2/14/2006

provoked introspection

On my recent post at Dean's World, a commentator made an observation that the cartoon StupidStorm has had a deeper current of positive effect, which the traditional media here and abroad utterly failed as usual to notice - an infrastructural blindness.

Namely, while the overall effect in Europe is negative (as moderate muslims feel drawn closer to the extremists as their feeling of being under a cultural siege intensifies), a positive effect of emboldened moderates in the middle east may be developing. To re-quote Abu Aardvark,

The only bright side is that voices of reason are beginning to assert themselves in the Arab media, even if they may be having trouble getting traction in the hyper-politicized environment. I've seen at least a dozen op-eds in the last few days saying some variation of "shame on you for offending the Prophet, but shame on Muslims for reacting as they did." A lot of ordinary Muslims - not extremists - are genuinely upset about this, and their legitimate anger should not be conflated with the manufactured "rage" of the extremists.


Count me among the genuinely angry - though my anger at the deliberate insult is because of the manner in which the Prophet SAW was depicted, not the fact of his depiction. I reprinted several depictions myself and I also endorse this one, which is quite beautiful for its elementary geometric aesthetic. And this is just too clever to spoil.

But the images of the Prophet SAW with a bomb in his turban, or informing bombers that heaven is fresh out of virgins, or even just represented as a fat and pudgy guy holding a sword - these seek not just to depict, but to perpetuate stereotypes about Islam and Muhammad SAW that are patently false. Islam is not a religion of war (nor peace - but rather, justice). Muhammad SAW would never sanction terrorism, murderers of children are not rewarded in heaven and virgins are not a prize for piety. And above all, Muhammad SAW was not a warmongering conqueror who sought domination via the sword. THAT is why the non-telegenic muslims like myself are angry, and why our entire premise in Iraq is fundamentally threatened.

There is irony in that the muslims who rioted and committed violence on pretext of these cartoons are in fact living up to all the stereotypes of Islam I decried above. But they lack the faculty to even perceive Islam in its beauty; they only see Islam as a code by which they benefit, crudely, in their societies, primarily over their women. Their passion is not insult to a deep faith, but a tool in the hands of their tyrants who thereby keep them enslaved, and I pity them more than I resent them.

But while the fools ruled the TV footage, in print a quiet pushback has been building. Jane Novak's superb article was printed in numerous outlets including the Middle East Times, the Bangladesh Daily Star, the Arab Times in Kuwait, and translated to Arabic in the Yemen al-Shoura. Dean also pointed out a thoughtful piece by Amir Taheri, who has been writing pro-freedom articles for the Arab News for many years. And Bill at INDC has a comprehensive (and righteously snarky) roundup of condemnations of violence from Islamic organizations both at home and abroad. Of particular note is Ayatollah Sistani's comments:

Al-Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, made no call for protests and suggested that militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting Islam's image.

He referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."

"Enemies have exploited this ... to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods and mechanisms," he said of the cartoons.


The pushback against the obscene protests in Britain is also notable:

Asghar Bukhari said the demonstration in London on Friday should have been stopped by police because the group had been advocating violence.

The chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said the protesters "did not represent British Muslims".

More protests over cartoons of Muhammad on Saturday passed off peacefully.

Mr Bukhari told the BBC News website: "The placards and chants were disgraceful and disgusting, Muslims do not feel that way.

"I condemn them without reservation, these people are less representative of Muslims than the BNP are of the British people."


Across much of the Islamic world, a debate has indeed been sparked - about free speech, about religion, and above all, about tyranny.

And there is a counterpart to that debate occurring here in the non-muslim world, arising in reaction to the shameful xenophobia of those conservatives who see the entire cartoon episode as an opportunity to advance their agenda - which includes cessation of all muslim immigration to the United States and the opposition to Turkey's admittance to the European Union. And I won't even link to or reproduce what Ann Coulter said, though I think that this call for conservative organizations to distance themselves from her is wise.

