Cartoon Chaos

Cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed have been published in newspapers in Europe, most famously in Denmark. One of the cartoons apparently shows Mohammed with a bomb as a hat. I haven't actually seen any of the cartoons, because to be honest, I'm scared shitless that google will sell my search records to Iran and they will nuke my private islands in the Persian Gulf. This would not only be a personal tragedy, but the destruction of my aviaries would likely lead to the extinction of both gryphons and hippogriffs.

Sure, if you knew the guy who drew the cartoon, you would have every right to no longer hold him in high-regard. You could justifiably be cold to him at the office. He doesn't take your religious convictions seriously and he's not a nice guy. But to become so irrationally furious that you attack the embassy of the country where this guy comes from? Let me tell you something; there are assholes in this world and everyday they do things that are much more craven and unforgivable than drawing offensive cartoons -- such as, for example, raping children. Why is this so much more offensive to you?

This sort of over-defensive zeal in regards to religious convictions is not limited to Muslims. Indeed, it is illuminating to compare these protests to the christian fundamentalists who were burning copies of Harry Potter a few years back.

The Harry Potter books were burned because they discussed witchcraft. Who cares? Everyone except for these weirdo fundees took them for what they were -- FICTION! Is your grasp of your own religion really so superficial that it could be threatened by a work of fiction? Are you really worried that people will read Harry Potter and think, oh, this must be true, and stop beleiving in Jesus?!?? Christ, are you an idiot? It almost seems as if the only justification these people have for their entire religion is that it was published in a book and so they get touchy whenever anything contradictory is published. You didn't hear scientists protesting Harry Potter and, let me tell you, some very unscientific things happen in those books -- for example any anthropobotanist worth his salt knows that Mandrakes have been extinct for nearly two hundred years. If you don't see any difference of authourity between your own holy texts and a FICTIONAL CHILDREN'S BOOK then you have a shallow and pathetic spiritual life.

So now, listen up cartoon-protesters and let Matteus set you straight -- many people do not believe in your religion and you will have to accept that if you want to avoid going bonkers. To be fair, your anger is more justified than the anger of the anti-potter wackos, but still, hear me out. If you want to have a proscription within your religion against depicting your god and prophet, that's all well and good, I can see the theological justification and how it will help observant members of your religion, but why you think it would apply to people that don't believe in your religion I'm not sure. Yes, it would be deeply offensive if someone from within your religion were to make offensive stereotypes of the prophet, but you already know that many people don't take your God seriously, so why do these cartoons come as such a shock?

If I truly believed in an all-powerful God who would ensure my salvation, I wouldn't give a flip what some idiotic Danes who are going straight to hell think. If I know the bloody word of God, then their opinions pale infinitely in comparison. If your faith is so strong, these cartoons should be laughable (curious how in this case 'laughable' means the opposite of funny). My mother is a gorgeous and wonderful woman. If someone makes a "yo' mama joke" at her expense, I do not take offense, it slides off my back like water off the back of a duck with water sliding off its back because its a duck. I am not offended by these jokes, because they are so immediately and obviously inaccurate. It is those people who are genuinely uneasy about their mothers' reputations who take offense. If anything, this outpouring of anger is a sign of the weakness of many people's faith, not a testament to its strength.

To Quote the heavy-thinker Mc Lyte:

And I tell all of you like I told all of them
What you say to me is just paper thin

I guess the idea behind the satire was to suggest that all muslims were violent or that islam itself somehow condoned terrorism. To me this seemed pretty idiotic at first, but if you want to convince people that you have been unfairly stereotyped as being violent and uncompromising, the worst thing you can do is to firebomb embassies full of people who were probably also offended by the cartoon.

Until this debacle I had been firmly convinced that the Muslim world was being driven into a corner by the United States and villified in the media, but now I may have to reconsider. Although many of the protests were civil and appropriate and many muslims didn't think the cartoons were worth protesting at all, still, there are way more crazy muslims out there than I ever imagined; so, good work on those protests guys, you really succeeded in providing justification for what, before your protests, were thoughtless and ungrounded stereotypes.

This entire controversy reminds me of a brilliant onion article about Gay Pride parades --
"Gay Pride Parade sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays back 50 Years." -- which interviews ordinary people watching a gay-pride parade saying things like, 'Well, there's a guy at work who's gay and he always seemed nice, quiet, you know an ordinary stand-up guy, but watching this parade I may have to reconsider, I mean these are sex-crazed weirdos, they're all shouting rude things and wearing leather, bottomless chaps in public. I always thought gay people were so normal too."

