Taking a crack

Rick Moran has written the best serious essay about the cartoon issue that I've seen so far. Excerpt:

The hysteria being whipped up by Muslim religious leaders against the west (and shamelessly exploited by Islamic political leaders) is a glimpse into the soul of Islam itself and how it is a cultural imperative for the guardians of that faith to prevent at all costs this supposed slur from going unanswered. To do so would allow a tiny crack in the wall that separates Islam from the modern world. And like the unbending dogmatic faiths that have ended up in history’s dustbin before, it has always been a tiny crack which proved to be the impetus for cataclysmic change, sweeping away the old order and bring on the new.

Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the wall of a church was much more than the act of a tortured conscience rebelling against the corruptive influence of absolute power by the Roman church over the individual. It was a harbinger of the modern world itself, a clarion call for the needs of an independent mind to triumph over the slavery imposed by history, by dogma, and by a tradition that made some men masters over others thanks to their selection by the Almighty as conduits through which ordinary people might achieve paradise. Luther’s complete rejection of this cultural bête noire started a revolution he neither sought nor, in the end, supported. But his simple act cracked open a door to a brave new world that led directly to a political revolution that created more secular nation-states in Europe that were independent of Rome.

Similarly, near the end of the 20th century, the leaders of Soviet Communism were desperately trying to maintain their total control of a restive populace by trying to limit contact with western values and ideas. Enter Mikail Gorbechev who mistakenly thought he could reform communism by importing a few western concepts about freedom. To Mr. Gorbechev’s amazement, his reform measures rather than tamping down dissent actually let loose a flood of discontents that eventually led to the destruction of the Soviet state as well as his own personal downfall. Gorbechev made the mistake of thinking that he could control the forces of change that, once unshackled, swept the dogmatic Soviet system away.

All it takes is a crack.

In many ways, I think it was a crack which was inevitable. If it hadn't been these cartoons, it would have been something else. Something otherwise trivial to free Westerners would have crossed a line which was begging to be crossed.

Why do I say begging? There's something about an ideology for which people are willing to kill innocent people and kill themselves that invites scrutiny. What matters is not so much whether the people doing the killing are in fact "real" or authentic Muslims. What matters is that they claim they are!

The killers assert that Islam is precisely such a religion which countenances murder, suicide and wholesale butchery, and that they are the true inheritors of the mantle of Muhammad, in whose name they proudly claim to kill.

They dare the West to do anything about it.

Along with the responsible Muslims (those not involved in murder and suicide), they also claim Islam is the religion of peace.

And they claim that anyone who insults their prophet is to be killed.

Is it any wonder that someone, somewhere, would insult this prophet? This same prophet in whose name thousands of innocent Americans were slaughtered? They get to slaughter in his name, but we are told "No cartoons!" Because that would provoke outrage?

Maybe such a prophet deserves to be tested.

While I was raised Christian, I do not consider myself a good Christian. For starters, I'm a quasi-Pagan, and I don't believe in that "turn the other cheek" business. So I am probably not qualified to speak on behalf of Christianity the way a good, practicing Christian -- the type who goes to church and all that important stuff -- might.

But I'm wondering....

Suppose a large movement of fanatical Christian terrorists were to emerge, and they believed in reinstating the Inquisition, the Crusades, the whole nine yards. If their victims ridiculed Jesus Christ in cartoons depicted him sitting as a Grand Inquisitor, would other Christians howl in outrage over this "insult"? Would they feel that their religious principles had been threatened to the core? I doubt it. I think they'd be quick to understand, and there'd be a chorus of Christians who'd be quick to condemn the terrorists who claimed to act in the name of Jesus, and quick to explain that "the real Jesus" never would have tolerated things like terror and torture.

Why am I not seeing much of that among Muslims?

