Cartoons and Self Confidence
Wednesday, March 15, 2006 Posted: 06:45 AM JST
Although this news is unrelated to Japan, I found this article about the Muhammad cartoon issue on the site of the PakTribune extremely revealing, and would like to share it with you.
The writer, Ahmer Muzammil, starts off by saying that Islam preaches "forgiveness". Muzammil feels offended that protesters "defend [Muhammad's] honor by burning and looting and clashing with policemen that are probably just as offended and distraught by the cartoons as the protestors themselves."
"Have we forgotten the incident in which an old jewish woman would throw trash on the prophet (may peace and blessings of Allah swt be on him) every day. One day when she didn`t, he went to her house to inquire about her health, needless to say that she was awe-struck and converted to Islam."
One reason Muzammil gives for protests going wrong is that "the violence in these processions had more to do with people not being happy with their governments for one reason or another."
Then comes the revealing part. "If some of you are baffled," writes Muzammil, "let me resolve this for you once and for all. The prestige of our prophet is something that we take very seriously. You can steal our oil & gas, kill our brethren, divide & rule us, enforce rulers on us that only serve themselves or their western masters, we will whine and moan but mostly we`ll play along. But if you even hint to disrespect our beloved prophet (may peace and blessings of Allah swt be on him), we will stand united to defend his honor."
It clearly shows a siege mentality, a strong feeling of Islam under attack by the West: "... steal our oil & gas, kill our brethren, divide & rule us, enforce rulers on us." I think many Westerners would be very surprised to read this, as quite a few feel that the West is under attack of Islam.
I also discern a strong lack of confidence in this sentence. A lack of confidence about the writer's own culture, mixed with a strong feeling of pride. Such a mixture can easily create a distorted view of how you are seen by others.
When President Bush called publicly for a "crusade" after 9/11, my heart sank. I was shocked that he would use a word that sounds as scary and offending to Muslims as "jihad" does to non-Muslims. It showed a lack of understanding that was terrifying. It undoubtedly, and mistakenly, made Muslims feel that the West wanted to conquer their culture.
A dangerous lack of understanding can be found on both sides. Muzammil shows this when he writes why he thinks these cartoons are being published.
"As far as freedom of expression is concerned," he writes, "a wise man once said that your freedom of expression stops where my nose starts. But my point is that we are talking about low-life`s who probably wouldn`t even hesitate drawing a cartoon of their own mother, provided that the money was right. Forget about freedom of speech and artistic expression, its all about the mighty dollar, they knew this will sell, it will provoke, so why not? Morals, decency, sensitivity, principles, these are all just empty words for these Neanderthals. As long as it sells, they don`t care if it`s their off-springs."
There are surely publishers who used the cartoon issue to sell more copies of their paper or magazine, but this ignores the fact that there are also countless people, including many bloggers who published these cartoons without being able to make a penny. It shows a lack of understanding of what freedom of speech really means and what function it performs in a free society. That function is so important that in Western culture freedom of expression is as holy and revered as the prophet Muhammad is in Islam.
Both groups feel they are under siege. Both are offended and scared. Both see this "attack" on something they consider most sacred as representative for how the other group feels about them. And both are wrong of course. The worst of it all is that all Westerners and all Muslims are seen as the same. Single individuals are thrown into one large group.
I find this most scary. Wars are often started by such misunderstandings and miscalculations. We really have to find a way to reach out and understand each other.
* * *