Distributed Mind

Mockers Stir Up a City

I almost got by with not commenting on certain controversial cartoons, but a letter in Time finally got me. I hope I don't offend anyone. I'm doing the best I can, and don't take this personally, I just felt moved to offer what I hope is helpful advice.

Mir Shokvat Ahmad, of Leeds, England, self-described moderate Muslim, "integrated into the Western world," had a letter printed in the most recent edition of Time. The letter says, in part:

...The Muslim world has unfortunately been hijacked by its real enemies, Islamic terrorists. While moderate Muslims are trying to find their voice and salvage their religion, the Western media help the radicals by making fun of everything that's precious to a common Muslim.

Joe Carter, whom, I never agree with on anything, did write an interesting piece about the Danish cartoons. You can read it for yourself, but he basically argued that, while the violent protesters were in the wrong, and that that was a different level of wrong than drawing offensive cartoons, that both were still at some level wrong. He brought up the language of - remember this word? - responsibftility - a word oen mentioned in connection with free speech. It's a truism that people looking for a fight will find it, and it seem that the editors of Jyllands-Posten unfortunately found their fight.

This whole episode has highlighted for me the difference between peacemakers and self-righteous warriors. Some people are trying to prevent an all out war between radical elements in the Middle East and... well, everyone else. Others (I don't mean anyone directly responsible for the cartoons - I am thinking now of the reaction elsewhere in Europe and the United States) seem to be looking for such a fight, thinking that ultimately they will prevail (and they are probably right). But how much blood will flow on the way? They want a bloodbath, which they will blame on the Muslims, as if that were possible. And, indeed, people who commit violence will be guilty. But if you knew in advance that your speech would be answered violently, are you not culpable as well? Most certainly, you are.

In short, sure, in the U.S. the Danish cartoonists and editors would certainly have had the right to draw and publish the cartoons (we see worse things all the time here, in fact). That doesn't mean we should encourage them, though. In this nation, neo-Nazis have the right to write, speak publicly, and protest. That doesn't mean we should encourage them. What this Danish paper printed was not vile in the same degree as what "racialist" groups in this nation print, but much of it was still intentionally provacative. Unsurprisingly, provocation worked. It angers me that some people - I mean here certain parties in the Middle East - would take this opportunity to lie (I assume the false cartoons were spread intentionally, though I could be wrong), to provoke, and to incite violence, but I will not as a result of that anger advocate making the situation worse by using the same tactics back.

Proverbs 29:8 says, "Mockers stir up a city, but wise men turn away anger" (WEB). I admit to some prooftexting there, but there are many examples in the Old Testament of the dangers of unrestrained speech.

I understand that many in our nation have wanted to stand up for free speech. It is certainly one of the most important freedoms we have. So I understand that some people have a different opinion on this. I just encourage us all to be wise, and not give in to heated speech. To quote an even more famous passage from Proverbs, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1, WEB).

(Incidentally, with somewhere around 1 billion Muslims in the world, if Islam really lent itself to the rate of radicalization and violence that some people claim that it did, we should all have been dead a long time ago.)

posted at 07:41:36 on 03/01/06 by ben - Category: Politics

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