Is this just a question of the cartoons being in bad taste, or, as Hugh Hewitt says, "vulgar and stupid"? Sure, some of them are. But a lot of them, like the one I republished showing a somewhat bewildered Muhammad telling suicide bombers* that they'd run out of virgins, are not vulgar or stupid, but the essence of thoughtful political satire. As I said in a comment,

...in the cartoon, Mohammad is shown as a voice of surprise, restraint, and maybe even remorse. If that gives pause to people who might think they'd go to heaven by killing innocent people, well, that's the whole idea. If it doesn't, well, how best might suicide bombers be debated?
Actually, it might be a stupid idea to try to debate the suicide bombers themselves.

But what about the idea behind suicide bombing? I think it's a squalid, bloody, murderous idea, but is it a political and religious idea, or is it not? What do we call it? Are we even allowed to call it what they call it? Is it "jihad"? Is that sanctioned by Muhammad?

Exactly how are we to debate that idea? Its practitioners choose to debate by blowing themselves (and us) to smithereens.

Are they right? Does Muhammad approve? Or might they be wrong, and might Muhammad disapprove? Or might he even be having second thoughts about the implications of some of his words?

If non-Muslims are not allowed to have this debate, if we're not allowed to ask what are legitimate political questions, and pose them according to our own traditions, then I think it might take a crack.

*What would Muhammad tell the suicide bombers?


I think I have a pretty good idea what Jesus would tell them, but let's stick with Muhammad. What would he say? Can anyone tell me?

MORE: Is this the answer to my questions?


A lot of people seem to think so, and I hasten to add that as an answer, it's certainly nothing new.

The questions are well worth asking.

(Not that they all have to be posed in a serious manner, of course....)

MORE: Here's Christopher Hitchens:

if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion.

UPDATE (02/05/06): Does the current "cartoon rage" represent the dying gasp of something we used to take for granted -- the ability to have dialogue?

Jeff Goldstein has two excellent essays (the earlier one is here) which patiently explain how identity politics has led to the present "outrage" mess -- especially the cluelessness in the West:

....this lack of balance between the freedoms—rather than being exploited by the west to make its case for free speech and its necessity as the guiding principle of liberalism—is instead being exploited by neophyte identity politicians in the Muslim world, who have learned to play the victim card so quickly that our own State Department has bought into their affected outrage at victimization and religious “intolerance."¹

Somehow, it seems to escape those raised on westernized Orientalism that by calling the intolerance of intolerance “intolerant,” they have reduced the concept of tolerance itself to a cruel semantic joke—the idea being that groups formed around cultural similarities, once they have honed their group message and excommunicated the dissenters—own the narrative. Outside criticism is therefore inauthentic—always tainted by the gaze of the Other, and so only to be considered secondarily (if at all) as a valid critique.

From there, it is a short journey to asserting the absolutism of a cultural paradigm—and this happens necessarily where universality (or, for postmodernists, social contracts that rely on the trappings of what is metaphysically untenable) is surrendered to competition between identity groups over primacy of “rights” in the global sense.

This battle over the Danish cartoons highlights all of these philosophical dilemmas (which I have argued previously are the result of certain linguistic misunderstandings that are either cynically or idealistically perpetuated); and so we are brought to the point where this clash of civilizations—which in one important sense is a clash between theocratic Islamism and the west, but in another, more crucial sense, is a clash between the west and its own structural thinking, brought on by years of insinuation into our philosophy of what is, at root, collectivist thought that privileges the interpreter of an action over the necessary primacy of intent and agency and personal responsibility to the communicative chain—could conceivably become manifest over something so seemingly trivial as the right to satirize.

Almost anything could have sparked this.

What's being deliberately kept under wraps is the inevitable clash of these balkanized identity groups (at least, those not silenced or marginalized by things like "whiteness theory"), who have become so steeped in their own group identities that they can't see that their culture war will lead ultimately to numerous culture wars between groups rendered incapable of coherent communication, much less engaging in dialogue.

What happened to the feminists who used to scream "NO TO THE VEIL!"? Why are most gay activists more devoted to the "right" to a marriage license than the right not to be executed in Islamic countries for being gay?

Oh well. All revolutions eventually devour their own.

