Tuesday, February 07, 2006

comic furor

okay, so this is by now practically old news, but here on the ground, it's big news. Not only are the Danish cartoons the biggest story in international politics, they're also the biggest story in the everyday life of millions of people--including those I work with and, frankly, me. Therefore, my perspective.

1. Freedom of the press is crucial, and I do believe that the government of Denmark is correct in saying it cannot apologize for what the free press publishes. The publisher can do whatever he or she wants as far as what is in the newspaper. I often want to ask people here "why are you so upset that a government won't censor the newspaper, when one of the things you ask for is an uncensored media?"

2. Part of me wants to ask where the Christians or the Jews are when their iconic figures are being bashed by political cartoons. I don't like to see Mohammed with a bomb on his head, but I also don't like to see Moses with a gun or Jesus throwing people into hell or whatever it is that cartoonists use to make fun of things highly visible Jews or Christians do or say. And a small part of that part wants to ask why it's such a big deal--a few cartoons...welcome to the equal treatment you've been demanding. Except I know that is a huge gloss over a ton of issues, not the least of which is the prohibition against ANY depiction of Mohammed.

3. "with great freedom comes great responsibility." And in this case, I think the responsibility is to common sense. We are in a world where radical followers of religions are known to act in ways that seem irrational. We are in a time when anger against Western countries and those who are perceived as enemies of particular religions is very high and situations are volatile. We are in a world where people are regularly kidnapped and murdered simply because their skin color or faith identifies them as the enemy, whether they are or not. So to publish anything inflammatory or, as many Muslims would put it, defamatory, in this environment is profoundly stupid. Where are your brains, people? Not only have you further inflamed the anger against the west, you have also put in danger all of us Westerners who live in the Middle East--your own diplomats, business people, aid workers, volunteers, English teachers...not to mention the Christians both native and foreign who are seen as outposts of the West by the radical Islamic movement.

4. Don't think it's only the radicals who are upset by this. Every day I walk through a poor-side-of-middle-class Muslim neighborhood. Yesterday I found that EVERY CAR on the street had posted an 8-1/2 by 11 sign (either printed out or hand written) that said--in English--"down with haters of Islam...destroy Denmark today." And I'm not talking about someone walking down posting flyers on cars. These were on the inside of the back window. Of every car in the neighborhood. Sure makes this cute blonde woman want to think twice about going to my job as a pastor in the protestant christian seminary on the other side of this neighborhood. Today I was talking with a Muslim teacher--a first grade Arabic teacher--at RCG. When she began to talk about the cartoons, she CRIED. With real tears. She was explaining to me that she loves the Prophet Mohammed more than her mother, more than her father, more than her sisters...why would people want to defame that love? And you know--that's how much we're supposed to love Jesus. And if the command is to spread love around, then why are we spreading hate and mistrust? This woman--a normal, average, not all that conservative Muslim woman, cried when talking about these cartoons.

5. Obviously I don't condone violence. I think that people who are burning embassies and throwing rocks and whatnot are not taking the best action to make their case. I agree that the violence is only making moderate Islam look bad and is increasing the culture of fear and hatred. I also would be quick to point out that Radical Fundamentalist Islam is not the way to go. And then I would point out that some of these people you see protesting are not Radicals, they aren't Fundamentalists, they are people who feel really deeply hurt and angered over this defamation of the one they love most, the one who gives them their identity. And again I appeal to the common sense of people--don't return evil for evil.

Well, that's my take on this. And now I have to go for a walk through my Muslim neighborhood, try not to look Danish, and if someone approaches me, try to mend some fences.

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