hope that there are a few muslims left who CAN see it, though.

It won't solve anything by itself, but at least it's a small step in the right direction.

Oh, yes; one more thing:
If you're a newspaper editor, and you have decided to demonstrate that you "cannot be intimidated", you might consider that the attention you generate by deliberately provoking a group of extremist may have repercussions more extreme than you expect, and that they targetted group might just land some innocent people in deep doo-doo. I'm talking about Danish companies whose products are currently being boycotted by muslims, and the burning of embassies.

Muslims the world over are joyfully indulging in the opportunity to spank western butt.

Hey, Danish Editors ... maybe you CAN be intimidated.

"You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance."

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