February 11, 2006

Religion: Don't Look At Me!

You'd figure that with the whole "Death to Cartoonists" thing going on, I'd have commented on it by now. After all, it's a nice little blend of religion and politics that should be irresistable to a humanist like me... However, I have to admit some hesitation, but for a perfectly valid reason: I'm damn near inhumanly lazy. I only know a smattering of the Islamic faith, so I'm not sure I can criticize it properly.

But what the hell, eh?

Quickie synopsis:

Famously right-wing paper (the Jyllands-Posten) heard that a children's book author couldn't find an illustrator for his book about the prophet, as it is widely accepted among Muslims that images of either God or His prophets is strictly forbidden. So they asked all the Danish cartoonists to send them what they thought Mohammed looked like, and 12 replied (here they are). Perhaps four are deliberately provocative, another four are comments on the difficulty in doing the illustrations, a couple are pretty standard political humour, and a couple actually look like what Mohammed may have looked like. The cartoonists were paid 450 kroner ($82 CDN). This was in September 2005.

Twelve Muslim ambassadors protested to the Danish Prime Minister, demanding he take "immediate and harsh" steps against the paper: he declined. Danish Imam Mustapha, spokesman for a group called the "European Committee for Prophet Honouring" pushed for wide distribution of the images in the Muslim world. A political party in Pakistan offered 50,000 kroner ($9,200 CDN) for each cartoonist killed.

There were several cartoons circulated in the Muslim world that were much more in the tradition of cartooning there: astoundingly vile, crude, and vicious images were falsely attributed to the Jyllands-Posten series, inflaming emotions further. Really. They print incredibly nasty stuff as a matter of course, usually about Jews and Americans. As German Paper Die Welt pointed out, the Imams didn't seem to mind when Jews were shown to be cannibals on public television in Syria...

There are widespread protests and a general boycott of everything Danish, costing at least one company over $2,000,000 in sales, despite an advertising campaign explaining they had notheing to do with images in a newspaper. One interesting story was Mahmoud Zahar, a leader of Hamas, walking into a church in Gaza to offer them the protection of Hamas' militant wing. This came after gunman from Fatah searched hotels for forigeners to kidnap; they didn't find any.

On January 30, the Jyllands-Posten printed an apology (of sorts - more of an explanation), and the next day evacuate their building because of a bomb threat. An Indonesian newspaper printed the cartoons and put them up on their website (and since removed them), prompting an attack on the Danish embassy in that country, making news around the world. This is probably the first images of the protests that most people saw in North America.

A Jordinian newspaper prints three of the cartoons (I don't know which ones) with an editorial, reading in part:

"What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"
He is arrested.


Most of the rest of this you've probably already heard, if you're interested in following the story at all. I have to admit that I'm amused by the government of Iran running a contest for the most offensive depiction of the Holocaust - this, apparently, is in retribution for the Mohammed images. Considering the President of Iran is already a Holocaust denier, and the number of fanatically anti-semitic cartoons that are already published, I can't imagine there being much of an effect. Not that their Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is much saner...

Then, of course, there's Pakistan, a nation that America would have had no problems finding justifications to invade. The Pakistan Chemists and Drug Association universally decided to boycott European drugs being imported into the country. Hey, why limit yourself to a single suicide when you can force your entire population to do so? Senior spokesman Haji Zakir Farooq said:

“It would not affect the local supply as such, as there are several countries other than the European states which provide the same products at much better prices."

Apparently he missed the reports of counterfit drugs produced in Africa and India creating drug-resistant strains of diseases like malaria.


So what could I possibly add to this rather one-sided debate? The only aspect that hasn't been really discussed very much is why exactly the image of Mohammed is forbidden (haram) in Islam.

Well, it's widely accepted that any images of God or the prophets is haram because they might lead to the worship of the images rather that what the images represent.

From Prophets 21:52-54

21:52 When he [Abraham] said unto his father and his folk: What are these images unto which ye pay devotion ?
21:53 They said: We found our fathers worshippers of them.
21:54 He said: Verily ye and your fathers were in plain error.

From Counsel 42:11

42:11 The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He hath made for you pairs of yourselves, and of the cattle also pairs, whereby He multiplieth you. Naught is as His likeness; and He is the Hearer, the Seer.

This, combined with the Old Testament idea of God creating man in his image...

From Genisis 1:27

1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

...led to the general banning of any human images in Muslim art, a decision that was eventually overturned by societal pressure, but was also the cause of the destruction of Afghanistan's famous Buddhas. More moderate branches of Islam were horrified at the demolition along with the rest of the world, but the Taliban has never been accused of being moderate. However, the ban on images of Allah and his prophets (isn't that a band?) still holds sway in most Muslim temples.

So two points arise out of this:

1) Why are non-Muslims not exempt?
2) Where are the protests of Jesus' depiction that are throughout the Christian world?

Muslims regard both Jesus and Moses as authentic prophets, and the depiction of such is forbidden, remember? Basically, Christianity was an updating of Judaism, and Islam is a modified Christianity; sort of a Monotheism 3.0 upgrade.

The riots and protests aren't about some doodles, of course. They are the ultimate reaction of the powerless against the powerful (see: French Revolution), and much of the Arab world believe themselves to be in a war of elimination against (you guessed it) America and their lackeys.

That would be everyone else in the world, pretty much.

Accurate or not, the invasion if Iraq pushed what was already a very tense culture into a state of psychotic paranoia, ready to see anything at all as an affront. Add to this the poverty riots in France, and what could only be considered unhelpful comments from pundits [Feb 10, Ann Coulter: "I think our motto should be post-9-11, 'raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.'" (This declaration prompted a boisterous ovation.)] in the West, and this response is no real surprise to anyone; the only surprise is what triggered the response.

I haven't seen a cartoon of a camel with a single straw yet, but it's an image I can't get out of my mind.

**Sorry, I should note that the first two citations above are from books of the Koran, and the third is from the Old Testament. Like you didn't know that.**


posted by Thursday at 1:05 pm


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