Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Two poles of opinion on the cartoon controversy
Jonal entry 951 | Monday, February 13, 2006
I've heard two polar opposite views on the current controversy over "Muhammad cartoons," which were a subtopic of a recent Jonal entry mainly dealing with laws against hate speect and freedom of press and freedom of expression. The Muslim pole position I heard was, "the reason so many have been so enraged over this issue is that these caricatures of Muslims (as "iconed" by Muhammad in the series of Danish cartoons) are taken by the general public as depictions of all Muslims." On the other pole of opinion, or at least "one" other pole, I heard, "nothing could better demonstrate the claims that Islam is an intolerant and violent religion than the violent riotous demonstrations resulting in many deaths over a series of mildly satirical cartoons." Of the two arguments, the latter holds the greatest kernel of truth in my thinking, though I would allow that when people feel oppressed in the world they tend to react violently. We saw it in the Civil Rights riots in the United States in the 1960s and '70s, and it has been almost "fashionable" for the drinking populations of cities with champion teams to riot and cause some mayhem in response to their favorite team's victory. And because that's true, I'm willing to reserve any flatfooted assertions about the "meaning" of the Muslim "desmonstrations" against the cartoons.
I do feel strongly that the cartoons have been misrepresented by Muslim leaders trying to foment anti-Western hatred. Some reports have even shown a bogus cartoon that one "leader" supposedly showed a large crowd of demonstrators, of a dog "humping" what was alleged to be a caricature of Muhammad. There was nothing like this in the collection of cartoons carried in the Danish newspaper that is blamed with first igniting what has turned out to be a firestorm.
And the more I read and think about it, the more strongly I feel that in the West, whether you're appealing to the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition or the liberal tradition of the Enlightenment, either way we should side on the side of freedom of expression rather than "freedom from insult." The latter is a slippery slope which, if it starts inspiring new laws in our democracies, will end up destroying democracy itself. I think the White House, and the Pope, have to be judicious and say things that try to encourage a peaceful mindset among the people in Muslim and European countries that are violently attacking people and property in the name of their perceived right not to be insulted. And in fact, though they no doubt feel insulted, the intention of the newspapers carrying the cartoons was clearly not to insult all Muslims, but merely to show how Islamists are hurting their own cause through things like promising virgins in paradise for suicide bombers, and that suicide bombings are an honorable form of martyrdom.
The Pope was wrong, in my humble opinion, when he said, if the headlines I've seen are fact-based, that the cartoons and the violent reactions to them are equally wrong. Not so. Freedom to form strong opinions and to express them should always be valued. The opinions may be wrong, but the way to confront them is through debate and counter-opinion expressions, not violence. Some of those who've incensed hostility by publishing (and in most cases, republishing) the cartoons have apologized to the extent that they've said they didn't mean to insult anyone with any tolerant and peaceful attitudes, but merely to comment on the irrationality of violence against innocent bystanders. It's good that they've done this as a way of extending an "olive branch" of peace to those "enraged" by the publications. But that should be all they're required or expected to do by all reasonable people in any religion or ethnic population anywhere.