Thursday, February 02, 2006

cartoons and crusades

A twelfth-century crusaders bids farewell to his wife.

I received an email from a friend about the controversy about the Danish cartoons which have provoked protest and threats of violence in the Muslim world. My friend is understandably upset about the attempt to silence the cartoonist through intimidation and he has written to the New York Times, asking them to publish the cartoons in solidarity with the cause of free speech.

I share his concern. At the same time, we must not forget that these cartoons are as vile as any anti-Semitic or racist propaganda. We should not censor them, and if we must publish them as a gesture for freedom of expression, we should do it with the same grim resignation that we would save if we felt obligated to publish excerpts from Mein Kampf or Klu Klux Klan leaflets. We should not only fight for the cartoonist's right to publish, we should denounce his bigotry. I denounce it here and I also denounce the publication and dissemination in Muslim countries of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We should demand free speech everywhere as we condemn hatred and ignorance.

It is not surprising that one of the newspapers that printed the cartoons is produced by fundamentalist Christians. How are we going to convince the Muslim world that our policies are not anti-Islam "crusader" attacks when so many voices that identify themselves specifically as Christian make comments that are not only critical of extremism and terrorism, but of Islam itself. Not only our old buddy Pat Robertson, but many Christian bloggers I have stumbled across seem intent on demolishing any tolerance whatsoever for one of the world's great religions. Add to that a general who boasted that his victory over a Muslim warlord was due to the fact that "my God was bigger than his... his was an idol." And interrogation techniques that involve psychological torture specifically targeted to Muslim sensibilities, including abuse of the Koran? Is it surprising that many Muslims see this as a war of cultures? Unlike us, they have historical memory and are mistrustful of European and American aims towards the Mideast. Everywhere in the Middle East, extremists are gaining support -- In Palestine, Iran, Egypt... Do we really want to continue to define this conflict as a war of cultures, a war of religion? Especially when Christianity is supposed to be a religion of peace, love, and respect?

I don't know if there is a way to diffuse this time bomb. There are too many suspicions and prejudices deeply ingrained in the minds of everyone involved. I certainly don't mean to excuse attempts from individuals in the Muslim world from trying to silence thinkers or manipulate issues like this for political gain. The threats to Salman Rushdie and the murder of Theo Van Gogh were unpardonable. We must protect the right of freedom of expression of even the most vile of its practioners, but we should also try much harder to avoid fanning the flames of Holy War on both sides. We should be aware that fundamentalists on the Christian side of the fence are just as intransigent and dangerous. Last of all, those of us who really read the Gospels should know how to respond to a world-wide cultural crisis: with love and understanding, not with hatred and degradation. That's not rank sentiment: lives depend on it.


squiggy said...

Regarding the Muslim cartoons outrage; I think the GOOD MEDICINE religious cartoons are MUCH funnier! See what I mean:

Fayrouz said...


I 100% agree with you.

As a Catholic who lived in the M.E., I understand how the Muslim minority in Denmark felt when these cartoons were first published. The cartoon portraying The Prophet as a terrorist is definitely rude.

I don't like the escalation of the situation by both sides. It doesn't help anybody.

I'm afraid the M.E. Christians will be the ones to pay the price very soon.

Liam said...

Thank you very much, Fay. I think one of the terrible consequences of this Muslim/Christian, East/West, us/them dualistic thinking is how it effects the people who don't fit into those categories: Muslims in the West, Christians in the East, children from mixed bachgrounds. There is no us or them, really.

Don Cox said...

I think the cartoon portraying Mohammed with a bomb in his turban is fair comment on the hijacking of Islam by bombers. If terrorists don't like being criticised, too bad.___The three cartoons which were added to the ones published are more clearly offensive, but nobody seems to know where they came from, except presumably Imam Ahmad Abu Ladan, who led the campaign.

Liam said...

I think if you are going to approach the subject of Islam--or any other cultural context--you have to have a minimal idea of the sensibilities involved. You cannot make a satire of Mohammed without deeply offending all Muslims, not just the terrorists. Once again, I fight for anyone's right to express themselves in any way, including offensive ways. The cartoonist has a right to publish the cartoon, and I have a right to call him on being an ignorant bigot.

