A Few Words on the Mohammed Cartoons and Aftermath

These are just a few quick thoughts that I have had over the last couple of days as this debacle over the Mohammed cartoons has unfolded. They will be disjointed and, perhaps, random:

1. The reaction by Muslims has been astounding and has reinforced every stereotype depicted in the cartoon. To react to a cartoon of Mohammed wearing a turban with a bomb in it by threatening to behead people who insult Islam and to initiate a 9/11 against Europe is amazingly shortsighted. That this is the Muslim mindset was the whole point of the cartoon. This behavior is not proving the intolerant European Press wrong but rather is confirming that Europeans must be correct about how Muslims approach life and the world. Why is it that Muslims cannot see this? Muslims: are the cartoons accurate or inaccurate? Only you can tell us; but so far, you are not making your case that they are inaccurate.

2. Muslims are not only lifting signs that threaten to kidnap, slaughter, oppress, and commit mass-murder in reaction to these cartoons. (And they are doing this in such places like London, no less, where the freedoms that allow the publishing of such cartoons also allow the Muslims themselves to worship as they please, assemble where, when, and how they will, and believe whatever they want, even if what they believe are absurd "zionist" conspiracy theories that place the blame for the woes of the Middle East on any and everything other than their own corrupt and oppressive governments.) Rather, they are also attacking Danish, EU, and other embassies all over the Middle East and in Indonesia. In Damascus, Muslims have burned down the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian embassies (the Chilean embassy was also destroyed because it was in the same building as the Danish embassy). Muslims are boycotting Danish foods in supermarkets and are demanding official apologies from the Danish ambassadors and foreign ministry.

This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding by Muslims, even, surprisingly, by Muslims living in Western societies like England, about what freedom of the press means. They apparently cannot comprehend the idea that the Danish government had nothing at all to do with the pubication of these cartoons even though they were printed in Denmark (first). Could it be that Muslims do not understand the concept of a free press and that they think that if a Danish newspaper printed something, it must have been sanctioned or ordered by the government, since that is how it works in the tin-pot Muslim dictatorships where they live?

The Danish ambassadors and foreign ministry should be diplomatic and say that they are sad that the cartoons hurt Muslims’ feelings, but they should also be clear that in free societies, the government does not control the press and thus it is unwarranted to demand an apology from the Danish government for actions taken by free Danes whose freedom of speech allows them to say, write, or draw what they like.

3. Ronan has evoked some great irony by posting a frame from the South Park cartoon ridiculing the Prophet Joseph Smith and then writing that Mormons in Utah are burning British flags in reaction. If John Dehlin is correct, this cartoon caused a lot of Latter-day Saints to lose faith, but to my knowledge Mormons weren’t threatening to behead anyone who insulted Joseph Smith or the Mormon view of Christianity. I didn’t see any signs threatening genocide in reaction to the South Park cartoon. What is wrong with Islam that the Mohammed cartoons provoke threats of butchering and genocide? What are the doctrines of the Qur’an that make Muslims feel justified in threatening murder and oppression as a result of a cartoon? Stuart has offered some introductory remarks on this question.

4. In spite of the disgust the Muslims’ reaction to the cartoons has provoked in me and in much of the West, I am also disgusted at the intolerance of the European media. They are free to publish this type of material, but that does not mean that they should publish it. What is so wrong with respecting the beliefs of others, even if you don’t share them? As someone who spent two years in East Germany speaking with people about my religion, and enduring their daily ridicule and intolerance with regard to that religion, I understand to some extent the frustration that this kind of bigotry can engender in the hearts of believing Muslims. By no means do I endorse their absolutely insane and unwise reaction to the matter, but I know how it feels to have my religion insulted and mocked, and to be personally insulted and rejected because I am stupid enough to adhere to a religion found silly by others.

Does Europe really see itself as "liberal" and caring, compassionate and progressive? Do these people think that respect for the beliefs and feelings of others is not part of being "liberal" and compassionate? Is it really justified for German elementary schools to have lessons on religion in which the Jehova’s Witnesses are defined as being a dangerous cult that brainwashes its members and endangers their lives? What does this tell the child sitting in the classroom who is a Jehova’s Witness, both about that own child’s possibly already deep-seated beliefs and about the school’s and society’s view of that child’s parents? It tells that child that his or her parents are brainwashed and dangerous idiots for believing as they do. Do the feelings of Muslims or other religious people matter in a liberal, compassionate Western European society? Or are the only feelings that matter and that cannot, under any circumstance, be offended, the feelings of secular poor who don’t want to be judged for having their abortions, enslaving themselves to their pornography, and spending their last welfare euro on a bottle of vodka while holding a crying baby in the liquor store? Do not offend these, but revile and ridicule the sincere religious belief of all in society that belong to a religious minority (a very large one like the Muslims, to very small ones like the Jehova’s Witnesses or Latter-day Saints) or that are not secularists.

