Since everybody else has to have an opinion about Muslims, cartoons, Danish newspapers, and depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, I’m going to tell you mine.
Everybody involved’s a freakin’ moron.
I am sorely tempted to just end with “Thank you, and good night,” but I suppose I should clarify a bit more, just so that people are getting angry with me for the right reasons (although since people have already dug in their camps on this one, I suspect it’s probably too late, and for them, the rest of my post will be like a weird Far Side cartoon–“Blah blah blah Islam! blah blah blah free speech!” Come to think of it, that’s what a lot of the posts read like to me, too.)
You run a religiously offensive cartoon, people are gonna get pissed. This has nothing to do with free speech. Free speech means you don’t get shot and the government doesn’t burn your book. It doesn’t mean people will take anything you say with a smile. Free speech means people can think you’re wrong, and get bloody pissed, and make blog posts from their armchair. Free speech means that the death squads don’t come and shoot you for owning a copy of Thomas Payne, it doesn’t mean that you can say anything you want without social repercussions. Free speech does not equal acceptance of your opinion as valid. If you start telling me about the Indigo Children, I will tell you you’re an idiot. This is not a supression of your free speech. Just because you have free speech doesn’t mean you’re right.
Regardless, you run religiously offensive cartoons, people have every right in God’s green earth to get mad.
If I somehow managed to get a cartoon in the New York Times and decided to go with the perennial “Jesus cornholing altar boys” theme, people would be bloody furious, I hope, since why the hell would I do something that crude and deliberately offensive if I wasn’t trying to get people worked up? I certainly wouldn’t be able to flap my hands a bit and say “Well, I didn’t expect people to get mad,” because Ursula’s Law of Art is that if you take the cheap road and make art specifically to shock people, the backlash is part of the mess you get to clean up. You’re the one who wanted to piss people off. Deal.
As a tangent, it’s fairly stupid to get frothing mad over somebody else’s depiction of your religion/politics/creed/whatever, too, since what does that do but put a handy little leash of outrage around your neck and put the loop in somebody else’s hands? But then again, somebody has only to mention intelligent design and young earth creationism to me, and I’m frothing at the end of the choke chain myself.
Moron. (Me, this time.)
And now, before I am swept up by screaming that I’m an Islamist sympathizer, let me go to the other side, and say that when you get mad at a newspaper, you write a stern letter to the editor about how you didn’t think that was funny and it’s destroying the fabric of our society or whatever. My grandmother used to call the newspaper every time Beetle Bailey was slightly off-color. At no point did she burn an embassy. Burning the Danish embassy is overreacting. There is never any good excuse to burn the Danish embassy, unless they have a really lethal infestation of termites, and I don’t think the mob had any exterminators with them. You do not protest depictions of Islamic violence by commiting violence in the name of Islam, people! That’s like my husband saying “You’re being irrational,” and me screaming “I AM NOT!” and then bursting into tears (which yes, I’ve done. Perhaps Syria has PMS.) This is a Bad and Stupid Thing. (I realize I am probably not emphasizing how bad and stupid this is nearly enough for the comfort of the people who are really enjoying being pissed about this, but while I can speak with relative authority about free speech and the media and shock art, I have never burned an embassy, and I am thus short of clever similes about it. It’s bad and stupid and should not have been done. There are no nuances I can explore to add weight to the statement. It’s just a freakin’ bad idea to burn an embassy, period.)
Severing trade ties to Denmark because of one of their newspapers? Keeee-rist.
But there’s a third party involved who’s being stupid, and that’s a lot of the media reporting it, although obviously not everybody. Still, not nearly enough distinction is being made between the vast majority of Muslims who are right now scribbling letters to their editors and being horribly embarassed by the behavior of Syria, and those burning the Danish embassy. Which I think really is representative of the problems in our media with the Islamic world–when the IRA blew stuff up, I don’t seem to recall them being called “Christian extremists” and people didn’t engage in all this unbelievable arm-chair comparative religious studies trying to find passages in the Bible where “their” religion said it was okay for “them” to kill people. People who would be hard pressed to name all twelve commandments, let alone all twelve disciples, suddenly start claiming knowledge of an equally complex religion, who’s sacred text they’ve never read. And yet, in the public mind, who burned embassies? “The Muslims.” Ask ’em who blew up chunks of Belfast, and I will bet you dollars to donuts you don’t hear “The Christians.” And that’s freakin’ stupid. There’s how many people in the Muslim world, and how many of them burned embassies, exactly? And yet, talking heads refer to “Muslims” as if they were a great monolithic slab of humanity, which is like pouring soothing gasoline on the fire.
I am told this exact same thing happens t’other way in Arabic newspapers. I cannot speak to whether or not this is true, since I don’t get those newspapers, and don’t speak the language, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least. All statements of moronhood equally apply. Religions may differ, but sadly, people tend to be stupid in the same ways the world over.
So that’s my opinion. It was stupid to run the cartoons and not expect people to get mad, it was stupid to get that mad, it’s really stupid to burn buildings ‘cos you’re mad, it’s stupid for armchair anthropologists to take such glee in how their low opinion of Islam is confirmed by this, the portrayal of the whole event is stupid, and symptomatic of a broader and profound stupidity about how both sides relate to each other.
There is enough idiocy to go around. Frankly, I think we should just chalk the whole thing up as an ugly moment in the history of the world when practically everybody involved behaved fairly badly, and get on with life.
Edit: Ten. TEN commandments. See, I told you everybody involved was a moron…