Mad Canuck said...

Hi Liam,

My first comment here - you and I both got linked from Fayrouz.

I don't think "satire" is the right word for these cartoons. Some of them were OK, but five of them were blatantly racist and deliberately insulting. Satire is funny, these were just mean. Satiring Mohammed would have been a minor faux-pas to most Muslims; these cartoons were an outrage. As I wrote on my blog, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being deliberately kicked.

Liam said...

Hello Mad Canuck,

I loved your post on this issue, it explains very well why these cartoons are so bad. I recommend anyone who comes across this to check it out.

I'm not sure I would completely agree that satiring Mohammed would only be a faux-pas. Any satire would be seen as an insult in a way that is not very comparible in our culture. That's why when people say, "Oh, but we satire Jesus too," I can tell that they have no idea what another culture is like. You are completely right about how insulting and provocative these cartoons are, though.

Anonymous said...

The point that is being missed in the furor over the Danish cartoons is that they are essentially truthful in their representation of islam's public face. Saying Mohammed has no face or can't be depicted is just another form of guerilla tactic to prevent discourse about the ugly, evil underlying truths of islam. It is a terrible shame that such vast numbers of people have been seduced and subjugated by islam's aggressive, violent, oppressive and fundamentally exploitative dogma. Depicting mohammed with a bomb for a turban tells an undeniable truth that needs to be told and dealt with as it is. The truth about evil is bound to be offensive--it is evil, after all. Those engaged in evil don't want to hear that, but the rest of us need to. Those who are in thrall of evil need to see it for what it is to have any chance of casting it off and changing their direction. Comparing these cartoons to islam's offensive media depictions of jews and israel is shallow relativism--those depictions are intended to propagandize with demonstrably false and inflammatory messages. Chaucer's thinly veiled sarcasm in the Prioress' "blood libel" tale is a good example of how a free media can, with art and good humor, but serious intent, expose hypcrisy and publish the truth. The Danish cartoons of mohammed are mostly less artful, but to the same effect. Certainly far worse could be depicted (broken treaties, abuses of women and children, and genocide would be fair topics from islam's history and present) Would that we in the west were as adamant in publishing and pursuing the truth in regard to islam, as it is in publishing and pursuing its lies, violence and deceit. If we and the Danish cartoonists have anything to apologize for, it is for allowing radical islam to expand and press its advances without real resistance for too long.

Liam said...

Well, one more for the culture war and the "truth" of the evil of Islam. What should we do, then? There are many Muslim nations and over a sixth of the population of the world are "evil" and "aggressive" Muslims. What's the answer? Extermination? Forced conversion? That's a big task, but if Islam itself (not particular Muslims, not a particular kind of Islam, not conditions in the Muslim world that the West had a hand in creating) is the root of all this violence, then I guess we have our hands full.

Note how "Anonymous" uses the term "radical Islam," but also conflates that concept with Islam as a whole -- and how much does he or she know about Islam, anyway?

I'm sorry if I seem harsh in my reply, but for God's sake think about the implications about what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking about the implications--the Koran explains the implications:

The true believers fight for the cause of God, but the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan. —Koran 4:76

Therefore fight for the cause of God. You are accountable for none but yourself. Rouse the faithful: perchance God will overthrow the might of the unbelievers. Mightier is God and more terrible is His punishment. —Koran 4:84

Let not the unbelievers think that they will ever get away. They have not the power so to do. Muster against them all the men and cavalry at your command, so that you may strike terror into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them who are unknown to you but known to God. All that you give in the cause of God shall be repaid to you. You shall not be wronged. —Koran 8:60

Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe not in God nor in the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued. —Koran 9:29

