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Cartoonish Behavior

By Marvin Hutchens | February 3, 2006

The original cartoon depictions of Muhammad were published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. They've been republished now in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Jordan. Ostensibly the reproductions are in support of free speech. That is likely true.

After the re-issuance of the cartoons, or some portion of them as there were 12 in the original publication, the cultural component of the War on Terror is likely to get a significant boost in attention. More likely, the widespread uproar, protests, riot and outrage over the depictions are drawing attention to the ideological component of the war. Protests have been held in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories. Statements of "Death to Denmark" and "Destroy our enemies" are no doubt common, as are calls for embargoes and boycotts of European and Danish goods. Embassies are being closed, stormed and pelted with eggs. And governments have sent emissaries to meet with Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen who wanted to explain his countries position on the issue.

The Jordanian paper Shihan, also republished a selection of the offending cartoons. And went on to note that the original publisher of the cartoons has apologized, along with its call for Muslims to "be reasonable." And therein lies the crux of the issue.

Whether in the context of the Global War on Terror or as a clash of civilizations or in the culture war between the West and the Islamic world the inevitable challenge rest in the hands of Muslims to discover and embrace reason. The position of the offended believers is that no depiction of Muhammad or Allah is permitted under Islamic tradition in order to prevent idolatry. Reasonable enough - except that no one is suggesting that believers worship the cartoons or that they even be held in high regard. Having seen them, they aren't that impressive.

What has happened to a religion and people that once led the way in scientific and reasoned scholarship? It can't be blamed on oil, as their making a living from the underground natural resource is a relatively recent event, and not one shared by all Islamic lands or Muslim peoples. Is in that the teachings of the faith have been bound to such a degree by the variety of Islamic leaders who rant against any innovation, who define every action a man can take in context of the Sunna of the Prophet rather than teaching their followers to reason as to the moral foundations of the Prophet's life. Surely some lessons of his life are available to be used not as definitive law but as guides to a life of good and proper service to God in a modern world. Or are we to believe that he would have been so petty as to be outraged by his depiction as to call for the death of Denmark.

When learning about Islam more than a decade ago one of the most often repeated comments of one tutor was that balance is found in Islam. He would describe the role of the law and the role of the spirit as mutual and required for the proper practice of the faith. In all aspects of life he believed that Islam would play a role as his guidepost. Yet it was to be his reasoning, knowledge and faith that would lead him to make decisions. On more than one occasion his words would be challenged by others who believed that forsaking the bad required withdrawal from the Western culture completely. On each occasion he would stand his ground and say that the Prophet of Islam was not the prophet of an unknowing and incapable people and that he must, therefore, be able to discern things for himself.

From his home in Saudi Arabia, I would guess that he is neither pleased by the publication of the cartoons nor by the behavior of those who are so offended.

2 Comments

There was a Reuters article a few days ago that quoted several Muslims as saying that the problem was one of "respect." The idea was that Islam isn't getting the respect in the world that it ought to. See comment number 7 from this post, which is a good example.

I think what we are seeing here is another manifestation of the belief which developed in the early centuries of Islam that if Muslims were faithful, Islam would rule the world. This belief seemed validated by the spread of Islamic rule, not challenged until the decline of the Ottoman empire. Much of the crisis in the Muslim world today has to do with the contradiction between the modern reality of a weak and poor Islamic world as against the historical memory of when Islam ruled. This reaction can be seen almost everywhere; to take a random example, Afghanistan: it is fine for the Taliban to killed Muslims by the thousands, but non-Muslim troops on Muslim soil is an offense that must be avenged. See also Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, et cetera.

The question of the decline of the powers of reason in the Muslim world is a big one. I tend to blame it on the Ottomans; think about it - it wasn't until 1795 that the printing press became permanently established for Arabic and Turkish characters, because the belief was that it was a sin. The Ottomans took the prohibition on bid'a, innovation, to an extreme, and under their rule the Arabs were barely aware, if at all, of the great changes taking place in Europe for centuries. And now the doctrine of the rule of Islam is still intact, and part of the latent psychology, but the tables have been turned.

And then there are the cowards in the Western world, like CNN, as shown in this report, where they note that they haven't published the cartoons "out of respect" for Muslims. In reality, they are concerned with marketshare, so those who watch CNN have to look elsewhere in order to understand what is going on.

The Islamic furor over the cartoons is a calculated political statement. Denmark is due to chair the UN Security Council when the Iranian nuclear situation comes up for discussion. Denmark is being put on notice!----as well as the European Union members----don't mess with the Islamic world we're here to!!!