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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Breaking out of the infernal circle.

I doubt that I have to tell you anything about the reaction that many in the Islamic world have had to these cartoons featuring images of the prophet Muhammed, originally appearing in a Danish newspaper. Since their publication last October, the cartoons have become a symbol for Westerners' hatred and disrespect for Islam, based on the longstanding Islamic tradition that images of the Prophet are forbidden. They've also become a cause célèbre among non-Muslims in Europe and America, who see any attempt to suppress the cartoons as a violation of press freedom and democratic ideals.

Magpie hasn't had any posts about the controversy before now because I didn't think that I had anything to add to the debate. I still don't think I have anything original to add, but I can point you to an article by Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, who has plenty to say:

We are facing an incredible simplification, a gross polarisation: apparently a clash of civilisations, a confrontation between principles, with defenders, in one corner, of inalienable freedom of speech and, in the other, of the inviolable sacred sphere. Presented in such terms, the debate has unfortunately become a battle of wills, and the question becomes: who will win? Muslims, wanting apologies, threaten to attack European interests, even to attack people; western governments, intellectuals and journalists refuse to bend under threats, and certain media outlets have added to the controversy by republishing the cartoons. Most people around the world, observing these excesses, are perplexed: what sort of madness is this, they ask?

It is critical we find a way out of this infernal circle and demand from those stoking this fire that they stop their polemics at once and create a space for serious, open, indepth debate and peaceful dialogue. This is not the predicted clash of civilisations. This affair does not symbolise the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. Absolutely not. What is at stake at the heart of this sad story is whether or not the duelling sides have the capacity to be free, rational (whether believers or atheists) and, at the same time, reasonable.

The fracture is not between the west and Islam but between those who, in both worlds, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with calm — in the name of faith or reason, or both — and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other and a liking for hasty conclusions. The latter character traits are shared equally by some intellectuals, religious scholars, journalists and ordinary people on both sides. Facing the dangerous consequences these attitudes entail, it is urgent we launch a general call for wisdom.

In Islam, representations of all prophets are strictly forbidden. It is both a matter of the fundamental respect due to them and a principle of faith requiring that, in order to avoid any idolatrous temptations, God and the prophets never be represented. Hence, to represent a prophet is a grave transgression. If, moreover, one adds the clumsy confusions, insults and denigration that Muslims perceived in the Danish cartoons, one can understand the nature of the shock expressed by large segments of Muslim communities around the world (and not only by practising Muslims or the radicals). To these people, the cartoons were too much: it was good and important for them to express their indignation and to be heard.

At the same time, it was necessary for Muslims to bear in mind that, for the past three centuries, western societies — unlike Muslim-majority countries — have grown accustomed to critical, ironical — even derisive — treatment of religious symbols, among them the pope, Jesus Christ and even God. Even though Muslims do not share such an attitude, it is imperative they learn to keep an intellectual distance when faced with such provocations and not to let themselves be driven by zeal and fervour, which can only lead to undesirable ends.

Ramadan makes a lot of sense, don't you think? You can read the rest of his article here.

If Tariq Ramadan's name seems as familiar to you as it did to me, it's because his visa to visit the US was revoked by the feds in 2004 under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows the exclusion of anyone who has advocated terrrorism or supported terrorists. Ramadan's exclusion appears to have more to do with his opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq than with his record on terrorism — he is in fact well known as an opponent of Islamic extremism. His words on the cartoon controversy certain show that he's a dangerous man, don't they?

One more note on the controversy: The UK Guardian reports that the Danish paper that published the cartoons about the prophet Muhammed rejected a batch of cartoons about Jesus Christ in 2003. According to Jyllands-Posten Sunday editor Jens Kaiser, the cartoons were not funny and could have offended the paper's readers.

Can we say 'double standard'?

Thanks to Echidne of the Snakes for pointing me to the Ramadan article.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:14 AM | Get permalink




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