Intriguely though, the opinions I have expressed here are not as certain as most of my proclamations. I Matteus Von Mustard am willing to be persuaded. That rocky area where hate speech and free speech overlap is surely the most difficult ethical terrain in the world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colonel Von Mustard,

Although i am against the violence that has occurred following this cartoon controversy, as i believe the majority of Muslims are, i think you underestimate the ability of words or images to inflame anger. Specifically, i think you are projecting a view of free speech of today's western culture onto a culture which does not share the same underlying beliefs. Imagine, if you will, making a 'yo mama' joke in the 1930s in north america - i'd speculate that most of the time, that'd be a recipe for getting into a fight. It'd be an incredibly rare man who'd simply let it slide - either in belief that you were simply exercising your right to free speech, or automatically thinking one should not be offended "because they are so immediately and obviously inaccurate". (American judicial interpretation of free speech limits dem 'fighting words' - although you'd have to ask our lawyer friends what actually constitutes the boundaries of 'fighting words'.)
That is, i argue, our conception of the limits of free speech have evolved substantially. It was honourable then to fight in defense of such reprehensible slander as one's mother being unfairly insulted; now, it is the right thing to do to tolerate the other person's insult and not try to bash their heads in. And if our views have changed so much, how much more different can the views of a different civilization be? To judge another's culture where those countries don't even have the same democratic history by our present standards is difficult and must be done carefully, recognizing the different cultural contexts. I strongly disagree with your statement that "[i]f anything, this outpouring of anger is a sign of the weakness of many people's faith, not a testament to its strength".
That said, i support the rights of our press to publish as they see fit within the boundaries of free speech. i'm okay with publishing depictions of Mohammed as long as it is genuinely not meant to incite hatred or violence (which i vaguely recall as being the Canadian guideline to free speech). Whether any further depictions can be published without forseeable violence is a tricky tricky issue.

A related issue of concern is the treatment by the press of the Muslims in the so called cartoon controversy as a monolithic entity. I was surprised, but relieved to learn that the taboo against Mohammed's portrayal is limited. Perhaps the controversy is actually much smaller than stated? Perhaps the differences between Islam and the west are not as irreconcilable as i on occasion pessimistically believe? The following is an excerpt from Lynda Hurst's "Visions of Mohammed" article in the Feb 26 Toronto Star:

"As anyone who has travelled to the Mideast knows, the taboo against Mohammed's portrayal is far from universal.

The prohibition is stricter among Sunni Muslims than Shiites, and is therefore adhered to in varying degrees in various regions.

In Shia Iran, it is common for posters of Mohammed, with his face clear and uncovered, to hang on the walls of houses, Tavakoli-Targhi says.

Iranian Shiites often wear a pendant bearing a picture of Mohammed as a quiet symbol of their devotion to Allah, rather than the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Khamenei. Depictions appear on street vendors' tables, on cigarette kiosks, on the outside of buildings."

The full article can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_PrintFriendly&c=Article&cid=1140824434577&call_pageid=970599119419


1:03 a.m.  
Blogger Matthew Lie - Paehlke said...

Hey Clare,

I wasn't questioning the ability of words to make people angry, that much is clear enough. Nor was I really questioning the right of these people to be angry, I certainly think they should be sending nasty letters to the editors of the papers in question. What blew my mind was how easily offensive words can provoke a violent reaction. Words should be responded to with words and the need to resort to violence is a failure of language and reason on the part of the violent person. I know many muslims were opposed to the violence and I think these are the people with a mature and grounded religious belief. Strong faith should make you a bigger person, not a petty and angry person. I really think that all these rioters were being guided by their base instincts and only using their faith as an excuse. To do that is the biggest disservice one can do to one's own religion.

I also made this argument, because, in light of increasing fundamentalism in many cultures, I think we need to reexamine what strength is. To be so confident in very specific religious claims, is in my opinion, a sign of arrogance and ego -- anyone who really believes in an infinite god should be humbled to the point that they have difficulty criticizing other people's interpretations. Indeed even the idea of a ban on images of the prophet, suggests that notion that specific details are less relevant than the a core message of love and dedication. Throughout history, dedicated monks in all religions have come to this sort of tranquil and peaceful detachment from the world -- they have strong beliefs that are not challenged by the day-to-day trivialities of the material world.

I'm not in favour of the cartoons. I don't think they ever should have been published. They are themselves idiotic and petty, but they were published by petty people and the bigger person, the truly spiritual person, might be deeply saddened by them, but they would not sink to any EVEN LOWER LEVEL to respond to them.

About the bigger question of Islam vs. the West, I full agree with you, Islam is like Christianity, there are fundamentalist ways of interpreting the texts that are inimical to freedom and reason and there are ways to interpret the text that support freedom and reason. Fundamentalism of any flavour is the problem, not Islam. Why I reacted to these protests in the way I did was that they were so angry and so widespread that I realized fundamentalism has a stronger grip on the Muslim world than i thought. South Park has ridiculously offensive portrayals of Jesus all the time and even the most out-there of Christian weirdos aren't firebombing TV stations over it.

11:33 a.m.  

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