« God and the Big Bang | Main | The Danger of Astrology »

August 25, 2006

Cartoons of the Jews

Some months ago, during the contretemps over the Danish cartoons offensive to Muslims, I wrote:

We can imagine, as some Muslims have asked us to do, the outrage that would greet satiric cartoons featuring Jesus or, were the point sufficiently nasty, Moses. How about a satiric drawing of an atheist? What would it show? (A man lost in a microscope oblivious to the wonder of all that goes on around him?)

Found a couple of those "cartoons of the atheist," which predictably failed to shock. Iran_Cartoons.jpg The more shocking attempt at tit for tat, which I failed to anticipate, has nothing to do with Moses or Jesus but with anti-Semitic stereotypes and the Holocaust. A collection of such images is currently on display, according to the New York Times, in a gallery in Tehran, under the title: "Holocaust International Cartoon Contest."

One features: "a drawing of a Jew with a very large nose, a nose so large it obscures his entire head. Across his chest is the word Holocaust." Others seem to have a clear political motivation: comparing Israeli behavior with Nazi behavior, or implying that the Holocaust has been used as an excuse for such behavior.

Iran_Cartoons2.jpgMost Western writing about the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed, emphasized the conflict between free expression and protecting sensitivities. Will positions remain the same when the subject is these Iranian cartoons?

My point on the reaction to the Danish cartoons was to note "the intolerance and fear that seem to lurk at the bottom of most religion":

There is still something essentially immoderate about them. There is still something powerfully illiberal about any system of thought that insists that rules of behavior -- the Prophet cannot be depicted, the Son must be seen as divine, meat and milk cannot be eaten together -- have been imposed by an infallible supernatural intelligence and that insists that our eternal (eternal!) happiness depends on our ability to follow those rules....Monotheism does not blend easily or smoothly into liberalism.

But (non-political) aspects of this new exhibit seem to offend not on religious grounds but because of cultural and historical sensitivities. Was I being unfair in underplaying such sensitivities, in an effort to make a point about religion, in Islamic reaction to the Danish cartoons?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at August 25, 2006 12:12 PM


I think you'd find the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest interesting (www.boomka.org).
As for the cultural and historical sensitivies, I think most Westerners downplayed the role that these sensitivities and current events played in the Danish cartoon fiasco. Remember, many Arab/Muslim nations are still suffering the after effects of long-term Western occupation. Many Muslim peoples also suffer at the hands of brutal regimes propped up by Western powers. The Danish cartoons were just one more "humiliation" of Arab/Muslim peoples by the West.

Of course, Westerners also ignored the evidence of the 1988 firebombing of a French theatre over a showing of "The Temptation of Christ" and the death threats/anti-semitic attacks received by the makers of that film and the movie "Dogma."

I wrote about it on my blog back in February. Along with much of the other evidence ignored in Western media coverage of/public discourse on the riots.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at August 25, 2006 12:57 PM

Unfair? No, not at all . . . you are exactly right when you point out that "intolerance and fear" lurks at the bottom of most religion.

The point that need to be emphasized, however, is that religious

are the 'lit fuses' in those religious powder kegs. Extremists, in general, have no thought process outside of their "script." When you invade their space with logic and reason you violate everything they know and believe.

Melinda Barton's tirade against "Westerners" ignores this as it (accurately) points out some of the injustices committed by Westerners against many Muslim people.

Posted by: whymrhymer at August 25, 2006 1:16 PM

What we have here is a failure to communicate.
I could elaborate but that would only be adding fuel to the fire.

Guess that won't stop me:

We are creatures caught between the need to be understood and the desire to get by without understanding anyone else who does not fit easily into our rendering. We are all extremists. We are all unfair. And most all of us would kill to protect our worlds.

Posted by: Jay Saul at August 25, 2006 1:57 PM

My comment was not meant as a tirade against Westerners. (By the way, I'm American.)So, I apologize if it came out that way. I simply believe that our "episodic" coverage of the event, contextualizing it only within the framework of Islamic extremism, ignored the cultural/historical framework that contributes to the anti-Western sentiment amongst Arabs/Muslims. Islamic extremism was a very important part of the picture, but only one part. Just as it is only one part of the terrorism problem.
I also found the coverage a bit dishonest, since there was a lot of "Christians wouldn't..." or "You don't see Christians..." when Christians have, as have Jews I'm sure.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at August 25, 2006 2:07 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)