Why Should We Care About Muslims' Feelings?
So, it's come to this: I want to make clear, first and foremost, that I don't normally resort to the screaming headlines or outrageous stunts typical of the so-called "blogosphere." Rabid partisanship, etc., bores me terribly, but right now I'm having one of those moments where the utter absurdity of the world presents itself in all its glory--either a cosmic tragedy or grotesque joke, I don't know which. And all over editorial cartoons, nothing less.
What's gotten the Arab Street so up in arms? Well, it's the image at the top of the weblog. Offensive? Certainly. A gross racial and religious stereotype? Please, do you really need to ask?
Personally, I find editorial cartoons to be painfully outmoded in contemporary journalism, relying as they do on a collection of painful racial stereotypes to make a fairly banal point. Most people probably don't think this way, but editorial cartoons are really the forebears of South Park: offensive in broad strokes, reducing all the complexity of the issues that face us to a (rarely funny) one-liner. It gets a chuckle sometimes, but if you follow it daily, you realize they're a one-trick pony.
But that said, I'm a big believer in the freedom of speech, not just as an American but as a human being. And seriously, am I supposed to really pity and defer to the opinions of people who carry signs reading "Slay Those Who Insult Islam"? Seriously, we're to take these people more seriously than we take the protests of the Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westborough Baptist Church, with his infamous "God Hates Fags" website? Pres. Bush, ever the sensitive one to the concerns of the Islamic world, has actually for once taken their side, decrying such "anti-Muslim" provocations. But does that really surprise anyone, that our right-wing religious president would defer to a religion's desire to be above reproach or criticism even at the cost of our precious freedom of speech? Religious wackos are religious wackos and that's that. No religion should be above criticism, reproach and mockery, Christianisty, Islam, Buddhism, etc. For one thing, to claim otherwise necessitates forcing the nonreligious (like myself) to accept the worldview of people who believe in a magical entity they can't see, can't directly contact and who clearly hasn't done much to lessen their lot to bear in life, but which they nevertheless devote numerous hours of study and huige portions of their meager funds in the benefiction of. I'm sorry, that's not deserving of my respect, that's being a fucking idiot.
So here I am, reproducing these supposedly foul, hate images. Personally, I don't agree with their message. When these were published in September in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, it was correctly seen as a provocation. But now, roving mobs in such beacons of religious and press freedoms as Syria and Lebanon have attacked embassies in reaction to the perceived offense. So I draw the line: America has a lot of problems too, but are we really supposed to be criticized by non-democracies like Syria, Iran and Pakistan, all of whom have long histories of government sanctioned repression of Islamic religious minorities?
And second, this isn't their sort of crappy theocracy (or weakly propped-up dictatorship); this is the US. This morning, I read The New York Times' weak-kneed justification for not publishing these cartoons. I've had enough, ladies and gentlemen: since high school, I and my colleagues have made our way attacking and criticizing the extremist actions of out-of-touch religious psychos in America, from the Rev. Fred Phelps to the purveyors of the Oklahoma City bombing. I have performed in a play that features Jesus Christ in the closet (wink-wink) reading Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. I actively sought to produce a play in which Muhammad, the Chhristian God, Buddha and Vishnu are factory workers given to heavy drinking and eventually downsized by Satan. I have nothing but scorn and hatred for those who would put themselves above others in the name of their religious belief. Why? Well, although I am sensitive to the beliefs of others, the painful fact of the matter is that if you simply do not believe in God, you find it rather hard to care about offending those who do. Seriously. And given that the hate-filled Muslim response to these cartoons has been marked not only by incredible intolerance itself (not to mention an utter lack of sense of humor), I have nothing but the same scorn to throw back at them. In the US, the same Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to a free press as protects the right to freedom of religion. At least under the law, the right of American Muslims to practice their religion is protected in the same way my right to reproduce hate images is protected; at its most basic, the lesson free speech teaches is that brought out into the light of day and the full scrutiny of the public, fringe ideas will be rejected. To quote Lenny Bruce: "[T]he word's suppression gives in the power, the violence, the viciousness."