Saturday, February 11, 2006

Controversial Images

In my newswriting class this week, we talked about the international uproar over the publication of some controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Some students questioned why a newspaper would publish images that so many people would find offensive, comparing it to crying "fire" in a crowded theater. Others defended their publication on the grounds of freedom of speech.

I find it hard to imagine how cartoons, no matter how crude or offensive, could provoke riots and death threats. But then, I never understood how anyone could call for Salman Rushdie's death for writing the Satanic Verses either. Then again, I'm a Unitarian -- even Garrison Keiller makes jokes about us. But can you imagine me putting out a fatwa on him?

When I try to think of similar situations here in the States, the only thing that comes close is the anger over Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ." A recent article, "Piss Christ vs. Cartoon Jihad," compares the Christian response to Serrano's photograph to the Muslim response to the cartoons published in the Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper. And in Peaktalk, blogger Pieter Dorsman also compares the two situations. He writes:
...The ability to apply criticism and ridicule are the basic rights of anyone living in a western democracy. As a society we should expect citizens and artists alike to apply a measure of good taste. It is very hard to argue that the Jyllands-Posten's cartoons were offensive, but a case could be made that Serrano's "Piss Christ" was testing the limits of that somewhat arbitrary 'taste measure'. But we didn't kill Serrano, we didn't destroy his career, we didn't ask him for damages and a rectification, no, we debated it and we are still debating it today, twenty years on. That's freedom, that's democracy.

If you'd like to see more of the cartoons for yourself, follow this link or this one.


zak said...

Having not yet seen the cartoon myself, I can only imagine the the content of which, and also the ptential anger that it might arouse. Even still, to me this is just a matter of freedom of speech which, in this country I belive we take for granted. Cartoons that are not tasteful or are downright offensive, should still be allowed to exist. As angry and disgusted as I am by groups like the KKK and such, I still belive that they should have the right to be complete racist jackasses as long as they are not physically doing anything wrong to others. That is what this country is all about, and is something that the rest of the world should embrace as well, (for those who still have not).

Carl said...

I saw one of the cartoons and I found it very offensive. I am not a religious person at all; as a matter of fact, I am unsure if there is a god at all. However, I do not believe that people from any nation should insult the another persons god. The people that were insulted in these cartoons are very religious and feel that their whole way of life has been insulted. This is a freedom of speech issue, but I believe that there is a certain stopping point. America grants people to say almost anything its residences desire, but this is getting out of hand.

stacy said...

Who knows why these cartoons were published? It could have been part of a hate speech, a PR stunt, or anything. Either way, everyone will interpret these differently. A comment by Carl below said that this is a freedom of speech issue, but believes there should be a stopping point because America allows people to say anything they desire. I agree that having the liberty to publish things of this nature doesn't mean you publish any or everything. However, just as we Professor McCune was discussing “ethics” in class today, a proficient writer or comic cannot be completely paralyzed by his or her reservations about every possible insult as a consequence. I definitely think that freedom of speech is not implying an approval of insulting people's religious beliefs, or any subject for that matter. I agree with Zak that although things may be offensive, they should still be allowed to exist. This IS what this country is all about, and if people don’t like it, then move somewhere else. Sure, one of the comics might be saying that every Muslim is a terrorist, but some people may read into it differently. Couldn’t have someone thought that some people have taken the Islamic religion captive by committing terrorist threats in the name of the prophet? They might be the ones giving that particular religion a bad name. Who knows? Either way, of course, the cartoons are offensive to Muslims, but these links to cartoons of Asians, Blacks, Republicans, Democrats (etc.) below may be offensive to others as well:

Is it only when riots occur that people will be attentive to it?
-stacy m

Joel Bridgeman said...

I do not believe that this image should have been published. While Americans are able to poke fun at public officials and religious figures, many nations are not. This picture was presented clear and present danger and the publishers should have known what was going to happen.

Marcus G said...

There are a few points that I’ve been rolling around in the noggin since this cartoon thing blew up. I think they are beginning to add up.
As a person of color, I know how much harm can be done to a whole group of people just though the use of cartoons and other representations.
Because of my own negative experiences with being seen though other’s racist filters, my knee-jerk reaction was to side with the Muslims, especially since there is apparently this strict prohibition against graphic depictions of the prophet.
But I’ve also being doing some thinking about the very idea of religious tolerance lately. I was listening to a lecture on C-SPAN 2 from a man who was seriously questioning the unquestionable. Why should religion be tolerated at all?
Historically, the bad has generally outweighed the good. Nearly from their conception to present day, the three desert religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been the source of all kinds of violent and cruel behavior.
Religion enforces ways of thinking that are just plain medieval and out of step with the changed and changing world. Each of these religions celebrate unquestioned allegiance, that is, belief devoid of logic or proof, violence in the name of peace and love, and a vain assertion that the creator of all existence holds them in the highest regard above all other people and everything else in creation. Come on, that’s just nuts.
From this perspective, I really see the current flap being more in line with the wailing and yelling from our own religious nuts here in America. I’m thinking that, since September 11 and the continued success of insurgency fighters and terrorist, all of the nuttiest elements of Islam are becoming emboldened; just as the legislation in South Dakota have become emboldened enough by conservative gains to think they will succeed in banning abortion state-wide or take the school board in Kansas trying to change the very definition of science to include religious miracle.
Now, I’ve seen the cartoons and I think many of the cartoons are in poor taste and some down right disgusting. I’ve also taken a peek at a website devoted to showcasing the many depictions of the prophet Mohammad over the last four centuries which belie the whole uproar over the cry of sacrilege. On balance, the reaction does seem to me to be the lashing out of a oppressed people but they are being purposely whipped into that frenzy by the same kind of religious fervor that have made possible many of the greatest atrocities of the last two millennia.