Why knee jerk to "forced conversions" and talks of the "crusades?" Christ is love and his redeeming power is not just greater than the villainy of islam, it is the Greatest power in the universe. So how does this work? We must be active in exposing the evil of islam, regardless of the consequences. Did Jesus flinch from clearing the money-lenders from the temple or from telling off those who accused him of harvesting and healing on the sabbath? Neither appeasement nor resorting to the same tactics as our adversaries will work. We have to have faith and act on it that the majority of people under muslim subjugation do not really want to be there and only accept it because it is either all they know or they have known something that seemed worse, like the German working classes in the 1930's. How many of them do you think really wanted to be Nazis or would have continued to support the party, if they'd known the truth? The situation with islam is not different, just worse. We cannot shrink from opposing islam by exposing its degenerate, evil truth and offering the truth, light, and love that Christianity has in abundance. No one can do these positive, non-violent things, if they are censored by well-meaning but inactive handwringers or anyone else. If we sit silently, ever accomodating islam's demands for undeserved respect and privilege, we will find ourselves backed into corners with no choice but to physically fight our way out. The results of such sins of omission fall on those of us who have not done what we could to get out whatever words, prayers, and yes, pictures we can to educate and try to lead the muslim masses out of their bondage. We are paying now for the failure to do these things since roughly the time of WWI, when the Ottoman Empire fell apart and colonial interests elevated arab tribalism to the corrupt, radicalized pseudo-theocracies that exist today throughout the arab world and among its victims in africa, asia and the caucasus/eastern europe. Keeping bibles, missionaries, agricultural aid, and overwhelming amounts of objective, truthful information about the world and its people flowing into these areas and putting the military power of the western world behind keeping these emissaries of truth and love safe in doing so are essential elements of winning the war against evil. Kow-towing to the Saudis and falsely referring to islam as a religion of peace only empowers those who use the koran to subjugate others. I suggest to you and others so worried about the millions of peace-loving muslims that so long as they remain muslims, they remain enslaved to an evil and violent dogma. Radical islam is only the active cutting edge of this dogma; the vast body of islam, until it is separated intellectually from the lies of the radical fringe and protected from its coercive power, will continue to provide the backbone of the radicals' blades, the cadres of suicide bombers, and all the other horribles islam has been so effective in producing from its "peace-loving" adherents. If you do not recognize this is the truth about islam, then you obviously haven't been reading your koran and haven't been paying attention to the last 1400 or so years of history. (BTW, I'll register when I have more time--I was having a problem getting it to go through. Not trying to hide behind anonymity. Very much like your blog, too.)

Liam said...

Thanks, I'm glad you like the blog. Thanks also for explaining being "anonymous" -- there is something cold about that word.

I do confess that I have not read more than a handful of excerpts from the Koran. I do know that our own Holy Book is full of bellicose stories of conquest and war. There are even statements in the Gospels (e.g., "I have come not to bring peace but a sword," Matthew 10:34) that, if taken out of context, could be shown as evidence that Christianity is a violent and warlike religion. The past 1400 years of history have shown aggression from just about anyone who has had the capacity to be aggressive, and the Christian nations in the West has led the way. My reference to the Crusades is not knee-jerk reaction, it is a recognition of a historical awareness that the Muslim world has and the West, especially the US, seems to lack. If we are not aware of that kind of awareness, we will not ever understand "why they hate us."

I am proud and happy to be a Christian, but mere profession of Christianity does not seem, if we look at European and American history, to make people peaceful. I completely agree with you that the West has been irresponsible in its manipulation of tribalism and it opportunistic support for regimes like that of the Saudis. Still, Bibles and missionaries backed by military power is a recipe for disaster. It appears to me that the Muslims, like the Jews, worship the same God as we do. Most Muslims are not Muslims because they are in the grip of evil, but because they were born Muslim and it is meaningful for them to continue for them to be so -- the same reason most Christians are Christians. There are dangerous elements in Muslim society and an arrogant imperial and missionary desire on the part of the West will push moderate Muslims towards those radical elements. It will not make them see the light, quite the opposite. I mean really, how can you impose a religion based on loving your enemy with torture and bombs?

Another thing -- Muslim culture is old and rich. Part of the rise in the West came from borrowing from them in the Middle Ages -- everything from agricultural techniques to algebra. They know their architecture, literature, and religious writings have value. This is never commented on in the West -- we only hear about screaming fanatics and suicide bombers. Just like how Muslim countries only hear about torture and imperialism. The first thing I, as a Christian, can offer any person is respect. There is no reason for anyone to listen to me if I lack that respect.