Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Myers on the Muslim Caricatures

When it comes to the science of evolution, PZ Myers and I are in almost complete agreement; when it comes to other issues, it’s scarcely possible that we could be further apart. The latest example of this is his essay on the Muhammed caricatures and the attending controversy. PZ appears to believe that because Muslims are a “poor minority”, they are insulated from satire. I could not disagree more with his assessment of the caricatures:

I’ve seen the cartoons, and they are crude and uninteresting—they are more about perpetuating stereotypes of Muslims as bomb-throwing terrorists than seriously illuminating a problem. They lack artistic or social or even comedic merit, and are only presented as an insult to inflame a poor minority. I don’t have any sympathy for a newspaper carrying out an exercise in pointless provocation.

There is hardly a word of this that is accurate. Is it the case that the purpose was merely to “perpetuate stereotypes of Musliems” rather than to “illuminate a problem”? The facts do not support this claim. It must be remembered what the context was. A Danish writer could not find an illustrator for a book about Muhammed because many artists were afraid to draw any representation of Muhammed for fear of reprisals from reactionary and violent Muslims. There was much concern about the degree to which that fear, based on a long history of violent threats (Salman Rushdie, Theo Van Gogh, etc) and worse against artists and writers, was leading to de facto censorship. Surely PZ would agree that it is a bad idea to allow violent thugs to intimidate artists and writers into silence. Understanding that context clearly cuts against any argument that the goal of the caricatures was merely to perpetuate stereotypes.

Also cutting against that argument is the fact that some of the caricatures are not aimed at Muslims at all, but are aimed at the newspaper and at the Danish author who was seeking an illustrator for his book. In fact, if you look at them there are really only 3 out of 12 that appear to be critical of Islam’s violent tendencies (possibly 4, there’s one I don’t understand at all), while at the same time there are at least three that are critical either of the newspaper (one calls them “reactionary provacateurs”) or of the Danish author.

And of the ones that are critical of Islam, one of them is clearly making fun of the ridiculous notion that homicide bombers receive 72 virgins upon reaching heaven for their martyrdom (clearly a perfectly legitimate criticism and one that I’m sure that PZ finds equally ridiculous) and another is critical of the oppression of women under fundamentalist Islam (another criticism that I’m certain PZ shares). Given that, I have to confess to being baffled by his position here. Surely he agrees with those criticisms, yet he says that he has “no sympathy” for a newspaper that publishes such criticisms and then is the target of violent protests. He appears to be taking the very odd position of saying that this criticism is entirely true and valid, yet because he perceives Muslims to be a “poor minority”, it’s not okay for anyone to actually express such criticisms. I can make no sense of this.

I would also note that I simply don’t believe him when he says, “I don’t have any sympathy for a newspaper carrying out an exercise in pointless provocation.” If a newspaper prints cartoons critical of Christian leaders, we hear no outrage from him (nor should we, of course). So what he really means here is, “I have no sympathy for a newspaper carrying out an exercise in pointless provocation unless it is of groups to whom I have a strong opposition.” And this is hardly an objective perspective on the situation.

He also takes the position that publishing the caricatures amounts to an “affront to their dignity as human beings and citizens”, yet he has no problem mocking Christians far more severely than those caricatures mocked Muslims. It seems to me that if one is going to object to satirizing a belief, then it shouldn’t matter whether the people who hold that belief are a “poor minority” or a rich majority. Of course, I reject the notion that satire is an affront to anyone’s dignity as a human being. The only thing I require is that the satire give some insight into the object of the satire, and surely no one could seriously argue that the violent tendencies of radical Islam is a legitimate target of criticism in whatever form it might take.

The fact is that what is being satirized here absolutely deserves such treatment. Believing that any artistic representation of someone is blasphemy is ridiculous. Believing that someone engaging in such blasphemy should be murdered, along with everyone who agrees with them and their innocent countrymen, is nothing short of psychopathic insanity. And the fact that some of the people who believe that are members of a poor minority does not change those facts even a tiny little bit.

There are two things I believe as firmly as I believe anything. The first is that we should never withhold legitimate criticism because we are intimidated by sociopathic thugs. The second is that we should never withhold legitimate criticism because the people who are the object of that criticism are part of a protected group. There are many groups for whom I have a deeply ingrained empathy as hated minorities; that does not mean that they are immune to legitimate criticism. I am strongly for gay rights, for instance, but that does not mean that we should make them legally protected from criticism, even if that criticism is unwarranted (and here, the criticism is clearly on target).

There are lots of minorities in the world who are treated unfairly in a variety of ways. They don’t all scream for the extermination of those who dare to satirize them. It’s time for Islamic fundamentalism to grow up and join the civilized world, where we react to criticism intellectually and not violently. That is an absolutely valid criticism, regardless of whether Muslims are a poor minority or not. Our first concern should be for the truth, not for social status.

Comments

  1. #1 Roman Werpachowski
    February 4, 2006

    PZ got one thing correct: the cartoons are poor.

  2. #2 Josh
    February 4, 2006

    “Homicide bombers”? Timothy McVeigh was a homicide bomber. The Unabomber was a homicide bomber.

    The act that some people think gets you your 72 virgins is the act of committing suicide. The distinguishing characteristic of the people portrayed in that cartoon is that they all appear to have blown themselves up, making them “suicide bombers.”

    If any phrase is more meaningless that “homicide bomber,” I’m not sure what it is. And in this context, it ignores a serious distinction. The act at issue is not the homicide, but the suicide.

    I love your blog, and I think there are some valid points here, but come on.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    February 4, 2006

    Josh-

    I think homicide bombers is a better phrase. The problem is not that they are committing suicide – if they want to blow themselves up all day long, that’s fine by me – it’s that they are killing innocent people in the process. I think the focus should be on the killing of others rather than of themselves.

  4. #4 tacitus
    February 4, 2006

    You may be right, Ed, but everyone knows what a “suicide bomber” really is, so I don’t see much point in making an issue out of it (which you did by refusing to use it above). All that has achieved is this meta-discussion which diverts us away from the real issues discussed in the post.

  5. #5 Corkscrew
    February 4, 2006

    Josh is right that “homicide bomber” is pretty much an oxymoron, and Ed is right that “suicide bomber” really doesn’t get the full point across. Why not compromise on “genocide bomber”?

  6. #6 decrepitoldfool
    February 4, 2006

    Since Bill O’Reilley is the biggest proponent of the term ‘homicide bomber’, I am already distrustful of it. But mainly I dislike it because it contains less information. All bombers are trying to kill innocent people; the ‘suicide bomber’ is a subset of that larger set.

    The more specific information a simple, commonly-understood term can contain, the more I like it. If the need to include moral judgment reduces its specificity, then we are on-track to just do away with clear descriptions and say ‘bad people’.

  7. #7 Belathor
    February 4, 2006

    I agree with you 100%. It scares me that so many people just want to throw freedom of expression out the window. Talk about the end of the enlightenment!

  8. #8 Josh
    February 5, 2006

    “Genocide bomber” is inaccurate because “genocide” is well-defined and all bombers who blow themselves up are not interested in genocide. Homicide bomber is accurate, but fails to make a distinction that is immediately relevant here.

    Some Muslim scholars have declared that dying in the course of an attack on enemies of Islam will get you to paradise and the 72 virgins. Simply killing people is not enough, it’s necessary to die in the act. Hence, suicide is a relevant distinction for this purpose.

    In general, almost any bomber is killing people, so specifying “homicide” really isn’t informative.

    What distinguishes the Unabomber (homicide bomber) from a suicide bomber is that a suicide bomber kills himself. Suicide is the relevant distinction.

    Anything else is just Orwellian word games.

    While PZ Myers is right that minority groups deserve more consideration and protection than majorities (this is a founding principle of this country, and the basis for freedom of the press and freedom of religion), I agree with you that there should be no official sanctions against the newspapers. Whether we as private citizens should condemn those cartoons which mock a minority religion is a separate matter.

    Islamic fundamentalism deserves our scorn, but all of Islam does not deserve to be painted with that brush, any more than all Christians should be condemned for Fred Phelps’s absurd protests. Some, though not all, of these cartoons paint too broadly, and deserve condemnation for that. Others single out fundamentalism, such as the idea that killing yourself while attacking others will earn you a place in Paradise. These deserve no condemnation.

    I’ll add one bit of social context. In America, Muslims fall roughly into the same social status as Buddhists, Mormons or Catholics, a minority religion that is poorly understood, but basically blends in.

    In Europe, Muslims occupy a social status more like Mexicans or African-Americans in the US, a distrusted proletarian class seen as outsiders and marked as distinctive by their physical features, speech and dress. In that context, these cartoons might be seen as more similar to racial caricatures of Mexicans or black people. Does that change our analysis? Should it?

  9. #9 Ocellated
    February 5, 2006

    Ed, thank you for point this out! It’s about time someone called PZ on the carpet for having such duplicity when it comes to such things.

    If you want to see a real example of hypocrisy, he writes that he has no sympathy for the newspaper because they should have known better than to run offense caricatures. And then he writes posts like this, which is way beyond anything the newspapers did, in it’s provacativeness towards Christians. In fact, unlike the muslim caricatures, the page that PZ links to serves absolutely no purpose of satire. I think he’s really shown how much he’ll accept poor behavior if it criticizes the groups he dislikes.

  10. #10 Ocellated
    February 5, 2006

    Josh,

    You make a very interesting point. I would argue that if we view this situation as a racial issue as you suggest, that it really shouldn’t make a different. If it were black or Mexican peoples in the US, they should still open to satire. I would say that all of us, regardless of race, have issues that we could do better on. I think many, many white people should do much better on sensitivity towards minorities. And at the same time, I think rap music and rap videos, as they have been shown lately, are a detestable form of expression.

    I think it’s very sad that in our culture, it is completely taboo to even bring up issues for dialog. We should be able to talk about race without coming to blows. The trick is simple to be both sensitive to other people, and receptive when you hear something you don’t like.

    I think this volatile situation in the muslim world over the cartoons really serves as an appropriate time to reflect on how we dish out and process criticism. As Ed says, in the civilized world, we don’t threaten people with death when we don’t like what they have to say.

  11. #11 Anna_in_Cairo
    February 5, 2006

    You know, if you wnat to understand this issue in more depth I recommend the Aqoul blog which will give you a lot of back story on how the protesters and angry people are being incited by organized people who are deliberately stirring the pot.

