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.
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. There is a genuine social concern here, I think. Muslims represent a poor and oppressed underclass, and those cartoons represent a ruling establishment intentionally taunting them and basically flipping them off. They have cause to be furious!
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.
So on the one hand I see a social problem being mocked, but on the other—and here comes the smug godless finger-wagging—I see a foolish superstition used as a prod to mock people, and a people so muddled by the phony blandishments of religion that they scream “Blasphemy!” and falsely pin the problem on a ridiculous insult to a non-existent god, rather than on the affront to their dignity as human beings and citizens. Religion in this case has accomplished two things, neither one productive: it’s distracted people away from the real problems, which have nothing at all to do with the camera-shy nature of their imaginary deity, and it’s also amplified the hatred.
It also doesn’t help that their riots are confirming the caricatures rather than opposing them. Once again, religiosity turns people into mindless frenzied zombies, and once again it interferes with progress.
Somehow, people are assuming from this that I’m “sympathetic to Islam”. How, I don’t know; I thought I’d always been quite clear in my contempt for all religion, and I thought the last two paragraphs above were plain enough. I am sympathetic to the problem of being a minority immigrant; that’s one issue that is being ignored too much. As I said, the real problem is being exacerbated by bad religion that amplifies the hate.
I really don’t think a Muslim would find me to be a friend to their religion.