Sunday, February 12, 2006

Just In Case You Haven't Heard Enough About The Damn Cartoon Controversy

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Back in September, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons with caricatures that were supposed to represent the Prophet Muhammad.

The cartoons were the winners in a contest the paper ran in which people were invited to “draw the Prophet.” Sort of like those art-school ads you see in the backs of magazines, I guess. One of the winning cartoons showed Muhammad with his black turban shaped like a bomb, complete with fuse coming out of the top. Another showed him with two veiled women behind him, grimacing as he brandishes a sword.

Maybe it’s that I don’t understand Danish humor, but I’ve seen the cartoons, and they’re no great shakes as satire. Doonesbury this ain’t.

It wasn’t disdain for the artistic merits of the drawings, however, that has sent Arab mobs into the streets a few months later. It seems that some sects of Islam find any pictorial portrayal of the Prophet to be offensive, let alone one that makes fun of him.

A mob in Syria burned down the Danish embassy. Another in Afghanistan tangled with NATO troops, who fired on the crowd, killing three. In Iran, crowds armed with Molotov cocktails attacked the Norwegian and Austrian embassies, possibly because those countries’ papers supported the Danish one, or possibly because mobs in the Middle East tend to have a shaky grasp of European geography.

Now, as a connoisseur of irony, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the ironies in this situation and in people’s reactions to it.

For example: A few months ago, American newspapers and magazines published pictures of prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and reported that some prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility had seen what they described as “defacement” of the Koran. The pictures and the reports led to widespread riots in Afghanistan and the Arab world.

Right-wingers, however, concentrated their ire, not on the acts reported, but on the publication of the inflammatory photos. Some even went so far as to call for the prosecution of the publishers for treason, since they had “put Americans in jeopardy” by inflaming Muslim opinion.

Now, however, some of the very same people have suddenly become champions of free speech on behalf of the Danish paper.

I suppose it would be ungracious of me to suggest that these folks treasure free speech and a free press only when they’re being used to insult Muslims. So I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll say: welcome to the side of freedom. I hope you’ll stay a while.

Of course, there’s a heavy load of irony on the Muslim side of the scale as well, in that the rioters are expressing their outrage over their Prophet being portrayed as brutal and violent by acting brutally and violently.

A government-run newspaper in Iran has announced that it will hold a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust in reaction to the Muhammad caricatures. The move was immediately denounced by the Western press because it was offensive to the sensibilities of Jewish people.

Here’s what we here in America can do to help stop the violence.

We have a group in this country who make a career out of being offended, especially over religion. From lame sitcoms to off-the-wall art displays, to the use of the greeting “Happy Holidays,” these folks can summon a state of high religious dudgeon faster than you can say “Will and Grace.” We need to send some of these folks over to Muslim countries to teach the tactics that have brought American corporations and government regulators running to them like lapdogs: Letter writing campaigns. Threats of advertiser boycotts. Finger-wagging speeches on TV talk shows.

These are the techniques members of our own professionally insulted religious class have utilized with great effect to make mighty corporations and even our own FCC eager to appease the ever-smoldering anger of the disgruntled.

In one incident here, the FCC fined Fox 1.2 million bucks in response to a letter-writing campaign in which there were only 23 actual people complaining about the Fox show, “Married to America.” Twenty of those were photocopies or e-mails of the exact same letter. And those 23 people didn’t even need to leave the house, much less burn down an embassy. Now that’s power.

To their credit, it seems that a lot of Muslim leaders, especially in Europe, are using these peaceful means of protest. So we only need to send “Focus on the Family” and the Family Research Council and whatnot to the real hotspots, like Tehran and Damascus.

In short, let our religious loonies reach out to their religious loonies and show them how it’s done. At the very least, it’ll get them out of our hair for a while. Oh, and send Bill O’Reilly, too. He really needs to get out more.

As for me, I’m going to express my solidarity with the defenders of free speech and a free press. I’m going to go have a Danish. Maybe two.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Ain't irony grand. Great column.