the cartoon wars

Muslims are up in arms (literally) over a series of Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, as this report from Reuters describes. I suppose we should be glad that the Defense Department is only whining about a Tom Toles cartoon critical of Donald Rumsfeld. Toles himself writes:

"It is the nature of cartooning that someone can read an analogy a cartoon uses to mean things other than what was intended. […] The only way to avoid that problem is to draw cartoons that have no impact."

Andrew Sullivan has written repeatedly about the Danish cartoons, and took a moment to comment on Pope Ratzinger's stand on free speech: "The right to freedom of thought and expression ... cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers." Sullivan notes that “The Vatican, while deploring violence, urges legislation banning anti-religious offensive expression. In the end, the real fundamentalists are on the same side.” This parallels his comment in “Christianists and Islamists” that:

True fundamentalism is incompatible with liberal democracy. And that's why, although at the moment the Christianists are nowhere near as intolerant or as violent as the Islamists, we have to be vigilant at home as well.

Sullivan’s column at Time, “Your taboo, not mine” talks about the Muslim taboo against “any visual depiction of the Prophet:”

You can respect a religion without honoring its taboos. I eat pork, and I'm not an anti-Semite. As a Catholic, I don't expect atheists to genuflect before an altar. If violating a taboo is necessary to illustrate a political point, then the call is an easy one. Freedom means learning to deal with being offended.


The West's principles are clear enough. Tolerance? Yes. Faith? Absolutely. Freedom of speech? Nonnegotiable.

Christopher Hitchens’ “Cartoon Debate: The Case for Mocking Religion” at Slate follows this thread:

I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species. [emphasis added]

(As Hitchens observes, Human Events Online has posted the twelve Danish cartoons. )

To a large extent, the fundamentalist strains of Judeo-Christianity have been civilized by their centuries-long exposure to liberal Enlightenment secularism. Islam, by contrast, is still in a much more primitive condition; the liberalization of their faith has barely begun, and it often fails quite miserably at integrating itself into the liberal and secular states of the West. While I have little doubt that such accommodation will eventually be made, incidents like the furor over these cartoons illustrate the maturity that many members of their faith community have yet to demonstrate.


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