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The Mohammed cartoons—and what they say about western civilization 

Gina Cobb posted her thoughts on the cartoons about and the effects of their republication at her blog. I responded with the following, which may be worth repeating here. This is further to my post yesterday on the topic, which has been the most-read piece on this blog to date. (Marvin was a gentleman who had a contrary viewpoint on her blog.)

I agree with Gina. This is not wholly about and allowing others to come in and gag us. This is about the fact that in the age of , we are all for our culture, and a horrible job we are doing of that. rely on a sense of decorum and respect. These messages, of taking a stab at a stereotypical way, could have easily been achieved by illustrations of, say, Arafat or various al-Qaeda members. I would argue, looking at other cartoons (including some I was referred to that really made some distasteful comparisons between the President, Prime Minister Sharon, Hitler and Satan) that most cartoonists would take stabs at people, not their beliefs. There is a happy medium to be found here—just as there is some sense of refrain on that they don’t cuss before a certain hour.
   We would be wrong to analyse this issue through western eyes, saying that if we are OK with funny about that the Muslims ought to be cool with jokes about Mohammed. Once upon a time—we only need to look back 75 years—we, too, would have been offended as a culture with images of Jesus in a cartoon. This does not make the Muslims and Arabs 75 years behind us—but this should be something borne in mind on why the Danish newspaper and the republications have caused offence.
   If we are proud of our western heritage and freedoms, then we should act like it. and are marked by the human abilities to refrain from acting like animals, and respecting and codes. The was certainly capable of doing so during its heyday of the mid-20th century, its finest hour, although I reserve judgement on its racial record at that point; and ’s greatest period of , the Sung Dynasty, was marked with the same sense of civilization and pride. Nations that retain that sense enjoy —and also .
   As Gina says in her original post, the west has made some great gains in the freedoms that you talk about, Marvin. And we did this without insulting their beliefs. Indeed, we did this while respecting them—and showed those who might sympathize with the that that was better. Now we are reversing those gains and losing a fight of ‘hearts and minds’, as the President might put it.
   Relations between are like relations between people. Just as I don’t expect, on my first meeting with Marvin, to be punched in the face by him, the Islamic world doesn’t expect to get a black eye from a cartoonist in a commentary. Marvin would tolerate my making a joke about him, probably, but I expect if I bring his mother’s sex life into it, then I’ve got a kick in the teeth coming (whether physical or in sense). Same thing here, except most Muslims seem to find this far more grave than a quip about a parent’s private habits—this strikes at something very dear and precious to them, and, as Gina says, we should be having , not alienation, with the .

Del.icio.us tags: Mohammed | Islam | Muslim | Arab | media | civilization | censorship | culture | freedom of the press | culture clash
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Jack, I'm really glad you brought up this point, despite having a somewhat different perspective than you. I think Western society has a long way to go in making the Islamic world trust us as friends. That said, I'm not sure that the Islamic world is 75 years behind in their reaction to this cartoon. I cannot see a Western country acting like this after, say 1700. While we can surely do more, I think it is also time to expect those who are more passionate with their religion to at least start learning to respect Western culture, including the ideas of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It's a two-way street.  
Neil, what you say makes a lot of sense. I had written my posts based on what I would do—but it is true that having a two-way street would do a lot for my desire for dialogue between two very different worlds. What isn’t helpful, for instance, is calling for the head of the cartoonist in protests and death threats, so in many respects I agree with you. Thank you for posting—I definitely should have considered this viewpoint more.  
I fully subscribe to your view and Gina's. Civility and civilization should go hand in hand. While I do not favor censorship, there are existing laws against label and, as in France, inciting to racial hatred. Of course caling or he cartoonist's head is not the solution, but the whole thing was disgraceful in the first place. When the shouts in the Middle-East will have calmed down, Europe and its Moslem communities will have some work to do to learn how to share the same space and appreciate the value of laws as an adequate means to do that.
Robert de Quelen  
Excellent comment, Robert: the next step is to look to the future and understand where each culture’s space is. In fact, it would be productive for that to begin now.  

while your metaphor is "nice' it fails to address that we are well beyond a first meeting with the Islamic world. We are post 9/11, post bombings in Spain, post prolonged rioting in France, post cold blooded murders in Denmark.

What you fail to grasp is that one side will (Islamic to be exact) is not listening. The use of humor is a polite way to say that we ned to start talking. If they cannot start talking we will only escalate the problem.

We have shown trust in Islam for decades. It's time for Islam to start listening to us. Europe is politely saying that we have welcomed you into our nations and you treat us like trash. They are now saying listen or we will no longer turn the other cheek.

Jack I ask that you look at the violence in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East that is the DIRECT RESULT of Islamic HATE.  
Anonymous, I don’t discount there are Muslims in the world who hate—just as Timothy McVeigh was a Christian fundamentalist. In my response to Neil above, I do accept that there is a need for a two-way street, and in the west’s acknowledgement of error, we needed to see the Islamic world come a little closer to understanding that.
   Yes, humour away, but to attack someone’s sacred beliefs doesn’t earn brownie points. Self-deprecation might have been a better form of humour to get others to listen, for instance; while the media—my original reason for posting—should have been aware that dialogue was already being created without adding fuel to the fire.
   One of my oldest friends is Muslim—I have known him since I was five. And over the years, I have had some contact with the Islamic community. Either these folks are all very good actors when they are around me, or we are still seeing, through our television screens, a portrayal of a creed that is stereotypical.
   Two wrongs still don’t make a right, and if you feel dialogue from the Islamic world is what we need, then your own example—of polite disagreement—will have prompted a more meaningful conversation.  
Update about an update: Gina Cobb’s original post has an update, stating that everyone from the US State Department and Jack Straw to the Vatican have come to a similar conclusion to us: it’s not open season on religious taboos.  
Jack, I to have friends who are Muslims ... whatever that means.

Please spare the rest of humanity your super human sensitivity and understanding. You have no more humanity than the cartoonists who were expressing themselves in a nonviolent manner. Do you really beleieve that the thesettacks are justified? Are you such a bigot that you don't see that even Islam would approves of this behavior. Just look at how it has carried itself for the last twoo hunders years prior to this terrible violence.

Your point that poking fun of Islamic facists after they have looted and burned for weeks, KILLED people in cold blood is off base. You fail to appreciate the severity of the crisis that the Danes are experiencing. Your lack of compassion for those group of people who have been violated by Islamic terrorism is scary.  
Anonymous, have you asked your Muslim friends if they condone this violence? Or that in a modern interpretation of Islam, whether killing non-believers is acceptable?
   I never said I was more human than the cartoonists, and I am totally fine with poking fun at Islamo-fascists. More than OK with that. Those bastards deserve everything we can throw at them for their actions and their cold-blooded murder.
   But to alienate a billion other people for doing nothing wrong—now that’s unwise. There’s a difference between poking fun at people and poking fun at religion. All I have been saying is: leave people’s beliefs out of it. If I want to draw bin Laden wearing a turban that’s a bomb, I am making a commentary that I think is valid. If I want to call al-Zawahiri an evil son of a bitch, then I think that is called for.
   If, for instance, the war on terror is justified, what gain would this have made? It would simply put the west more as an enemy, not a liberator.
   What is scary here is not my viewpoint, but your rapid conclusion that because we could not have a friendly debate, that you have immediately labelled me a bigot. Who has prejudged here? Your first post was far more civilized and productive.  
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