Friday, September 15, 2006

More on the Danish cartoons

More on the Danish cartoons

Pareng Jun, Mr. Bong, Rey, Taps (lahat ng nagcomment sa Danish cartoons):

Gusto ko na sanang iwanan itong isyu na to ng Danish cartoons dahil di pa ako nakakapagluto. Heto nga at di ko na mapagtanto kung panong hiwa ang gagawin ko dito sa patatas at kamates na isasahog sa ginisang Baguio beans na may halong corned beef at nang may maiulam na kame. Huling hirit na lang:

In, "elpidiomendozajunior" wrote: "Tol, if you're a deep-dyed and soaked liberal there's really no reason to raise a howl over any crappy stuff because you don't give a hoot. If you're a conscientious liberal, you want some debate over the crap. If you're a right-wingnut, you would want a fight over the silly stuff (or you issue a fatwa;))."

I'm a conscientious liberal and want debate on the issue, especially since GMA created new powers for herself like banning rallies and gagging the media. GMA now has assumed the power to stop what it considers seditious speech on the streets and in the press. I think this is related to the demand by a religious group that its beliefs be observed by the rest of society (as in "we believe that depicting the Prophet Mohammad in art is blasphemous and therefore we expect everyone not to depict the Prophet Mohammad in art").

In, "Jaime Escober, Jr." wrote: "I think that a newspaper has that right and freedom to publish the cartoons, but any right and freedom must be exercised responsibly. It is insensitive, to say the least, to depict a person or thing that a group of people hold sacred, especially if the portrayal is unfavorable or negative to that group. Doing so would be tantamount to insulting them."

Some Muslims recognize that the Danish editors have the right to publish the cartoons, since being non-Muslims, they are not bound to observe Islamic doctrines, but insist that the cartoons were insensitive to say the least, and therefore, full circle, must still be censored. Some Muslims believe that the act of publishing the cartoons is blasphemous and that the editors deserve to die.

Even dictators will profess respect and recognition of freedom of speech (or expression, inquiry, and academic, artistic, and religious freedom), up to a point where freedom begins to threaten their power.

Why is freedom of speech guaranteed in democratic constitutions, that no law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech? It is because free speech is bound to hurt or offend someone. The guarantee seeks to protect speakers against the special interest of those hurt by free speech. (The issue of libel is a completely a different issue. If you say my mother is a whore when she is not, then my mother can sue you for good money.) We need to protect freedom of speech of a person, of a minority group of persons, and of all people, not only from dictatorships but also from democratic governments, from bigoted majorities, and from bigoted minorities. Freedom is the highest value; it defines our humanity. Freedom is the core and essence of being human.

It is an individual choice whether to curtail his or her own personal freedoms and beliefs, at the very least in order not to offend other people's sensitivities. I hated standing for the national anthem before the last full show, but why should I insist on my personal preference when it is far cooler to maintain a civic connection with most people who respect the national anthem? I don't pray, but spirituality is a defining characteristic of being human (no matter how irreligious or atheistic a person is), and therefore I bow my head in silence and meditation, especially before a conference on really important issues like developing cooperatives, access to water, or how to stop GMA from morphing into a Marcos, etc. And I really have no problem with some religious sensitivities, since I now hate pork (like Muslims), dinuguan (like Iglesia ni Cristo), and many more.

From what I've read, the editors of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten called for artists to send in drawings of Mohammed to highlight the case of Kåre Bluitgen, who said no cartoonist wanted to illustrate his children's book on the life of Mohammed for fear of violent reprisal by Muslims. That fear had some basis in fact. To highlight the issue of self-censorship and religious tolerance in Danish society, the Jyllands-Posten (JP) called for different artists to give their interpretation on how Muhammad may have looked. I scrounged the Internet for copies of the cartoons as published in the newspaper (you can go to Wikipedia, for one). I saw the facsimile of the JP page in its September 30, 2005 issue containing the images. How did the cartoonist depict Mohammad?