  12. #12 Ian Gibson
    February 5, 2006

    I agree – who’s to say that the ‘we’ve run out of virgins’ cartoon is satirizing anyone other than those Muslims who ‘kill for Allah’. It isn’t. Any Muslim who thinks killing others for their beliefs is wrong shouldn’t feel offended by this. In fact, they should join our condemnation of those who do. However, I think that PZ was trying to claim that Muslims don’t see this as an attack on their religion, but rather as an attack on Muslims as a ‘people’. I think he is wrong in this assessment. But as he said:

    I’m all for enlightenment values. I also think Mohammed should be mocked and reviled.
    My objection is that the newspaper claims the cartoons were run as a matter of principle. That’s a good thing; so why not demonstrate the principle by running cartoons mocking many religions and ideas, from atheism to zoroastrianism, with a few random pokes at popular Danish figures? I suspect there would still have been protests and riots, but I’d feel that the paper had been behaving responsibly…as it is, by focusing on just one religion instead of all of them, they look like they singled out one despised group for abuse, rather than a broader idea.

    For some reason, he is giving too much ‘benefit of the doubt’ to Muslims due to their status as an ‘oppressed group’. He may not agree, but I think that it’s a religious objection that they raise, not a sociological one – he is letting them off the hook by making excuses..

  13. #13 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    February 5, 2006

    Hmm.

    From the opening of Myers’s post:

    I haven’t commented on those Muslim cartoons so far. I’m conflicted.

    Why, you might ask? It’s a clear-cut case of religious insanity, exactly the sort of thing I ought to relish wagging an arrogantly atheistical finger at. And of course I will, in just a moment…but the difficult part is that there are actually at least two issues here, and religion is only one of them.

    Is he being arrogant? Well, maybe.

    Is he being hypocritical? I … don’t really see it.

    A bit more of his post:

    There are some things a cartoonist would be rightly excoriated for publishing: imagine that one had drawn an African-American figure as thick-lipped, low-browed, smirking clown with a watermelon in one hand and a fried chicken drumstick in the other. Feeding bigotry and flaunting racist stereotypes would be something that would drive me to protest any newspaper that endorsed it—of course, my protests would involve writing letters and canceling subscriptions, not rioting and burning down buildings.

    Is he saying the newspaper should be banned from doing this? I don’t see it. Is he saying it was a bad idea? Yes … and I challenge you to state that it was a GOOD idea to publish those cartoons – not that they should be allowed to, but that it was a good idea.

    Is he saying the response from the Muslim community was excessive and absurd? Yes! He is!

    He’s just also saying – which you seem to be denying, Ed – that they do have a right to be offended, even if they’re responding to that offense inappropriately.

  14. #14 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    February 5, 2006

    … damnit, the first blockquote didn’t work properly.

    The first paragraph after the first quote is also by Meyers.

  15. #15 Reed A. Cartwright
    February 5, 2006

    While PZ Myers is right that minority groups deserve more consideration and protection than majorities (this is a founding principle of this country, and the basis for freedom of the press and freedom of religion)

    Josh, you’re wrong. This country was not founded on a principle that minorities deserve more protection than majorities. It was founded with the principle of universial liberty (for white men atlease). This liberty protects minorities against totalitarian majorities. But it is wrong to think that minorities have or diserve more liberty that the majority.

  16. #16 Troy Britain
    February 5, 2006

    What bothers me is that some left leaning peoples first reaction to this situation is to spend much of their time criticizing the cartoonists, or the newspapers who published the cartoons, rather than focus on the insanity being vomited forth by the extremist Muslims. This strikes me as being akin to focusing on the occasional mistreatment of prisoners by the allies during WWII while only giving a perfunctory mention of the Nazis institutional mistreatment of prisoners.

    There is no moral parity between the creation of potentially offensive cartoons and what these lunatics are doing and no one should be spending any time ruminating over how offensive some drawing might be when there are fanatics rioting and advocating mass murder because of said drawing.

  17. #17 Gretchen
    February 5, 2006

    I think a lot of people who are saying that the paper or the cartoonists were irresponsible are thinking that the paper was attempting to speak to the Muslim world in general by publishing these cartoons, when in fact they didn’t really expect anyone beyond the borders of Denmark to see them. I don’t think they could have reasonably expected Ahmed Abu Laban to get in such a fury over them as to take the cartoons to the Middle East and stir up the kind of angry reaction that is going on now.

    Of course now that the reaction has happened, the paper is not turning away with its tail between its legs….nor should it. And of course it deserves sympathy, just as any person deserves sympathy when another tries to bully them into silence.

    It may well be that I have utterly no comprehension of how insulting it is to a Muslim to see their religious authority figure mocked. But you know what? The rest of us live in a world where every other religious authority is mocked on a regular basis. Muslims have a choice of whether they want to live in that world or not. This whole situation shouldn’t just be about fear of offending Muslims– it should be, as Flemming Rose has said, about being free to lampoon anything if we so choose.

    Rose commissioned the cartoons out of a concern for fearful self-censorship on the part of artists. And while we might refrain from publishing something to avoid bad taste or unnecessary offense, fear of violent reprisal should not be the cause. What well-intentioned (maybe) critics of the paper need to understand is that the paper is not trying to be mean or rude. It is trying to be free. There’s a difference.

  18. #18 TimB
    February 5, 2006

    This also brings up a question about religion, in general — about absolutist belief. On the one hand, we westerners just can’t understand why those Muslems don’t set aside a reasonable space for free speech and some respect for differing belief systems.

