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Can a cartoon start WWIII?

Like Shakes Sis, I’ve not posted on the Danish-cartoon-spurs-insane-violence, because it’s hard to make sense of any of it.

1. A cartoon appearing in a Danish newspaper (and later in other papers) depicting the prophet Mohommed is declared blasphemous by Muslims.

2. Violence erupts, the Danish embassy in Beirut is destroyed, and there is chaos in the streets.

3. The U.S. backs the stifling of free speech.

A good analysis by Tom Heneghan, Reuters religion editor:

Like many conflicts over faith, the row has both religious and political aspects. The Muslim reaction is based on Islam’s ban on portraying the Prophet and reinforced by outrage that he is presented as a terrorist with a bomb in his turban.

“This is defamation … and disinformation,” French Muslim Council head Dalil Boubakeur said. “The prophet of Islam did not found a terrorist religion, quite to the contrary.”

The dispute, which has parallels to the 1989 Iranian death sentence on British writer Salman Rushdie, arises from the fact that Muslims still consider blasphemy — or insulting the sacred — as a crime while Westerners no longer take it seriously.

Jesus Christ is mocked so often in Western media and art that it hardly causes outrage anymore and courts usually reject legal suits against the satire. Because of the horror of the Holocaust, Western media are much more cautious about Jews.

Many European countries still have blasphemy on the books, but do not apply it. The last conviction in Britain was in 1922 for a man who compared Jesus to a circus clown.

By contrast, insulting the Prophet Mohammad can bring a death sentence in a Muslim country like Pakistan. Many Arab countries threaten blasphemers with prison sentences.

From the BBC, a history of Muslim reactions to similar circumstances:

1989: Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini calls on Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for alleged blasphemy in his book The Satanic Verses
2002: Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel’s article about Prophet and Miss World contestants sparks deadly riots
2004: Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh killed after release of his documentary about violence against Muslim women
2005: London’s Tate Britain museum cancels plans to display sculpture by John Latham for fear of offending Muslims after July bombings

My question is, why is this instance of the depiction of Mohammed the flint to spark the fire? Take a look at this site, which has many examples of depictions of the prophet, including what has to be something more offensive, an animated appearance on South Park, which aired on July 4, 2001, in an episode called Super Best Friends. The show can be viewed online here.

I have no idea where this is all heading, but based on the level of uncontrolled rage we’re seeing on the news over a f*cking cartoon, it’s safe to say this is something we should be paying attention to.

Come to think of it, that would explain the U.S. position, because King George can’t tolerate free expression, particularly if it might disturb his fragile ego. He likes his audiences to be full of starry-eyed sheeple who have been prescreened. Look at Cindy Sheehan being bounced from the SOTU for a message on a freaking T-shirt. Why wouldn’t this Administration side with the Muslim extremists on quelling free, if offensive expression?

No one should be coddling extremists of any kind. That said, when one defends free speech, it isn’t always going to be of the sort you like. It’s called consistency in your belief system, and the documents upon which your country was founded.

Unfortunately, that belief system doesn’t exist universally. That’s the reality.

In trying to remember anything remotely like this in recent memory in this country over a political “statement,” was the wholesale condemning of Sinead O’Connor when she ripped up a photo of Pope JPII on live TV after a musical performance on SNL in 1992. No violence ensued, but the sheer volume of outrage in newspapers and by TV talking heads at the time was frenzied enough to shock free speech advocates back then. Her records were steamrolled, she was boycotted, etc. But that example doesn’t hold a candle to the insanity we are seeing over this cartoon.

The Moderate Voice also has an excellent roundup of blogger thoughts on the cartoon mess.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding