Roundtable on cartoon depictions of Muhammad explores the responsibility that comes with freedom.
Friday, February 10, 2006
By ANN PEPPER
The Orange County Register
At least 11 people are dead in protests over the depiction of the prophet Muhammad - with bombs, with horns - in 12 Danish editorial cartoons.
No major demonstrations took place in Mideast and North African cities Thursday, suggesting the fervor may be easing. But it wasn't clear whether the calm would last. A test may come after weekly Muslim prayers today, when at least one large protest is planned, in Morocco.
On Thursday, the Register convened a discussion of the cartoons' impact.
Q: Why this depth of reaction among Muslims?
A: Hussam Ayloush: For most of the Muslim world, Islamically speaking, no prophet - Muhammad, Moses, Abraham - should be depicted. This is to avoid the idolization of a prophet. The depiction of Muhammad is a highly emotional topic for Muslims.
Still, the overwhelming majority of Muslims, their response has been very peaceful.
But when you put this in the context of the invasion of Iraq, the recent desecration of the Quran, the ongoing attacks against the prophet Muhammad by some extremist religious leaders in America itself - then these cartoons are like the straw that broke the camel's back.
You know, the perception is that the war on terror is becoming a war on Islam. We can debate that. But what matters here is the perception among the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.
So, many signs being carried in the Middle East said basically: "Not the prophet." We accepted other things, but the prophet is off-limits.
Unfortunately, some of those protests turned violent, turned very un-Islamic in our opinion, and that only serves to reinforce some images promoted in those cartoons.
Q: Was it wrong to publish these cartoons in a free press? Should religion be treated with kid gloves by the press?
A: Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark: My position is yes, we have the freedom to publish these cartoons. But one has to look at the big picture in this world where many, many Muslims feel there is this concerted war against the Muslim world. Why put more coal on the fire? One has to use common sense.
And frankly, I find the actions, especially of the leaders of Iran, to have a contest of cartoons vis-à-vis the Holocaust outrageous.
There are enough problems we are trying to work out and to say the Jewish world somehow controls all newspapers is outrageous. I think the leadership of the Muslim world has to say in so many words - enough. There are some valid criticisms, but these are invalid.
Ayloush: Actually most Muslim leaders, including the organization that I work for, have responded and rejected the violence, but specifically the drive to drag the Holocaust and the very tragic memory of the Holocaust into this whole conflict.
The Rev. John Millspaugh: All of us here would say we abhor violence and that the freedom of the press is essential in a democracy.
But as we are entering this global society, we're recognizing our neighbors are not just in our local communities. They are in other countries as well.
We can indeed hurt each other cross-culturally in ways we are only beginning to understand.
So what editorial principle does it serve to publish a picture which demonizes the founder of a major world faith - that makes that person to be a terrorist?
There are times we have to push the boundaries, using freedom of speech when it serves a greater principle. But I simply can't see what principle was served here.
Q: The Register hasn't published these cartoons although the debate over them is furious. Are we failing to provide readers the information they need?
A:Cathy Taylor: Actually, that's the key question - providing the information people need. We did a column on Sunday that was very hard-hitting. We did an editorial on Monday. Very hard-hitting. So, do the cartoons complete the story? Are they necessary?
One principle that we use in all cartoon selection, whether for our own staff cartoonist or the syndicated cartoons, is whether it is gratuitously insulting - or does it make a useful point.
Maybe if there had been something different about the Danish cartoons, that they needed to be run with the column to help explain it, we would have published them and defended that decision. But that was not so in this case.
Ayloush: Muslims understand freedom of speech.
You know, it's one thing to say that Eastern European governments during the communist era were banning freedoms and another to say that Eastern Europeans did not understand freedom.
Just because Muslims are denied freedoms by certain corrupt dictatorships and regimes does not mean they do not appreciate them or value them.
Q: Where do we go from here in dealing with these kinds of issues, with this current crisis?
A: Benjamin Hubbard:Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to educate, maybe provide the history of anti-Islamic feeling in the West. Back to Dante, the Crusades, western imperialism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
What the Muslim world sees as the unfair support of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians - that's debatable, but at least that's the perception.
Add to these the invasion of Iraq. All have led to a very, very negative climate.
There has to be an attempt in higher education to really understand that Islam is a great faith, a great religion.
The more we can use that approach to educate, the more we can make some progress.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html