Monday, February 13, 2006

Cartoon Controversy

Mohammed Cartoon Controversy
By Alexandra Smyth

As an American, the recent controversy surrounding cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in the Middle East is somewhat confusing. It’s rather hard for me to understand why people are rioting over cartoons. Here in America, we hold nothing sacred. TV’s South Park depicts Jesus Christ as the host of a television talk show.

We have had art exhibits in which paintings of the Virgin Mary have had elephant dung affixed to them. Yes, of course there is public outcry against these controversial depictions of Christian deities, but there are not violent riots in the streets over these things. Because of our right to free speech anything and everything under the sun is fair game for attack. As Americans, we must accept these attacks, even if we do not like them or agree with them because free speech protects ALL speech, whether we like it or not.

So why all the controversy and rioting in the Middle East? Well, for starters, the culture there is completely different. Many Muslims are offended by the images of Mohammed because a section of the Koran can be interpreted as forbidding the creation of images of Mohammed. It goes far deeper than that, however.

While many of these cartoons seem relatively harmless, some of these Dutch cartoons could be considered racist. One cartoon depicts the prophet Mohammed with a turban-shaped bomb on the top of his head. Another shows a threatening looking Mohammed carrying a sword with his eyes blacked out, while two women flank him dressed in traditional Islamic dress, leaving only their eyes uncovered.

Yet another cartoon depicts suicide bombers entering into heaven, with Mohammed standing there saying “Stop! Stop! We have run out of virgins,” a reference to the reward of seventy-two virgins that Muslim martyrs are supposed to get upon entering heaven.

These images continue to promote the stereotype of Muslims as violent terrorists. Many Muslims take offense to this. Not all Muslims are violent jihadists. The angry reactions also have to do with the unapologetic stance that Jyllands-Postan, the Dutch newspaper, has taken. The anger has reached a boiling point in many Middle Eastern countries, with Danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus being attacked.

At least 12 people have died during demonstrations in Afghanistan, while police in Pakistan have had to use tear gas to disperse protesters. If care is not taken, this could escalate into another large cultural battle of Islam versus Western culture.

While I can see why these cartoons offend many Muslims, I have a hard time accepting the violent riots that have been going on over the past few weeks. Perhaps it is simply because I have been raised in a culture where anyone can essentially say whatever they want about whatever they want, but I feel that this situation is being blown out of proportion.

Yes, some of the cartoons are offensive. Yes, anyone of the Islamic faith has a right to be offended and upset by these cartoons. But is a cartoon really worth people dying over? Is it really so offensive that massive rioting should be going on? I can’t bring myself to say yes. I feel that there are far more important things to get upset over than a cartoon, and that there are other issues in the Middle East that deserve far more attention.

But perhaps that is really where the conflict in this situation lies. Perhaps this is not an issue of cartoons, but an issue of clashing cultures. Westerners must come to understand that other countries do not necessarily hold the right to free speech in as high of regard.

Not all cultures share the same values, and we must learn to respect that. While I do not think that we should have to tiptoe around the taboos of other cultures, we should always be aware that what we do or say may offend people of another culture.

Publishers must take responsibility for the content of their publications. I do think that the publishers of Jyllands-Postand should accept responsibility for these cartoons and be more aware in the future of what they are putting out there for the world to see.

No comments: