Friday, 15 February 2008

Cartooning: The New High Risk Job

Remember those Danish cartoons from a while back? The ones of Muhammad? The ones that weren't really all that good? In fact some of them were rubbish. Not, however, rubbish enough to warrant violent protests and attacks on Danish embassies. But then, some scamp from one of the more extremist groups had added a few images of his own to really get the critical juices flowing.

So it's all understandable really. Someone publishes a non-flattering image of a man who allegedly lived hundreds of years ago and claimed to be inspired by God and of course the first thing you think of is "I must go and burn down an embassy, or at least a flag." (Although I have nothing against flag burning per se, if it makes you feel better go for it!)

Now, I'd have completely misunderstood what was going on if it wasn't for the moderates, who weighed in to explain things. Apparently, the poor muslims were complaining that they were being depicted as violent and extremist. It was a complete coincidence, then, that their complaint took the form of a violent and extreme protest and anyway we shouldn't have provoked them in the first place should we? I mean, we crazy liberals in the west should know better than to have a free press and a passable record on freedom of speech. Silly us.

And now it turns out that there was an (alleged) plot to murder one of the cartoonists involved. As I said, the pictures weren't all that good, but they weren't that bad. After all, if publishing crap was a good enough reason to have someone killed, we'd have got rid of Jeffrey Archer years ago.

The Danish media response has been to reprint the cartoons again. Which I think is fun for two reasons.
  1. We can see if the original cartoons provoke the same response without the later additions. It appears that so far the response has been somewhere between muted and non-existent.
  2. If they keep on poking the wasps' nest with sticks maybe they'll provoke another reaction that'll be even more fun for muslim PR to deal with. Or, he said a little too optimistically, they'll get used to criticism and stop reacting so badly.
A spokesman for the London Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre said the following:
"They are humiliating and racist. Muslims love the Prophet more than anyone - even their own families - and have a very strong belief that he is the messenger of God."
I don't see how the cartoons are racist. For one, they are targeting a religion. Also, nobody seems to have stood up and suggested that the only reason they find the cartoons humiliating and offensive is that their religion tells them that they should. I am also more than a little concerned when anyone says something like "we love X imaginary religious figure more than our own families." In which case I feel sorry for those families. It seems to me that the cartoons make a point about the disconnect between the moderates preaching peace and the extremists practicing violence.

People should have the right to believe whatever nonsense they want in private. However, people should also have the right to criticise those beliefs just as they can a political or philosophical belief. There should be no special protection for religious beliefs. There should certainly be no excuse for a violent response. It seems to me that in order for religions to get rid of their extremists, the moderates have to refuse to defend their indefensible actions. And with Islam, there just isn't enough of that happening.

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