Tuesday, February 07, 2006


These are abnormal times. Today's news almost sounds like a sitcom plot, something out of an absurdist, surreal movie. A religion en masse is inspired into a raging furor over a comic strip. People are being killed, buildings are being destroyed, an age-old tradition is embarrassing itself by abandoning its true value and ideals. Leaders are over-reacting with threats of decapitation. The stereotypes are simply reinforced into truisms, unfounded generalizations into vivid life. These are abnormal times when religious leaders, supposed men of God, are asking for their people to seek violent revenge on political comic illustrators. Perhaps hundreds of years ago, when civilization was not as civilized, behavior like this was acceptable. But this is 2006. We simply cannot encourage such barbaric behavior and even more, America should not whither in fear, as it is, acting as a spineless, apologetic government criticizing the nature of the illustrations. Rather, this country was founded on the principle of freedom of speech and we should stand by it (especially considering that our politicians who have been vocally dismissing the "offensive" drawings, certainly, in private, would admit that the sobering messages behind the punchlines are somewhat accurate).

In a letter printed in last week's New York Times, Abe Foxman, director of the ADL wrote:

To the Editor:

The widespread anger across the Islamic world and in Muslim communities in Europe over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the European press is ironic considering that newspapers in the Arab and Muslim world have no moral scruples when it comes to demonizing and stereotyping Jews in editorial cartoons.

In the Muslim and Arab press, Jews are routinely depicted as stereotypical hook-nosed, greedy and manipulative killers.

Moreover, leaders of regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have virtually ignored appeals from the United States and Jewish organizations to put an end to incitement in the media, excusing it in the name of "freedom of the press."

One would hope that Muslim and Arab leaders would turn all of the anger being aimed at the European press into a larger lesson for their own people about the power of images. Those incensed by the portrayal of Muhammad should turn a mirror on their own press before assuming the moral high ground in a discussion of press freedom.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League
New York, Feb. 3, 2006

As reported in the news yesterday (and I think this is the reason why this whole fiasco has finally stirred a strong reaction from me), Iran is retaliating to the comic "injustice" and insensitivity by being equally insensitive. Hamshahri, their popular country-wide daily newspaper is organizing a contest for the best Holocaust-themed comic. Yes, you read that correctly. A comic illustration that somehow involves the mocking of the Holocaust. Therefore because some European countries (with a minimal, if any, Jewish population) decided to print a few drawings that were offensive to the Muslim people in their local papers, a portion of the Muslim community has decided to test the limits of our tolerance by mocking genocide. How is this a proper exchange? Shouldn't the contest call for a satire involving Moses or Jesus? Wouldn't that seem more appropriate for a nation that believes in the literal sentence of an eye-for-an-eye?

Now ask yourself this: why are we buying oil, never mind, anything from this region? Why would we financially assist a country that manufactures as much hate as gasoline?

In an article in today's Times, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted to say, "In this freedom, casting doubt or negating the genocide of the Jews is banned but insulting the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims is allowed." As an aside, no one is banning their choice to run the Holocaust comic because the rest of the world believes in freedom of speech. What I find so eerie about this contest is how prophetic Abe Foxman's letter was. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the Iranian newspaper was inspired by his letter.

Considering the last week of events, I wonder if there's ever any chance of peace or resolution with the Muslim world. Maybe we have to consider that with all our progress in this world, they're just simply regressing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said.

the truth is blunt, but true nonetheless.

such hatred in the world makes me sad every day.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to derail your thesis, but "Islam" is the Arabic word for 'submission' or 'surrender' (i.e., submission to the will of Allah). 'Salaam' is the Arabic word for peace.

When it comes to the politics of satire, the rule of thumb is that making fun of the powerful (or the majority) is in good taste, while making fun of a minority (or the powerless) isn't. But the issue in the Muslim world is whether the West is engaged in a clash of the civilizations with Islam or not. The publication and reprinting of the cartoons is basically race-baiting, the same as when Muslim papers carry hooked-nosed caricatures.

As always, intractable or inflexible positions (e.g., religious beliefs) will always be a cause for friction; some people choose to further the belief in a religious world war, but hopefully, most people on both 'sides' will reject that world-view.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, yes, I was going to say that "islam" means submission, not peace.
Second, I would like to comment on the prior commment left by dj. He writes:
"The issue in the Muslim world is whether the West is engaged in a clash of the civilizations with Islam or not."
This is untrue. The issue in the Muslim world is how they can find a standstool from which they can justify their hate. They are so delighted that this cartton came out so now they have an excuse to spread even more hate. The pictures I see of Arabs marching in protest of the cartoon do not depicted sobs of grief or gries of frustration, but rather gleeful smiles and raised banners hiding behind buring flames of hate. It may be true that the slight majority of Muslims has the issue of "deciding whether the West has a clash with them," (as dj sugggests), but many of them, and surely the vocal ones, rather have the issue of how to continue their 'religious' war against peace, which spark cartoons such as these in the first place. Muslim should not use the cartoon to look at the West, but rather to look at themelves. What could they have done to cause such a cartoon about themselves? What does that say about them?
DJ also says: "The publication and reprinting of the cartoons is basically race-baiting, the same as when Muslim papers carry hooked-nosed caricatures."
I agree with this completely, and ANY cartoon minimizing ANYONE's religion is wrong, though the probity and relevance of this cartoon may minimize its wrongness. However, if jews got up and helped cry out against this kind of discrimination, just think of the amazing impression that would make.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh, if "It may be true that the slight majority of Muslims has the issue of "deciding whether the West has a clash with them," (as dj sugggests)," then how is my claim that the Muslim world is conflicted about the "clash of civilizations" untrue? You say yourself there's a majority and a minority opinion. Your self-contradicting comments are akin to claiming that the issue in the Christian world is whether or not to join the Klan.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I wrote that it may be true that the slight majority of Muslims has the issue of "deciding whether the West has a clash with them," I was merely conceding that your statement may be true for a silent, nonvocal, and passive majority of muslims. However, this point is hardly significant since the vocal and active muslims affirmatively preach hate and violence, earning whatever labels and 'cartoons' that may result. And secretly, every Amercian knows this is true. Sure, we should be upset that a religion was discriminated against. Sure, we should be upset that the freedom of speech was perverted by this. But secretly, after hearing about the cartoon, every Amercian put his head down and smiled (before condemning the cartoon) knowing that the message of the cartoon was warranted. This cartoon is the effect, rather than the cause, of Muslim hate.

9:08 AM  

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