Monday, January 14, 2008

Update on the Muhammad Cartoons

I wrote awhile ago about the Danish cartoons here and here. If you've forgotten, a newspaper in Denmark commissioned some cartoons of Islam's prophet Muhammad. Making images of Muhammad is sometimes viewed by some Muslims as leading to idolatry, and is thus prohibited by them. Muslims around the world responded to the cartoons by rioting, burning embassies, and calling for the violent deaths of the cartoonists. Other Muslims condemned the rioting. I made four points about it:

1. It's incredibly ungracious to treat something profanely when many people consider it sacred. It's morally reprehensible to do something for the sole purpose of offending others, especially when it comes to something as close to people's personal sense of identity as their religious beliefs.

2. Nevertheless, they had the right to do it. Free speech, freedom of the press, etc. entails the right to offend. If you only have free speech until someone is offended by what you say, you don't really have free speech.

3. To respond to a handful of cartoons by threatening and committing violence is absurdly disproportionate. In fact, the cartoons themselves were pretty tame. Most had nothing offensive about them at all, except that they depicted Muhammad. Some even mocked the newspaper for commissioning the cartoons, or even the cartoonists themselves.

4. The prohibition of making images of Muhammad is not a universally-held doctrine in Islam. Many museums throughout the world, including the Muslim world, have paintings of Muhammad, which have been made by both Muslims and non-Muslims throughout Islamic history. Drawings and paintings and even cartoons of Muhammad have been made many times before without similar responses. As such, the rioting showed all the signs of being a contrived outrage.

In 2006, the Western Standard, a Candian publication, republished the cartoons. Some Muslims complained, and the editor, Ezra Levant, was brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission a few days ago to explain his acts. He viewed this as an affront to his freedoms, and let them have it. He filmed the "interrogation" and is posting it in short installments on YouTube, and the videos are being discussed all over the blogosphere. Below is his opening statement. Click on over to his website to view the others.

Update (16 Jan): Muslims Against Sharia have publicly come out in support of Ezra Levant. Their blog's headline includes the statement "Acknowleding Mistakes, Accepting Responsibilities, Moving Forward". I find this extremely encouraging.

(cross-posted at OregonLive)

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