visions of mohammed

So, who else out there is sitting at home right now, listening to the today’s broadcast of “On The Media” instead of watching the Superbowl? Any other year I might be watching just to catch the commercials, but this year I can’t seem to muster up the energy. (There are just too many things of real importance going on in the world.) This episode of “On The Media” is on the Muslim uproar over a Danish paper’s decision to run caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed (on September 30, 2005). It’s something that I’ve wanted to write about here for the past week, but I haven’t had a chance… Actually, I probably have had a chance, but I’ve been holding back, waiting for some insight as to just how much I can say without opening myself up to the threats of fundamentalist lunatics.

The bottom line, at least in my opinion, is that the whole thing is ridiculous. Have you seen the caricatures that set this whole shit storm off? They aren’t even remotely offensive… especially when viewed alongside cartoons about Jews that have run in the popular Arab press. Of course, it’s not really the content of the images that offends them — it’s merely the fact that he’s drawn at all. You could draw him saving a kitten from a tree and you’d still have people coming after you, looking to chop off your head.

I understand that this is a strongly held belief within Islam as it’s currently practiced, and I appreciate that fact (even though history seems to be full of such depictions). I can’t, however, accept that someone, because it’s their belief, can put constraints on tthe actions of others… Observant Jews don’t eat pork. I respect that. And, if I was having an observant Jew over for dinner, I wouldn’t serve pork. I wouldn’t, however, stop eating pork altogether. And, to their credit, I don’t think that the Jews would order my death if they heard that I’d eaten barbeque.

So, just as I don’t like it when members of the religious right in America say that they’d like to change the laws so that women can no longer have the right to decide for themselves whether or not they’re to have children, I don’t like it when someone says, “my beliefs can’t be examined because I made up a rule that says so.”

Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that ran the twelve images, has said in their defense that they are strong defenders of democracy and freedom of religion, and that this “initiative was taken as part of an ongoing public debate on freedom of expression, a freedom much cherished in Denmark.” (And the editor of the paper has made it clear that he is not apologizing.)

Now, it’s getting more serious than just a boycott of Danish goods in Muslim countries though. (And how preposterous is it, by thew way, that they’re lashing out against all Danes for the actions of one newspaper that happens to exist there? Do they not understand that newspapers in Denmark are not state-run?) Now, because of these 12 relatively innocuous interpretations as to what Mohammed might have looked like, buildings are burning, a fatwa has been issued against Danish soldiers in Iraq, and people are suggesting that the murder of these cartoonists may be called for. Here’s a clip from the Associated Press:

Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam’s revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday – the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, police said.

Iraqis rallying by the hundreds demanded an apology from the European Union, and the leader of the Palestinian group Hamas called the cartoons “an unforgivable insult” that merited punishment by death…

[For the record, I have never so much as doodled what I think Mohammed’s beard may have looked like… I’ve never even imagined it.]

I don’t know how many Danish products sell in the Arab world, but maybe each of us who believes in freedom of the press could go out and buy a box of Danish Cookie Rings (Vanillekranser), or a windmill, in hopes of offsetting the negative consequences of the boycott.

And, I hate to break it to the fundamentalists, but the people of Denmark are on your side. They’re liberal. They believe in freedom of speech and of religion — fanatically so. If it makes you feel better, send them unflattering drawings of their Queen (or whatever it is that they have there), just don’t start killing people. Doing that, if you don’t mind my candid opinion, makes you look kind of backward. (Or, if art isn’t your thing, you could always file suit against them. It seems to be working pretty well for the Scientologists.)

I haven’t done any digging around, but I understand — having just read this thread at Metafilter – that there is an anonymous community online looking to push the issue even further. Here’s a clip:

There is the Making Fun Of Mohammed Contest, in which anonymous cartoons are being put on the P2P networks, like Gnutella and Emule. Since they are virally distributed, they provide no object for the seething and threats.

The only rule is to give the filename a distinct name, either starting with “MFOM_” or something else that would be found in a common search. Winners are those whose work is discovered, and results in impotent seething…

I’m of the opinion that drawing unflattering, or offensive images merely to piss people off and incur their wrath is both childish and stupid. (So I’m not suggesting that you learn how to create comics and post juvenile shit online.) But, if you express yourself through images, I can’t see any reason why this one person, Mohammed, should be off-limits. It’s medieval to think in such a way, and I hope that the editorial cartoonists being singled out for death come through this unscathed. (One last thing… It’s probably worth pointing out that not all Muslims are irate about this. I suspect there are quite a few actually that value the freedom of expression more-so than their Prophet’s invisibility. As with anything else though, it’s the fanatics that make the headlines… Hopefully, more moderate Muslims will come forward and take this opportunity to call their fellow believers toward modernity.)

(note:The image above was sent in by a friend. I haven’t been able to verify that it’s real yet, but I suspect that it probably is.)

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3 Comments

  1. Theodore Glass
    Posted February 6, 2006 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    This might explain why attendance in my my “Learn to Draw Mohammed” course has been so bad this semester.

  2. Ken
    Posted February 6, 2006 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I like this cartoon that was in the USA Today:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/cartoons.htm

    (It is the second one down.)

  3. mark
    Posted February 6, 2006 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, Ken. That was great.

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