    But looked at in a different way, they are acting perfectly logically according to their absolutist belief. If Allah is the ultimate Truth, then anyone who lashes out against Allah or his prophet are enemies to ultimate Truth. Although I think such absolute-purity belief is untenable, I can trace the trajectory of logic stemming from it. If one believes absolutely in a certain way, then why in the world would an absolutist grant any non-absolute “space” for anyone else?

  19. #19 Gretchen
    February 5, 2006

    You’ve just put your finger on the problem with absolutist belief, TimB.

    I personally am glad that there’s comparatively so little of it in the world. If, for example, all pro-lifers believed absolutely that abortion was murder, they would be entirely justified (according to their belief) in storming every abortion clinic in existence.

    Absolutism doesn’t leave any room for non-absolutists. An absolutist can live in a non-absolutist culture, but they will quickly become frustrated and alienated at the perceieved gross immorality of everyone else. A non-absolutist living in an absolutist culture will likely have to live in the closet or else be jailed or killed.

  20. #20 IndianCowboy
    February 5, 2006

    A few points:
    1. Black Republican politicians are almost regularly portrayed as thick-lipped, servile, microcephalics. This happens without outrage, except on the part of Republicans (no I’m not republican, just pointing it out). Apu on the SImpsons is a gigantic caricature. I’ve never met an Indian that didn’t laugh at the Apu-focused episodes.

    2. The muslim community is relatively new to Europe, they haven’t been there long enough to be ‘oppressed’ (god I hate that word when used about minorities). What they are is intensely insular, with many of them not even bothering to learn the English language. They also have no interest in assimilating but rather want to make their new european abodes Islamabad Lite ™, except without quite as much poverty. What they’ve done is move to a new land for the opportunity, but then they’ve prevented themselves from partaking of it due to unwillingness to adopt the heathen ways of their new home. (this is a generalization, but a valid one, as anyone who’s lived in Europe recently can tell you.)

    3. Josh, I think you overstate the degree to which a muslim doesn’t blend in in Europe, or at least in the UK (the only one of those countries I’m truly familiar with). There brown people are far more commonplace than they are out here in the Southwest (we’re hte only brown family in an entire square mile subdivision). Also, it’s been my experience that minorities are alienated far less than white people think they are.

    4. TimB, does it really matter whether it’s logical or not? It’s wrong. And, in fact, it’s not that logical. At the risk of being called a bigot, I’d just point out that of all the religious founders I can think of for which we have *some* physical proof, Mohammed follows a completely different pattern from everyone else.

    Jesus, born poor, died on a cross, painfully. Rama, born a King, dies in poverty, in a forest. Buddha, born a king, dies of starvation. Confucius, LaoTzu, both died in obscurity. Mohammed-middle class trader. Dies an emperor with a gigantic harem…

    5. Finally, for an ‘oppressed’ minority, extremist aspects of the Muslim community sure as hell have spread a lot of oppression everywhere they’ve gone. There is only one religion that has committed acts of terror on 4 out of the 5 major continents (I don’t know of anything in South America) in the past 5 years. 750 Hindus and Buddhists beheaded in Malaysia in under two years…many of them schoolgirls. Their crime? Being Hindu and Buddhist in an area whose Hindu/buddhist roots date back to at least 1000 years before Mohammed was EVEN BORN.

    Yes I realize that most muslims do not strap bombs to their chests and kill little children. I lived with one last year, ate dinner regularly with another, was in grad school with another, and dated one in my longest relationship ever. All great people. Thing is, most muslims don’t even bother to decry the terrorists.

    6. I think we’d be more sympathetic if there was at least *some* self-policing and *some* attempt to assimilate.

    7. I’d recommend picking up Terry Pratchett’s book Thud. It’s only vaguely topical but the Dwarfs bear interesting parallels to the situation with Islamic immigrants in london.

  21. #21 Anna_in_Cairo
    February 5, 2006

    You guys don’t get the Muslim reaction because you’re unaware of how this whole situation was deliberately inflated. The time line is like this. 4 months ago the original paper did the silly competition and published the pretty racist looking cartoons. A few local Muslims (residing in Denmark) carefully cut out the cartoons and also got some other, very much worse and really hate speech type of thing, cartoons (that were never published by the paper) and put them together in a dossier. Then, they went to the Middle East and started going to religious organizations doing show and tell of them to get religious authorities aware of the issue. Meanwhile, a Swedish christian paper gleefully republished them to attack Islam (which the original, secular paper had not really been trying to do). So there was an orchestration of Muslim public opinion being done.

    Not to be nasty, but similar things are done by interest groups in the US. There is a group of Coptic Christians in the US who deliberately feeds inflated and exaggerated stories about abuse of Copts in Egypt to their members of Congress and who managed to get an entire bill passed about the discrimination against Christians worldwide, all mostly based on wildly exaggerated info.

    Now it is very easy for Westerners to point at the stupid Muslims for having been whipped up into a frenzy. Well, in 2003, US public opinion was whipped up to support an invasion of a completely non-threatening country over an issue it had nothing to do with, and a lot more lives were lost than in this case. Also, the invasion has not even ended yet.

