Saturday, February 04, 2006

Responding to Warren Kinsella's take on the Danish cartoons

(watch the violence here, as Muslims loudly cheer)

Warren Kinsella has spoken on the cartoon controversy now enraging the Muslim world. He is against publishing the cartoons that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published depicting ohammed.

Naturally, one wonders, why? After all, he was the one trodding out a dinosaur on television mocking Stockwell Day's religious beliefs. Anticipating this argument, Kinsella responds that he was only warning that Day's "religious beliefs had, and would, inform his political beliefs." That may have been Kinsella's intent.

But his actions clearly went beyond this connection. For there was no implied or explicitly stated connection between Day's belief in the earth's age and the way it would inform his policy as Prime Minister. What would Day do -- make it Canada's official position on evolution? The non-existent connection Kinsella makes (or fails to make) is probably why I find Kinsella's position on the cartoons so odd.

Muslims deserve "a modicum of respect for the things they hold closest to their hearts." But somehow Christians who believe in a young earth do not. As long as you are making a political point of national importance ("Canadian voters were therefore fully consider the ramifications of faith-based politics"), via Kinsella's logic, it is permissable to insult them. And many were.

Yet, the political cartoons were published to make a point of national importance. Indeed, it may even fulfill the Kinsella criteria of making a political point. The point of the paper publishing the cartoons, Jyllands-Posten? Muslims need to learn what it means to live in a society which values freedom of expression:

demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him. [...]

I agree with Warren Kinsella on a lot of points he makes. Indeed, "You might not find such things hateful or even hurtful, but many others do." Certainly I can understand why some Muslims may find these cartoons hurtful or even insulting. But that is not the issue for most Muslims. The furor is not over the hate involved in them. For if you actually look at them, they aren't mocking Mohammad as much as the fanatics who use Mohammad to justify violence. Muslims are instead upset because these cartoons are idolatry. For it is forbidden to make images of Mohammad. It is idolatry.

For Muslims. Not Christians. Not Atheists. For Muslims. And in a free society like Canada, we tolerate free expression peacefully. When we do disagree on whether something is truly insulting, we go to Court to let the law be the final arbiter. It is like hate emails people get. You don't threaten to kill people or burn embassies just because someone does something that offends your belief system. The only reason people have even considered the idea of censoring these cartoons is because of fear. Fear of violence.

The whole thing is just absurd. What, is Canada going to stop selling wine and beer if Muslims start burning down Canadian embassies because we are selling forbidden food? Of course not. Just as we can eat heathen food without impunity, so should we be able to display things that goes contrary to the belief system of others. It almost begs the point. Would newspaper editors be dragging their heels on publishing these cartoons if there were riots over the fact that Western newspapers began to show women scantily clad without burkhas? The possibilities for offense are endless. In a free society, free expression without fear of violence is the bedrock over our democracy.

At what point do we stop selling our own Western values of freedom for the Muslim worlds' values?

It may surprise some to think that at one point in human history, it was insulting and offensive to the Church to suggest that that the Emperor was ultimately superior over the Pope (Dante). Dante's de Monarchia was banned by the Pope. Ideas suggesting that Divine Kingship came from God rather than the Pope were also censored.

The Boston Globe has opined that they have decided not to publish the cartoons based on "the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance."

I argue by reaching the opposite conclusion based on the same Enlightment grounds: freedom from the religious tyranny of ideas. Listen to Baruch Spinoza very carefully, as deals in his Theologico-Political Treatise with the very same issue of censorship and offense:

For when people try to take it away, and bring to trial, not only the acts which alone are capable of offending, but also the opinions of mankind, they only succeed in surrounding their victims with an appearance of martyrdom, and raise feelings of pity and revenge rather than of terror. (78)

Uprightness and good faith are thus corrupted, flatterers and traitors are encouraged, and sectarians triumph, inasmuch as concessions have been made to their animosity, and they have gained the state sanction for the doctrines of which they are the interpreters. (79)

Hence they arrogate to themselves the state authority and rights, and do not scruple to assert that they have been directly chosen by God, and that their laws are Divine, whereas the laws of the state are human, and should therefore yield obedience to the laws of God - in other words, to their own laws. (80)

Everyone must see that this is not a state of affairs conducive to public welfare. (81)

Wherefore, as we have shown in Chapter XVIII., the safest way for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.

Further Reading:
Jyllands-Posten's justification for printing the cartoons


Anonymous said...

interesting read as always.

I don't necessarily agree fully on your comparisons between women not wearing burqas, the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol as being provocative...but... at the same time I struggle to conclude why they are not equally provocative or at least enflaming to some extent.

It made me think back to working in Istanbul. The guys I worked with made their wives subservient in all ways--lording over them with awnings of Islamic tradition and teaching.

At the same time they regularly frequented whorehouses, drank heavily and rarely went to the Mosque. But the smallest crack made against Islam was defended with utmost anger and rage. I never understood how they are able to reconcile the two lifestyles?

Are we currently watching the adolescence of Islam--its attempts at self-realisation within the modern world? And like a teenager it strikes at what it can't fully understand nor wants to understand and is smug within its own isolated world of 'the persecuted'. The whole thing smacks of a bad teenage pop-punk song, you know the type, the "you don't know what it's like to be me, I don't need you, I don't need your rules, I am my own person..... blah blah blah..." but put into a much larger scheme.

It seems to me like this is just the process of Islam developing within a globalised world. These actions of burning embassies in Syria, rioting in the streets, and shooting at EU buildings seem all too juvenile and reactionary.

The angry teenager, finally feeling self-justified, lashes out in wrath without thought or temperance.

I have spent much time in Muslim countries and visited over a dozen. This is not an attack, simply my observations.


Jonathan said...

Good points. It is my opinion that the government wants to put up a show to the rest of the world. Partly because fear is the only bargaining chip they have with the world.

I mean, where did these people get Danish flags from? Or who showed the cartoons to the Muslims? And who let them freely assemble on the streets?

The government. The government is compliant in all of this. For even where I live I wouldn't know where to go to get a Danish flag if I wanted one, for instance.

I think you are right, though. There is a sense of juvenileness in all of this. It is something I blame entirely on people who lead these riots. I mean, these cartoons were first published in October, with hardly any fanfare. 4 months later, they are causing riots all over the place? I mean, come on.

It is a bit of orchestration and a bit of encouragement on the part of the authorities, all the while the people of these countries don't mind being props for them. I mean, watch the video of people burning the embassy down.

Just listening to them cheer makes me pretty angry. And the West sits back and says sorry, when they picket with signs that read "Europe, your holocaust is coming soon."

I mean, is this even compatible with multiculturalism?

Anonymous said...

Very good point,

Where in the world did they find Danish flags and posters of the Prime Minister... And even a better point is where they first saw the cartoons.

I hadn't thought of the government angle too much, but it does fill some gaps in the logic.

interesting, interesting

thomas said...

nice work Jonathan - I'm digging what you're putting down here