Well, here goes yet another card from under the Jyllands-Posten‘s stupid cartoonish house. Writing for Slate, Reza Aslan lets slip an amazing fact: There is, in fact, NO Koranic prohibition against portraying Mohammed, only in worshipping graven images of any prophet or deity. Remember that distinction, Gentle Reader, because it is vital. Case in point:
Not long ago, as I was strolling through the sprawling bazaars of the holy city of Qom in Iran — a city often referred to as “the Vatican of Shiism” — I came across a cramped, catacomblike shop that sold religious trinkets to tourists. Hanging in the shop’s window was a poster depicting what looked like a beautiful young girl with large, bright eyes and a cherubic face lit up by some unseen source of light. The girl wore a loose headdress, like a turban she had carelessly let unravel, from which peeked thick strands of lush, black hair. She looked skyward, her rosy lips parted in a shy smile.
I was thrilled, thinking I had found a poster of the Prophet Mohammed’s beloved daughter, Fatima, whose veneration in Islam (particularly Shiite Islam) is matched by that of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism. Most stores in Qom carry prints depicting heroic Muslim figures like the prophet’s son-in-law, Ali, or the prophet’s grandson, Husayn. But a portrait of Fatima is exceedingly difficult to find.
I rushed into the store and breathlessly asked the shopkeeper how much he wanted for the poster of Fatima hanging in his window.
He clucked his tongue in disgust and shook his head.
“That is not Fatima!” he cried sternly. “That is the Prophet Mohammed!”
I was embarrassed, but not surprised. Since the publication of a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed in Denmark’s largest daily, Jyllands-Posten, much has been written about Islam’s prohibition against physical representations of the prophet of Islam. In fact, the Muslim world abounds with magnificent images of Mohammed. (In general, Shiites and Sufis tend to be more flexible on this point than Sunnis). In some, the prophet’s face is obscured by a pillar of fire that rises from beneath his chin in a veil of flames. In others, he is unveiled and glorious, a golden nimbus hovering over his head. While some Muslims object to these well-known and widely distributed depictions, there has never been any large-scale furor over them for the simple reason that although they depict the prophet, they do so in a positive light.
(My own emphasis added.)
Aslan goes on to point out that the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten are specifically designed to provoke outrage, not portray the prophet in a good light. Anyone who has actually seen them can readily agree. He closes with a provocative point that we should all take to heart:
Of course, the sad irony is that the Muslims who have resorted to violence in response to this offense are merely reaffirming the stereotypes advanced by the cartoons. Likewise, the Europeans who point to the Muslim reaction as proof that, in the words of the popular Dutch blogger Mike Tidmus, “Islam probably has no place in Europe,” have reaffirmed the stereotype of Europeans as aggressively anti-Islamic. It is this common attitude among Europeans that has led to the marginalization of Muslim communities there, which in turn has fed the isolationism and destructive behavior of European Muslims, which has then reinforced European prejudices against Islam. It is a Gordian knot that has become almost impossible to untangle.
And that is why as a Muslim American I am enraged by the publication of these cartoons. Not because they offend my prophet or my religion, but because they fly in the face of the tireless efforts of so many civic and religious leaders — both Muslim and non-Muslim — to promote unity and assimilation rather than hatred and discord; because they play into the hands of those who preach extremism; because they are fodder for the clash-of-civilizations mentality that pits East against West. For all of that I blame Jyllands-Posten. We in the West want Muslim leaders to condemn the racial and religious prejudices that are so widespread in the Muslim world. Let us lead by example.
Isn’t that what this “war on terror” is supposed to be about? Western liberal democracy setting a shining example for the rest of the world, so extremism finally, painlessly ceases to exist? (Yes, I know, it’s not really about that; it’s about oil, and even more than that it’s about empire, which is a species of extremism unto itself.)
While you’re bearing this in mind, here’s a most interesting interview on Democracy Now, which also relates:
AMY GOODMAN: Just before the program we spoke to Jytte Klausen, an Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at Brandeis University. Her most recent book is “The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe.” We reached her in Brussels and I asked her to talk about the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons.
JYTTE KLAUSEN: Yes, the paper is the country’s largest newspaper which means it has a circulation of about 175,000 copies. It is a conservative paper. It has a long tradition for association with the party of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Denmark today. It has always taken into consideration the religious sensitivities of its readers who are primarily provincial middle class and farmers.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you then talk about their decision to do this and what it meant in Denmark?
JYTTE KLAUSEN: Well, there are different stories. One story is, what they say, Flemming Rose, the editor of the paper who was responsible for the cartoons said that he was dissatisfied with the spreading of self censorship in Denmark on all matters related to Islam. And as examples he gave that there were two theatre performances which were critical and funny reviews, over the summertime that had stories about George Bush but none of them had any stories about Osama Bin Laden. You can ask how funny it is to make a story about Osama Bin Laden, but that was one of his examples of censorship.
