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By Danny Kampf
I don’t often see things as black and white, but this Danish/Muslim cartoon controversy is the most trumped up, absurd story I’ve heard in a long while. It both infuriates and shocks me that nearly every time I talk to a fellow student about this issue, their first reaction is to equate the situation as a struggle between two extremes. How people can even think of comparing a few cartoonists to riotous mobs of violent fundamentalists is really beyond my comprehension.

Just in case you haven’t been following the news lately, it all began last September in Denmark, when the national paper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons about Mohammed. Some of the pictures were less than flattering. Strangely enough though, when they first came out, there was surprisingly little uproar – even in the Middle East. In fact, a month after their initial publication in Denmark, an Egyptian paper, Al Fagr, printed the cartoons in a front page article designed to show them in bad taste; and yet, no reaction of consequence materialized.

So how did we go from there to torching Danish flags and embassies?

Well, things didn’t really get ugly until a rather conservative delegation of Danish Muslims left Denmark to tour the Middle East – cartoons in hand. But this was no idle tour. Galvanizing outrage and proselytizing their intolerant beliefs was the purpose of their trip. However, because the original cartoons failed to make a splash on their own, the group, led by the Imam Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, decided to spice things up a bit with some additional work of their own.

The informal delegation, in what can only be described as propaganda, disseminated cartoons of Mohammed being portrayed in a variety of racist ways. Some pictures showed the prophet with a pig’s body, while others just settled for a nice pair of devil horns. What’s interesting about this is that these pictures never saw the light of day in Denmark, even though they were falsely attributed to Jyllands-Posten. Needless to say, the outrage spread from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia in the blink of an eye. Before anyone knew what was going on, ambassadors were being withdrawn from Denmark and people were dying in riots.

Were the original cartoons offensive? It depends on who you ask, but I would say they weren’t. In fact, I would argue that most of them were rather tame and that all of them constituted legitimate satire. The only possible exception to this is the cartoon that has gotten the most play in our media: the one showing Mohammed with a turban shaped like a bomb.

But this is more than the unfocused racism its detractors accuse it of being; it is political, albeit blunt, satire. One cannot deny that there exists a small minority of Muslims who have engaged, and continue to engage, in murder – and in some cases, mass murder – all the while citing Mohammed and Islam as their inspiration. From Theo Van Gogh to September 11, the world has born witness to a minute, but significant, population of religiously motivated killers who naturally reflect poorly on the broader religion they claim to represent.

Isn’t it natural for the West to satirize those who seek to undermine its very existence through acts of terrorism? Which is really the ugly caricature of Islam, the Danish cartoons or the terrorists they mock?

Yet that’s not even the issue at hand according to CAIR and other Muslim advocacy groups. The issue is supposedly independent of any underlying political commentary. Ostensibly, what has so many Muslims upset is simply the literal depiction of Mohammed himself, something which is traditionally frowned upon in Islamic teachings.

But if that were true, where were all the riots when “South Park” portrayed a ridiculously silly Mohammed (who, if I recall correctly, had the power to shoot fireballs)? The Supreme Court has a statue of Mohammed and yet no one has set fire to a U.S. embassy. Dante’s “Inferno” describes Mohammed as a sinner who is eternally burning in hell; and there are numerous depictions of his eternal plight in Italy – so where are the violent mobs swearing jihad against Rome?

Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the people who are burning Danish flags today switch their attention to one of the aforementioned abominations against Islam. But that would just further demonstrate how ridiculous this whole mess really is.

See, there’s something we prize in the West and it’s called free speech. That includes the right to irresponsible and offensive speech. Muslims are hardly the first religion to be mocked in the public realm. Both “South Park” and “Family Guy” feature Jesus Christ as a regular character. In one episode of “South Park,” Jesus boxed Satan. In another, a statue of the Virgin Marry explosively bled in the Pope’s face.

And you know what? It was hilarious.

It strikes me as odd that even “moderate” Muslims are offended by these cartoons. I mean Jesus Christ! They’re just cartoons!

Did that take you’re breath away? Good, because that illustrates my point. A faith that can’t laugh at itself is an insecure faith. And in case you didn’t notice, I also just blasphemed Christianity. To be specific, I took the Lord’s name in vain. Moreover, I did so in an utterly tasteless and vulgar manner meant to shock our cultural mores.

But do I fear for my life, as the Danish cartoonists now do?

No, I don’t. And the reason for this is because religious taboos don’t apply to those outside of one’s religion. As Andrew Sullivan put it in his excellent article in Time (“Your Taboo, Not Mine”), “I eat pork and I'm not an anti-Semite.”

Whether or not the Hadith explicitly forbids Muslims from portraying Mohammed has no bearing on me, nor should it. After all, the Hadith forbids the portrayal of any of Allah’s prophets, including Moses and Jesus. Yet what Muslim would really get offended if I drew Jesus? Even if someone did, why should I care? It’s a ridiculous proposition that what I can and cannot do is dictated by someone else’s religious beliefs.

But this whole sensitivity debate reveals an entirely different issue altogether: the gross double standard towards anti-Semitism. The Muslim media routinely depicts horrendously racist caricatures of Jews. Yet hardly a peep can be heard from the Muslim community, even inside the United States.

Moreover, there is no political satire to these cartoons. They amount to little more than Holocaust denial and with no apparent sense of irony, a ridiculous conflation of Nazism and Jewish-ness.

Why is our media playing into this game? So far, the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have all failed to print the cartoons. On top of that, CNN, NBC and CBS won’t show them either.

Why? Because they’re offensive to Muslims? Have we really been reduced to restricting our access of information to what is deemed religiously acceptable?

In what must be one of the greatest acts of televised incongruity, CNN vividly displayed a series of Jewish caricatures (which were blatantly racist) during a segment on anti-Semitism in the Arab media; when the segment concluded, Wolf Blitzer stared into the camera and, in all honesty, said they refrained from showing pictures of Mohammed out of respect for the Muslim community. As Tim Rutten put it in the Los Angeles Times (“Let’s be Honest about the Cartoons”), “He didn’t even blush.”

What’s going on in the U.S. media today essentially amounts to fascist bullying. There’s another reason why editors of this nation’s media firms refuse to reprint the cartoons – a rarely articulated reason: “Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do.” Those were the words of the Boston Phoenix, which went on to claim, “Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy.”

Why would they fear for their lives? It’s not just the violence in the Middle East; it’s the threat of violence over in Europe. Protestors in London, not exactly the pinnacle of the Islamist underground, carried signs in one demonstration that read, “Be Prepared for the Real Holocaust,” “Europe You Will Pay. Your 9/11 is on Its Way,” “Behead Those who Insult Islam,” “Exterminate Those who Slander Islam” and a thousand variants in between.

This goes beyond freedom of speech. This is the foundation of fascism. These are the brown shirts of today.

And yet it all started with just 12 cartoons in Denmark. If there was ever to be a more telling clash of civilizations, let it be this: the West stands for freedom of speech, domestic non-violence and moderate religion. What does Islam stand for?

Those who are moderate and rationale Muslims need to establish themselves as the loud majority. If they don’t, they will cede control of their religion to a set of fundamentalists, whose sole purpose is to drive themselves and everyone else into a permanent war with the West.

And if anything proves the veracity of those 12 cartoons, it’s that.

 

 

 

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