Tuesday, February 7
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Perhaps poking fun at religious figures is an irreverent way to counteract the idolatry of religious dogmatism and literalism. Or, perhaps it's just tasteless. Either way, we cannot make exceptions for free speech every time a vengeful mob gathers around an embassy. Let the Danish government condemn the cartoons and distance itself from the controversy, as long as freedom of the press is not sacrificed.
I'm wondering if fanatical Muslims can see the irony (I'm certain moderate Muslims can) in recent reactions to Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad as a terrorist. Depictions of Mohammad were banned under Islam is because it was feared that representations of a prophet would lead to idolatry (I only wish the book religions were as careful about making idols out of holy books). Why Muslims did not riot when Jesus (also a prophet in Islam) was depicted on film in The Passion, isn't clear. I doubt images of Mohammad are entirely absent from the Islamic world, and supposedly there is some disagreement on how far the idolatry rule goes. Obviously the picture of Mohammad with a bomb on his head, implying he and his religion were and are violent, is viewed as a special insult. A bit like comparing Jews to Baruch Goldstein. But violent reactions to the insult make the error of confirming it. If someone says you're a terrorist and your religion is violent, does it make sense to threaten to kill him in defense of your religion?
Muslims have a right to be offended when their religion is portrayed so negatively, but I doubt Jews would riot if Moses were portrayed as a brutal, superstitious warlord. A cartoon depicting the massacre of the Midianites, arguably an act of genocide in Numbers 31 would perhaps draw some lame accusations of antisemitism, but not many death threats. Muslims with any sanity must recognize that there is something cancerous feeding on their belief system, but I'm not altogether sure what I'd do about it if I were a Muslim. Would I speak out, knowing it might come to nothing and get my family killed? Probably not. But maybe there are underground ways to create a movement against the suicide bombing cults. If Islam is to be consistent, it must recognize through its teachers and authorities that attacks against American or Jewish civilians are as evil as attacks against Muslim civilians. We need to start putting the dead and injured in one pile and mourn them as a world, rather than using the suffering of one group or another to gain political leverage or reinforce nationalist or fundamentalist zealotry. And we need some basis for interfaith and international trust, if we want to prevent nuclear proliferation from spilling over into nuclear exchange.
If a cartoon bomb on a cartoon Mohammad is blasphemous, what is it when Mohammad and the Quran are used to indulge and inflame the violent fantasies and actions of angry youth? Muslims should be offended in proportion to the act, and it is radical Jihadists who have placed real bombs on the head of their prophet, giving him the credit for mass murders committed by modern apostates. If Islam is peace, then murdering innocent people for the actions of their government is blasphemy to Islam. I could say a few things to American Christians about using the Prince of Peace to justify pre-emptive wars, but I think progressive Christians are beginning to make headway in taking back their faith from the "Pharisees". Whether Muslims can easily take back their religion from political and ideological fanatics remains to be seen, but from many discussions with Muslims, I believe it is inevitable. It's only a matter of how long it takes for extremists to become so childish and irrational in their demands that the fear they induce can no longer be taken seriously by the quiet majority. And how long it takes for the majority to find a voice. It only takes a few acts of violence to induce fear and self-censorship among many. But when it becomes intolerable to be silent, people do speak out.