Wednesday, February 08, 2006

You say tomato, I say your religion is a farce...and tomahto.

(photo from French newspaper Le Monde. The dialogue reads, "It's hard to be loved by such idiots." The title is, more or less, "Mohammed Overpowered by Fundamentalists")

One of the hardest things about starting a site like this and wanting readers is that it seems a journal must be provocative to be read. Showing both sides of an argument and trying to be objective isn't sexy, though, unless your an established news organization (and even then it's questionable). One day, perhaps, we can find the perfect mix that makes us scintillatingly objective.

Until then, we're going to try our hand at the latest polemic.

The purpose of mentioning this is that today we're going to try to offer both sides of an argument that is unwinnable (very unsexy). It's as such because religion(s) are involved, which are unfalsifiable, and international politics, which are subjective. The topic of course is the quaint little caricature war that European snooty-poots have recently become entangled.

The issue, for the most part, is over the "liberty of expression" and how far it extends. Make no mistakes about it, The B&G is, by and large, for unfettered freedom of expression, don't get that wrong. If, for example, you hate gay, bilingual trapeze artists, then by god you should tell everyone, in any manner you choose which does not harm others physically. Eventually, you will either realize how absurd your comments are, or you'll one day realize that no one's listening to you. In the very least, your idiotic beliefs don't have much effect on those around you, unless you decide to start killing, maiming, or torturing the poor circus performers with good fashion sense.

Unfortunately for the European champions of journalistic freedom, there's some snags in their holier than thou argument. The first being, there are several countries in which it is a crime to deny the Holocaust. We here believe in the Holocaust -- several of us even have grandparents that faught on one side or another in WWII -- but we also think it's ridiculous and pointless to make it illegal to deny the Holocaust.

Asserting that point does not denegrate the sheer gravity of the Holocaust. Saying something didn't happen doesn't make it fact. Moreover, keeping people from saying ridiculous things, doesn't prove them wrong, which is the purpose of any rational, modern society, is it not? This isn't a particularly new idea for European philosophers.

Nextly, this freedom of expression displayed by European papers seems to be largely onesided, which is true to some extent in the US. If mocking religions is a form of freedom of speech, why were cartoons of Jesus turned down by the same paper that published the cartoons now causing riots in the Middle East? Why not anti-semitic cartoons? This exposes, as far as we're concerned, one of the biggest faults in this whole debacle. When the European newspapers all published these cartoons, they didn't show a united stand for free speech, they showed their beliefs, because publishing something that's simply contreversial is not an expression of any sort of liberty other than the freedom to be a dick.

Perhaps Iranian Truth put it better:
Given that the cartoons lack any genuine political point except to brand a group of people as well as their prophet as murderers, I sincerely think they reflect current prejudicial perceptions of Muslims.
However, these papers have every right to do that. We'd just like to clarify that these newspapers are not providing someone with a vehicle to express himself, they are exercising their own freedom of expression using the cartoonists as a vehicle to do so.

Here's an example: if Billy Bob is in Kansas and he draws a series of cartoons depicting Mexicans as lazy, coniving, dirty, backwards, etc., would an American newspaper be violating his right to free speech by not publishing them? No. Billy Bob has every right to spend his own money to publish his cartoons in the Billy Bob Tribune, but if a newspaper publishes the cartoons for him, they are accepting that that cartoon expresses some view that is important to the interests of that paper. You don't see liberal political cartoons in conservative papers, do you? You don't see atheist cartoons in Christian newspapers, do you?

Now, saying that, we also think there's a considerable amount of criticism due Muslims and their leaders. For that, since none of us are from the area, we'll take it to the Middle Eastern bloggers. At Iraq the Model, they write that most of the actions taken against the cartoons have been futile in that they don't harm the governments being attacked, rather they brutalize the Iraqi people. It is an example of the saying, "The bird got mad at the grain field."
Our brilliant transportation minister Salam al-Maliki who is a Sadrist by the way announced that his ministry will suspend all projects and contracts with Denmark and Norway and said that Iraq will stop accepting any donations or offers concerning Iraq's reconstruction!
Who are they harming by doing this?
Denmark? No…they are harming no one but Iraq and Iraqis.
Concerning the riots, Iraq the Model contends that a large number of Iraqis haven't even seen the cartoons. He also notes the hypocrisy of the outrage itself, mentioning
we here in the Middle East have tonnes of jokes about Allah, the prophets and the angels that are way more offensive, funny and obscene than those poorly-made cartoons, yet no one ever got shot for telling one of those jokes or at least we had never seen rallies and protests against those infidel joke-tellers.
It is a good article, and deserves to be read.

Sabbah's Blog illustrates several frustrating realities. First of all, there is the often lamentable reality that news isn't news unless it burns, screams or scares. That's obvious, and it's also the reason for which "hardly anyone aired the peaceful protests, or even those who accepted the apology."

The other fustrating reality (or at least another aspect of the same problem) is being viewed through the lens of another culture. Sabbah quotes this Columbia Journalism Review article which cites only Western blogs in arguing that the Middle East needs more bloggers. We find it somewhat ironic that one of Columbia's most renowned professors was the Palestinian-born Edward Said who's seminal work was Orientalism, which described how the West views the East through a lens without attempting a contrapuntal approach. In other words, he was writing about what Sabbah criticized in the CJR.

Some things never change.

In the end, we believe that the newspapers had every right to publish those cartoons, but in doing so they are tacitally taking on those negative beliefs concerning Islam as their own. There doesn't seem to be any way around it. That said, on the other hand, we don't believe that these protests in the Middle East are primarily religious. As said in Iraq the Model and elsewhere, several regimes (e.g. Iran and Syria) are nurturing the riots, because they relegate the pressure put on them by the international community. In other words, "these protests and threats are more political than religious in nature." (sound familliar? "This whole situation has little to do with religion, just like the flag burnings have nothing to do with the flags.")

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