Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not those dang cartoons again

Here's a true story. It's one that might be familiar to you if you were raised amongst the hard core Protestant, as I was.

A Protestant walks into a Catholic Church and is offended.

Why? Because of the depiction of the Prophet. Not that prophet. But our prophet, our final prophet and savior, Jesus. And there were depictions of Jesus and his whole family and some people who went before him and his Apostles, too.

I didn't say anything, and I wasn't deeply offended. But I did sort of wonder if anyone had told the Catholics that maybe putting up graven images and praying before them was not just a little idolatrous. Perhaps a teensy bit heretical or even blasphemous. Seriously. And from talking to others over the years, it turns out I'm not the only one to feel this way when first faced with these differences in Christian worship.

Even now - and I'm essentially faithless - I sometimes feel a little bit squidgy inside when I see representative religious art displayed prominently in a place of Christian worship - even though, very likely, I've specifically gone into the church to see the art.

But my squidginess is but a vestigal reminder of the blood shed in the towns and fields of Europe over these differences among people who really are our co-religionists. Now I can enjoy religious art in churches from a secular point of view, but as a youth I reconciled it with the notion that the Catholics were wrong but well intentioned with their display of graven images. I could look upon it much more in sadness than in anger.

So I guess what I'm saying here is I understand how somebody could find those Danish Mohammed cartoons or any other depiction of "The Prophet" offensive. It's my understanding that Mohammed warned against the worship of himself as a kind of Godhead and thus came the prohibition of images of himself - to help folks avoid the temptation. But it was also consistent with Mohammed's destruction of idols at Qabah and his fight against the pagan and polytheistic. So yes, a devout Muslim might see a graven image of Mohammed and feel just a little squidgy or maybe a bit more.

But in the end, the prohibition is for Muslims not to depict their prophet. It's not actually a prohibition that falls on us the infidel. The right response would have been to right a strongly worded letter-to-the-editor (or blog post) about how deeply squidgy seeing the prophet depicted that way made devout Muslims feel and then that should have been the end of it. Or even, perhaps, writing letters to advertisers in the Jyllands-Posten (the newspaper commissioning the cartoons) saying that Muslims could no longer in good conscience patronise their businesses. But that wasn't the response. And that wasn't the end.


I originally began drafting this post back in January. After Ezra Levant was brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for publishing copies of the cartoons in his now defunct (aka online only) magazine. I never finished the post, because - well, I'm busy. And it seemed like it was being covered well enough by the usual right wing suspects. Although it's absolutely wrong to leave cases of free speech and liberty to the right wing blogosphere, or folks will start to think it's a right wing issue only.

I couldn't believe that people were still going on about it and that publishers in a supposedly free country (Canada) were being subject to public prosecution (of a sorts) just for publishing some pictures.

Mr Levant has been accused publishing the cartoons in order to increase circulation to his magazine and for using his summons to an HRC tribunal as an opportunity to self-promote. (He uploaded his statements to YouTube). Maybe. But the guy was being subject to a ridiculous kangaroo court, congrats to him for trying to make lemonade from lemons. And he still has to bear the cost of defending himself.

The Canadian Muslim Imam who brought the complaint against Mr Levant has withdrawn his charge. Syed Soharwardy says it's because he realised just how important free speech was to Canadians. Mr Levant reckons elsewise. And Christopher Hitchens weighs in, too.


But that's not all. In the past week, Danish authorities have made arrests to stop a plot to murder one of the original Danish cartoonists. That's a lot more than a strongly worded letter. Read more about it at this Danish blog dedicated to the cartoons and their aftermath.


And now NOT the Danish cartoons, but medieval depictions of Mohamed are being targeted by many thousands of the faithful. There can be absolutely no doubt that these paintings weren't done with any spirit of malice. Yet Wikipedia is being bombarded with requests to take them down from the entry on Mohamed. Good for Wikipedia for refusing.


KathyF said...

I get squidgy whenever I hear musical instruments being played in a church. And whenever I hear Christmas carols played around Christmas time.

In other words, I often feel squidgy. Glad to know there's a name for that feeling.

Vol Abroad said...

yeah, squidgy - see if you'd had as many theological courses as I've had you'da known that.

and kathy you're right about the musical instruments - if God had wanted us to have instruments in church, he wouldn't said to raise up OUR VOICES.