What does Mattel have in common with Syria?
Post #725 • February 7, 2006, 10:21 AM • 172 Comments
It's censorship week here at Artblog.net! Today: this nonsense with the cartoons. Tomorrow: Illegal Art at the Art & Culture Center of Hollywood.
Artblog.net wants to express its support for Jyllands-Posten, Die Welt, La Stampa, El Periodico, and Volkskrant for fearlessly reprinting cartoons that state the obvious: that the history of terrorism and the history of Islam have become inexorably linked. It condemns France Soir for firing its managing editor in an act of needless contrition that capitulates to dhimmitude. It applauds Reporters Without Borders, which has followed all subsequent lapses of press freedom with amazing comprehensiveness and directed the following to France Soir:
This is a disturbing and dangerous precedent for editorial freedom. This will not help to defuse tension but, on the contrary, will tend to radicalize positions on all sides even more.
Artblog.net tends to get its ass handed to it when it attempts to discuss politics. But I also have a lot of interest in comic art, and I am feeling radicalized by this event. Let's bask in a bit of Constitution, shall we?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Ahh. You gotta love it. And if you don't, you can say so. Sweet freedom.
You know you want to see the cartoons. Many sites on the Internet have the scan of the entire page that ran in the Jyllands-Posten, and some of them have scans of the individual drawings for greater clarity. Note especially the one depicting Mohammed with a turban morphed into a bomb, and the one with Mohammed explaining to still-smoldering suicide bombers that they're running out of virgins in heaven. (I had to confirm this for myself - indeed, the Koran, 38:51-2: "The righteous shall return to a blessed retreat: the gardens of Eden, whose gates shall open wide to receive them. Reclining there with bashful virgins for companions, they will call for abundant fruit and drink." That bit about there being 72 of them is from one of the Hadiths, sort of the equivalent of the Talmud to the Koran. Personally, I like a more experienced woman, but that's just me. It still sounds better than the heaven of Talmud, in which you get to study Torah with the patriarchs. Whoo-ee, Sunday school for eternity! Thanks, I'll have the shy, thirsty virgins, please!)
Here's a brain-teaser for you: if pictures of Mohammed are outlawed, how do we get the image of him turbanned? We get them from a long history of depictions of the prophet going back at least to the 14th Century in Central Asia. (The turban/bomb drawing is an homage to this tradition, if not a specific work.) There's diversity of opinion about iconoclasm in Islam. I can't find the verse number, but the Koran says, "Whoever believeth in God, and in the Last Day, let him not leave in his house any image whatever that he doth not break in pieces." But this is clearly within the context of proscribing idol worship, and obviously many Muslims haven't felt the need to apply it to pleasant, inspiring pictures meant for non-worship purposes.
That suicide bomber cartoon is pretty good, funnier than the first. We still have the potentially offensive image of Mohammed, but it's at the expense of suicide bombers, and I feel okay with jokes at their expense. I have a friend who will happily show you the scar on her scalp from when a suicide bomber blew up a bus she was riding in Tel Aviv. This cartoon is a good example of how humor plays off the horrific. Note the gentleness of the drawing style, which is crucial to its success. (Neither of them are as funny as Taliban Singles Online, or a post-9/11 report from the Onion entitled Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell. Blasphemy? Bring it on.)
The discussions I've seen on this sometimes conflate two different kinds of offensive material, positing the outrage that, say, Jews would feel if newspapers were printing material offensive to their religion and people. As it happens, this is not a hypothetical scenario. In cartoon form, modern Arab-language media have been rehashing every anti-Semitic stereotype in circulation since the Crusades. You need go back only a few years to find numerous depictions of Jews as money-greedy, hook-nosed, hairy, baby-blood-drinking infidels, published with glee in newspapers from Algeria to Iran. That's offensive, but the offended Muslims in this case oppose the very existence of images of Mohammed, regardless of content. On this, I see no room for negotiation. Muslims need to re-embrace their former history of tolerance, pluralism, and idea that religion is for the regulation of one's own behavior. If God is so great (Allah akbar!), he can take a little ribbing. More importantly, I believe in a policy that exports freedom of expression on a possibly unwilling world, not in the adoption of self-censorship in the name of not offending a belief system which, if brought to its logical conclusion, would gladly deprive me of liberty and even life.