Friday, February 03, 2006


That was the question posed by Jihad al-Momani, the editor in chief of the Jordanian weekly newspaper Arabic Shihan, in an editorial on the subject of the allegedly blasphemous cartoons we've all been hearing about. Today, Jihad al-Momani was fired, not just for posing his brave question, but for also having had the courage to print the Danish cartoons that have allegedly enraged the mythical planet known as the Muslim World.

Under the headline, "Muslims of the world, be reasonable," al-Momani wrote that the cartoons, or at least some of them, were offensive, but he also pointed out that the Danish newspaper at the centre of the storm, Jyllands-Posten, had apologised for upsetting people, "but for some reason, nobody in the Muslim world wants to hear the apology."

This is the question al-Momani posed: "Who offends Islam more? A foreigner who endeavours to draw the prophet as described by his followers in the world, or a Muslim armed with an explosive belt who commits suicide in a wedding party in Amman or anywhere else?"

If any good comes from the sacking of a brave Arab journalist, let's hope it will be an end to the nonsense about whether "we" have offended "them," a premise around which we should not be choosing sides at all, because it is ridiculous and false.

Muslims are not all humourless totalitarians. For hilarious and irreverent verdicts on this entire, unseemly spectacle, no one has been so withering and insightful as the Saudi humourist who goes by the name The Religious Policeman.

"We" in the "West," especially those of us who are writers and journalists, do no favours at all to our comrades in the "Muslim world" by trying to figure out how far we're willing to go to accommodate the authoritarian windbags that they labour under.

There's all kinds of room for civil debate about the responsibility that comes with free speech, and it may well be that the traditions of liberal democracy would not be offended by certain legal limits, even, to the degree that speech deliberately incites and provokes enmity and rage among Muslims, by vulgar caricature of the prophet, for instance. At least that's conceivable.

But what is inconceivable is the way it has become accepted that any depiction or representation of the Prophet is iredeemably offensive to Muslims, and that secular media should consider such depictions if not beyond the bounds of law, then at least beyond the bounds of decorum and civility.

The truth of it is that Mohammed has been showing up in paintings, sculptures, advertisements and posters, in "Muslim" countries and in "Christian" countries, for a thousand years. In Europe, for the past quarter of a century, he's been on the cover of several books, to no public outrage. In Iran, he shows up in paintings you can buy in the street. There's a veritable on-line museum of those representations here.

So where is the line? Should there even be one?


Blogger Annamarie said...

Thanks for your enlightening post. I guess I sometimes get too carried away, and should stay away from topics about which my knowledge is limited. As a peace activist, my main object is the promotion of peace.

The issue of the Danish cartoons goes deeper than freedom of the press, and probably can be debated ad infinitum. I will say nothing more about this subject, and will stick to peace, social justice, environmental issues.

Take care.
Peace ~
Annamarie Deneen

3:44 PM  

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