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Hyperion February 10, 2006

The Hyperion Institute
“Now let’s not lose our heads over this….too soon?”

Editor’s Note: I meant to write this column all week long but the completion of Fagin Dupree contained me. I realize by now the world has caught up to my brilliant intellect (slightly) and made a couple of these points, but I had them first, and I still put them together better. In other words, feel free to quote me.

#378 Loony Toons

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the world of Islam. First there was the Palestinian people resoundingly electing an active terrorist organization to a majority in their parliament. Now the world slides ever closer to that “clash of civilizations” Osama bin Laden is always talking about over….oil? Land? Food?


As Bugs Bunny would say, “What’s up, Doc?”

Most people in the West were pretty stunned at the election of Hamas. But when a few cartoons in newspapers caused protests to spring up all over the world, and all across the Mid-East, Asia and Northern Africa they turned violent, people began muttering quietly to each other, “They really are crazy.”

One tries to be dispassionate, but it’s hard not to make value-based judgments. On the one hand, depicting the likeness of Mohammed (as in a cartoon, or painting, or really anything) is forbidden in Islam because of the fear it could lead to idolatry. But then to get so mad that it happened that you’re going out to kill people….that sounds like idolatry to most people.

Or to put it even more starkly: the series of cartoons depict Mohammed (and by implication some or even many practitioners of Islam) as practitioners of violence. This idea is so offensive, so abhorrent, so intolerable to the senses, that the only reasonable response is….to become really violent!

Does Islam need a PR rep, or what?

The issue is more complicated than fits in neat boxes of sound bites at the water cooler or local bar. For one, most Westerners find it comical that the country of Denmark (where the cartoons originated) is being blamed, en masse, or at least the government. If the New York Times printed a cartoon that was controversial, no one would blame George Bush.

What many don’t grasp is that there is no such thing as a free press in much of the Middle East and Northern Africa. By and large if you read something in a newspaper there, the government has signed off on it.

(This is a much bigger deal than you realize. Every year Muslim “scholars” run stories explaining how young Jews are required to bathe in the blood of young Muslims. Sounds crazy, huh? But these types of articles are readily believed.)1

Because of that mind-set, the assumption is that the government of Denmark Okayed the cartoons, perhaps for some vendetta against Islam. (The conspiracy theories range from the standard Zionist Illuminati to Danish Christians hell-bent on destroying Muslims, one cartoon at a time.)

Another way to look at just how huge the gulf is: A Iranian newspaper is running a contest to see who can come up with the best Holocaust cartoons, to see if the West is serious about its commitment to Free Speech. How profound a lack of understanding can they have? People might get offended here, but no one is going to rally in the streets. Heck, Jewish comedians are legendary for their sense of humor. They might even oblige.2

The second thing to understand here is that the timing is not an accident. These cartoons were originally published in September, and it was a minor issue in Denmark, dealt with and largely forgotten. Someone wanted this issue to come back up again. It’s not hard to figure out who this was. Sadly, this kind of demagoguery happens in the West as well. Remember the big controversy over boycotting Book of Daniel before anyone had even seen it? It’s a good way to raise money.

Osama bin Laden has been talking for years about his Clash of Civilizations. Whether he or Al Qaeda were directly responsible for this, you know they are pleased. At the very least someone wanted to fan the flames to further their agenda.

Perhaps most important to remember is that these angry sometimes violent protests we’ve been seeing are about much more than a cartoon, however much it does offend. There is a perception among many in the Islamic world that the West utterly disrespects them, doesn’t care about their point of view and wants to wipe them off the map. (This leads to another interesting question about the impending war with the entire region, but I’ll try to get to that in the next couple of weeks.)

There is a heavy anger there. Anger that the West (and mostly America) tries to push its weight around, impose its own values on people that may not want those values. The strongly held-belief that the West is only interested in the region for oil. (Admittedly, this last one has to be mostly true.)

This extreme anger sometimes leads to the disconnect of protesting the depiction of Islam as violent by committing violent acts. It’s not supposed to be logical. Anger rarely is.3

It would do well to remember that the protests are from a very small minority, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of most Muslims who want to be left alone, or even if they are deeply offended, understand that violence doesn’t help anything, especially the image of Islam around the world.

And somewhere in the argument someone should probably mention that while free speech is a great thing, and anything can be funny, a cartoon like that is more appropriate on some adult-content website than a national newspaper.

But Like I said, it’s hard not to make value judgments on how the West would handle things. No matter how bad a cartoon of Jesus was, I can’t see Pat Robertson killing people in the streets. People might protest by boycott (or more likely add their name to some dopey email petition), but the embassies probably aren’t getting attacked. Then again, it was pretty dangerous to wear a turban right after 9/11, so you never know.

But it’s really beyond pointing fingers and feeling superior because you wouldn’t throw rocks. It is what it is, you know? There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority were probably offended by these cartoons. And while a small percentage, a relatively large number of these people were violently offended, enough to do something about it.

That’s the reality. You can shake your head, but that’s our world. We live in a time when some people are willing to kill for that.

I don’t say that to advocate that the Danish government should apologize or kowtow (although restraint and sensitivity in the area of religion is never a bad thing). I’m just saying that we live in a world where people are so far apart, that not only can they not agree, but they can’t even fathom how their enemy can think differently.

And that state of affairs unchecked can not—mark it down—WILL NOT lead to peace and harmony.

Unfortunately, that ain’t all, folks.


February 10, 2006


1 Since I’ll probably never have a chance to bring this up again, let me take a moment to plug the Pakistani English newspaper Dawn. Yes it’s biased, but I’d argue no more than the New York Times or Fox News. I often find better coverage of the region in this paper, and days earlier than we hear stuff. Look them up online.

2 Wanting to do our best to promote world peace, here at the Hyperion Institute we’ve been trying to come up with some great cartoons. It’s harder than you think: the Holocaust is not the funniest event in history, and does not easily lend itself to humor. I did come up with one, but can’t draw very well. Anyway, if I do, I’ll put it on HyperionX, with the understanding that we’re not making fun of victims or survivors of the Holocaust, but rather acknowledging that anything can have humor in the right time and place, and most importantly, no cartoon is powerful enough to derail us and our way of life.

3 We first saw this radical dichotomy after 9/11, when many people in the Islamic world said the United States had no proof Osama bin Laden had anything to do with the attacks (the real culprits were anything from Israel to the American government trying to spear resistance to Islam), while at the same time cheering for Osama bin Laden’s audacity in attacking the Great Satan. An even better example: getting up in arms over the Abu Graib prison abuse scandal, which was very bad but didn't actually cause physical damage other than pride, and then not batting an eye at public beheading after public beheading.


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