Friday, February 03, 2006

"Death to Denmark!"

The flap over cartoons continues to rock the Muslim world. The BBC has great coverage with a dozen articles addressing the topic. The issue is particularly sensitive and reflects deep cultural and religious differences between Western values of freedom of expression and Islamic values of the holiness of the Prophet Muhammad.
Obviously Western media should be more sensitive to depictions that are idolatrous to Muslims. To their credit the American mainstream media has shown great discretion, refraining from reproducing the images. The European press displayed callous indifference to the religious convictions of Muslims, with the Koran widely interpreted as prohibiting images of Allah and Muhammad. (Of course, the Ten Commandments have a somewhat analogous prohibition against using the name of the Lord in vain.) A depiction of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is offensive at multiple levels. Can you imagine an equally offensive cartoon tolerated in the Western press that played into gross stereotypes of blacks or gays?
But obviously Muslims should avoid violent reactions that will play directly into the prejudices of non-Muslims. Many in the West are astonished and even bemused at the outrage. Cartoons are greeted with chants of "Death to Denmark!" but in many Muslim quarters the murder of innocent civilians is greeted with silence and even celebration? Where are the chants of "Death to Terrorists!" Where's the outrage when President Ahmadinejad calls for the annihilation of Israel and denies that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust? The silence of moderate Muslims when radical Islam embarrasses the faith is deafening. Vicious cartoons distort the faith, but so too does radical Islam.
By chance today I will moderate a panel at this conference on Muslim-Christian dialogue regarding peacemaking and conflict resolution. It seems the timing could not be more propitious.


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