Thankfully, not all Europeans are intolerant bigots. I have met very many who are not and who genuinely respect the religious choices of others, even if they do not personally endorse those choices. Moreover, no European sees him- or herself as an intolerant bigot. European society, as a whole, evidences an incredible blindspot on this issue. They think they are the most enlightened, tolerant lot around. They have a blind faith in this idea. And at the same time, they are ridiculing the religious choices of others on a daily basis, whether of the Muslims in their countries, the Jehova’s Witness child in primary school, or the Latter-day Saint missionaries knocking on the door or sitting at the next table in a restaurant (or many other examples of intolerance and bigotry on a personal level).

An anecdotal aside here: I remember this intolerance vividly displayed as a missionary in East Germany on one occasion in particular. An insane woman (literally) was screaming obscenities at us while we waited for a streetcar in a crowded public square in the middle of town. People were milling about, also waiting for the train or standing in line at a nearby snackstand. This old woman was all dressed in black and looked very atrocious. She was screaming right in our faces for several minutes about how we were Mormons and idiots and how Joseph Smith did this and that and how we were from Satan and how we should go home and how Germany should never let frauds like us into the country. It was embarassing and unfortunate, but we figured anyone could see that the woman was crazy and we actually thought that the people might have some sympathy for our embarassment and that they themselves might experience some embarassment for the behavior of that woman. But we had a learning experience when after she went off, we distinctly heard people in the crowd — completely "normal" people — say "she’s right you know" and other such comments. It was a very difficult reality check for me that day and I can’t say I was much interested in missionary work among those people that day.

But not all Europeans are bigots in this way. In Jyllands-Posten, same newspaper that originally published the Mohammed cartoons, Denmark’s vice prime minister, a member of the "conservative" party, made the following statement about the issue of the Mohammed cartoons today. From the article:

‘What Jyllands-Posten did is totally legal. I’ve got nothing against freedom of speech – it is important for us all – but if it can offend and hurt a lot of people, why use freedom of speech for that? This is about respecting other people’s cultures,’ Bendtsen said.

Bendtsen compared the 12 Jyllands-Posten caricatures of Mohammed to pictures of Jesus with an erect penis painted by Danish artist Jens Jørgen Thorsen.

‘I was deeply affected by them. I didn’t like them. Those are some of the same emotions,’ he said, pointing out that it was not unheard of for Danes to get upset over misused religious symbols: Two summers ago, a grocery store was forced to stop selling flip flops with pictures of Jesus after religious groups complained.

Bendtsen said Danish newspapers could possibly learn something from US newspapers, which tended not to try to push the limits of what was permissible.

‘In the US, freedom of expression is also important. At the same time, there is also a tradition of showing consideration for others,’ he said.

‘Religion is a deeply personal thing for a lot of people. I felt offended by the pictures of Jesus. Nor was I too keen about the sandals either.’ (emphasis added)

This was insightful and closely approximated my own views on the matter.

22 Responses to A Few Words on the Mohammed Cartoons and Aftermath

  1. I don’t know aobut your number (1). It reminds me of a Dilbert comic which depicts the dog-boss saying to the girl employee (I don’t know any of their namse) “You know what your problem is? You always disagree with people who are smarter than you are.” And then it despicts the enraged girl thinking to herself “If I disagree with him I will only prove him right!”

    Similarly, it would seem that either Muslims don’t show disapproval with the comic which would suggest agreement, or they demonstrate how offended they are by the depiction thus proving it right. Now I know that it’s not so black and white, but that is also the point. Not all Muslims are chossing to disagree with it in the same manner.

    While I’m certainly not siding with the Muslims on this one, I simply don’t think that your number (1) was very fair.

  2. john f. says:

    So, jugding by the reaction of Muslims holding signs threatening to behead anyone who insults Islam does not bespeak the underlying point of the cartoon with Mohammed with a bomb in his turban? Surely, you see that it confirms the point. But what you mean is that noone should point that out because it is politically incorrect.

  3. Guy Murray says:

    The only quibble I have with number (1) is that it would be more fair to limit the point to the reaction of Islamic extremists. I do believe there are likely many, many more Muslims who have not reacted as violently. As you point out in number (4) the European press bears responsibility as well. I think any Muslim who reacts reasonably and shows his or her disgust is in fact quite justified. It is the small, yet vocal and violent minority of Islamic extremists that fit, and in fact merit every word you said in number (1). Thank you for this post!

  4. john f. says:

    In other words, Muslims could have written scathing responses in to the newspapers or demonstrated en masse, marching on the capitals demanding respect and decrying media intolerance. Instead they threatened a new 9/11 and burned down Danish embassies. They more I think about it, the more I am not seeing your point, JG.