The first cartoon showed the writer Kåre Bluitgen wearing a turban with an orange dropping into the turban, with the inscription "Publicity stunt." In his hand is a child's stick drawing of Muhammad. The proverb "an orange in the turban" is a Danish expression meaning "a stroke of luck." Thus the first cartoon is satirizing the author Kåre Bluitgen and his motives to gain publicity for her book.

The next cartoon showed the Islamic star and crescent partially symbolizing the face of Muhammad. His right eye is the star, the crescent surrounds his beard and face. The message is that Islam and Muhammad are one and the same. Blasphemous? It looks cute actually, if you ask me. The Christian equivalent probably is the face of Jesus superimposed on a cross, something that can hang from Madonna's neck, even if Catholic Irish Sinead O'Connor protests it as blasphemous too when hung from Madonna's neck. My equivalent would be Che Guevara's famous photograph superimposed on a golden star on a red field of the the socialist flag. For cool Maoists (if cool Maoists exist), the equivalent is Andy Warhol's famous print of Mao.

The third is Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb. This is one of the more outrageous of the 12 cartoons. The moral equivalent of this one to me is depicting Rizal holding a bolo to slit the necks of friars. Rizal never asked his followers to slit the necks of friars. But suppose you were a young sacristan and ward of a friar at the time Katipuneros were attacking churches and Spanish garrisons shouting "Mabuhay si Doktor Jose Rizal!" and executing friars. Then the image would directly appeal to you that Rizal is being used by a violent revolution against clerical rule. In the same breath, the Danish cartoonist was not saying Muhammad is a terrorist, but that Islam and Muhammad are being hijacked by terrorists to justify terror.

The next is another outrageous cartoon, showing Muhammad standing in a gentle pose with a halo in the shape of a crescent moon. The middle part of the crescent is obscured, revealing only the edges which resemble horns. Intolerant interpretation: the cartoonist is mocking us Muslims by suggesting that Muhammad is evil. Tolerant interpretation: the cartoonist shows the actual ambiguity of Islam in the minds of non-Muslims in Denmark; Islam is supposed to be a good thing and yet the Danes tend to associate Islam with evil due to the way terrorists use Islam. The cartoonist is wrong, but thank him for his candidness.

The fifth is an abstract drawing of crescent moons and Stars of David, and a Danish poem on oppression of women. Translated in English the poem is said to read as: "Prophet, you crazy bloke! Keeping women under yoke." This is a direct attack on Islamic tenets on the role of women. And yet this is not something that originates only from holier-than-thou Christians, who are putatively more enlightened in their treatment of women. Muslim women are fighting for more equality within Islam. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) held underground make-up sessions just to defy the Taliban, who used Islam to the hilt to oppress women.

The sixth shows Muhammad as a simple wanderer in the desert at sunset, with a donkey in tow. What does it show? Muhammad as a simple wanderer in the desert at sunset, with a donkey in tow, period.

The next cartoon shows a cartoonist working at his desk, nervously drawing the figure of Muhammad while looking over his shoulder for a possible Muslim who might be around to disapprove of what he is doing. The eight cartoon showed two angry Muslims charge forward with sabres and bombs, while Muhammad addresses them with: "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel from southern Denmark," connoting a harmless local from the middle of nowhere." The message in both is that cartoonists fear drawing Muhammad due to (all too real) threat of violent reprisal by Muslims, which is exactly the issue that Jyllands-Posten aimed to highlight by soliciting and publishing the cartoons.

The ninth cartoon is my favorite: An Arab-looking boy pointing to a blackboard which was written with Arabic letters, translated as "The journalists of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs." The boy is labelled "Mohammed, Valby school, 7.A," implying that this is a child of Islamic immigrants to Denmark. On his shirt is written "The Future." The cartoonist is trying to question the motives of the newspaper for soliciting the cartoons, and echoing the views of some people in Denmark, including Muslims, that Jyllands-Posten is a right-wing Islamophobic reactionary newspaper. Muslims facing discrimination and intolerance in Denmark would find that this cartoon speaks for them, not against them.

