Several months ago a Dutch cartoonist drew 12 cartoons depicting Mohammad. In the Islamic tradition any depiction of saints or prophets is considered idolatry, probably as a reaction against the pervasive Christian habit of glorifying all their heros in various forms. It seems apparent, from both their content as well as the history behind them, that the cartoons were meant to offend the Muslims. Predictably any number of protests have occurred, complete with threats. Needless to say, I have several comments on the issue.
First, the Muslims are free to protest, just as the Danes were free to publish. They are both working pretty hard at either outraging or being outraged, so I’ve got little sympathy for either group. What the Muslims are not free to do is to threaten violence, at least not in Western democratic countries. There are only a handful of really basic Western democratic keystones, and 2 of them are applicable here. (1)We all have a “personal sphere” of privacy that is protected by our rights, and included in that sphere is freedom of belief and expression. In the US, this is covered by the first amendment. (2)Violence is the monopoly of the government. No group other than the government can threaten or carry out violence against anybody else. If anybody else does, it is the government’s duty to enforce its monopoly, by force if necessary.
The Arabs are pretty much the last of the romantics, and romantics too often take offense quickly and react badly. One reason the Arabs have the luxury of being romantics is the oil they sit on combined with our appetite for it. The rest of the world has to work for a living, and it’s tough to stay a romantic in the daily grind.
There’s a long history of depictions of Mohammad, and as far as I can tell, none of them have caused the uproar that the cartoons have. And the cartoons were published several months ago. Why the sudden furor now? My guess is that Muslims, like Christians, need to periodically be reminded that they are being persecuted. And, like the Koran in the commode or “Merry Christmas”, any excuse will do.
February 4, 2006