Thursday, February 16, 2006


Many of you may be aware of the on going uproar over some so-called 'anti-Muslim' cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper. I was originally going to post this like a week ago, but my blogging etiquette of late has left quite a bit to be desired. For this, I humbly apologize. Or something.

If you're not aware by now of what all the fuss is about, you can check out the cartoons themselves here and check out the reaction to the cartoons on more or less any news website.

This situation is actually more complicated than it seems. Granted, it does deal with the issues of freedom of the press, freedom of expression, etc., but it goes well beyond that.

To start with, yes, the Danish press, and any free press for that matter, has the right to publish whatever it wants, regardless of whether it will hurt someone's feelings. That's the whole point of freedom of expression.

Several newspapers have reprinted some or all of the cartoons in a show of solidarity with the Danish newspaper that first printed them. This strikes me as a little strange. Don't get me wrong, I think there are perfectly legitimate reasons to reprint the cartoons — such as to inform people of what caused the riots — but to reprint them as a 'show of solidarity' seems, at least to me, to be publishing offensive content for the sake of offense. That's just not good journalism, in my humble, seven-months-in-the-industry opinion.

But in as much as the Western press has the right to publish offensive cartoons, the Muslims who take offense to such cartoons have the right to protest — whether their government grants that right or not is another story.

If a Muslim is angry and wants to carry a sign saying 'Freedom go to hell!' by all means. Apparently, the person carrying this sign has no sense of irony, however. If Arab nations want to boycott European goods (including food and medicine), they have the right to be stupid. (Though I suspect that when/if there's a bird flu outbreak in the region, they're going to be begging for some European medicine.) I'd even cede that burning Danish flags is 'non-violent.'

But when signs read 'Decapitate those who insult Islam' — that's a little much. When riots are started, embassies are set ablaze, priests are murdered, newspapers are receiving bomb threats and cartoonists are having to hire personal body guards, I think that any rational person can agree that the right to peacefully protest was overstepped a few 'Allah akbars' ago.

To be fair, however — or at least as fair as I can bring myself to be — the Muslims that are protesting aren't fully to blame. Much of this falls on the shoulders of the Islamic clergy and the Arab governments themselves.

To start, Danish imams blatantly lied in order to exaggerate the cartoon controversy. Instead of reporting that 12 cartoons were printed (as actually happened), the imams reported that 120 cartoons were printed. They also reported that the newspaper that first printed the cartoons was owned by the Danish government, which isn't true of any Danish newspaper. The imams also said that the Danish government had some nasty plans for the Koran, as well as an insulting movie about Mohammed — again, patently false. At least one imam also released some bogus, counterfeit cartoons along with the others that were solely intended to incite rage.

Moreover, Arab governments have been egging the protestors along. In governments like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, such protests can only happen with government approval. Plus, the more citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran are thinking about how much they hate the West, the less they're thinking about how their respective governments continue to systematically screw them.

At the very base of this matter, however, is the fundamental difference between Western civilization and fundamentalist Islam. Western civilization values things like freedom and liberty — where citizens can choose to be Muslim if they wish, but can also choose to lampoon it in a publication if they so desire. Fundamentalist Islam, however, values itself above all else. Meaning, it is much more important, from the perspective of fundamentalist Muslims, that people be "good Muslims" rather than have a free society.

This is why the two civilizations will never be compatible. Fundamentalist Islam has become the whiny kid on the playground that no one wants to play with — the kid that runs his mouth and is quick to belittle others, but throws a temper-tantrum the second anyone dares belittle him. He only wants to play the game on his terms, and if he doesn't get his way, he resorts to violence. The only difference between fundamentalist Islam and the kid on the playground is that when fundamentalist Muslims throw temper-tantrums, they riot, burn buildings and kill people. They're obviously not ready to play the game, nor do they seem particularly interested in doing so. And that's a problem.


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