February 8, 2006

Line, Drawn.

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This foto pretty much sums it all up.

It's remarkable that it was the act of drawing was the spark that inflamed the streets of this civilizational war. Remarkable, in that it was a cartooonist that pulled us across the ramparts instead of a Clancy-like Special Forces operator.

The art world is separate from a cartoonist's world and yet the ambiton of the art world often extends into every modality of life, especially that of the graphic arts. I thought that it might be interesting to take a closer look at those incendiary drawings.

Let's take a peek:

First, a llittle background. Austin Bay of StrategyPage does a good job with a tight description of the circumstances leading to the currrent furor:

Why did the editor of JP decide to publish the cartoons? In actuality they where solicited by the editor after he heard a story of Danish illustrators refusing to do artwork for a children's book about Muhammad. The artists had refused to do the work because they feared reprisals. Their fears were based on the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo von Gogh. Von Gogh had produced a film critical of Muslim attitudes towards women.

Twelve illustrators responded to JP's request. The cartoons were printed along with an article explaining the self-censorship story.


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This cartoonist is clearly saying: "Relax (angry Islamofascists). I'm just a Dane from Southwest Dennmark." The fear is palpable.

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This one is strange. This artist is poking fun at the magazine that commisioned his artwork. Worse, he is fingering the paper (Jyllnad-Posten) as an enemy target! It is as if the cartoonist is saying: "The reactionary provocateur newspaper made me do this."

Fear, again.

Fear, indeed. Coersion is in the air and all of the mainstream media in the USA and large chunks of the EU have demurred from including the very images they were writing about (although it was the EU press that first stood for their rights). Self censorship is so much more elegant than a muzzle.

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This guy is drawing his fear, straight out. Amazing that he chose to go ahead with the project.

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This artist is having a hard time identifying the face of Mohammed, period. He's saying: "I can't do it." or "I'm not doing it."

Fear.

I surf:

It seems to me that the real debate should not have focused so much on the boundaries of free speech as on the wisdom of reproducing those cartoons in other Western publications (though important they are). After all, Western media routinely publish things that are not so wise or sensitive to expose. From intelligence leaks to mockery of foreign nations, passing through derision of religion and religious beliefs (and those who entertain them), there is plenty to choose from. Was anti-Americanism ? so rampant in many European media especially in the last four years ? always wise? Is the anti-Semitism that occasionally surfaces in commentary on the Middle East something wise?

But should the answer be censorship? Obviously not. Should the aggrieved parties torch embassies and media centers, or threaten to behead any repeat offender? Again, no. In a truly free society, grievances find legitimate ways of expression and sometimes, if their case is sound, of redress.

In the West we do not believe only in freedom of speech, no matter how silly the speech is. We also believe in the power of ideas to expose the silliness of some speech through robust, but civilized debate.

(This, from Emanuele Ottolenghi, who teaches Israel studies at Oxford University)

Check this too, from the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly Die Zeit:

By last week it was not an obscure topic anymore but front-page news. And it wasn't about religious sensibilities as much as about free speech. That's when the cartoons started to show up in papers all over Europe.

Much of the U.S. reporting about the fracas made it appear as if Europeans just don't get it -- again. They struggle with immigration. They struggle with religion. They struggle with respect for minorities. And in the end they find their cities burning, as evidenced in Paris. Bill Clinton even detected an "anti-Islamic prejudice" and equated it with a previous "anti-Semitic prejudice."

The former president has turned the argument upside down. In this jihad over humor, tolerance is disdained by people who demand it of others. The authoritarian governments that claim to speak on behalf of Europe's supposedly oppressed Muslim minorities practice systematic repression against their own religious minorities. They have radicalized what was at first a difficult question. Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules. Does Bill Clinton want to counsel tolerance toward intolerance?

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Well, this guy broke rank. But it's a strange cartoon. At first, the message is "Stop, stop!" And then, it's: "Stop, stop! There's nothing more to sacrifice yourselves for!" But does this mean that the cause is over... or worse, that inexhaustable heaven has been exhausted of G-d's* supply of virgin women? Heavens, no! If I were Muslim, the implied insult to the chaste capacity of the fair sex of my people would have me involuntarily reach for my scimitar or AK or explosive gel packs or whatever.

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This one has the eyes blacked out like it was porn. Not that I know porn, you know... I'm just saying. But we don't get to see the murder in the eyes. Was this to make it better for us or the cultural "Other"?

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Now, this one has a classical air about it. The image looks like it was lifted from a historical artwork and collaged or altered by the addition of the bomb. An old style bomb, ye-olden days Spy vs Spy kind of device. No cell phone detonator, plastic explosive bomb belt harness thing. A cast iron ball packed with gunpowder with a string fuse lit to go.