Another was that a children’s book author said that he couldn’t find anybody to make illustrations for a book about the Prophet. However that book is now out and it does have an illustration of the Prophet on the front page of the Prophet sitting on a winged horse. The book is selling quite well and no Muslims have protested it because the drawing is quite mushy and nice. It is not a political caricature.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet, the cartoon of Christ was turned down because it would not be appealing, the editor said.
JYTTE KLAUSEN: Yes, and the cartoons about– the paper published twelve cartoons. They were the result of what the editor called a competition. He said he wanted all Danish– he invited all Danish cartoonists to think about how they would portray the Prophet Muhammad, and only twelve came back and he published those twelve.
Some of them are noxious and a few of them even can make you laugh. But some of them portray the Prophet with a big bulbous nose, and a blood-dripping sword, with a halo that’s broken into little horns. They really stereotype Muslims as bloodthirsty sex maniacs.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you put the newspaper in the context of the politics of Denmark and also the politics of immigration, how immigrants are dealt with, particularly Muslim immigrants and Arab immigrants into Denmark right now?
JYTTE KLAUSEN: I think the best way of doing that is to describe what happened just a week before the cartoons were published. There was an annual meeting of one of the parties, it’s a coalitional government, Denmark has many parties and no one party has enough votes to govern. So the government is a coalition of two parties, two right-wing parties, and they depend on the very xenophobic Danish People’s Party for the majority.
At the annual meeting, one of the parties before the courtroom, Brian Mikkelsen said that in the past five years, he said, Denmark has been in a cultural war and the government has now won the first round and this is a time to start the second round to eliminate all signs of multiculturalist relativism in Denmark. It was a battle cry. The government has been deeply engaged in a project of Danish moral restoration. The definition of — shop definition of Danish values, which they say are Christian values. And the Danish People’s Party, members of the Danish People’s Party, two of them are in fact pastors in the Lutheran church, have repeatedly stood up in parliament and said that Muslims are a cancer on Danish society.
AMY GOODMAN: So how do you think this decision to run these cartoons fits into that?
JYTTE KLAUSEN: It’s a political decision. They are political pals. They — it was a short-sided decision. It was also an attempt to, you know, fill time when the news is slow. I think that Flemming Rose, the editor had no idea what would actually happen. He had a good idea that he would offend Muslims, but he thought this was just a matter of domestic politics and he didn’t really understand why these cartoons were so offensive to Muslims. He certainly had no clue that they would lead to a cartoon war in Iran, which is what has happened now. By the way, he has offered a helping hand to Iran in drawing cartoons depicting the Holocaust.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, Iran put out in their national newspaper anyone who could come up with a cartoon of the Holocaust, they’d have a competition, and what is he doing in Denmark?
JYTTE KLAUSEN: Well, he publicly announced that the paper, the paper, the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten will work together in assistance with the Iranians who want to draw the Holocaust and that the paper would publish and print the Holocaust cartoons. It is a stunning decision and one can only think that these people are completely out of their minds. But when I discussed — I teach at a Jewish university, and when I discuss the cartoons with my students, their immediate reaction was, if they can draw this kind of cartoon about Muslims, what is it to prevent them from doing it about Jews. And obviously my students were on to something.
And there’s another unwanted consequence of bomb-throwing under the guise of “free speech”. Can you just imagine how the screeching harpies of Widdle Gween Fascistan, who are rabidly pro-Zionist and still gloating over the murder of Rachel Corrie, would scream if the ugliness were turned on Jews–and Israeli Jews in particular? But then again, these are people who can’t think beyond the ends of their own self-serving noses, so I suppose they won’t get it. And neither will Michelle Malkin, who is just fine with fascism as long as “we” do it.
BTW, the “self-censorship” debate is hereby moot; the children’s book that is alleged to have sparked the Jyllands-Posten‘s cartoon call is now out in print. And yes, the illustration of Mohammed on the winged horse al-Buraq is there, too. It is, as Jytte Klausen says, a tasteful and inoffensive portrayal which is quite in line with the positive-light tradition Reza Aslan describes. I don’t foresee it drawing any death threats for its author or the illustrator, for the simple reason that it is a cross-cultural work designed to get Danish kids discussing and understanding Islam and the story of Mohammed. That is a positive light if ever there was one, and will do more for the intercultural dialogue than any amount of childish cartooning ever could.
All you rightards can stop beating your breasts in fake “solidarity” with the poor, beleaguered Danes now (of whom, I note in passing, NOT ONE has been killed over this — all the victims have, in fact, been protesters against the racism of the west, and at least four — in Afghanistan — were shot by police). The Danes don’t need useless idiots like you “standing up” for them by reprinting racist trash which costs you nothing, doesn’t risk your neck, and which, in any case, is a poor excuse for free speech. You want the real thing? You’re lookin’ at it right here. And it just jumped up to bite you.