    Also, people raised in middle eastern countries do not understand how a newspaper can print something without the gov. having sanctioned it, as they do not have a free press – and assume that big companies are also government entities (which is why they are insanely boycotting the cookie companies and attacking the embassies). They just do not get it. I have had a lot of arguments with locals here in Egypt about this and it is very hard to explain the role of the press in the Western society which is so different than what they have been born and raised with and what they automatically assume.

    Not to justify the stupidity level this has reached. I have spent so much time arguing with Muslims on how stupid their reaction has been. Just to put it in some context. And to remind people that Muslims are not the only people that get manipulated into scapegoating others or focusing on stupid side issues while ignoring larger ones. Quite the contrary.

  22. #22 Gretchen
    February 5, 2006

    You guys don’t get the Muslim reaction because you’re unaware of how this whole situation was deliberately inflated.

    Actually, I live in Aarhus and know exactly how the situation was deliberately inflated. I’ve also seen the additional, much more offensive cartoons which were displayed in the Middle East and presented as if they were published in the paper along with the others. And I still do not “get” how this can be seen as justification for burning embassies and threatening murder. There are ways to protest without justifying the exact stereotypes made by the cartoons that angered you in the first place. They are making the “turban as a bomb with ignited fuse” cartoon a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  23. #23 TimB
    February 5, 2006

    IndianCowboy,

    You said: “TimB, does it really matter whether it’s logical or not? It’s wrong.”

    Well, jumping up and down and saying “It’s wrong” will, I assert, have no persuasive force among those who, just as vehemently, say “It’s right.” Did you completely miss my point about the nature of absolutism?

  24. #24 Anna_in_Cairo
    February 5, 2006

    Yes, and I did not justify their insane actions, Gretchen. Because of US public opinion, people in Baghdad were bombed, too. I hate how stupid people act and how easy it is to manipulate them and how uncivilized and violent their response can be. I am only saying that Muslims don’t have a monopoly on murderous overreaction, now do they?

  25. #25 Ian Gibson
    February 5, 2006

    when it comes to other issues, it’s scarcely possible that we could be further apart.

    Come on now Ed. Myers ridicules Islam and says the violent protestors are idiots. All you disagree on here is the papers’ motivations.

  26. #26 wildlifer
    February 5, 2006

    Ocellated:

    Ed, thank you for point this out! It’s about time someone called PZ on the carpet for having such duplicity when it comes to such things.

    If you want to see a real example of hypocrisy, he writes that he has no sympathy for the newspaper because they should have known better than to run offense caricatures. And then he writes posts like this, which is way beyond anything the newspapers did, in it’s provacativeness towards Christians. In fact, unlike the muslim caricatures, the page that PZ links to serves absolutely no purpose of satire. I think he’s really shown how much he’ll accept poor behavior if it criticizes the groups he dislikes.

    Your link has no connection to the current topic. There’s a difference in my opinion to poking fun at religion and portraying all Muslims as bomb-toting nuts.

  27. #27 wildlifer
    February 5, 2006

    Well, the blockquote previewed okay. Ocellated’s quote ends with “… criticizes the groups he dislikes.”

  28. #28 TimB
    February 5, 2006

    The same thing I said about Islamic absolutist belief applies to American Christian fundamentalists. It is logically understandable that they would try to establish an American theocracy (see Sen. Brownback), if they truly believe that their God is real and is Truth. Why have any patience with anyone who is outside the Truth?

    Give unto Ceasar….? Well, surely that’s just a stop-gap measure until the Truth has had time to spread universally. Then, it would be simply nonsense to recognize any un-Truth.

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    February 5, 2006

    Sotek wrote:

    Is he saying the newspaper should be banned from doing this? I don’t see it. Is he saying it was a bad idea? Yes … and I challenge you to state that it was a GOOD idea to publish those cartoons – not that they should be allowed to, but that it was a good idea.

    I think I was pretty careful not to caricature PZ’s position. I never claimed that he said that the newspaper didn’t have a right to print them, because he didn’t. And it’s clear that he’s not defending the beliefs or the violent reaction of Islamic radicals. But he didn’t just say “I don’t think it was a good idea to print them” either, he said, “I have no sympathy” for the newspaper which engaged in “pointless provocation”. But there are many reasons why I find this inconsistent and inaccurate.

    First, because PZ absolutely delights in “pointless provocation” that is far worse, infinitely more offensive than those cartoons, toward Christians. Ocellated provided a link that demonstrates that perfectly above (a link I looked for, but thought was longer ago than it was so I missed it). He’s not saying that this month’s Rolling Stone cover, with Kanye West posing as Christ, is “pointless provocation”. And the only explanation he offers for that contradictory reaction in the case of the two religions is that Muslims are a “poor minority”, which is both false and irrelevant. As has already been pointed out, Islam is a religion, not an ethnic group. There are poor Muslims and there are rich and powerful Muslims. My question is, okay, even if you’re right that Muslims are a poor minority, therefore what? Therefore their beliefs, no matter how absurd or, in this case, dangerous, are immune from criticism and satire? I don’t see how anyone can make such an argument. And without that argument, I don’t see why his justification is in any way relevant to the situation.