Pretty good though. It's my favorite.

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Now, this one is all sweetness and light. I'd look for wisdom in Islam if I thought Mohammed was kind of like this. He's a searcher, kind of like Quixote or Kwai Chang Cain or Don Juan Matus.

No fear here.

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Trippy.

I don't know what to make of this except to associate it with images of Russian Constructivism or something. The Star of David and a Crescent Moon coming together to make a face-like aspect of several individuals? A message of unification and hope?

One could only... hope.

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Another self parody, it seems. The cartoonist mocks his ability to draw Mohammed. And the orange dropping into the turban? It must mean something in Denmark, I suppose.

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Another benign image of the prophet.

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And another, the last of what was shown in the Danish newpaper back in October.

What's up here? The riots can't be about this. Muhammed has had his image reproduced before in history.

Well, it seems a lot of this was ginned up. Manufactured. Consider this, from the Telegraph's own blog.:

As this blog has reported in the last couple of days, there have been sharp questions in Denmark about the role played by these Danish Muslim delegations that made repeated trips to the Middle East late last year. There have been still sharper questions about the 43 page dossier on "Danish racism and Islamophobia" they carried with them, in meetings with scholars, officials of the Arab League and senior clerics in Cairo and Beirut.

The delegations were publicly criticised by the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said he was "speechless" that his fellow countrymen could tour the Arab world "inciting antipathy towards Denmark".

Above all, there have been serious concerns about three mysterious cartoons that were included in the dossier, in addition to the 12 images that started the row when they were published by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September.

The extra cartoons, whose origins remain obscure, included an image of Mohammed with a pig's snout, one of a dog raping a praying Muslim, and one depicting Mohammed as a "Paedophile demon".

As I report in today's Daily Telegraph, several media organisations, some in the Arab world but also including the BBC and the Australian SBS television network, have mistakenly reported that the pig-snouted cartoon was one of those published in "Jyllands-Posten."

Ah so. There it is. What is sold to the West is a different story when it's sold to the insular Ummah. Arafat style.

I'm with Ayaan Hirsi Ali (check out her blog, fantastic), a hero of mine:

SPIEGEL: Was apologizing for the cartoons the wrong thing to do?

Hirsi Ali: Once again, the West pursued the principle of turning first one cheek, then the other. In fact, it's already a tradition. In 1980, privately owned British broadcaster ITV aired a documentary about the stoning of a Saudi Arabian princess who had allegedly committed adultery. The government in Riyadh intervened and the British government issued an apology. We saw the same kowtowing response in 1987 when (Dutch comedian) Rudi Carrell derided (Iranian revolutionary leader) Ayatollah Khomeini in a comedy skit (that was aired on German television). In 2000, a play about the youngest wife of the Prophet Mohammed, titled "Aisha," was cancelled before it ever opened in Rotterdam. Then there was the van Gogh murder and now the cartoons. We are constantly apologizing, and we don't notice how much abuse we're taking. Meanwhile, the other side doesn't give an inch.

SPIEGEL: What should the appropriate European response look like?

Hirsi Ali: There should be solidarity. The cartoons should be displayed everywhere. After all, the Arabs can't boycott goods from every country. They're far too dependent on imports. And Scandinavian companies should be compensated for their losses. Freedom of speech should at least be worth that much to us.

SPIEGEL: But Muslims, like any religious community, should also be able to protect themselves against slander and insult.

Hirsi Ali: That's exactly the reflex I was just talking about: offering the other cheek. Not a day passes, in Europe and elsewhere, when radical imams aren't preaching hatred in their mosques. They call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech. When will the Europeans realize that the Islamists don't allow their critics the same right? After the West prostrates itself, they'll be more than happy to say that Allah has made the infidels spineless.

I agree with Ibn Warraq in a recent Spiegel Online:

How can we expect immigrants to integrate into western society when they are at the same time being taught that the west is decadent, a den of iniquity, the source of all evil, racist, imperialist and to be despised? Why should they, in the words of the African-American writer James Baldwin, want to integrate into a sinking ship? Why do they all want to immigrate to the west and not Saudi Arabia? They should be taught about the centuries of struggle that resulted in the freedoms that they and everyone else for that matter, cherish, enjoy, and avail themselves of; of the individuals and groups who fought for these freedoms and who are despised and forgotten today; the freedoms that the much of the rest of world envies, admires and tries to emulate." When the Chinese students cried and died for democracy in Tiananmen Square (in 1989) , they brought with them not representations of Confucius or Buddha but a model of the Statue of Liberty."

Freedom of expression is our western heritage and we must defend it or it will die from totalitarian attacks. It is also much needed in the Islamic world. By defending our values, we are teaching the Islamic world a valuable lesson, we are helping them by submitting their cherished traditions to Enlightenment values.

