Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What It's Really About

Flogging the Simian has an article about what the Muslim Cartoon Controversy is really about. In short, politics as usual. As Soj points out, the cartoons were first published on September 30, 2005. The raging controversy didn't happen until just after the preventable deaths at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia... and strangely enough, it was the Saudis who inflamed the cartoons into a major story, instead of the minor story it was before the Hajj. Hmmm, could it be that the Saudis were trying to deflect criticize of their poor crowd control at the Hajj? Maybe by saying, "here, look at what the infidels are doing!" Mighty interesting timing there.

Thanks to Elayne who hunted up this link. Go check out her take on the article, and links to others.

I've been thinking about this controversy for awhile now. I'm a major advocate of free speech, and that part of my applauds the Danish newspaper who first published the cartoons. As a freedom of speech issue, this one really hits a lot of points. I've seen Muslims commenting on blogs that freedom of speech is evil... look at the violence it leads to! I submit to you that the violence has nothing to do with the freedom of speech and everything to do with the lack of tolerance for other beliefs. Of course, tolerance and freedom go hand in hand. If they don't, then freedom cannot survive. So my reaction to people who say that freedom of speech is bad because it leads to these sort of things is to say that religion is bad because it leads to these sort of things. Both statements are equally false. Feel free to dispute me on this.

Moving on, there are other troubling aspects to this controversy. The first is the cartoons themselves. With one exception, I think they are really weak cartoons. They aren't funny and they don't say anything. The exception is one of Muhammad telling two raging Muslims to calm down, as the cartoon is just something drawn by an unbelieving Dane. While I wouldn't call it a great cartoon, it at least makes a point, which most of the others don't even pretend to do.

Another aspect that troubles me is the fact that this stunt was pulled at all. I tend to believe in respect for other people's religions and beliefs. It seems to me that if you at least try to respect other folks, they generally will try to respect you back. I understand the frustration of the original writer, who couldn't find an illustrator for his book. But maybe instead of making a news story out of it, he ought to have tried a little harder. And the newspaper, instead of intentionally attacking the beliefs of some of their readers, maybe they should have just written an article about the tradition of not showing Muhammad's face and explained why, while mentioning the troubles the writer was having. There's a fundamental lack of respect in the whole thing. While freedom of speech means that such things as this stunt can happen, it doesn't mean that they always should happen. You can respect other people and still be free.

And now, moving back to the beginning of this blog entry, is the last troubling aspect. The three extra images. The Danish cartoons themselves are mostly not terribly insulting. They are, in fact, pretty bland and boring. Here is the original page showing all 12 cartoons. But there were three extra images being distributed as part of the group when the cartoons hit the news outlets in the Muslim world. And those extra three images were clearly designed to be the absolute most insulting images possible. You can see the images for yourself here with some commentary. The first shows Muhammad as a pig, in what looks like a photoshop job. The second, another photoshop job, shows a dog humping a praying Muslim with the caption "This is why Muslims pray" in Arabic. The third shows Muhammad as a badly-drawn demonic pedophile. While the Danish Cartoons were meant to make a point about freedom of speech, the three extra images were clearly meant to incite hatred.

But who produced them? Again, going back to Soj's commentary, it appears that the Danish cartoons alone weren't enough to get the reaction wanted. Apparently the average Muslim IS fairly tolerant. So the extra three images were put in to make this a matter that couldn't be ignored. The sick thing is, the extra images might have been made by Muslims. They certainly have nothing to do with the original 12 cartoons... but they've been distributed with them as if they were part of the original group. No wonder there's been violence. If it were only the original 12, I doubt the hatred would've gotten this hot. But when you add those extra three...

...And worst of all, most of the Europeans and non-Muslims simply don't know about the extra three images. They think that the violence is entirely because of the original 12 cartoons. Somebody is playing both sides. If you are reporting on this whole thing, do everyone a favor and mention the extra three images. Because, when it comes right down to it, if those images are what put Muslims over the edge, then we are reporting the wrong story...

It appears that this whole thing isn't about free speech at all. It's about manipulating the public through the media. What a surprise.