The 10th cartoon shows Muhammad prepared for battle, with a blade in hand; his eyes are covered by a black bar. He is flanked by two women in traditional Muslim garb, having only their wide open eyes visible. To me this is one of the truly tasteless cartoons. The cartoonist is not good enough as the message is not sharp. So what if Muhammad was also a warrior? So what if he had two wives? It's just like an image of James Bond with a pistol with two Bond girls by his side.

The 11th is superb as a political cartoon, showing Muhammad in heaven greeting suicide bombers with "Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!" It is said that suicide bombers fighting for Islam will go to straight to paradise where virgins await them. Life on earth can really suck; between that and life in heaven with not one but several virgins, I'm not surprised why some people would be happy to blow themselves up.

The last cartoon in the middle of the facsimile shows a police line-up of seven people wearing turbans, with the witness saying: "Hmm...I can't really recognise him." In the line up are the following: a Hippie (with the peace icon on his pendant), a woman identified as a Danish politician, Jesus (with halo over his head), Buddha, Muhammad, an Indian Guru or swami, and journalist Kåre Bluitgen, carrying a sign saying: "Kåre's public relations, call and get an offer."

Calling the cartoons "highly inflammatory" is one-sided to say the least, and at most an overstatement. A more liberal and tolerant interpretation would be that this is the way some members of the Danish community view Mohammad and Islam and the self-censorship by cartoonists for fear of Islamic reprisal.

The controversy has been confined so-called "Danish Islamophobic `free speech' neo-conservatives" and the Danish Islamic community, and the diplomatic tension between Denmark and Islamic countries. At a certain point Danish Islamic imams said they no longer demand apologies from Jyllands-Posten.

Instead they said they want a guarantee from Danish authorities that Muslims can freely practice their religion without being provoked and discriminated and a declaration from Jyllands-Posten that the cartoons were not with the intention of mocking the Muslim faith. However, the situation has all changed in February when newspapers in Europe also published the cartoons and provoked protests by Muslims.

When the anti-Danish demonstrations broke, Conrad de Quiros in his column said "Bill Clinton has called the cartoons appalling and compared it to anti-Semitism. I agree: even if the cartoons were not addressed to Muslims in general but to Muslims in Europe who submit to religious intolerance, they go well past the bounds of decency. They do not depict those fanatical followers as terrorists, they depict the source of their faith as being so. Those are two different things."

I disagree with Clinton and with de Quiros. If Muslim terrorists use Islam as justification for their acts, cartoonists are bound to depict that fact by a drawing that shows Mohammad wearing a bomb shaped turban.

If, as de Quiros suggested, black hooligans were to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. in looting white homes and raping white women, then a cartoonist will soon depict Martin Luther King as an angel of death. If Christian terrorists bomb abortion clinics in Jesus' name, some cartoonists will depict Jesus as a murderer. Muslim terrorists, black hooligans, and Christian anti-abortion terrorists actually do criminal things. Cartoonists portray an irony by linking evil acts to deeply revered beliefs. And even if such kind of cartoons were offensive to Muslims, to blacks and to Christians, in moral terms they still pale in comparison to the actual crimes and offenses being committed by terrorists and hooligans who invoke Islam, Martin Luther King, or Jesus. A common sense of proportion will tells us that the provocative cartoons, which are what cartoons are meant to be, are much, much tamer compared to the actual outrages committed by terrorists in the name of religion, of their cause, or of God.

Provoking deep sensitivities is an objective of the cartoonist, or any art for that matter. It is just like saying hey your otherwise peaceful tolerant ideology is being hijacked by terrorists. Look! They're making it appear Muhammad is a terrorist. What are you gonna do with it?

In the case of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, the editors may have actually anticipated a howl from Muslims crying foul, you have no right to depict Mohammad like that, he has never condoned terrorism. In fact, the Koran says so, so your cartoons are over the top and have no basis in fact whatsoever. But the reaction generated so far by the cartoons could not have been anticipated by anyone: over a series of cartoons Palestinian gunmen warned that they would target citizens of France, Norway, Denmark and Germany after papers in these countries all published the caricatures!

