Battlepanda: The best thing I've read on the Danish Mohammed cartoons


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The best thing I've read on the Danish Mohammed cartoons

The best thing I've read on the Danish Mohammed cartoons and the wave of violence in the Muslim world that they precipitated is this pair of posts at Left2Right by Prof. Jamie Tappenden at the University of Michigan.

I'm not sure whether Prof. Tappenden is a Dane himself, but he does speak Danish, and so has been able to follow this story from a perspective that no one else in the English-speaking blogosphere has been able to. In particular, he makes a couple of points that way too many of my fellow liberals have missed.

His first point is that the outrage and riots are not primarily directed toward the actual Jyllands-Posten cartoons, but toward the three fakes that circulated in the Middle East along with them.
One more thing should be said, and should not be forgotten as embassies burn: by the standards of a secular society committed to robust, free and open debate about ideas and beliefs, including religious ideas and beliefs, even the harshest of these caricatures is very mild.

The mildness of the cartoons was implicitly acknowledged by the radical Danish Muslim group led by Imam Akkari that toured the Middle East this fall to stir up outrage. The tabloid Ekstra Bladet documented that in addition to the twelve original cartoons, they mixed in three appalling and hateful ones, depicting in a harsh and amateurish way an imam with a pig snout (the recently discovered original turned out to be an AP wire photo of a costumed performer in a French pig-calling festival), a man sodomized by a dog, and a bloodthirsty pedophile.
His second point is that the prohibition in Islam of depictions of Mohammed has nothing to do with the outrage and riots.
The basis for the objections is often cited to be at least in part the religious injunction against depictions of Mohammed. The reason given for this injunction is that such depictions potentially foster idolatry. But if that is the basis, then cartoons 1 and 3 are much more serious violators. Insulting caricatures incorporating aggressive messages are unlikely to induce idolatry, and if anything would discourage it! I doubt that anyone will be worshiping the representation in cartoon 11 anytime soon. All this indicates what I think is also independently obvious: the religious taboo isn’t really what is at issue here, and invoking it is beside the point. What is at issue is the "insult" to the prophet taken to be incorporated into cartoon 11 but not into the much-ignored, more-potentially-idolatry-prompting cartoon 1.
(Prof. Tappenden refers to the cartoons by numbers, based on their positions in this image.)

In short, the cartoonists and editors of Jyllands Posten did nothing wrong or questionable here. The sole parties to blame are the radical Danish Muslims who stoked the outrage in the Middle East.

Prof. Tappenden's third point is that the Jyllands Posten cartoons are not deserving of the quick dismissal that many have made. Prof. Tappenden examines each cartoon, explaining the allusions in several that non-Danes would not be familiar with, and concludes
All in all, I think we are making a mistake to approach these cartoons as if they were of no intrinsic worth, to be published only as an exercise in facing down thugs who would use violence to chip away at the commitments of a free society. In fact, as a bunch, they’re pretty good, and they stand in their own right as a nice testament to the variety and richness of opinion that free societies make possible.