Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In Context


So this is the cartoon which has spurred the demolition of Danish embassies in the Middle East. After so much hype, I can't say that I find it particularly offensive. Blasphemy is very passé in the West, it just doesn't rile people up the same way it did way-back-when.

As a thought experiment for a moment, let's pull a Chomsky and change the face of Muhammad to Sharon. Would the Jewish World be outraged? I would guess so. The distinction in our reaction comes from the implication, i.e. Islam is innately violent--since some part of us would concede that Islam promotes violent doctrines (rightfully or not) we laugh at a cartoon poking fun at Muhammad. As we consider Sharon's past very sensitive, we would likely protest the corollary. So let's call the cartoon in poor taste, if nothing more. However, it appears to me that the rioting which has ensued is not due to the equation of Islam to violence, but is in response to the heresy of displaying the face of the prophet.

I can't help but think about the infamous Ramirez cartoon five years back. People were offended, the LA Times apologized, that was that--I still do not think kindly of the cartoonist, however.

The question, of course, is not whether the response in the Middle East is justified (which it is not, in case you were wondering) but whether hurtful characterizations ought to be avoided. Cartoons are supposed to "poke fun" and are by nature controversial. They ought not be graphic (bloody limbs, etc) or otherwise pornographic (Jesus molesting little children would compel a response, I would venture to bet). However, the only real dictum I can settle on is that the cartoon expresses a mainstream opinion. If a cartoon is too far removed from "good taste" it becomes "hurtful." And, well, that is just too subjective for my liking. Alas, I am left to the Common Sense (Smell Test) which fails so many so often.

10 comments:

the celtic semite said...

Zev,

I don't have your current e-mail address so contact me! Now responding to your statement:

". . . it appears to me that the rioting which has ensued is not due to the equation of Islam to violence, but is in response to the heresy of displaying the face of the prophet. . .".

Nearly a decade ago I travelled to the north side of Chicago to visit the largest Islamic bookstore located in the midwest, the equivelant in size and scope as Rosenblum's. I was new to Islam but I had read three translations of the Koran and many of the Hadiths. I was very attracted to the five pillars of Islam and wanted to know more. You can imagine my interest when I spotted a video for sale called "The Message" starring Anthony Quinn. Although it turns out that the movie never identifies Muhammed (he is never shown), the response was much the same as this cartoon controversy. On March 9, 1977, a group of Black Muslims, led by Hamas Abdul Khaalis, seized several buildings and took 134 hostages in the District of Columbia. While their actions were related to a sectarian dispute within the Black Muslim community, one of their demands was to prevent the release of "The Message". One of the terrorists specifically said "he wanted a guarantee from whole world it will never be shown" or they would execute some of the hostages.

While the director, Mustafa Akkad, offered to show the film to the terrorists, and even said he would burn it if they hated it, the damage had already been done. The film was widely panned by critics and became a box office flop, although it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Score.

In morbid irony, Mustafa Akkad, and his daughter Rima were recently were killed in the 2005 Amman bombings while they were attending a wedding celebration in Jordan.

Additionally, in responding to your statement, "So this is the cartoon which has spurred the demolition of Danish embassies in the Middle East?" No Zev. It's been widely reported for days that Musliims were most offended by the three added photos not included in the Jyllands-Posten paper. And as I told Shmuli, one of these images was exposed by me (and already made it back to Jyllands-Posten) as a photo of a French man at a pig squealing contest six months ago- see www.neandernews.com.

And finally, to respond to your thought experiment and "change the face of Muhammad to Sharon. Would the Jewish World be outraged? I would guess so". Give me a break. Is satirising the link between Islam and violence the same as satirising a link between Judaism and violence the same thing now? When Jews saw the Ramirez cartoon, did they protest publicly in London to "behead those who insult Judaism"? "slay those who isult Judasim"? "exterminate those who slander islam"? and "prepare for the Real holocaust"? The million dollar question is, Did Jews show hurt or as the Ramirez cartoon depicted, show hate? So you think the cartoon you posted hear is in bad taste? You have to be kidding. If the world wide response by Muslims to a cartoon suggesting a link between Islam and violence is showing up to a protest in London wearing a mock suicide bomber's jacket as one man did, it's already a satire. So I say satire, satire, satire away!

