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Cartoon Angst

From the political to the personal:

The right half of the blogosphere, at least, is in full-angst mode over Muslim reaction to a Danish newspaper publishing some cartoons of the Prophet. (Quick links for background, not political viewpoints.) Most disturbing are pictures of a protest in London from posts that show the worst side of both sides. On the one hand, it would be nice if CAIR directly and immediately addressed (and needless to say, condemned forthrightly) the actions of their co-religionists. On the other hand, the usual suspects are using a handful of loonies as an example of how Islam is not a "religion of peace." One could argue that proposition back and forth forever, I suppose, but it's worth pointing out that by the same standard, the English are a people who don't respect Winston Churchill because some anti-globalization activists decided to give him a mohawk. The few only occasionally speak for the many, though one sometimes wishes that the many would make their voice heard more clearly.

(Before anyone asks, what I mean is this: in that list of "to do" items in the CAIR list linked above, it would be nice if they said, "CAIR calls upon the imams of Great Britain to forcefully reject the demonstrators in London who advocated a violent response to these images." Yes, you can interpret such a position into their call to action, but it would be nice if it didn't require such subtle parsing. They've probably made the point before, and yes, it's probably tiresome. Given the context--not to say the calls for decapitation--it bears repeating.)

I feel sorry for the State Department, which is getting flack from all over the place for stating the obvious: the parties involved intentionally offended a religious group, and this is poor form. Sure, the state department didn't condemn Piss Christ (the new conservative comparison du jour, it seems) and Muslim newspapers aren't exactly known for their cultural sensitivity. But I'd think this is a golden rule example: treat others as you wish to be treated. Maybe it's optimistic to think that a State Department on the side of the angels will be able to exert some moral authority when it next condemns, say, Palestinian "artwork" glorifying a terrorist attack, but it can't hurt. (See UPDATE.)

Death threats are vile in the extreme and banning the cartoons (or punishing the publisher) is out of line. But I'd feel a lot more comfortable with my side of the blogosphere if it was clearer that they were worried solely about the free-speech concerns and not so much the demonization of a people of the Book.

I have my own cartoon anxieties at the moment. This week, Dilbert featured two strips in which the exasperated engineer rebuked two colleagues who asked him for advice fixing or setting up their home computer systems. I'm trying to decide whether I should be flattered or concerned that I received those two cartoons, predominately without comment, in emails or IMs from half a dozen of my fellow students. Optimistically, one might think they're referring to the fact that I like to fix people's computers when they've broken, and I get a lot of requests. On the other hand, maybe they're trying to tell me I'm becoming a grouch about it.

I think I'll take it in the best possible sense. There's enough trouble in the world of cartoons today.


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You say the state department is not to blame for "stating the obvious: the parties involved intentionally offended a religious group, and this is poor form". At first, this seems to make sense; why should stating the obvious be condemnable in any way? But yet, I believe you are wrong in this case. Consider the following: in 2002, German chancellor Schroeder and president Chirac of France also got "flak from all over the place" for "stating the obvious": there were no WMDs in Iraq, and there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Thus, there was no reason to invade the country on counts of terrorism (don't get me wrong: I'm not saying there wasn't a bunch of other reasons to do so). The missing WMDs and the missing link to bin Laden were obvious back then though. So would you say that the attacks on those European leaders back then were unjustified as well, for they were stating the obvious, too? I wouldn't, because what is said and what is actually meant (or what sort of effects statements have) can be two completely different things. For instance, what Schroeder really said back then was "I'm going to risk our healthy transatlantic relations in order to score with some antiamerican voters in the upcoming election in Germany". And what the State Department is saying right now is "we're not supporting our allies in Europe when they're in trouble with islamic extremism because we got enough trouble ourselves and don't want to see American flags burning as well". From the point of realpolitik, this is understandable. But please don't try to make the State Department look better than what it actually is in this case.
so angst is used in english language? Andi
I think the problem bundled in the State Department's response is that by siding with the larger Muslim population on this one, the State Department is, in an odd way, implicitly giving its stamp of approval for such a violent response to free speech. Don't get me wrong--I understand that it behooved the State Department to side with the Muslims on this one--we have to make an effort to show, when possible, that we aren't targeting all Muslims with the war in Iraq, but only those that side with al-Qaida. But I do find it a bit disconcerting that the U.S., a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and expression (especially political speech), is willing to temporarily recant its beliefs (or, step on the fumie, so to speak) in order to bolster its global public approval ratings.
The State Department's statement does seem to be somewhat ambiguous. What I'd like them to say is: "This was in poor taste, we don't agree with it, we apologise. Nonetheless it is a principle of our democracy that the press are free to print anything they like and we stand by that." The State Department do seem to have avoided saying that last bit - and therefore by implication appears to be siding with those who argue for limits on free speech.
I think the Dilbert cartoons are more showing you what you probably SHOULD be doing when half the class is asking you to be their own free IT guy. You are insanely nice to people asking for IT help, even those who are so generally awful that I would want to kick them for just LOOKING at me. And yet you spend hours and hours helping them for little thanks. So take it as "you COULD be this way, and no one would blame you." :)

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