    Secondly, I think asking whether it was a “good idea” is a loaded question. It implies a cost-benefit analysis, but that cost-benefit analysis is heavily skewed by the violent reaction of the radicals. I think satire is a very powerful and useful tool in society, especially when it is aimed at sacred cows that are dangerous for human civilization. I have no doubt that Myers, and you, would agree with me on that. Given that agreement, there is only one possible reason why engaging in it in this situation would not be a “good idea”, and that is because it provokes a violent reaction. But if we are to acquiesce to that and stop engaging in what we all agree is otherwise a valid and useful form of expression, are we not caving in to the insanity of violent thugs? Have they not then achieved their goal of enforcing an orthodoxy of opinion without even controlling the government? And again, would anyone make this argument when it comes to anti-Christian satire? Not likely.

    He’s just also saying – which you seem to be denying, Ed – that they do have a right to be offended, even if they’re responding to that offense inappropriately.

    I can’t imagine where you got the idea that I’m denying their right to be offended. How could anyone deny someone else’s right to a feeling? They have every right to feel offended by it, and no one could stop them even if someone did think they didn’t have that right. I just don’t see what that has to do with anything. Fine, be offended. I’m offended by things all the time, as I’m sure you are as well. But that doesn’t mean that their offense is rational and it certainly doesn’t mean they have a right to set things on fire.

  30. #30 Ed Brayton
    February 5, 2006

    Ian Gibson wrote:

    Come on now Ed. Myers ridicules Islam and says the violent protestors are idiots. All you disagree on here is the papers’ motivations.

    No, we disagree on more than that. We certainly do disagree on that, and as I pointed out, the nature of the cartoons themselves disprove his claim about the paper’s motivations. But we also clearly disagree on whether the minority status of Muslims in the region should have any influence on our reaction. He clearly thinks it changes the reality of the situation and commands more sympathy for them as an oppressed people. I say that the truth is what matters. If their views are insane, they deserve to be called insane regardless of their social status. Poor minorities engaging in brutal thuggery are just as bad as rich majorities doing it; it’s the brutal thuggery that matters.

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    February 5, 2006

    Anna-

    I have no doubt that the violent demonstrations are being orchestrated among by radical Islamic leaders around the world. I knew that long before you mentioned it here. And I also fully agree with you that they aren’t the only ones on Earth who are prone to such demagoguery. I just dont’ think any of that really changes my analysis of the situation or of PZ’s response to it.

  32. #32 Ed Brayton
    February 5, 2006

    Let me add one more comment here: I adamantly agree with those who say that it’s important to distinguish between moderate and decent Muslims and the radical reactionaries promoting violence. I have always been very careful to do so and I’ve written many times on my blog on the need for the West to reach out to moderate Muslims and strengthen their position against the radicals. This is, first and foremost in my opinion, a battle within Islam itself between modernists and anti-modernists and we have a real stake in which side wins that battle. I have highlighted and quoted long excerpts from moderate Muslims criticizing the radicals and condemned in no uncertain terms the anti-Islamic policies of the French government, for example. After 9/11 took place, and there were threats against the Islamic student center in East Lansing, I went there along with many other local citizens to show solidarity with them and send a message that anti-Muslim hatred had no place in society despite what happened. So the last thing I can be fairly accused of is painting all Muslims with the same brush. But I don’t believe that is what happened in this situation. The caricatures that were published in the newspaper served the purpose of exposing the degree to which the threat of violence from Muslim radicals (not ordinary decent Muslims) had already succeeded in silencing legitimate satire and criticism in that country. The resulting reaction has only reinforced the fact that we must condemn such insanity with one united voice, and we must urge moderate Muslims to join that chorus. And I salute the many brave Muslims around the world who have joined that chorus and spoken out against such barbarism. So please do not entertain the notion that I think all Muslims are responsible for what I am condemning. I assure you that is emphatically not the case.

  33. #33 Josh
    February 5, 2006

    Reed writes:

    This country was not founded on a principle that minorities deserve more protection than majorities. It was founded with the principle of universial liberty (for white men atlease).

    I’m not sure this is either/or. I’d say it’s both/and.

    This liberty protects minorities against totalitarian majorities. But it is wrong to think that minorities have or diserve more liberty that the majority.

    It’s good that that’s not what I argued.

    Equal liberty winds up conferring greater protection and consideration on minority groups. Look at 14th amendment jurisprudence: “suspect classes” are conferred additional consideration in order to ensure “equal protection.”

    Muslim underemployment and the consequent disaffection from society in France derives largely from official race-blindness. In the absence of some form of affirmative action, inequalities magnify. Since Aristotle, and certainly through the Founding Fathers, the idea of a successful democracy was distinguished from mob rule by protections for minorities.

    England is different from Germany or France in many ways. England’s Muslims tend to be Pakistani. As members of former British colonies, they have a leg up on integrating into British society, not least because they speak English and have a history of experience with British culture.

    In most of continental Europe, the Muslims are Turkish or North African. Their connection to the local culture and language is more diffuse, and there is a history of military conflict including the Crusades, the Ottoman invasions, the wars for Spain, and colonialism in North Africa. To say that “they haven’t been there long enough to be ‘oppressed’” ignores most of European history. Was the street two-ways? Sure. Does that make everything OK? No. To say that they’ve isolated themselves ignores the fact that Europe has worked to exclude them (e.g. banning religious headwear).

    It’s possible to condemn those cartoons which paint all of Islam with a brush best reserved for the extremists and to criticize the people who have responded violently. One need not take one side against the other.