In conclusion, admit that I'm a peaceful person Zev, or in the name of the one true God, I will avenge my rage on you! But seriously bud, give me a call.

The Celtic Semite

the celtic semite said...

please forgive my obvious typos. I've been recovering from serious stomach ailment do to expired Rubaskin's beef patties. also from tirelessly trying to follow my 15 minutes of fame on the information hiway. see my comment to Shmuli's posting "Jack bests the New York Times"

Sara said...

Hi Jew-boys,
Could one of you send me Yehuda/Sarah's email address and mailing address? You'll get mitzvah points for being mesameach kallah's mom.

Sam said...

Some thoughts: unless your post is a sly dig at Chomsky, I hope you are not equating Muhammad with Ariel Sharon.

I am going to have to agree with the Celtic Semite, more or less. The response to the cartoons has been totally nuts and moreover, it resists your sort of analogizing. I think the cartoon is offensive, but is that a capital crime?

I can't resist repeating an argument the Times made today (see the Art section). We usually use the term "iconoclast" to praise people, but what is its etymology? It means "idol breaker." Most Americans would not praise someone who took this literally! Need I remind you that the Taleban shelled the Bamiyan Buddhas to worldwide horror? But in Devarim 13 and 14, we are instructed to do precisely this. It's pretty violent! So making graven images is a capital offense for us too. But practically, what Jews today would execute such a judgment? Rebuild the Beit ha-Miqdash, ensure Jewish ascendency from the Nile to the Euphrates, and kill distributors of "The Ten Commandments"?

Maybe if there were a billion Jews in the world, and several nations with effectively Jewish, not to mention repressive, governments, there would be a lot of Jews calling for this sort of thing. Of course, such a world doesn't exist, so the value of this sort of what-if thinking is questionable.

As for your last paragraph, a few points. It seems to me as that many of these European newspapers are not just saying that Islam is inherently violent. This is, by the way, a statement of about as much value as "Judaism is inherently violent" or "Christianity is inherently violent" or, for that matter, "Islam, Judaism and Christianity are religions of peace"—that is to say, it is of no value at all. When people say things like that, what do they mean? Are these statements prescriptive (their scriptures are violent, they ought to practice their religion in a violent way) or descriptive (they are violent)? I think for many Europeans this is a politically convenient sort of crypto-racism. Sadly, just about everywhere in the world, some sort of racism is mainstream. These cartoons were not created in a vacuum; they were created to incite an angry, spectacular response. The coy response reminds me of conservative campus provocateurs—"Did I do that?"

the celtic semite said...

Sam,

"I think for many Europeans this is a politically convenient sort of crypto-racism. Sadly, just about everywhere in the world, some sort of racism is mainstream. These cartoons were not created in a vacuum; they were created to incite an angry, spectacular response. The coy response reminds me of conservative campus provocateurs—"Did I do that?"

What? politically convenient sort of Crypto-racism?

Cartoons were not created in a vacuum; they were created to incite an angry, spectacular response?!!?

Especially in reference to this last comment, is no one reading the news or listening to me. These cartoons were printed in SEPTEMBER. The Danish Imams toured the Islamic world in DECEMBER. Danish flags in the Gaza Strip have been stockpiled to burn in FEBRUARY. The "incited, angry, spectacular response" had to be planned for literally months not by the cartoon pulishers but by the Islamic world.

And for the last time, please focus on this fact that has been all over the news for neary a week- The Danish Imams must have been concerned that the 12 Jylland's Posten cartoons were too tame, because the Imams ADDED three much much much more OFFENSIVE images to the bunch. And these images were deliberately passed off as being published in the Danish Press mocking Muhammed. One of these photos features a man dressed a PIG. Me and a friend in TX found and published the origin of this particular photo (a Frenchman in a pig squealing contest for the pork industry), which has now spread out over the European News for the past 24 hrs. Please read the news:

For a good simple summary, this first one:

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/775

And if you want to really get over saturated- the following links which all mention my friend Dennis as "the American Blogger, or www.neandernews.com:

The Jyllands Posten (Danish) http://www.jp.dk/forside/artikel:aid=3544286/
les chroniques de l'extreme (French) http://extremecentre.org/?p=714
spiegel (German) http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,399791,00.html
BBC News (British) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4686536.stm
www.worldnetdaily.com
www.littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog
www.michellemalkin.com
www.coxandforkum.com
Jewish World Review
Chicago Tribune

What this means is:

1) man, you are so very wrong.
2) everyone should buy me a beer.
3) every Danish person should buy me a beer for the rest of their lives.

