Saturday, February 04, 2006

More on Cartoons

I've made a habit throughout my life of hanging out with people smarter than I am, because it makes things a lot more interesting. (Also, when befriending these people, I may have subconsciously known they would one day help provide material for my blog.) One such person sent me a thought-provoking reaction to my post yesterday about the Danish cartoons, and I asked if I could run it in some form. He agreed, but didn't want his name attached (whether out of true humility or the shame of being linked to this blog, we'll never know). So, here you go, from Anonymous Smart Dude:
...the Muslim world has posted cartoons, plenty of them, at least as offensive to Jews as the current series is to Muslims.

I think the central problems are a) when to voice support for respecting religions vs free speech. The Muslims shouting loudest now were silent when the above cartoons {ed. note: he had linked to anti-Jewish cartoons above, but the link doesn’t seem to be working anymore, so I didn’t post it} were published, and when Syria aired a TV series based on "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"; similarly, for what possible earthly reason have Jewish organizations not weighed in, at least tepidly, on the subject of the cartoons' offensiveness? Were the ADL, for instance, to say that while we recognize the right to offend, we object to the stereotypes in these cartoons as loudly as we'd object to cartoons that stereotype us, it would offer a rare instance of real Muslim-Jewish solidarity. More fundamentally, should non-Muslims have to live by the rules of Islam when it comes to depicting Mohammed? As someone pointed out somewhere yesterday (one of the problems of blog-clicking), the Old Testament forbids graven images of God, but I haven't seen anyone protesting the Sistine Chapel. Third, as you point out, the response is quite simply, clinically, insane. Indonesians held up signs advocating the slaughter of the Danish ambassador; Palestinians have shut down the EU office in Gaza; tens of thousands of Pakistanis are marching and setting Norwegian flags on fire. This is just bonkers.

I also think on the European side, a lot of this deliberate provocation has to do with the way media and government have effectively shut down any sort of broad immigration debate. Europe traditionally was composed of independent countries where citizenship was largely a matter of blood: you were French because your parents were, grandparents, all the way back for centuries. Now it's an increasingly confederated, amorphous entity dependent on immigration, and its citizens, understandably, are a little uneasy, confused, nostalgic, etc. Between this uneasiness and the overt bigotry of far-right parties lies a wide gulf, but when governments admit immigrants for moral reasons (i.e. the duty of the rich, post-colonial guilt, etc) and any uneasiness among its citizenry is instantly flagged as racism, understandably people will bottle their feelings up and they'll come out in strange, less predictable ways. This {the cartoons} seems to be one of the more benign of those ways; strong showings by far-right parties in France, Belgium, and Switzerland are the more worrying flipside of this coin.


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