Friday, February 10, 2006

Respecting sacred cows

Hi, there, Virginia.

I read with interest the Fellowship of Reconciliation's piece on "Offensive Cartoons: Respecting What is Sacred."

"Yet the pain felt by Muslims is real and understandable. By insulting the core of their religion, the cartoons constitute a vile attack on Muslims everywhere."

How, exactly, do the cartoons insult the core of their religion and constitute a vile attack on Muslims everywhere?

"The cartoons, which depict Muhammad as a violent, degenerate criminal, were first published in a Danish newspaper last September, in an act of extraordinary insensitivity and poor judgment."

Even if the cartoons are insensitive and imprudent, how does that insult the core of their religion and constitute a vile attack on Muslims everywhere?

"(Interestingly, the editor who commissioned them now admits to his own ignorance of Islam and of the way Muslims feel about the Prophet Muhammad.)"

How does the way Muslims feel about Muhammad somehow prove that the cartoonists were guilty of insulting the core of their religion, in a vile attack on Muslims everywhere?

I'm still waiting to hear the supporting arguments which justify your conclusions.

BTW, "degenerate" is your own interpretation. Why do you automatically impute your own characterization to the motives of the cartoonists?

"But ignorance is only part of it. There is clearly a certain malice involved, if not in the first Danish publication of the cartoons, then in their repeated publication in newspapers around the world."

How is it malicious for newspapers to uphold freedom of the press?

"No longer can editors claim ignorance. The whole world now knows that the Prophet Muhammad is not supposed to be depicted at all, let alone in a disparaging manner."

Once again, how is that malicious? Why should non-Muslims automatically defer to the sensibilities of a religion they don't believe in?

Do you automatically defer to the sensibilities of a religion you yourself don't believe in?

Have you ever published anything that might be deemed offensive to Christian fundamentalists? Were you being malicious?

"Nor can offending newspapers claim that this is valid political or social satire, protected by free speech."

To brand the newspapers as the "offending" newspapers is invidious.

And what do you mean when you deny that this is protected speech? Are you saying that the cartoonists and editors ought to be prosecuted and imprisoned?

"These cartoons of the Prophet do nothing but ridicule the core idea of an entire religion."

You keep saying that. Do you have anything resembling an argument to back it up?

"They attack what is sacred. And there is no deeper wound, no deeper fury, than that."

Is there anywhere you draw the line? Suicide bombers believe it's their sacred duty to blow up innocent civilians. Should we respect their concept of the sacred?

"Many Muslims feel an intimate, personal connection to the Prophet Muhammad. When they think of divine mercy, kindness and integrity, they think of the Prophet. He is the embodiment of every virtuous ideal. In fact, the ideal of every Muslim is to become as much like the Prophet as possible. He is regarded as the best of human beings, the exemplar of humanity."

"In short, the Prophet Muhammad is sacred to Muslims."

Yes, this is true.

On the one hand, Muslims find it offensive when they are called Mohammedans. For they say they are followers of Allah, not Muhammad. Muhammad was only a man, they say, a prophet of God.

On the other hand, they also have this cult of Muhammad.

"Westerners understand the concept of the sacred. Christians have been hurt and outraged by disrespectful and blasphemous depictions of Jesus. Jews feel pain when the holy Torah, the word of God, is ridiculed, vilified, or desecrated. In this country, burning of the flag – near-sacred to many – gives similar offense."

At some juncture do we not need to ask whether someone who is offended by something has the right to be offended? Nazis were offended by Jews. Did they have a right to be offended by Jews? Klansmen were offended by blacks. Did they have a right to be offended?

You speak as if being offended were morally self-warranting. Do you have an argument for that axiomatic assumption?

"The emotional wound caused by the cartoons can’t be undone, but there is plenty that can be done. After 9/11, a great effort was made in the West to learn about Islam and to understand Muslims. That effort should be stepped up."

And do you believe the learning process is open-ended, or can it only yield a result that is invariably favorable to the object of study?

What if when we study the Koran and the theology of jihad and the history of Islamic conquest, we come to an understanding of Islam as a violent faith?

Why do you assume that to truly understand a faith is to understand that the faith in question is nonviolent? Were the Aztecs nonviolent?

You bandy the word "ignorance" very freely, but you yourself seem to embody an unteachable prejudice which approaches every religion with a preconceived notion of what it's allowed to be. Perhaps you can explain this to me and others.

"The incident also provides an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize and acknowledge that which is sacred in other religions, even if it is not sacred to them personally."

For the Aztecs, the sacrifice of POWs was sacred. Should we submit to their concept of the sacred?

"Burning embassies and demanding that editors be executed is not an Islamic response to insult. That response lies in the nonviolent actions of the Prophet Muhammad, as illustrated above."

What about the jihadist passages in the Koran? What about the fact that Muhammad was a warlord? What about the fact that Muhammad massacred the Jews of Medina? Why are you so selective and lopsided in your citations?

"This statement was written by a team of FOR staff representing the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths."

Who says they represent Islam, Christianity, and Judaism? Are these religions monolithic in outlook? Are their followers all of one mind? What makes you think you speak for all the rest of us? Isn't that a tad presumptuous? Isn't that pretty intolerant of the differences?

In particular, when we hear leading Muslim clerics in leading mosques in leading capitals of the Muslim world preach jihad, why should we assume that you speak for Islam, but they do not? What official standing does FOR enjoy in the Muslim world?

Steve Hays

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