The Islamic cartoon issue

Well, I just finished signing off on the final set of magazine proofs for our upcoming February/March edition, which will be out in a few weeks. I’m cooling my heels today and preparing for the AMRC conference later this week in Hockley Valley.
I’m going to resist musing too much on this blog space about issues that aren’t related to waste management and recycling, but, since it is a publishing topic, I’m going to indulge myself for a moment and add my two cents worth about the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons that are alleged to make fun of Islamic beliefs and which have triggered protests among Mulsims around the world.
I won’t bother to repeat the analysis you’ve likely encountered elsewhere, saying that the publication was irresponsible during this era of the global war on terror or, alternatively, that the protests have been orchestrated by mullahs and other leaders who live in countries without freedom of speech, and that much of the action has been rent-a-mob scenarios staged for TV cameras. The mainstream press has already covered that, and done not a bad job.
I have an observation to make, and then a point that I haven’t seen written elsewhere, although it no doubt has been made by someone.
First, I have looked at the cartoons and didn’t find them particularly offensive. I know! I know! I’m not Muslim, so of course they’re not going to offend me. But allow for the fact that I can somewhat try to imagine what might be offensive, discount as heavily as you like that I’m not Muslim, and it’s still arguable that the cartoons are mildly funny, mostly silly, and even the cartoon that purports to show Mohammed with a ticking time bomb in his turban makes a valid editorial-cartoon-style point, irreverant though it may be. I say this not to convince you, if you’re Muslim, but just to share with you that I’ve looked at the cartoons and thought about them before shooting off my mouth. (Unlike some people on either side of this debate.)
Second (and lastly) the point I’d like to add is this: I can understand why a Muslim may be held to account for writing or drawing something that some may consider irreligious, sacrosanct or outright heretical. While I wouldn’t condone the person being stoned to death or having his hands cut off, I could appreciate him or her, say, being told not to come back to the local Mosque, or being made to pay some kind of fine, or publicly reprimanded. that sort of thing. But what I do NOT understand is why Muslim people think that a NON-Muslim person should feel beholden to follow the same code of practice as Muslims! I mean, if I’m a Danish cartoonist and I want to make an ironic point about Islamic extremism, and draw (as this guy did) someone in heaven telling the suicide bombers to knock it off because there are no more virgins left in paradise, I should be free to do so. Even if such a cartoon is considered tasteless (which it no doubt is), people in free democracies, who are NOT Muslim, should feel free to draw and write such things and newspapers should feel free to publish them.
If they do, I agree that the artist/writer and the publication should be prepared for, say, some angry letters to the newspaper. It should expect a call from local Muslim groups demanding a meeting with the editorial board, and perhaps be expected to publish a critical letter from that community. But when Muslim mobs around the world behave in a totally unhinged way and call for the death of the cartoonist and threaten terrorizing actions against the Danes and the West in general, they not only elevate awareness of the cartoons to a wider audience, but their actions illustrate exactly the extremism that the cartoons were lampooning in the first place.
I suspect most Muslim people around the world still maintain their sense of humor and aren’t that offended by the cartoons. Some might even chuckle at them in private. It’s too bad that a segment of the Muslim population is being led into rioting by manipulative political and religious leaders who clearly have an agenda of their own, that has nothing to do with true outrage over these cartoons, and everything to do with a chance to demonize the west. There is a difference between hate literature and these cartoons, and the difference is a sense of irony. But if you don’t have a sense of irony, you’re not going to “get it,” right? So what I’d to close by saying is this: If you’re Muslim, and if you have a sense of irony, speak up and tell the over-the-top angry Muslims they don’t need to overreact this way.
And if you’re Muslim, and you don’t agree with what I’ve just written, I suggest that you add a polite (but terse, if you like) comment to the end of this blog entry. Or write me a letter. I would like that, as would you.