The Danish cartoonists may not have been successful in provoking in a positive way, in encouraging thinking how terrorists who shout "God is great" before blowing themselves up in a bus full of children have given God a bad name and instead have only provoked more threats of terrorism. Such reactions according to Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton, and Conrad de Quiros are proof media freedom should be exercised responsibly. How does one behave responsibly: one, for your own safety, do not mock God (and pray: God protect me from your followers!); two, you have no right to mock God (and God is what priests and imams say it is); three, you may be safe even if you exercise your freedom, but please don't offend those who believe in God. The first one is self-censorship and surrender, like the restraint of journalists during dictatorship. The second one is outright denial of freedom of speech at the level of principle (this principle has been overthrown by the Enlightenment). The third one is the reasonable one; yet sometimes or maybe most of the time the intention of speech is to push the issue to the extremes to the point of being offensive or provocative, and that includes questioning the validity and sacrality of deeply held beliefs.

Should take precedence over something as fundamental to secular democracy as freedom of speech and expression. In one of the blogs, someone said how would you feel about an article being published which contained interviews with various people, asking for their opinion of Muhammad? Suppose one of the interviewees answered "I think Muhammad was a murderer" or something of the sort. Do you think the newspaper would be anti-Islamic in publishing such an interview? If the newspaper JP really did solicit artists to create depictions of Muhammad then their only "sin" is in asking Muhammad to be depicted in the first place, and in exercising poor taste in at least some of the chosen drawings.

The disproportionate reaction probably was fueled by opportunists with an agenda. There were also reports that a delegation of Danish imams toured Islamic countries carrying extremely offensive drawings that did not appear in JP (not of the 12) and passed them off as those published by JP, including a fabricated picture of Muhammad
with a pig snout. Maybe there is a conspiracy to provoke Muslim reactions in order to provoke anti-Islamic reactions in order to provoke a crisis with Iran, whatever.

Islam is no more inherently violent or intolerant than any other major religion. Nor are the passages contained in the Koran any more unambiguous and uncontradictory than those contained in the Old and New Testaments. One can find support for almost any idea in these writings, including violence, and therein lies the danger of usurpation of religious faith for the furtherance of political power. Historically, most instances of religious intolerance and violence have arisen when government and religion are merged into a single institution, e.g. the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Taliban, even Communism (with a secular religion called Marxism that prompted Marx to say he is not a Marxist).

To say that Islam is a religion of violence is false. But it is equally false to claim that Islam has not, and is not now being used, to promote violence, and that texts from the Koran (and from the Bible for that matter) do not contain something handy for terrorists to use to justify terror.

So, what's the point finally? There might be some reactionary Islamophobic fascists hiding behind liberal free speech who are ready to provoke religious violence by Muslims in order to ignite anti-Islamic reactions. Ironies of ironies they all belong to the same camp. On the other hand there are Muslims who may or may not view the cartoons as necessarily offensive, yet will definitely refuse to be drawn into attacking freedom of speech as a nonviolent way to level differences.

Right after 9/11, I was in mIRC chatrooms debating ignorant American kids (or pretending to be kids, if someone says he or she is 16, assume that she or he is 32) who thought the US should go to war against rag head Muslims and their false religion.

From thereon I decided to grow a goatee, in the fashion of Muslim men, as a sign of solidarity with those who would face discrimination in an American military and cultural counter-strike. I still wear the goatee. And even before that, I was a Bosnian Muslim and agreed that arms should be sent to Bosnian Muslims to resist the genocidal fascist Christian Serbs.

I am still a Palestinian and in spirit I am hurling stones to the IDF and throwing myself up to barricade against Israeli bulldozers (mind you, in spirit). I am Bangsamoro when Christian politicians in Mindanao were derailing even just the creation of a tiny and pathetic version of autonomy called the ARMM. I was an East Timorese Catholic too.

But now, on this issue, I am a Dane, a secular liberal Dane who asserts a right to question even the most sacred things in the world.

Itutuloy ko na po ang paggigisa ko.

posted Mar 11, 2006 at

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