Thursday, February 09, 2006

It's ok to poke fun at Christians ...

... but definitely not Muslims. The entire editorial staff of the alternative weekly NYPress walked out after the management refused to print the offending cartoons.

Yet, they didn't mind printing this story? 52 funniest things about about the upcoming death of the Pope? [Via Open Book.] It's absolutely disgusting.

Because, you know, it's a horrible idea to offend a religion of peace. They might come behead you. Neither the Catholics (nor the Poles) would.


assiniboine said...

Well that's just about right. But then we and they have a different outlook on these things. When someone (verbally or visually) says something blasphemous in a Christian context my reaction, and I suspect possibly yours, is that the maker of the comment is pathetic or childish or silly or stupid. The comment is offensive but I'm not myself offended per se so much as contemptuous. Some Muslims look on these things differently and it is hardly news that in some contexts we treat people according to their own subjective sensibilities, not universal and objective ones. Sure, murder is murder and the punishment is, according to the lights of the jurisdiction one finds oneself in, proportionate. But in the law of tort -- and that's what we're dealing with here, surely, rather than crime -- we have what lawyers in the English common law world call the thin skull rule. We are obliged to take our victim as we find him.

Hence my disagreement with both the Australian minister of foreign affairs and his opposition party critic, both of whom are people I have a great deal of respect for, in the position they have taken on the Danish cartoon imbroglio. Sure, free speech is a cornerstone of western democracy. But it's not an unqualified freedom -- consider the law of defamation -- and its foremost qualification is the application of common sense.

Napoleon said...

Yes, but just as murder is murder. I would state that peace is peace. I don't think in a religion of peace that the current response in the Muslim world is responsible or defendable. And from what I have seen in the coverage of this issue, many elements of the Muslim world also don't believe this response is justified. Boycott, protest, and be upset: I can respectfully disagree with but still understand. Violence, murder, and crowd riots. These are not respectable, defendable, or reasonable. Peace is Peace, and in order to claim that you subscribe to a religion of peace you must be evaluated by your actions, and unfortunately the radicals in the Muslim world's midst aren't making a good case for peace.

assiniboine said...

By all means. But we're talking about people who don't precisely join in to that discussion. I was taken on a tour of the Karachi faculty of law a while back -- and the Sindhi law students there were NOT wild-eyed radical Muslims; their tradition is of pilgrimages to saints' holy sites and hymn singing and liturgical dance -- and to a man they wanted to know: WHY does President Bush hate Muslims? As you can imagine, I had a bit of liturgical dance of my own there, trying to come up with a sensible answer. And "Oh well, Americans are just stupid" doesn't really do the trick, eh.

Gashwin said...

Hmm. Good points, assiniboine. I do think the issue has gone beyond one of free speech. It's now become a "West vs. Islam" thing, for better or for worse. The tremendous frustration that is being expressed in the Muslim world points to something deeper for sure, maybe that historic inferiority complex, maybe a sense of alienation from the West. In the West, I think, it's become, especially on the right, an issue of asserting a common "Western" identity against this new (or not so new) threat, combined with a frustration at a perceived politically correct self-censorship that would tiptoe around the unpleasant aspects of extremist Islam.

My instinct has been to identify with the latter. Mainly because I absolutely abhor religious extremism, especially violent religious extremism, having witnessed fanatics of all stripes exploit this in India. I kept thinking of the Rushdie flap. Rushdie had a right to publish what he did. And to do so without fear of losing his life. Or Taslima Nasrin in Bangladesh. Or the Sikhs who rioted in Britain over that play, "Bezti." Or the Shiv Sena thugs who were wont to rough up actors and playwrights who wrote things critical of Shivaji in Bombay.

Yes, of course, everyone is for responsible free speech. But who decides? In the above cases, should the authors have demured in order to be sensitive to the surrounding culture (their own culture, in a way, one might add. Yes I'll grant that things are a little different in the present case --- the ones doing the insulting are "outsiders." I don't think that takes away from the larger point though).

That said, there's this part of me, the part that really doesn't want to listen to Christ's words about forgiveness for one's enemies. WWJD ? :-)

assiniboine said...

Well indeed. What I don't say to my Muslim friends — I actually had this a couple of nights ago: an extremely irate Muslim Indian friend ("But why would they deliberately say what is so obviously offensive?") and an extremely intolerant Anglican Indian friend ("Because Muslims are so stoopid and it's so much fun because they always rise to the bait") — is, "We can handle this sort of thing; and you can't?" But actually I have more or less said just that, albeit in slightly more tactful terms and of course they agree. It's not the issue, eh. The issue is dealing with the ones who don't see it that way. And trying to find a tactful way of articulating the position that, as I say, we can cope; why can't you? I confess that I didn't get very far the other night.

And by the way, I am inclined slightly to agree with you on the Rev'd Chloë Breyer — but only somewhat. Spoiled little rich girl (really, where was her editor?!) yes, but nowhere near the egregious Bishop Jack Spong. I took some visitors through Brisbane Cathedral last week — I increasingly wonder if there really is such a thing as a Hindu in South Asia: all my acquaintance there are Muslim, Jain, Parsi and Christian, and I even speak here of Pakistan and Bangladesh where I know a heap of non-Muslim exotics! — and the nice old gal who insisted on taking us about heard my North American accent and insisted on my being a USA type person, if you catch my drift. "What do you think of Bishop Jack Spong?" "I think he is either a lunatic or a mental defective. Is that OK with you?" "IS IT OK? ARE YOU KIDDING? COME ON RIGHT IN HERE! ("This is the clerestory, this is the triforium....")

Gashwin said...

"We can cope, why can't you." That just about covers it, doesn't it?

As to the Jack Spong story -- ha! A lunatic who gets a lot of traction in some circles. I was at a talk he gave here a few years back with a friend. We were the only two who didn't rise at the standing ovation he got at a local Methodist church. Sheesh. He must have seen something on my face, since he didn't let me ask any questions, and ignored my upraised arm!

What we RCs simply cannot get is why on earth is this man still a Bishop?