The above examples, like the muslim violence and rioting,is simply not representative of the debate. For a more balanced discussion, see this thread at Gene Expression, which starts out poorly but then has this masterful observation, a true diamond in the rough (hat tip: matoko-chan). The parent post, by Matt McIntosh (and x-posted with discussion at Winds of Change, kudos to Joe Katzman for inviting it), is a very thoughtful analysis which is best summed as: the "Muslim problem" is just a special case of the "human problem." Essential reading! Over at Abu Aardvark, Prof. Lynch patiently engages Diana Moon in the comment thread, though ultimately Diana can't seem to move beyond her focus on anti-semitism (an important and acknowledged symptom of the malaise fomented by political tyranny in the middle east, but rather tangential to the broader issues). There's a sort of follow-up debate in this thread at GNXP. Finally, also see this debate at Sepia Mutiny (which incidentally was nominated for Best Group Blog in the 2nd Annual Brass Crescent Awards. Voting ends Friday!).

Ultimately, the cartoons were a pretext for all concerned. If the extreme fringe can make use of it, let us also do so for opposite ends. There is indeed a Clash of Civilizations brewing, but in it, the frothing conservative fringe and the seething Islamic fringe are allies, against we, the true scions of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. The cartoons have therefore served a useful purpose indeed, by revealing clearly who is for an Enlightenment, and a Renaissance in the Islamic world, and those who are not.

I close with this wisdom:

"Do you know what guerrillas often say? They claim that their rebellions are invulnerable to economic warfare because they have no economy, that they are parasitic on those they would overthrow. The fools merely fail to assess the coin in which they must inevitably pay. The pattern is inexorable in its degenerative failures. You see it repeated in the systems of slavery, of welfare states, of caste-ridden religions, of socialising bureaucracies in any system which creates and maintains dependencies. Too long a parasite and you cannot exist without a host." -- Leto II, God-Emperor of Dune


5 comments:

Diana said...

I believe you have mischaracterized the gist of our exchange. I would have been just as happy to have left the jooz out of this, but as usual they were dragged in, by, among others, Lynch himself.

"If a similar cartoon had been run about Jesus, or Anne Frank (and I blasted the Iranians for their part in this StupidStorm), or Martin Luther King, lots of Americans would be angry and genuinely offended."

I pointed out that the equation of Anne Frank and MLK to Muhammad was illegitimate, and things went down from there, because Lynch has a habit of evading points and bringing up side issues that I took pains to dispose of beforehand.

Lynch kept trying to "prove" that the mass-production of anti-Semitic materials in the Muslim world is somehow a figment of my active imagination, based upon reading selective sources.

Unfortunately, it isn't so. That's fantasy-land.

Lynch's last comment attributed Muslim anti-Semitism to my imagination. Who is kidding whom here? They sell Mein Kampf and Protocols in respectable Cairo bookstores.

He seems to think that a civilization that is still arguing blasphemy laws and how best to excommunicate people isn't on a collision course with modernity.

Well, I say it is. In fact, I'd say that's a pretty fair definition of a civilization clash.

Aziz Poonawalla said...

Diana, if I mischaracterized your dialouge, it is unintentional. I only report my impressions from reading passively, not an active participant, so I apologize if I have mischaracterized your position in particular.

I guess I disagree that the comparison of Anne Frank and MLK to Muhammad SAW is illegitimate. So there we disagree. You never really made a case for why the analogy was not usable (and no analogy is ever perfect). Prof. Lynch addressed this point, and I found his explanantion that he wanted to use a real example rather than an invented one, convincing.

(and as this Jane Novak article emphasizes, I don't think that non-muslims truly appreciate the depth of insult from these cartoons. To me, deliberately insuling depictions (NOT just depictions for their own sake!) of the Prophet are as visceral as a swastika or Confederate flag. You are free to disagree, but these are my emptions, not yours).

I guess I also missed out where Lynch tried to "prove" anti-Semitic materials are not mass-consumed in the Middle East. However, it seemed to me (and I may be wrong) that the very issue of anti-Semitic material was raised by you, not him. If you can requote parts of the debate where Lynch "attributes muslim anti-semitism to your imagination" then please do so for my benefit.

