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.