Shmuli said...

I just want to add that Jack's friend Dennis is apparently the famed Dennis ben Ruby that Yavneh has been praying for all these years.

Zev said...

Sam, if I may.

The response to the cartoons has been totally nuts and moreover, it resists your sort of analogizing. I think the cartoon is offensive, but is that a capital crime?
I concede that the response to the cartoon is not in kind, but I am trying to understand what makes a cartoon hurtful and worthy of an angry response at all. Why should a cartoon about Muhammad be inherently more offensive than a cartoon about Pres. Bush? The fact that, had the cartoon depicted Muhammad giving flowers to an old lady it would have elicited the same response, makes me wary about the parameters of "good humor."

I was thinking about using Moshe Rabeinu instead of Sharon, but people don't care enough about Moshe to provoke anything.

While quoting the OT is an inspiring rhetoric, much theology has changed hands in Judaism in the course of 3000 years. We don't smash idols anymore, and I would feel comfortable defending the statement, "Judaism is not a violent religion." That is to say that the prevailing social and religious ethics, as preached by the modern religion, do not violate Mill's Harm principle (all be it a religion composed of 15 million might be more easily generalized than a religion of 1.5 billion and at least 72 sects—re: Hadith literature.) It is the subject of a much larger essay, but none the less a substantive statement. There are aggressive elements within Islam that the West is not used to seeing in a religion (outside of N Ireland) for some decades. Sadly, the distance between crypto-racism and informed social policy is often very small indeed.

I will end here, but this is not the end of my thoughts on “informed social policy,” I just think it is something to consider.

miriam said...

"I was thinking about using Moshe Rabeinu instead of Sharon, but people don't care enough about Moshe to provoke anything."

actually, zev, there was some cartoon of a man with a beard on a moutnain with tablets saying "two hellicopted gunships for an eye" or something like that, implying that israeli military responses are based on the torah, or something, and i think people got pretty darn offended. though maybe that was mostly because it was about israel and not about mosheh, but i think anyway its a more analogoug situation to the original muhammad acrtoon (which may or may not be the point at all, thanks jack...) i don't really remember much about that, nor did i have any idea about any of this until you wrote because i am retired from politics in favor of aramaic. all i know about the owrld these days is waht's ont he cover of the Metro and AM New York. but that wasn't my point. my point was just a tangeant about a cartoon about mosheh. happy thursday.

Sam said...

Jack: I read the links about the cartoon. Now I'm confused about what we were arguing about!

Let me make this clear. I think the cartoon which Zev reproduced is offensive. I believe that European newspapers that initially printed this sort of thing were pandering to Islamophobes. The Nation talked about a double standard recently; in 2003, Jyllands-Posten refused to print cartoons making light of Jesus. Now it is a different matter—the cartoons certainly ought to be printed so we can know what people are mad about. I don't believe the BBC is racist! Newspapers that haven't reproduced the cartoons by now have been shamefully cowardly. Why are they so brave printing classified information instead? (Okay, that was pretty facile. America has no Official Secrets Act. But still...)

I don't believe that the publishers of the original cartoons planned the response. I went too far saying that they wanted to incite this, but it has certainly been politically convenient for them—as it has been, as you pointed out, for some of the ringleaders of the protests. So much so that they embellished the already offensive cartoons with something worse. Of course the people who forged cartoons aren't blameless! But does their perfidy excuse European racism? They are wrong and the Danish newspaper was wrong—not, of course, equally wrong (as a cartoon in the Harvard student newspaper foolishly suggested).

Of course I'll buy you a beer the next time I'm in Chicago. In fact, I might be there before Pesach, for a math conference at the University.

Zev, my point was that "Judaism is a peaceful religion" is different than "the prevailing social and religious ethics, as preached by the modern religion, do not violate Mill's Harm principle." Anyway, you're right.

the celtic semite said...

Sam,

I now see more clearly your point; especially about buying me a beer when you're in town. I can only hope others can see the bold intelligence of this statement.