As for your broader point:

He seems to think that a civilization that is still arguing blasphemy laws and how best to excommunicate people isn't on a collision course with modernity.

Well, I say it is. In fact, I'd say that's a pretty fair definition of a civilization clash.


1. I don't think that Lynch would disagree with the statement that blasphemy laws are anti-modern. Where did he every insinuate that?

2. you extrapolate from the fact of blasphemy laws that there is a monolithic Islamic "civilization" which is anti-modern. However, you are using tyrannical despotic regimes who dleiberately use religion to inflame their masses - and divert attention of those masses from their own plight of lack of liberty - as your data points. Are the masses, and their own culture and religion, at fault for this? or the governments whose laws you are pointing out?

3. The United States has at least one blasphemy law on the books in Massachsusetts. Is the civilization of New England "on a collision course with modernity" ? Likewise, the UK still has a blasphemy law on the books, for which someone was actually sent to prison in 1922. Is the UK "on a collision course with modernity" ?

The problem, Diana, is that as long as you insist on defining a broad swath of muslims, their various nations, their tyrants, their fringe groups, and their moderates all into one large mass, and then call it a civilization, you will neccessarily obscure your arguments. I suggest that you take paisn to specify exactly which muslims you mean. If your target is indeed the vast mass of muslims as a whole (and I fully understand that it is this mass which hosts a subset which consumes anti-semitic literature), then you need to be very explicit on that - and Lynch and I will probably continue to agree to disagree with you.

One last comment. I sympathize with your focus on anti-Semitism, but personally feel that anti-Semitism is one flavor of a universal human failing. Hence I don't count anti-semitism alone as a black mark against compatibility with "modernity" (itself a nebulous concept). Were I to do so, I would have to conclude that all of human civilization were at odds with modernity, not just the (poorly-defined) "Islamic" one.

I dont think that there is an Islamic civilization, and I don't really see evidence for a "Western civilization" either, especially since its best and brightest partisans can't even seem to answer a simple question about what Western Civiilization actually is without resorting to invoking the Catholic Church of 1500 (!).

matoko_aukousmatikoi said...

diana, in seven countries in the EU holocaust-denial is a crime.
i think the muslims ask, why is defamation of the Prophet not a crime?

Dean Esmay said...

The problem with the argument, I would agree, seems to be the perception that there is an "Islamic civilization" that we can posit as the antithesis of "Western civilization." Well if you pushed me I could define "Western Civilization" but I would deny the existence of an "Islamic civlization" because Islam is too vast with too many different members in too many different nations. When we think of it here in the West, we're being sloppy, and we sort of say "Well you know, Egypt, Jordan, etc." by which we really mean THE MIDDLE EAST, which is not the same at all.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world. Islam is found in a huge number of countries nowhere near the Middle East, and which are in no ways producers of international terrorism. Mali, Senegal, Bangladesh, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Macedonia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone... the number of countries that are either majority-muslim or have very substantial muslim minories or pluralities is high, and NONE of them are part of this so-called "clash of civilizations."

Yes, anti-semitism is fashionable in large parts of the world, some of it muslim some of it not (Although, for the record, selling Mein Kampf means nothing. You'll find that in respectable book stores all over America. I probably have a copy laying around the house myself. I'd buy one if I didn't have one. I would NOT buy a copy of the Protocols, because I know THAT would go into the hands of irresponsible people. Mein Kampf wouldn't, anymore than Leni Riefenstahl's movies would--and I have a copy of Triumph of the Will too by the way, which is also available in respectable stores most anywhere. Including, I'd be willing to wager, in Israel.)

There is a clash of civilizations going on, although it's internal as well as external. It's the fascist Pan-Arabist movement tied to some radical theology that's the real problem. And I think it's gonna take a while to resolve, like the Cold War did.

matoko_aukousmatikoi said...

diana, perhaps a society that legislates against thought crimes (like holocaust denial and hate speech) doesn't actually incorporate free speech either.
In fact, I'd say that's a pretty fair definition of a civilization clash.
You would be wrong.
You can't cherry-pick civilizational attributes and say they "define" it.