  34. #34 spyder
    February 5, 2006

    As Ed, continues to point out above, there is a difference between the reactionary fundamentalist islamic groups and the bulk of most of Islam around the world. Last week i watched three different interviews with Reza Aslan, author of a new book: “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.” His thesis is that these more violence prone reactionaries are well outside of Islam’s essential and basic tenants, that they do not adhere or follow the Koran or the various teachings/lessons/interpretations, and that they really have no authority (clerical responsibility) to call for jihads and fatwahs, but do so because they are “loose cannons.” We have our own versions of these here in the US, what with so many reactionary fundamentalist christian idiots out there calling for the death of this or that person and this or that group. Fortunately, up to this point, these folks have not acted, nor have those that adhere to these fringe reactionary beliefs. I doubt PZ would call for similar “protections” of minority views if those were representative of wacko Christian types. This is, for me, the canard. For one to hold such a view, one needs to hold it across the spectrum of world religions. Protecting crazed Sihks, or extreme Jews, or Falung Gong, all of whom have called for and perpetrated violence, from freely expressed charicatures, is just as inappropriate as protecting nutball Christians and Muslims.

  35. #35 steve s
    February 5, 2006

    While some people are disappointing us, others are speaking out strongly for free speech:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2135499/

  36. #36 BobGo
    February 5, 2006

    Muslims claim several different offenses: violation of their prohibition against picturing, ridicule of their religious beliefs, and failure of European governments to control or appropriately punish the press — all of which cause them to feel insulted and outraged. I originally advocated some sensitivity to traditional Islamic expectations in the hope of reciprocal respect for our Western expectation of free expression. The deep-rooted cultural differences over picturing seem to be inadequately appreciated by either side. Apparently mutual understanding is not going to occur before moderates are radicalized, embassies are torched, death threats are issued, and Western governments legislate political-correctness censorship.

    Now I’m becoming concerned that the modern West is forgetting the value of free exchange of ideas, despite well-developed traditions of satirization and multimedia expression that provide additional dimension beyond purely verbal rendering of issues and opinions. I have a different interpretation of the best of these cartoons (bomb head), which shows a religious idea, in this case Mohammedanism, having a dangerous swelling effect on men’s heads — more aptly than putting it in words (though no one should infer that Christianism has any less explosive potential). Whether or not these are great illustrations (reporting “both sides of the controversy” is not an obligation of the creative artist), they have apparently exposed currently-relevant issues of tolerance and extremism, ripe for exploration. And while we struggle for mutual understanding, neither reactionary threats of violence nor undue deference for quaint religious beliefs should be allowed to cripple expression in the civilized world.

  37. #37 Gretchen
    February 5, 2006

    Here is an excellent, more complete article detailing what happened with the Arab delegation that misrepresented both Denmark and the cartoons and ended up sparking so much controversy:

    Alienated Danish Muslims Sought Help From Arabs

  38. #38 Peiter
    February 6, 2006

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that the daily (Jyllands-Posten) that brought the cartoons is an anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, semi-nationalistic paper. I’m pretty confident that their sole intent was to further humiliate the Danish Muslims and that they must have felt disappointed by the relative lack of reaction to their cartoons. The Spiegel on-line article linked to by Gretchen says the Danish Muslim community erupted in anger. I think that’s stretching it. Sure, people were angry, but what happened was one or two peaceful demonstrations, an attempt to bring it to the courts, and a mentally unstable teenager who phoned in a bomb threat, and who was tipped off to the cops by his mother. The Danish Muslims have behaved like perfect democrats. Except for the people who two months later traveled to the Middle East. Apparently they wanted to help the fulfill cartoonists’ prejudices by igniting more combustible minds. Protesting the depiction of your prophet as a terrorist by the use of threats of terrorism seems pretty damn stupid to me…

    Basically, what I mean is that the Danish freedom of expression was not threatened by local Muslims (which is also clear in some of these cartoons framing the whole incident as a public relations stunt by the author, Kaare Bluitgen), but is now threatened by Middle Eastern Muslims, and that it is necessary to try and incorporate these two different contexts when forming an opinion. The notion that your religious laws apply to others or that your religious views are exempt from ridicule, whether courteous and respectful or not, is untenable in a modern society.

  39. #39 Ed Brayton
    February 6, 2006

    Peiter wrote:

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that the daily (Jyllands-Posten) that brought the cartoons is an anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, semi-nationalistic paper.

    First, I have no idea if that’s true or not. Second, I just don’t think it matters. You judge the rightness or wrongness of an action on the action itself, not on the labels you put on them to color your views. Thirdly, regardless of the newspaper’s biases, they still have an unalienable right to publish what they want.

    The Spiegel on-line article linked to by Gretchen says the Danish Muslim community erupted in anger. I think that’s stretching it. Sure, people were angry, but what happened was one or two peaceful demonstrations, an attempt to bring it to the courts, and a mentally unstable teenager who phoned in a bomb threat, and who was tipped off to the cops by his mother. The Danish Muslims have behaved like perfect democrats.

    Except that Gretchen doesn’t need a Spiegel article for support, she actually lives in Aarhus, where shortly after they were published (before all the hoopla from Muslims in the middle east inflamed the situation and made it worse) a riot broke out and they burned down a kindegarten. They were kind enough to let the kids leave first, which I suppose is laudable, but this is still a vile act of destruction.

