United States Condemns Cartoons Depicting Prophet Mohammed
“State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper says, ‘These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims. We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.’" http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7002239615
I am surprised to find that I take issue with the above statement from our State Department. I, the bleeding-heart, overly tolerant, member of the so-called academically elite, latte-sipping liberal from the Bay Area, take issue with our State Department’s tisk-tisk-tisking to the Europeans and acquiescence to the rigid, fundamentalist response by reactionaries (who happen to be Muslim – a nod to the satirical aspect of PC).
I’ve been watching this Danish cartoon story unfold and reading till I am blurry-eyed the ongoing debate in the press and between bloggers about the fundamental differences between West and East, Christianity and Islam, and the reasons for the Muslim world’s anger, frustration, etc.
I’ve been trying to understand, to step outside myself and view this situation with the Danish cartoons and the Muslim/Islamic reaction from a different perspective – a sympathetic perspective – a walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes perspective. Because I have wanted not to defend the violent response, but claim that this response is not representative of the Muslim world as a whole. And that at the core, there is ample reason for righteous indignation.
When I look at the cartoons, I try to substitute Muslim for black, or Chinese, or gay. But I have a hard time coming up with equivalent cartoon scenarios (perhaps because my Western mind just doesn’t see these cartoons as offensive, repulsive, as the Muslim mind does (for drawings which, in my mind, definitely cross over into the blatantly offensive category see: http://thestudyofrevenge.blogspot.com/
How would I feel if something I hold dear and sacred were profaned in a public forum? How would I feel if a belief I held strongly was mocked, disabused, challenged not in an intellectual, rational, reasoned argument, but through what I considered manipulation? Through propaganda disguised as reasoned debate?
And how do I feel when my beliefs are mocked, challenged, satirized?
(I grow annoyed, angry. Hurt. Upset. Sometimes I plain get pissed off!)
On a regular basis I hear, read and see things that are anathema to me: homophobic and racist jokes that insult those who most dear to me. Religious beliefs and statements that completely undermine my own world view – that hold some of my dearest friends to be wicked, evil, sick, unclean because they are gay and lesbian. Snide comments that insult my political beliefs and mock my thinking. Racist remarks that make my stomach turn because my daughter is bi-racial.
I read a variety of different news sources every week – and sometimes I am affronted by political cartoons and op/ed pieces that essentially accuse people like me of being unpatriotic, that claim our questioning of the war is immoral and treasonous. I am outraged, insulted by this line of thinking.
So I am no stranger to the phenomenon of encountering beliefs and thoughts of others that run so contrary to my own deeply held belief system that they send me reeling, send me howling, send me out into the night with fist upraised.
But I speak metaphorically. I don’t howl, or rage, or shake my fist. And I don’t attack. I don’t set fires. I don’t threaten bodily harm to people whose thoughts and opinions cut me to the core, that seem ignorant, foreign, incredulous to me. I don’t shout out: Death to the Homophobes! Death to the Racists! Death to the Neo-Cons!
I keep all this in mind as I read the ongoing news about the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons. And I try to remember that Europe is different than the U.S., in ways both good and bad. Europe has struggled with rampant anti-Semitism for centuries) and has struggled to assimilate or integrate the Muslim/Islam immigrant population (and that does have something to do with the reprinting of the Danish cartoons and the reaction to them.
I sympathize. I understand that it is deeply upsetting to have the sacred figure of your religion depicted in ways which you see as blasphemous.
But this violence, this mindless, reckless violence – I can’t understand it.
Dare I make a sweeping generalization? Many of us hold freedom of expression equal to sacred beliefs.
I am disappointed in the U.S. government and the U.S. press. Only two presses in the U.S. have thus far reprinted the cartoons - how can we have an open, rational discussion of the intent and meaning of these cartoons if the general public is not allowed to view them? Keep in mind that not everyone is reading the news online – we do not have open access to the Internet (and that’s a discussion for a separate post).
Cooper’s statement about the cartoons parallels the Bush’s administration’s attitude toward public debate and freedom of the press in this country and that attitude is: stifle public debate and the press as much as possible. On the important issues we are confronted with today (the war, its meaning, its worth, privacy and civil rights), we are told that we have freedom “of the press and expression” and can have a meaningful debate. But every time the Bush administration is challenged, it claims the debate is in some way unacceptable.
The Danish cartoons saga began last September as an exercise in free speech. We see now part of the results of that exercise: violence, death threats, and the U.S. backing away from free and open discourse.
Links for the cartoons: