Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hypocrites, Blasphemers and Cartoons

I'm breaking this post into global and local topics, starting locally.

Local issues:
Stephen Harper (our latest Prime Minister) has barely been sworn into office. What does he do first? He announces his new cabinet of Ministers. No big deal you think, this is normal stuff. But wait - David Emerson, who ran as a Liberal just two weeks ago and won with an overwhelming majority changes teams to be the Conservative Trade Minister. I honestly would not care about this so much if Harper had reacted differently to Belinda Stronach's defection just last year. If it was clearly not okay for Belinda to defect, why is it suddenly okay now for David?

Stephen Harper, your actions portray you as a political hypocrite. I won't even get into the whole issue of appointing someone who wasn't even elected to be Minister of Public Works and Government Services. We are off to a spectacularly bad start. So much for electing a more accountable government. I've already lost confidence in this minority government. Can we get a motion?

Global Issue:
I'd continue this rant, but I also wanted to mention the first sane article I have seen that discusses the Danish anti-Muslim cartoons. I applaud the Times for taking the stand they did. Muslims the world over have been offended by these cartoons, and for what purpose? To highlight the difficulty experienced by Danish writer Kåre Bluitgen in finding artists to illustrate his children's book about Muhammad. So now an Iran newspaper has decided to hold a contest of their own to test this 'free speech' in Europe to find a dozen holocaust cartoons. Which I suppose, is better than burning down buildings or killing folks.

So in the spirit of today's news, I commissioned a political cartoon of my own, to express what I feel about our newly elected government's actions. While I got exactly what I described from the artist, I was surprised at how conflicted I felt on seeing it. My initial reaction was to laugh, because I did find it funny. But it is funny only because I feel it is true and that there is comedy in misery. At the same time I also find it somewhat offensive to my sense of national pride. Lucky for me I decided not to make fun of my religious beliefs today. I can only imagine how much worse that would have made me feel.

Which is my main point, I guess. I can see how upsetting these cartoons would be to Muslims. I get it - I would hate to be painted with the same brush used on terrorists motivated by my religion. What I do not get is the violence - I can't sympathise with Muslims who feel justified in physically harming others. The cartoon contest, well I don't know. If it's good for the Danes, it should be good for the Muslims - it's just disappointing that they would be willing to stoop to that level. And let me be clear: the Danish cartoons stooped to a new level of low. I have not put the images on my site because I do not approve in the slightest. They were mean spirited and I feel they were designed to incite hatred toward Muslims. And that's an opinion I'm not comfortable with, even though I myself am not a follower of Islam. Free Speech means the racists and assholes of the world have a voice and this can be a problem for some when they spout heresy or offer contrarian opinions. It also tests our resolve toward being tolerant toward those who oppose us. What it does not do is excuse us from the rules of civil conduct. Slander is still slander and offense is still taken from insults. We still have to play nice with our neighbors.

So without further preamble, here is my cartoon:


Lopaka said...

To describe these 12 mild cartoons as inciting hatred towards Muslims or as mean spirited is a big stretch.

Until I actually saw the cartoons, I had concluded from comments by the media and by critics such as yourself, that they must be really disgusting, as you put it "mean-spirited and inciting hatred towards Muslims"

In actuality, the cartoons are like a Rohrschach test, revealing the biases and preconceptions of those who view them.

Three of the cartoons can be viewed as mocking the role of the cartoonist in taking on the assignment, and are more of a commentary on the stance of people in the West afraid to exercise their traditional rights of free speech and religion.
One shows the cartoonist cowering over his drawing pad with the window blinds pulled down, furtively drawing a picture of a man with a turban and a beard.
A second shows a young Danish school boy named Muhammad pointing to writing on the blackboard in Persian. Underneath the Persian writing is a translation -- "the journalists of Jyllands-Postens are a bunch of reactionary provacateurs" --and a mock admonishment of the cartoonist, supposedly from the editors of the newspaper, stating that he is a coward who did not draw a picture of the prophet Mahammed and does not understand the seriousness of the Muslim threat to free speech.
The third shows the cartoonist with a dazed and joyful look, wearing a turban, and clutching a stick figure representation of a bearded man with a turban. An apple labeled PR Stunt has just dropped on top of his turban.
Each cartoon is titled Muhammad, but the prophet Mohammad is not actually depicted. What is depicted is the reaction of each of the cartoonists to the assignement - two who are confronting the fear they have of religious fanatics who will want to kill non-Muslims for drawing silly pictures, and one who sees the opportunity to gain fame and fortune from participating in what he anticipates will be a major media circus.
A fourth cartoon explicitly focuses on the fear that the cartoonist has of reprisal from Muslims. It shows a smiling man, once again bearded and in a turban, looking at papers and holding out a restraining hand towards a couple of wild men rushing in with sword and bomb at the ready. The smiling man says "Easy my friends. When it comes to the point, it is only a drawing made by a non-believing Dane."
This cartoon suggest that there are Muslims who don't believe it is appropriate to kill or blow up non-believers for making bad jokes and would act to restrain such zealots. Is this man in the cartoon the prophet Muhammad? Does putting the name Muhammad on the cartoon turn the picture into a picture of the prophet Muhammad or is it really a symbolic representation of the real dispute between two parts of the Muslim world, each who claims to be carrying out Mohammed's directives?
One of the "cartoons" is just a nice drawing of a Middle Eastern man with turban and beard wearing modest clothing and leading a heavily laden donkey across a desert landscape. There is nothing satirical or mean spirited about the illustration, and it is only controversial because it too has the title Muhammed.
In the same vein, another drawing depicts a tall bearded man in a turban with a halo over his head.
Yet another drawing simply superimpses the star and crescent of the Muslim flag over the face of a bearded and turbaned man.
Yes,all three of these drawings are labeled Muhammed, but it is hard to see how they can be described as "mean-spirited and inciting hatred toward Muslims."
One of the most amusing of the cartoons shows seven individuals in turbans in a police lineup with a man in the audience saying "Hmmm, I don't recognize him" The turbaned individuals appear to include a bearded Hippy with peace symbol, a feminist, Jesus, the Buddha, and other figures that might be recognizable to European readers.
Once again, it is hard to see how this cartoon can be accused of inciting hatred against Muslims. It speaks more to the bewilderment of non-Muslims in understanding Mohammed's message and the essence of Islam.
Finally, there are four cartoons that address the violent and repressive face of fanatical Islamists.
One shows a bearded and turbaned man whose black turban turns out to be a bomb with a burning fuse.
Another shows a man between two women in traditional dress, only their eyes visible behind slits in their headresses. The cartoon's ironic point is that the man's eyes are covered by a black panel exactly the size of the opening in the women's headresses.
The most amusing of these cartoons shows a turbaned and bearded man greeting a long line of burnt, smoking martyrs at the entrance to Heaven, saying "Stop, Stop, We have run out of virgins."
Finally, there is one cartoon which is insulting toward the prophet Mohammed. It is a stylized drawing using the star and crescent and geometric shapes to suggest five totemic shapes. It is accompanied by a doggerel poem that insults the prophet for "keeping woman under thumb" It is not funny and it is mean spirited, but does it truly incite hatred toward Muslims? To me it seems a cry for liberation from limits imposed on Muslim women by a reactionary, hard line reading of Muslim law and tradition, not a call to hate Muslims.
If I had been the editor, I would have thrown this one out. However, I totally support the right of the Danish paper to have printed all 12 of these cartoons, and feel that they have no responsibility to apologize to anybody for doing so.
Nobody forced any of the Muslim community to buy the paper or access the cartoons on the Web. The idea that non-believers of Islam living in free societies need to censor their behavior so as not to offend mullahs in Pakistan or Iraq is abhorrent. Muslims who live in free societies like Denmark must accept that they do not have the right to insist that non-belivers follow their traditions, and certainly do not have the right to resort to violence as a way to curb freedom of speech.

iTripped said...

Thanks for the well informed post. This is the kind of dialog I was hoping for. You are right that I am guilty of generalizing by lumping all the cartoons together, when really, only a small percentage were what I would consider objectionable.

As for them inciting hate, well that's a fuzzy definition. A mean spirited attack is just that, and is often (although not always) spoken out of hate and can be used easily to encourage or justify those feelings.

While you might only count one as objectionable, my count is at least four, with another one I'm not entirely comfortable with. But that's not really my point. I could have made my same post for only the single cartoon that we both agreed went too far. The objectionable cartoon is not excused because the others were acceptable.

Also, I wasn't calling for an apology by the newspaper. All I was doing was showing support for those I feel have been insulted here by agreeing that I could also see how the material was offensive to them, and that should they publish their offensive cartoons, they would be within the rights of free speech, but I'd probably have problems with those cartoons as well.

But again, thanks for taking the time to discuss each cartoon in depth. I really glossed over that part and it proved to be valuable to the discussion.

K.A said...

Well, I was *going* to comment but lopaka said it all better.. hat off.