A Danish paper has stirred up a huge row with its series of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed basically looking like a fool. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but not much more. In order to understand the issues involved, I’ve uploaded two of the most offensive images here (thanks to Di2.nu for the images). I warn anyone who might come here to cheer these images that I have not displayed them in order to promote their message, but in order to understand the depth of emotion and principle (to the extent there is any) involved on both sides of this argument.
Let’s start off talking about the cartoons themselves and the motivations of the cartoonist and newspaper that published them. These are deeply offensive cartoons created by insensitive individuals. If I were Muslim they would make my blood boil too. There’s no doubt in my mind that publishing these cartoons was meant to throw sand in the eye of Muslims. As we all know, there is an argument raging in right-wing circles (especially in Europe) that Muslims refuse to integrate into the “majority” culture; that they therefore cannot be trusted to become full members of any non-Muslim society in which they live; that they see themselves as superior to non-Muslims, etc. etc.
The sentiment behind these cartoons is precisely that of this anti-Muslim argument. For all these reasons, I say that the Jyllands-Posten is getting precisely what it deserves in terms of opprobrium from the Muslim world.
That being said, I in no way support some of the extreme aspects of the Muslim reaction to the cartoons’ publication. Because a newspaper publishes an odious religious image does that mean the entire nation is at fault? Does that mean you punish that nation’s businesses as if they colluded in the publication as well? Does that mean that Muslim gunmen are justified in strong-arming their way in the Gaza offices of the EU or in taking a German hostage on the West Bank? Such overreaction is just as odious if not moreso than the original cartoons.
What is required is calm, discussion, debate, an attempting to find common ground. Danes should be demonstrating on behalf of their own Muslim community and against the cartoons. Muslims should express appreciation for such support. The problem with the escalation on both sides is that it crowds out moderation and constructive dialogue. We see this constantly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The hotheads seem to run the agenda leaving progressives on the margins of the debate. I only hope cooler heads will prevail; that Arab governments and European governments might have an emergency summit at which they discuss such issues and issue denunciations of extremism on both sides of the divide.
One thing, by the way, which I find hard to understand is why you can’t see these images in the mainstream media. I guess this is yet another example of the postive role blogs provide in covering stories in ways the big guys can’t or won’t.