Cartoon Wars--Origins, Beliefs, and Escalation
[All emphases by Always On Watch]
From a February 1, 2006 article in the Washington Post:
"The controversy began when the newspaper asked 12 artists to draw caricatures of Muhammad in response to an author who complained that he could not find an artist willing, under his own name, to illustrate a book about the prophet."That reticence to reveal one's own name comes as no surprise. Remember Theo van Gogh? He lost his life in his exercise of free expression. His murderer is on trial now in the Netherlands.
The offending cartoons were originally printed in September 2005, then republished three weeks ago in an evangelical Christian newspaper. Do Muslims read evangelical Christian newspapers? And don't religious newspapers in Western countries have a protected right to publish material which the secular population largely disregards? This week, of course, in a show of defiant support for freedom of the press, the cartoons were again published in many of the larger European newspapers, so the cartoons have now received much wider distribution. I haven't seen the cartoons in any American newspapers or on my television screen, however.
According to the above-cited article,
"Islam considers any artistic renditions of Muhammad blasphemous. In many Muslim nations, English-language newspapers are so reverential that any mention of his name is followed by the letters PBUH, for 'peace be upon him.'Let's look at how Islam views these depictions:
"French theologian Sohaib Bencheikh...admonished: 'One must find the borders between freedom of expression and freedom to protect the sacred.' He added, 'Unfortunately, the West has lost its sense of the sacred.'"
"The spreading Muslim protests against newspapers that reprinted cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad stem from the deepest religious roots.I see a little problem here. Those who are not Muslims don't view Islam's founder as sacred and don't abide by Islamic restrictions. My interpretation of the above words from Syeed is that freedom of speech applies only if that freedom doesn't offend Muslims. Isn't that "muzzling"? Furthermore, because of the Islamic definition of what is acceptable art, much of what is on display in Western art galleries is patently offensive to some Muslims--not as offensive as caricatures of Muhammad the Prophet, but certainly not in line with strict Islamic guidelines.
"Islam forbids visual depictions of the prophet, and regards violations by Muslims as highly sinful and by non-Muslims as the ultimate sort of insult.
"The prohibition is in part an application of the Quran's strict opposition to idolatry, the worship of a physical object as a god, including any hint of such devotion toward the faith's revered human prophet.
"In the Quran, shirk (Arabic for 'partnering' or 'associating' anything with God) is the one unforgivable sin: 'God does not forgive the joining of partners with him: anything less than that he forgives to whoever he will, but anyone who joins partners with God is lying and committing a tremendous sin' (4:48).
"The Quran does not specifically address artwork of Muhammad, and through history a few Muslims have painted him. But the ban has been virtually universal in all branches of the faith from its earliest days.
"The rule extends to artwork showing others regarded as prophets by Islam, including Jesus, even though Christians have often visualized their divine savior in paintings, statutes and films.
"Muslims disagree among themselves on whether it's proper to portray the prophet's early followers, known as the Companions. Unlike Sunnis, Shia Muslims allow images of their greatest saint, Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law.
"Some Muslims oppose any art that depicts humans, and Muslims have tended to specialize in nature paintings, decorative arts and calligraphy. Some were wary of photography, too. But Zahik Bukhari, director of Georgetown University's American Muslim Studies Program, says those attitudes are fading.
"A second aspect of the depiction ban is noted by John Esposito, editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Besides shunning any hint of idolatry, he says, the practice also expresses 'the deep reverence and respect Muslims have for Muhammad' as 'the ideal Muslim.' He notes that when the prophet is named, believers always add 'peace and blessings be upon him' and that he is sometimes called 'the living Quran.'
"Bukhari says the cartoons, first published in Denmark, constitute a triple offense for Muslims: first by depicting Muhammad at all; second by treating him disrespectfully; and third because 'in the present circumstance it is a symbol of the clash of civilizations that they want to insult the prophet and the whole of Islam.'...
"Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, said it's important that non-Muslims distinguish between freedom of opinion on religious matters and needless offense.
"'Muslims respect free speech rights, Syeed said. But 'in a democratic environment, living in a pluralistic society, people should know they have to respect the sensitivity of Muslims on this issue. It does not muzzle their freedom of speech in rejecting Muhammad as the prophet.'"
Until today, the story of the cartoon wars in the Washington Post was limited to small news items or to somewhat longer pieces buried in the back pages. But on February 3, 2006, the story made the Washington Post's front page, above the fold:
"Protests against European newspapers' publication of cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad gained momentum across the Islamic world Thursday as Pakistani schoolchildren burned French and Danish flags and Muslim presidents denounced the drawings. At the same time, more European news organizations printed or broadcast the caricatures, citing a need to defend freedom of expression."Assassination" is a sanitized word. The murder of Theo van Gogh was brutal and a clear statement that any denigration of Islam would not be tolerated. Bouyeri does not hesitate to emphasize that he felt his murderous act was one of honor. I'm guessing that he feels such an act guarantees him a special place in Paradise.
