February 10, 2006

Cartoons Oh Cartoons

If I hear one more report about this issue, I think I'm going to explode! I particularly don't like hearing about this controversy on TV shows because I don't think the news (American or Arab) has enough time to cover the nuances of the story or even analyze it. That's why I prefer op-ed's by rational people, like Tariq Ramadan, who wrote this one for the Boston Globe.

Most of what I have heard and read has been too extreme, on both sides. There are those who staunchly advocate freedom of expression and feel that the Muslim reaction around the world is aimed at destroying this freedom. On the other hand, Muslims have also been reacting wildly with many who argue that this is part of the "plan" against Islam, and that it is a turning point for Western-Islamic relations.

And of course there are the crazies burning embassies and threatening Europeans in the Middle East. I wish those people would carry signs saying "I AM CRAZY AND I ONLY REPRESENT MYSELF AND NOT THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF 1.3 BILLION MUSLIMS." The media in the West has been picking up on these violent reactions and focusing on them because, well, they're so visible and they're good for ratings. Anyone who tries to argue that those cartoons were irresponsible and inciteful, and that Muslims are angry because to them Prophet Muhammad represents a blessing for humanity and one of the most peace-promoting beings ever created, they will be bombarded with those who say that the violent reactions just prove that Islam is a violent and barbaric religion...

There are some people who were just waiting for something like this to happen so they can tighten laws on immigration in Europe, or censorship laws in the Middle East, or to simply "prove" that our buddy Sam Hutington was right when he said that a "clash of civilizations" was imminent.

Thankfully, people like Tariq Ramadan and Robert Fisk are debunking those claims with unparalleled clarity and sound reasoning. Fisk ("This Isn't Islam vs. Secularism") writes:

For Muslims, the Prophet is the man who received divine words directly from God. We see our prophets as faintly historical figures, at odds with our high-tech human rights, almost cari-acatures of themselves. The fact is that Muslims live their religion. We do not. They have kept their faith through innumerable historical vicissitudes. We have lost our faith ever since Matthew Arnold wrote about the sea's "long, withdrawing roar". That's why we talk about "the West ver-sus Islam" rather than "Christians versus Islam" - because there aren't an awful lot of Christians left in Europe. There is no way we can get round this by setting up all the other world religions and asking why we are not allowed to make fun of Mohamed.

From what I heard from average Americans as well as journalists and news commentators, they just don't seem to get why people get so angry over a bunch of cartoons. This just proves to me how much of a gulf really exists in the understanding of cultures between these two massive civilizations. Muslims don't quite understand the whole concept of unlimited freedom of expression, and neither does the West understand the relationship most Muslims have to Prophet Muhammad. That's why I'm saying there needs to be more awareness and education.

Tariq Ramadan also debunks the clash of civs argument, adding that certain people on both sides of this argument are benefitting from this fiasco:

A few Danish Muslims recently visited some Middle Eastern countries and fanned the flames of resentment. Governments, only too happy to prove their attachment to Islam, took advantage of this and presented themselves as champions of the great cause. On the other side, this was just what some politicians, intellectuals, and journalists needed to paint themselves as champions of the great struggle for freedom of expression and resistance fighters against religious obscurantism in the name of Western values.

He adds:

No, this is not a predicted clash of civilizations. This affair does not symbolize the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. What is at stake at the heart of this story is a measure of whether or not the parties have the capacity to be free, rational (believer or atheist), and, at the same time, reasonable.

The fracture is not between the West and Islam but between those who, in both universes, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with measure in the name of a faith and/or a rational reason and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other, and hasty conclusions. These character traits are shared by some intellectuals, religious scholars, journalists, and the ordinary people on both sides. Facing the dangerous drifts these attitudes entail, it is urgent to launch a call for wisdom.

Will somebody please listen to these rational voices instead of the empassioned editors and religious fanatics?

I propose that everyone stop listening to the news and reading tabloid-like papers whose only goal is to make money with "hot" stories rather than really get the news out and the right analysis of this incident which has been blown way out of proportion.




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