Friday, February 03, 2006

In which the Meridian gets all rabble-rouse-y on y'all . . .

. . . with the proud display of this brilliant cartoon that appeared in today's Le Monde in response to the Muslim outcry against a recent Danish newspaper's cartoon1 depicting the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. The text reads, by the way, "I must not draw Mohammed." (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

With due respect to the adherents of Islam, a reality that all believers must perforce recognize as a reality, whether they like it or not, is that not everyone holds their beliefs and that the non-belief of others demands the same respect (if not agreement) that believers have the right to ask of non-believers. This is, of course, something of a catch-22: the first steps in being respected are to show respect and to behave in ways that merit respect. Peacock-strutting piety and car bombs, I'm sorry to say, make the task of earning the respect of others more difficult than it already is. In the case of non-believers, so also do deliberately provocative, offensive attacks on believers. The laws of a nation govern our relations with others, no matter our beliefs and should be part of what makes mutual respect possible; the laws of a religion govern the believer's relationship with God. Of course that insistence on mutual respect will create tension, but there would be no need at all for faith, though, if that tension didn't exist. One can argue that the "Danish" cartoon lacks that respect, but its breaking of Islamic law frankly is not the concern of anyone who is not a practicing Muslim. To insist otherwise is a perversion of the whole notion of what belief and faith are.

I hope the need does not exist among my readers to make more explicit the connection between this situation and the tensions some Christians feel between themselves and secular society in this country.

1Update: I feel compelled, now, to put the word "Danish" in quotation marks since there appears to be some question as to just where the offending cartoons originated. In his first comment here, Fearful Syzygy, whose family lives in Denmark, just sent me a link to this article, which both provides crucial background (that I'd not been aware of) regarding the origins of the offending cartoons and makes as eloquent a declaration as can be imagined of the values of religious freedom and mutually-held respect in a diverse public square. Read it.

Update #2: Fearful's second comment compelled me to make a bit more pointed that non-believers have an equal responsibility in the creating and maintaining of a civil society (in every sense of that phrase).

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fearful_syzygy said...

As you probably know, this debate has been going on since the end of September in Denmark, and when I was back there over Christmas, I read some of the contributions in the press and was disgusted by the tone of that debate. I personally find it lamentable that this row should centre on a series of relatively unfunny cartoons, but obviously it has gone way beyond that now. But whatever lack of respect may or may not have been shown by publishing the cartoons in the first place, the righteous indignation that has characterised the entire discourse since then, certainly in Denmark, and I get the feeling elsewhere as well.
That is at least how things stood in December; now there appears to be a general consensus that things have gone too far. Jyllandsposten published an open letter the other day, which you can read (complete with unfortunate dangling modifier in the title), if you feel inclined.

fearful_syzygy said...

Um, I'm not sure what went wrong there. The righteous indignation, I was trying to say, is completely counter-productive, and I was amazed to see the sort of arguments which were printed. I mean, sure, freedom of the press is something which is taken extremely seriously in Denmark, but so is freedom of religion, and there was a very definite xenophobic (or rather, outright islamophobic) tone particularly in this one article I read, which effectively just said, "STFU you stupid muslims, we'll make fun of whoever we like, and you'll just have to live with it [implicitly: if you're going to come to our country and practice your barbaric faith, you'll damn well have to put up with this sort of stuff]." Obviously, as you say, it cannot be the responsibility of non-Muslims to honour Muslim strictures, but that doesn't mean you have to flout them quite so flagrantly just for the sake of it.

R. Sherman said...

John, another well-reasoned post. The problem as I see it is that in certain societies, pluralism is not accepted. Certainly you and I can accept others' beliefs for what they are, whether or not we agree with them. That is not an option in many parts of the world, sadly the Islamic world included. Stated differently, a radical Muslim would not accept your premise that all beliefs are worthy of respect, regardless of the truth of the beliefs.


Tracy said...

A wonderful Op-Ed article in today's New York Times about the latest Pope. It's titled For the Love of God, and it's about how this Pope is a believer in a loving, tolerant God, rather than the vengeful speratist God touted by religious fundamentalists.
I'm not Catholic, but I think I like this guy.

Sine.Qua.Non said...

I'm no upholder of the Muslim faith or any other faith for that matter, but I might point out that in this country, radicalism of Christian faiths as well as many others is or may be as problematic as that of Muslims. Certain sectors which practice as devil worshipers may take that to the extreme with sacrifices, etc. as an example (I'm not saying they do this, and if you are a devil-worshiper I apologise for using this as an example). In WWII, the Japanese honored those "Kamikazi" (sp?) pilots who roared to their deaths in suicide crashes and bombings. Do I consider this radical? Yes. Some do not. This isn't new in our world. Culturally we have vast differences in religion and scoiety. What is acceptable in some cultures is not in others. Respect is certainly the key. I'm not sure I understand what caused the strife or prejudice against Muslims with the Danish people unless it is our own war against a country that practices many forms of this faith. To not expect a reaction when a people are maligned -'s going to happen, at least in a Democracy. I personally find radicalism in a religious context to be a problem for all societies. When one faith of any kind believes it is in the right or majority over another, then proceeds to villify any other notions to the contrary, and effectuates change in that countries laws to reflect their particular brand of religions values - they are disrespectful towards me and others of various faiths. It's ridiculous. Why do these people believe everyone has to be the same. And, therein lies the problem. A lack of respect for diversity and an impingement upon other peoples freedom to believe as they live their lives as they wish.

The world calls many of these societies third world countries for a reason - (i was going to add to this, but I will leave it understood but not said). Nothing is black and white, nothing.

Andrew Simone said...

Brilliant post, I have been recently thinking about this in the context of Christian circles (I am a seminary student, heaven help us all).

My diagnosis of the problem, and I am not the first to assert this, is that ideologies are considered more important than people. One may respect a person but disagree with their ideology. For instance, I have a dear, DEAR Jewish friend but we cannot not see eye to eye almost any theological point yet I have nearly infinite respect for the man and the way he lives. If, however, people are merely "ideological containers" then to disagree with an ideology is to disrespect the person. Alas, this just isn't so, despite the nearly universal contemporary assertion.

John B. said...

Thanks to all of you, not just for the comments but for their civility.

Overlyconscious hits Sine.qua.non's nail on the head in his comments: something Islam and Christianity have in common in their most fundamentalist forms is the strong (and, in my opinion, unfortunate) tendency to see others only in terms of dogma. To do so leads, in extreme cases, to the dehumanizing of those we perceive as religious Others (think, for example, of Fred Phelps' actually celebrating the deaths of U.S. soldiers at their funerals).

Sine.Qua.Non said...

Check out RandomFate's analysis of the cartoons and their consequences:

...upon cartoons and the wholesale condemnation of groups

As usual, Jack does his best analyzing the issues relative to the Muhammad cartoon.