"In another day of confrontation between the largely secular nations of Europe and Muslim countries where religion remains a strong force in daily life, Islamic activists threatened more widespread protests and boycotts of European businesses. While some European officials sought to defuse the crisis, many journalists insisted that despite Islamic outrage, religious sensibilities should not result in censorship.
"Mahmoud A. Hashem, a businessman in Saudi Arabia reflecting broad sentiment in Muslim societies, called the cartoons just another example of a 'sport to insult Islam and Muslims' after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Under Islamic teachings, any depiction of Muhammad, the faith's founder and messenger of God, is blasphemy, including depictions that are not negative....
"In the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a German citizen from a hotel restaurant and threatened to seize more foreigners. The German was later released, Palestinian security officials said.
"Many Europeans left the Gaza Strip as a precaution Thursday. The E.U. shuttered its office there after warnings that staff members would be kidnapped. About a dozen gunmen briefly surrounded the empty building, firing their weapons. Some European countries warned citizens against travel in the Middle East.
"In the city of Multan in central Pakistan, several hundred students from Islamic schools burned French and Danish flags in protest. Boycotts of Danish grocery products expanded across the Middle East.
"Presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Ahmadinejad of Iran issued statements of condemnation, as did King Abdullah of Jordan. In a speech in Washington, the monarch said that while 'we respect and revere freedom of speech, we condemn needless desecration and injury of Islamic sensibilities, such as the recent cartoons misrepresenting and vilifying my ancestor, the prophet.'
"Newspapers throughout the Muslim world condemned their European counterparts. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News ran a one-word headline on its front page that summarized sentiment in the region: 'Apologize!'
"The Egyptian publisher of France Soir, which printed the controversial caricatures Wednesday, fired the paper's managing editor, Jacques LeFranc, late Wednesday night, saying, 'We present our regrets to the Muslim community and to all people who have been shocked or made indignant by this publication.'
"But the dismissed editor's boss, Faubert, wrote an unrepentant editorial in Thursday's editions: 'We had no desire to add oil to the fire as some may think. A fundamental principle of democracy and secularism is being threatened.'...
"International journalist organizations have condemned the threats of violence against the European journalists who published the cartoons.
"'We defend unpopular speech around the world all the time,' said Joel Simon, deputy director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 'We don't make judgments whether we agree or disagree' with the message. 'Sometimes we sort of have to hold our nose, but they've got the right to say that, and we defend their right.'...
"Tensions continue in the Netherlands, where in 2004 Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose work carried strong anti-Islamic messages, was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim extremist. In a court appearance Thursday in that city, Bouyeri said that 'the fact that you see me as the black standard-bearer of Islam in Europe fills me with honor, pride and joy.'"
Returning now to the article, to some statements from "average Muslims,"
"'I think that all Muslims should unite and do something about this [the offending cartoons],' said Hashem, reached on his cell phone as he was leaving prayers at a Jiddah mosque Thursday afternoon. 'Anybody who wants to get some press uses Muslims as a punching bag.'Boycotting products to make a statement about one's politics or personal beliefs is one thing. In fact, CAIR made use of a similar tactic when the organization and its followers and members contacted the various sponsors of WMAL Radio and engineered the firing of Michael Graham. And very recently, several Christian groups protested the television show The Book of Daniel; after only a few episodes, the show was canceled.
"At Sawari Superstores, one of the largest supermarket chains in Jiddah, signs were posted in the dairy section saying, 'We do not sell any Danish products.'
"'I am not willing to buy any product from a country that has insulted my prophet, my religion and my dignity as a Muslim,' said Leila Faleh, 42, a hospital administrator shopping at the store. "'I would rather go back to drinking milk from a cow and eating dates.'"
But calls for and acts of violence are something else altogether. Serious though threats and actions from offended Muslims may be, the threats of schoolyard bullies comes to my mind: let them intimidate others, and the bullies are emboldened. Appeasement is not the way to go when a bully of any sort comes along.
Today's front-page Washington Post article also includes the following statement from "the man on the street":
"'It is nothing new,' lamented Mohammed Hussein Mudhaffer, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. 'The publishing of such cartoons showing the prophet Muhammad is part of the savage campaign waged by the West against Islam and Muslims.'"Cartoons are a "savage campaign"? Since when? But the Muslim reaction to the cartoons may be turning into a savage campaign.
And just who is showing these enraged Muslims these cartoons? Here's a clue:
"Thousands of Iraqis protested after Friday prayers against caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad reprinted in European papers and the country's top Shiite cleric denounced the drawings....'We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action,' Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said of the caricatures in a statement posted on his Web site and dated Jan. 31."Maybe messages condemning the cartoons are coming to a mosque near you.