February 11, 2006

Cartoon Violence

I hope the readers of my writing recognize that I have been relentlessly trying to afford myself the luxury of absorbing information before reacting to it. I am slowly learning that knee-jerk, reactionary thinking can only lead to further conflict and is never practical when trying to disentangle a crisis. Consequently, I have given myself a few days before I responded to the cartoon debacle.

It is easy to read a few articles, watch some CNN, gather a batch of half-truths, assume we have the facts, and immediately start discharging ignorant proclamations: Islam is a violent religion that encourages fanaticism, and the Muslim world’s reaction to a cartoon is simply evidence that they are a backwards people unable to adjust to the modern world. Or maybe: The West, drenched in decadence, indecency, and pornography is so drunk with sin and immorality that it has become indifferent to its colonial past and imperial present. So much so that it feels it is beyond the power of god.

It would, however, behoove us as concerned, intelligent, compassionate citizens not to jump the easy trains of ignorance, but rather to look at all sides of the story before we come to a conclusion. Even then we should be weary of any such idea that a resolution is always possible. When we are constricted to perceive the world as good and evil, or right and wrong, we are forced to make choices. On the other hand, if we can recognize that we inhabit a world of compromise and negotiation, we will be better prepared to truly comprehend not only the problems we face, but also their roots and eventually their solutions. We are never right or wrong, good or bad, because these concepts are false. We simply are. Truth is an arbitrary idea in which too much value has been placed. Humankind must begin to understand that we co-inhabit a planet swarming with notions of truth, but we are all liars. We must simply learn to understand what each of us considers true and find a way to live with the results we uncover.

The way I see it there are four points of view to this debate (after I began writing this, I realized that there are an infinite number of points of view, but I will focus on these four):

1. From the side of the West: the cartoon illustrator, the newspapers that back him, proponents of “Western” ideals, such as freedom of speech, the press and the enlightenment of the entire Western world. I think it is important to define the Western world before we continue. The Western world= the winners of the colonial game played out over the last five hundred years. For evidence of this, see the G8, the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, and all the countries littered with evidence of a free market. Places that speak English and are white, Christian, and value “democracy”.

2. From the side of the East: the angry, fanatic, usually bearded, beheading-enforcing militant, brown person (feel free to enter terms like Arab. Iranian can be used indiscriminately here, because most people do not know or care that the people inhabiting the country known as Iran are in fact not Arabs), Muslim, Palestinian, insurgent, or detainee. Places still mired in sixth century dogma where woman are slaves and no one ever smiles, tucks their children into bed, or understands concepts like tenderness, compassion and love.

3. The person who sees the hypocrisy of the West. The people who know that the right wing owners of the Jyllands-Posten refused to publish anti-Christian cartoons several months ago. The ones who know that a cartoon with, let’s say, the Pope sodomizing a small boy and saying, “Now you are saved,” if published in a Muslim paper would bring the fury of every Catholic in Europe. Or the person who can recognize that if a cartoon making fun of the twin towers was released after 9/11, every redneck from Idaho to Alabama would grab their gun, flag, six-pack of Bud and would drive up and down their under-funded street or Wal-Mart parking lot, cursing the fact that God was stupid enough to build his Garden smack dab in the land infected with those god damn sandniggers.

4. The person who see the idiocy and futility of the Muslim world reacting to these cartoons with such fervor. Where were these demonstrations when the British first occupied Iraq in the 30’s, when the French carved up Syria, the Dutch enslaved the Indonesians? If that is too far back in history to be awarded recognition or relevance, then how about the fact that the US has vetoed over one hundred resolutions trying to address the issues that a country was stolen from the Palestinians. Still too far back? Let’s look at the last few years: where was the global outcry when the US led an illegal war into the heart of the Arab world, Abu Graib, Guantanimo Bay, the theft of Middle Eastern oil, the privatization of the region? Why now? Why is the Muslim world (a term I find ridiculous, by the way) acting out now? How is burning Danish flags going to help bridge the gap that seems to be expanding daily? Ignorance on both sides of the argument makes it difficult to find solutions.

