Saturday, February 11, 2006

My $0.02 on the Danish Cartoons

2 weeks after the Danish cartoon controversy began, I'm going to pitch in my 2 cents. Since the Muslim world has flooded the West with their loose change, here are my pennies.

First of all, let me rank the things I like, and the things that I don't like about the controversy, in order of importance.

The things I don't like:

1. The violence and deaths. Put a mindless caricature of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) on the left end of a scale, and the loss of a single life on the other end, and the balance will fall through floor on the right. This is our tradition.

I can't imagine that Muslims protesting over something they found offensive will result in their own deaths. For those who have eyes, please, see how fragile and sensitive we are, and deal with us with care.

2. The caricature. I have not seen any of the cartoons. If I got a penny for every link to the cartoons I stroked over with my mouse, I'd have a few dollars now. I saw a glimpse of the one of the Prophet (peace be upon him) with the turban, but it was a thumbnail, and I was quick to close.

Let me be clear. I only found that cartoon distasteful, and quite thoroughly so. I've heard of a few of the other cartoons, and I think they weren't that bad; in fact, I might go as far as saying, they had a point. One of them had men at the gates of heaven, yelling, (paraphrased) "We've run out of virgins!" and another one had a cartoonist nervously drawing pictures with bloodthirsty terrorists watching over his shoulder. Some of these might even have warranted a giggle from me.

But you can fill a sermon with all the wisdom of the world, and end it on an extreme note, and completely lose your audience. It is the same with us, why is it not the same for the Danish media, I wonder. Osama bin Laden's tapes are replete with historical references and kind words to the American people. "Leave us alone, and we will leave you alone," he says. How appealing, don't you think? And yet nobody listens. Why? Because when his face fades away from the screen, we remember what he did to two very beautiful buildings in New York. Maybe we can do without his wisdom, we think.

3. The reprints. They say the reprints are there because of freedom of speech. I say, no. They're there to make us angry. This example has been cited, but let me say it again. If the Jews were targeted in this manner, in some obscure newspaper in Iran, and the Jews (rightly) took offense, nobody would defend that newspaper's right to free speech. When Mahmoud Ahmedinejad made stupid remarks about relocating Israel to Europe, none of his peers in the West defended his right to free speech by reproducing his act when universally condemned by world leaders. The question to ask is why. Why didn't they defend his right? Beause the things he said were stupid.

The reprints are not to defend freedom of speech. When I was little, I found out a cousin of mine was ticklish, and tickling him would make his face go red, and he'd have trouble breathing. That's why I did it again. And again. Until my mother came and pulled me away. Our tickle spot has been found, it seems.

Now, a newspaper in Iran is having a competition on drawing a cartoon about the holocaust. Well, even if every newspaper in the world reprints them, that would not change my opinion, or make me say, "Oh, what a silly person I've been! This is all about free speech." It would have no meaning, because had the Danish incident not happened, they would not have done any reprints. This is a, "Oh, yeah? You're saying we wouldn't? Well, watch this!" dare by an emotionally immature media.

4. I also must say, I don't like the state of Muslims in Europe. Whatever the reasons that they haven't managed to get integrated into the cultures of their host nations, it is sad that they are in such a state. Yes, we have some issues. But we're really not that bad.

5. Boycott of Danish products, burning their flags, and attacking their ambassadors. I've had the pleasure of meeting some very nice Danes in Singapore; exchange students. They're not all bad, just like Muslims are not all good (which is rather the wrong way round; we should be saying we're not all that bad, since we cause so much trouble around the world).

I'm not sure boycotting their products is a wise thing to do. Sure, we can do without those delicious Danish butter-cookies my mother used to buy us back home, and that I bought as recently as last winter. Lots of other people make them now. Sure, Lego is an amazing Danish brand which I link to some of the most fun toys I've ever owned. I still own a huge Lego set of pirates that I played with as recent as my last trip to Bangladesh earlier last month. But I'm not sure about the message we are sending with the boycott.

I think by grouping people into countries, we are doing what we are asking our oppressors in the West to stop doing. Stop thinking that just because I'm Muslim, and some Muslims blow things up along with themselves, that I'm going to blow something up. Just because some irresponsible newspaper printed something stupid doesn't mean they're all bad. The boycotts have caused some people to go out of work, which is sad. Getting into the job market myself soon, I feel for those who are affected.

I'm also sad that the ambassadors and embassy-workers in Muslim countries are spending their days in fear. The famed hospitality of the Arabs has turned to dust, along with most of their civilization.

What I like.

1. How the Muslims responded. I was offended when I read about the cartoons on Google News. I remain offended, and I'm glad that all Muslims have reacted. It's a worldwide response, and I think it's beautiful. Looking at how divided we have become, it seems love of the Prophet (peace be upon him) has united us, which I find to be extremely powerful and at times, simply overwhelming. I'm glad we responded.

2. The United States decided by and large, not to reprint them. Thank you for your unending sense of political correctness, Yanks. Now just leave us the hell alone. No? Well, okay.

3. Some of the cartoons had a point. Satirical cartoons have their place in media. They make excellent points in entertaining ways. They reflect a better part of the dark human psyche, bloodthirsty and evil-prone as it is. They show the complexity of thought that is possible. The good that can be done with this powerful tool that we call our mind. I'm sure Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad will agree with me here.

Anyway. I don't know what kind of publication Jyllands-Posten is, but they have shown bad judgement and simply bad journalism. I don't know what they were taught in school, but my informal understanding of the role of the media in society is that they are the glue between the people and the government, and sometimes the people and themselves. They are the left hand, watching the right hand. They are the voice of reason, the light when all lights go out. Their role is not to inflame but to douse.

Freedom of speech is precious to me, though I have lived in countries that do not endorse them in any way my whole life (United Arab Emirates and Singapore). Freedom of speech has done much for us in Bangladesh. People speak what they want, and do what they want. This is not always a good thing, and has done some harm in the short run, but that's because we're in a transitional period. Like a man traveling the desert for days and nights, and coming upon water, drinks his fill and then lies on the ground convulsing in stomach cramps, we're just getting over the taste of water. We'll grow out of it, eventually, and we'll get better, it's just a matter of time.

I'd like to conclude this rather long entry with my thought on something that's a little lacking in Western cultures: sanctity. Sanctity to the West seems something archaic shed long ago. That an object may hold intrinsic value, or that a mountain known to have turned to wax considered holy, or a simple patch of land called precious for it holds in its bosom a man of great worth. Too much knowledge may have done modern man as much bad as too much freedom has done Bangladesh. Explaining away things with science do not belittle them, for science doesn't seek to ask the questions that really matter.

This on-going incident may have proven to do one very good thing. It's come to show those who wish to see, what each side in this conflict holds sacred. For us, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his memory. And for the West, I guess it is freedom of speech. We're not threatening freedom of speech with our protests. We're demanding freedom of thought, the acceptance of responsibility, and the sincere desire to help the world become a better place.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Difficult Times Lie Ahead


Alas! Google has but two spots for major international news. On the one hand, we're burning and blowing things up because of cartoons, and on the other hand, we're doing nuclear energy research in an oil- and gas-rich country.

Afraid of us? I think they should be.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)