Freedom and the concept of an objective right and wrong are the defining ideas of the West, the Judeo-Christian turn in the world that moved us out of the tribal, patriarchal honor/shame societies that placed a premium on "face". Hardwired to this is the value of the individual over the group... the bane of those atavistics among us who prefer to go down fighting... killing, to preserve the dominance of whoever is strongest enough to call themselves our boss.

So far, only the newsweeklies have stepped up and published these images, here:

PARIS (Reuters) - A French satirical weekly reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday and published one of its own on its front page, further angering Muslim groups which say the caricatures are blasphemous.

French Muslim organizations tried to prevent Charlie Hebdo reprinting the 12 cartoons, which were first published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, but a court rejected their suit on Tuesday on a technicality.

President Jacques Chirac condemned "overt provocations" which could enflame passions, but did not name Charlie Hebdo in his latest appeal for restraint in a dispute that has triggered violent protests across the Muslim world.

Charlie Hebdo carried the new cartoon on its front page, depicting the Prophet Mohammad burying his face in his hands and saying: "It's hard to be loved by fools".

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Funny name for a paper: Charlie Hebdo. I wikipedia. Picture from Gateway Pundit (check out the link).

...and here:

* Four top editors at the New York Press, a weekly in New York City, resigned Tuesday after being ordered, they claim, to pull the Danish cartoons -- from an issue that centers on the dispute. Editor in chief Harry Siegel charged that the Press leadership "has suborned its own professed principles. For all the talk of freedom of speech, only the New York Sun locally and two other papers nationally have mustered the minimal courage needed to print simple and not especially offensive editorial cartoons that have been used as a pretext for great and greatly menacing violence directed against journalists, cartoonists, humanitarian aid workers, diplomats and others who represent the basic values and obligations of Western civilization."

Oh yea, plus the New York Sun and a couple of others nationwide.

And finally (there is so much out there and so many more connections to draw!), it's worth remembering the words of the Jordanian editor who lost his job (among many others in the EU) for publishing these images:

Jordanian independent tabloid al-Shihan reprinted three of the cartoons on Thursday, saying people should know what they were protesting about, AFP news agency reports.

"Muslims of the world be reasonable," wrote editor Jihad Momani.

"What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"


It's too bad this guy is in jail now. The Jordanian police took him into custody:
Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of Jihad Momani, who was arrested in Amman on the orders of public prosecutor Saber al-Rawashdeh today, two days after being fired from his job as editor of the weekly Shihan for reprinting some of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that have triggered an outcry in the Muslim world.

?We already objected to Momani?s dismissal, but his arrest is utterly unacceptable,? Reporters Without Borders said. ?He was just doing his job when he chose to reprint some of the controversial cartoons, as have dozens of other publications throughout the world. Imprisoning him for an editorial decision is totally unjustified.?

The guy named to replace him has resigned. I wonder if King Hussein and President Bush talked about this during their visit today?

And finally, a cherry atop this ice cream sundae of fear and coersion:
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I guess it had to happen, an incursion into the issue by our artworld. I guess Damien Hirst is well branded. The BBC reports:

The mayor of Middelkerke, Michel Landuyt, said the work could "shock people", including Muslims.

He said he decided to ban Czech artist David Cerny's sculpture before the row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Saddam piece, which echoes British artist Damien Hirst's famous shark suspended in formaldehyde, was first shown in Prague last September.

'Too shocking'

But Mr Landuyt felt its exhibition would be too much for the small Belgian seaside town. "In my view, it was too shocking," he said.

"They wanted to put this piece in a location where many children come, so that couldn't be allowed," he told the BBC.

He added that the work was now going to be displayed in a museum in the Belgian city of Ostend.

"When you go to a museum and are prepared to see those things and there is an explanation, perhaps there is no problem. But when you come somewhere where you don't expect that, it can be a problem," he said.

Mr Cerny is an anti-conformist artist. His previous works have included a man hanging from a pole using just one hand, a series of "kits" including one of Jesus, and a pair of naked bronze figures urinating into a pond.

An anti-comformist artist.

OK.

Whatever.

It's probably best to clip this one off right here before we slide down the slippery slopes of "transgression in art history", a humongous topic. Andre Serrano beckons from my grad skoolm daze, compelling, commanding me to make this post a doubledoubleplusgood one.

***

The upshot is that a line is being drawn. Distinctions are being made. The violence pegged to the cartoons is a message addressed primarily to the ummah. Which side will they choose? Freedom or slavery? The same line is being drawn at out feet here in the West as well.

***


I... must... resist... expanding this topic, slave to blogging that I am.

(I'm free!)


(All twelve cartoon images from StrategyPage)

Posted by Dennis at February 8, 2006 2:58 PM

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