  40. #40 Peiter
    February 6, 2006

    The reason I mentioned the political flavor of Jyllands-Posten is because I think the controversy is double. A local one and a global one. In the local one, I belive the publishing of the drawings to be further persecution of an allready marginalized and stigmatized minority. In the global one, I believe the publishing to have become a focal point in the struggle of ideas between islam and the secular West, and an issue in which we in the free societies simply cannot give in or apologize.

    This makes it doubly difficult for Muslim as well as non-Muslim Danes, since reasonable Muslims will have to denounce the actions in the Middle East, and middle-of-the-road non-Muslims like me will have to stand up for Jyllands-Posten. I expect that for a Muslim to say that the riots of fellow Muslims is worse than the depictions of the prophet is more painful to them than backing up Jyllands-Posten is to me. Which is saying a lot.

    I too live in Denmark, and think the burning of the kindergarten is blown out of proportions. These are teenagers so stupid they even pick a fight with paramedics trying to get their friends out of a wrecked car. It was a one-time, nightly incident with disenfranchised teens which I forgot all about it because it’s so insignificant and dailyday. It certainly wasn’t a riot. All in all I am very proud of the Danish Muslim society as a whole for acting as responsibly and mature as they have done. As probably the only party of this whole story.

  41. #41 Ed Brayton
    February 6, 2006

    Peiter wrote:

    The reason I mentioned the political flavor of Jyllands-Posten is because I think the controversy is double. A local one and a global one. In the local one, I belive the publishing of the drawings to be further persecution of an allready marginalized and stigmatized minority.

    If that was really their goal, then why print the caricatures critical of the newspaper as well? It doesn’t add up. And the fact is that the caricatures really aren’t very offensive. There are only 3, 4 at the most, that are even critical of Islam, much less persecuting, and criticism is hardly the same thing as persecution. The fact that Muslim immigrants are persecuted for being different in some societies does not mean that their beliefs are therefore immune from criticism. If they want to claim that portrayals of Muslims as bomb-throwing terrorists is unfair, then by all means stop being bomb-throwing terrorists. It certainly isn’t reasonable to complain about such stereotypes at the same time that they are demonstrating their accuracy by being bomb-throwing terrorists.

    Our concern should be for accuracy and truth, always. The fact that a criticism might be uncomfortable for a group that is ill-treated in some countries does not change the truth or accuracy of the criticism at all – and truth and accuracy are all that should matter. Indeed, I would argue that insulating all minorities from criticism by claiming that criticism = persecution will work to the detriment of that minority group in the long run because it will prevent them from examining the problems in their own group. We see this in America in spades, where any criticism of the actions of any minority group, or individual member of that group, is viewed as proof of bigotry and as persecution. And that’s true even when it’s a member of that group doing the criticizing.

    Look at Bill Cosby, who spoke out about actions taken within the black community that serve to keep many of them as part of a permanent underclass. He was immediately savaged by many of his fellow black leaders as an Uncle Tom wrongly pointing the finger at other blacks rather than at whites for oppressing them. But this is irrational. Yes, the black community has historically been the victim of horrific oppression in the United States. Does it logically follow, then, that they have no problems of their own to solve at this point? Obviously not, which means the argument against Cosby’s criticism is actually harmful to blacks because it insulates real problems from being examined and prevents real solutions from being taken seriously.

    The cry of “I’m the victim, how dare you criticize me for anything” is not only irrational, it’s dangerous. And it’s dangerous to the person making it as well as to society as a whole because it prevents them from ever looking at themselves. As long as they can point the finger outward at everyone else and say “it’s their fault”, there is never a reason to engage in self-analysis to try and fix one’s own deficencies that might well be contributing to the problem. Victimhood has become a big “get out of criticism free” card and the results are quite damaging.

    And in this case, radical Muslims are not the persecuted minority, they are the persecuting minority. They are the ones engaging in violence to silence others. That must be opposed by everyone who values freedom, not excused away.

  42. #42 Scott W. Somerville
    February 6, 2006

    I have argued on my blog that “Islamophobe” aptly describes any Western liberal who would compromise the freedom of speech solely out of fear of Muslim violence.

    A person who is deeply committed to multicultural respect for all religions might well argue that these cartoons should not have been published. I can’t say that describes NBC, which refused to show the cartoons out its “respect” for Muslim sensibilities, but which was preparing a sitcom for Good Friday in which Britney Spears runs a religious cooking show called “Cruci-fixins.” (This just in: NBC has now cancelled that show. Maybe they are discovering the value of religion after all! Or maybe the Christians started threatening their own boycotts.)

    A Western liberal who decries these cartoons yet sits by while Christianity is mocked is obviously a hypocrite, but he or she is more than that. Such a person would seem to be either an Islamophobe (terrorized by Muslim violence) or a Christophobe (consumed by loathing of Christians).

  43. #43 Ed Brayton
    February 6, 2006

    Scott Somerville wrote:

    A Western liberal who decries these cartoons yet sits by while Christianity is mocked is obviously a hypocrite, but he or she is more than that. Such a person would seem to be either an Islamophobe (terrorized by Muslim violence) or a Christophobe (consumed by loathing of Christians).

    My only problem with this is that I suspect you would also call someone like me, a Western libertarian who thinks that it’s perfectly okay to satirize both Islam and Christianity, a Christophobe as well. Quite frankly, I think the premise of a Christian cooking show called “Cruci-fixins” is hilarious. But that hardly signifies any loathing of Christians on my part, whose numbers include many of my dearest friends and my better half.