Unwilling to Pretend
February 17, 2008
I thought I’d highlight a few of the comments on Friday’s post about the Muhammad cartoons, partly because the discussions are sometimes overlooked, but chiefly because they highlight the remarkable unrealism of Faisal al Yafai’s Guardian piece, and many others like it.
Jason Bontrager set things rolling with this neat summary of al Yafai’s underlying assumption:
If [as al Yafai suggests] the cartoons caused the damage resulting from the various Muslim riots, then the Muslims, not being the cause themselves, can only be thought of as unconscious puppets whose actions are dictated by the decisions of non-Muslims thousands of miles away.
Brendan quoted a Swedish commenter on al Yafai’s article:
I predict that this will not be the last showing of the cartoons. The last showing will be the first one that no one reacts to.
Which brought to mind this comment from MediaWatchWatch:
These cartoons have become the equivalent of a naughty step for violent Muslim toonophobes. Like tantrum-prone toddlers, their behaviour is unacceptable, and if they continue to misbehave the cartoons will continue to be published far and wide. They do not like it, but they must sit on that naughty step and think about their actions until they understand the rules.
And Matt pointed out a rather pivotal fact somehow overlooked in al Yafai’s piece:
The cartoons were drawn and published because of previous acts of violence in the name of Islam.
Indeed. See, for instance, here. And the latest publication was an affirmation of solidarity and free speech in response to the arrest of several Muslims accused of plotting to kill the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard - one of a growing number of artists, authors and scholars now in hiding or under police protection.
It’s remarkable how readily these little details were overlooked by Mr al Yafai, and their omission highlights just how unrealistic the MoToons debate can be. To avoid printing the cartoons – or any public suggestion that Islam is anything other than a Religion of Peace™ - would not only show that death threats and violent thuggery work; it would also imply that such thuggery is a morally legitimate response. It is not. Burning down schools and destroying libraries is simply not a sane reaction to the publication of a cartoon. Likewise, threatening to “take to the streets” because an author critical of Islam has had her visa extended is a display of ludicrous vanity and moral incontinence.
Urges to outlaw and punish such satire and dissent ignore the realities of the history and founder of Islam. Censorship not only blunts critical judgment and perpetuates unrealism; it also extends Islamic ticks and neuroses to non-believers and the broader population. Outlawing such mockery (even if it’s truthful), or discouraging it out of fear or pretentious “sensitivity”, makes the taboos of Islam everyone’s taboos. It obliges everyone to pretend that they respect a religious figure who is by any rational standard undeserving of respect, and whose religion is intellectually trivial and philosophically absurd.
And some of us at least aren’t so ready to pretend.