As you can see, this discussion is not a simple one, and I have yet to state a position, because until we can look past the caricatures that the media is making of us, we will be forced to live inside these cartoons. Until there is genuine dialogue between our two worlds, until we realize that there is truly only one world, we will be forced to choose sides. And for someone born in the Middle East and raised in the West, this can be a very difficult choice. I have seen the best and the worst of both worlds. I do not want to choose between Radical Islam and the New World Order. I refuse to be made a puppet in this dichotomy.

I believe in freedom of speech, of the press, and of thought. I believe that people should have the right to publish those cartoons and that they serve a purpose. I believe in the fact that West has made some fantastic strides in understanding the world in which we live: Van Gogh, Kerouac, Miles Davis, Truman Capote, are the names spat out by my subconscious, but the list is endless. I believe in a world where woman are goddesses and our only saviors, I believe in a world where my daughter will be free to do anything she wants, where my mother walks like a gentle giant even though she only weighs 98 pounds. I believe in a world where homosexuality is not punished, where movies that promote homosexuality are accepted and talked about. I believe in a world that is free, and I don’t mean George Bush’s idea of freedom, where many of the ideals I just spoke about are just as restricted as in the Muslim world. I believe in a world where I can take my daughter to the country where I was born and she can walk freely, not ashamed or afraid of her body, her hair, and her sexuality. I want, in my lifetime to see a free Iran, a place where the people can make their own choices and not let them be made by the international community or by an idiot president, or by a group of money-hoarding clerics. It is hard for me to argue on behalf of the Muslim World because their leaders have robbed me of a nation. They have robbed that nation of a future, of freedom. On the other hand, as soon as I heard about the global reaction over these cartoons, I immediately saw my grandmother living in Sweden. She is my representative of the Muslim World. How is some drunken Swedish skinhead going to treat her?

While I have my beefs with Islam, I understand that the Middle East is not filled with so much anger. We are the heirs to a legacy of culture. Let us not forget that civilization began in the Middle East. We gave the world algebra, astronomy, Rumi, and Jesus. It is an incredible land of music, art, philosophy, culture, and food. It is a land of family and hospitality. Vivacious, seductive and passionate, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Growing up in both worlds, I have seen more similarities than differences. I have seen the major flaws of both religions. They are both filled with intolerance, hate, and rules. Rules are the exact opposite of freedom. The ignorance of the West and East stems from the same river. Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism are a direct result of our shared colonial past. Until the issues of inequality of the international community are addressed, this gap between the civilizations will continue to grow.

I am not sure if I have said anything here that hasn’t been better said by other people a million times in the past. I am not sure if I even have a position on this issue. I do know that it angers, saddens, and frightens me. My only advice is to not allow yourself to be forced to a side. It is not us against them. Take it from me, because I am us and them, and let me reassure you that you are, too.

Further reading:
Orientalism by Edward Said
The Clash Of Fundamentalisms by Tariq Ali
Fateful Triangle by Noam Comsky
Open Secret by Rumi

1 comment:

  1. Jabiz,
    Thank you for this, for futher informing my thinking on this complex issue. I greatly appreciate you exposing the charicatures so clearly.

    I heard an interesting angle last week on NPR. They had some "expert" on and she was stating that another reasons for the seemingly extreme reaction to the cartoon was that it was published in newspapers and throughout much of the Islamsic world, the press is strongly controlled by the government, so having the cartoon appear in so many newspapers seemed to them that the governments of those countries were endorsing it.

    The expert went on to list various leaders who had expressed dismay that newspapers in their countries had published the cartoon. The exact cause of their dismay was not explained.

    She also mentioned that this event began a year ago and part of the frustration came in that it had been taking the Dutch newspaper and government a year now to work out the apology.

    "What tangled webs we weave..."