What The Mohammed Cartoons Say About The West
What The Mohammed Cartoons Say About The West, Not Islam
By Jack Yan – Publisher Lucire Magazine
I have a lot of sympathy right now for Arabs and Muslims who were offended by the publication of cartoons mocking Mohammed. It’s another example of media irresponsibility: as if the newspaper that published them, Jyllands-Posten, didn’t anticipate this reaction.
As a media owner, I keep a careful eye on this sort of thing. When we ran a picture of Gov Schwarzenegger in one issue of Lucire, I made sure the Democrats had someone: we ran a photo of former governor, Gray Davis, in the same issue. While it’s not always one-to-one, I am sensitive—as I know how politicized some of our readers might be. Some people are anal enough to keep count.
That’s just over mere politics. Now we are dealing with something far deeper, more meaningful.
It is a shame that this foolishness on behalf of Jyllands-Posten has made Danish expatriates in the Middle East uncomfortable—and some are distancing themselves from their homeland’s behaviour. The Danish government has refused to intervene, which says very little about its understanding of foreign affairs.
I would have let this stand. But for this: now other media, including bloggers, are publishing the cartoons. Why? One newspaper’s actions might seem to be foolish, but now this just seems malicious: no one can claim ignorance on how offended Muslims can be through blaspheming their prophet. And yet so many in the west like to portray Islam as an intolerant faith. What hypocrites these media are, with their prejudices.
This is not wholly about censorship and allowing others to come in and gag us. This is about the fact that in the age of citizen media, we are all ambassadors for our culture, and a horrible job we are doing of that. Diplomatic relations rely on a sense of decorum and respect. These messages, of taking a stab at a stereotypical Muslim way, could have easily been achieved by illustrations of, say, Arafat or various al-Qaeda members. I would argue, looking at other cartoons (including some I was referred to that really made some distasteful comparisons between the President, Prime Minister Sharon, Hitler and Satan) that most cartoonists would take stabs at people, not their beliefs. There is a happy medium to be found here—just as there is some sense of refrain on network television that they don’t cuss before a certain hour.
This is far worse than the racist cartoons that were published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Chinese in pigtails and Russians in Bolshevik costumes, being made a mockery. Then, it was just about other races. This time, it is about the holiest figure in a religion, short of Allah Himself.
The republications have served to unite Arabs and Muslims around the world. It’s a pity that a lack of respect for them and their most sacred beliefs will lead to disunity between them and western Europe.
We would be wrong to analyse this issue through western eyes, saying that if we are OK with funny jokes about Jesus Christ that the Muslims ought to be cool with jokes about Mohammed. Once upon a time—we only need to look back 75 years—we, too, would have been offended as a culture with images of Jesus in a cartoon. This does not make the Muslims and Arabs 75 years behind us—but this should be something borne in mind on why the Danish newspaper and the republications have caused offence.
If we are proud of our western heritage and freedoms, then we should act like it. Civility and civilization are marked by the human abilities to refrain from acting like animals, and respecting customs and codes. The United States was certainly capable of doing so during its heyday of the mid-20th century, its finest hour, although I reserve judgement on its racial record at that point; and China’s greatest period of prosperity, the Sung Dynasty, was marked with the same sense of civilization and pride. Nations that retain that sense enjoy freedom—and also harmony.
Relations between nations are like relations between people. Just as I don’t expect, on my first meeting with someone, to be punched in the face by him, the Islamic world doesn’t expect to get a black eye from a cartoonist in a commentary. You would tolerate my making a joke about you, probably, but I expect if I bring your mother’s sex life into it, then I’ve got a kick in the teeth coming. Same thing here, except most Muslims seem to find this far more grave than a quip about a parent’s private habits—this strikes at something very dear and precious to them, and, as Gina says, we should be having dialogue, not alienation, with the Muslim world.
The media’s duty needs to be very similar to the wishes of citizens if we are to survive. And I sense the world would rather we have unity over discord, in which case we in the media—including the citizen media—have failed to further the agenda of the public we supposedly serve by republishing these cartoons.
My sites: Lucire -
http://www.lucire.com; Beyond Branding
http://www.beyond-branding.com; my book, Typography and