  5. john f. says:

    Yes, GM, that is well put. I think that all Muslims should be offended by this and that they should make their displeasure with such intolerance known. But when a Muslim holds a sign that they are going to butcher those who insult Islam or send a new 9/11 toward Europe, we should believe them. After all, that is their track record.

  6. Guy Murray says:

    Yes. It is their track record. And I tried making that point over on Wilfried’s post at T & S; however, you make it better here in your number (1). It is precisely because of that track record that makes their violence all the more disturbing.

  7. Ronan says:

    Great post, John. I am saddened to say (as one who loves the Middle East) that I agree with everything you say.

  8. john f. says:

    I would recommend viewing the Danish Prime Minister’s statement about this situation here.

  9. Dave says:

    Nice comments, john. Can’t say I’ve followed all the details on this one, but my general stance is: What have Muslims done to deserve special treatment at the hands of the Western media? Nothing, as far as I can tell. The whole point of freedom of the press is that no one gets special treatment. Which is exactly what irks followers of Islam, since they seem to believe everyone, including the Western press, owes them and their religious beliefs special deference.

  10. john f. says:

    Yes Dave. I wonder why they cannot see the absurdity of expecting non-believers to be bound by Islamic policy (not doctrine) of not creating “images” of Mohammed.

  11. JF,

    That’s not what I was saying at all. I personally think that “PC” in general is one big joke. I think that it is all fine to point things out and allow our accusations or observations to stand or fall on their own merits no matter how offensive they may be to anybody.

    What I am saying is that the accusation can and tends to be phrased in such a way that it is impossible to disagreement to any significant degree without “proving” the accusation to be true in the minds of many. Thus I disagree with the interpretation which (1) puts on both the original comic as well and especially the reacton to it.

  12. john f. says:

    Very well, JG, but what do you think was the point of the cartoon depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban?

  13. There is a lot of contradictions that come up when I think about Islam. The more I read and the more I’m confused. For some reasons, when I see stuff like that on TV, it really reminds me of the crusades. Sept 11 was really the beginning of another “cold war”.

    I agree with your post but then again, you can’t explain the very basic principles of democracy to people who have been indoctrinated to live under a dictatorship. For all I know, their governement probably told them they’d all go to hell if they didn’t protest.

    Boy am I glad to be in my safe canadian haven.

  14. john f. says:

    Val,

    I agree with you that it is difficult to communicate with a group of people who have a completely different view of reality–not because reality is actually different that what it is, but because of the twisted and filtered information that they have been fed by a controlled press and petty politicians who distort facts to gain political advantage. For instance, it is unlikely that Muslims in the Middle East realize that Muslims in the United States are much more free in every sense than they are because of the same freedoms that allow the Mohammed cartoons to be published.

    Indoctrination is perhaps one of the key problems in the relationship between the Middle East and the West. There is no solution to that problem. Personally, a new isolationism, at least with regard to the Middle East, looks very attractive. The West should just withdraw itself and its interests from the Middle East. Let them oppress and consume themselves in totalitarianism and sectarian infighting. Any interest we have in trying to improve the lives of women or people in general in the Middle East through democracy seems undesired. That is the message these people send when they burn down embassies because of a cartoon, regardless of the other aspects of the relationship of the given country with Denmark or the West.

  15. Bookslinger says:

    john f: The liberal european press, and the “enlightened liberal” citizens you met while on your mission illustrate that liberalism and liberals aren’t all that tolerant towards those with whom they disagree.

  16. Jordan says:

    John:

    better be careful or your mug will end up on one of those signs in Syria or somewhere! :)

  17. Kim says:

    “I am also disgusted at the intolerance of the European media. They are free to publish this type of material, but that does not mean that they should publish it.”

    I think you should be cautious not to paint with too broad a brush when referring to “European media.” For example here in Finland, newspapers have declined to publish the images because they feel it would be very insensitive and inconsiderate to do so.

  18. Rusty says:

    John,
    I’ve only recently been reading about this stuff and I’m finding myself react in the same manner as you. I want to be open-minded and try to conceive of a reason it would be acceptable for them to react the way that they are and I can’t find any. Their reaction sounds like something you’d find in a junior high school.

    Nice post.

  19. Ronan says:

    Rusty,
    I say ban the lot of them from Box 2.

  20. Rusty says:

    Ronan,
    Who are you talking about?

  21. Ronan says:

    Absolutely no idea, mate. Must be the Null Komma Josef addling my brain.

  22. john f. says:

    Rusty, thanks. I have still been following this in the media all week. It seems to me that (1) many Muslims simply have no concept at all of freedom of the press based on their condemnation of the government of Denmark and of other countries for the private choices of private citizens of what to say in the free press, and (2), many Muslims are undoubtedly insulted and sad about the disrespect and intolerance, as well they should be, but it is the fundamentalist faction of that religion that is dishonestly exploiting this situation to gain support for their cause.

    Anyway, I appreciate people’s input. I am in canada for work right now and so responses might be a little sparse.

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