MORE: Tim Blair touches inimitably on the above concern:

Odd that this concern over maintaining the peace doesn’t limit Muslim commentary on other religions or communities. The Islamic Bookstore in Lakemba, for example, sells vicious anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as various anti-Christian titles (Crucifixion – or Cruci-FICTION?). Sheik Khalid Yasin, a regular guest lecturer in Australia, declared that “there’s no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend” and denounced modern clothes as the work of “faggots, homosexuals and lesbians”; Christians, he said, deliberately infected Africans with AIDS. Yasin wouldn’t merely draw cartoons of homosexuals—he’d have them put to death in accordance with Koranic law. One Imam told Australian students that Jews put poison in bananas. Local Iraqis voting in their country’s elections were shot at and otherwise intimidated by Islamic extremists whose banners announced: “You vote, you die.” These friends of free speech were also observed photographing those who dared to vote. Sheikh Feiz Muhammad told a supportive Bankstown crowd last year that women deserve to be raped if they wore “satanical” garments, including anything “strapless, backless, [or] sleeveless”, and also “mini-skirts [and] tight jeans.”

All of this is far more hateful and moronic than those twelve Danish cartoons, not one of which depicts the Prophet eating babies, poisoning fruit, or infecting Africans with AIDS.

(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

How long will it be before disagreeing with Imams about homosexuality or women's rights will be called "persecution" or "insulting Islam"?

MORE: I am sorry to see the traditionally-minded Catholic Church apparently siding with the PoMo multiculturalists on this. Eugene Volokh worries that the Church "still seems not to have accepted free expression about religion, or for that matter religious freedom" and opines:

This is not a marginal issue; it is at the core of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. Under the position the Vatican sets forth, large zones of religious debate, political debate, and art would be outlawed.
It makes me nervous to see the apparent emergence of pro-censorship sympathies from opposite camps in the "Culture War" -- and I don't think it bodes well for freedom.

UPDATE (02/09/06): Almost as if in answer to my prayers, cartoonist Tony Auth has supplied an answer to my question:


posted by Eric on 02.04.06 at 03:14 PM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Taking a crack:

» Will the ACLU and CAIR Defend Freedom of the Press? from Blue Star Chronicles
When killing, burning, maiming, destroying, threatening, rioting, stoning, and hate-filled goose-stepping rhetoric is the response to some satirical cartoons, I would have to say 'no'. [Read More]
Tracked on February 5, 2006 7:03 PM


To really look at the issue and compare apples to apples, you have to look at the way American Christians fight their religious wars. Christians have long since given up fighting in the name of Jesus, whose teachings they have found a way to ignore, but instead fight in the name of capitalism. Dig beneath the surface and you will find countless arab deaths in the name of this god, a lot more deaths of arabs than you will ever find of christian americans. Though I do not agree with violence of any sort, I find arab anger and violence much more understandable in this light.
Also, one must seperate the overwhelming majority of peaceful muslims from the minority of violent muslims. To blanket muslims or the muslim faith with the term violent is akin to saying that all Christians are pedophiles because a few catholic priests have abused young boys.

bryan jabaay   ·  February 4, 2006 6:29 PM

I think it's fair to say that Jesus would disapprove of Christians who have long since ignored the teachings of Jesus, but my question remains.

What would Muhammad say to the suicide bombers?

Eric Scheie   ·  February 4, 2006 6:37 PM

My guess is that muhammed would have no words of praise to people who kill in his name. My point is that revenge killing or hating, or killing in the name of something you find worthy (not that you are advocating killing) is no more interesting or justifiable. Americans kill in the name of something we find justifiable--oil, free markets--and then throw insults at everyone who kills in the name of something we don't understand.

bryan jabaay   ·  February 4, 2006 6:44 PM

Who has been killed (by Americans) in the name of "oil"?

Eric Scheie   ·  February 5, 2006 12:47 AM

Slightly off topic, about the State Department - please read


John Anderson   ·  February 5, 2006 2:17 AM

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