Thursday, February 02, 2006

Culture War goes global

I'm not sure if this story is getting any press in the States, but it has certainly picked up a lot of steam since the editor of the French daily, France Soir, was fired for reprinting 12 cartoons about Mohummad. Back in September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran an editorial with 12 cartoons of Mohummad. They caught much grief from the Islamic world and many other European newspapers decided to run the cartoons in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten.

In Islam it is forbidden to make any graphic representation of Muhammad or Allah. These 12 cartoons are in response to the inability to find anyone to illistrate a children's book about Muhammad and Islam. In general, they are pretty benign, except possibly the one where Muhammad has a bomb for a hairstyle and another one where he is stopping apparent suicide bombers from getting into paradise because they are out of virgins. I could see how a Muslim would be upset.

Overall the Muslim response has been street protests and a call for a boycott of Danish products. There have been a few extremists taking rash action like calling in bomb threats to the newspaper's office and surrounding the EU offices in Gaza demanding an apology.

However, there has been solidarity by, at least one, Arab newspaper. 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?"

I don't have any grand insight into this. It does show so clearly how flat the world has become. A newspaper in Denmark causes protests and diplomatic incidents all around the globe. It also shows how quickly Arab cultures have had to adjust to freedom of the press. Only 10 years ago, prior to Al-Jezeera, almost all media was state-controlled. Now, Arabs have acess to their own relatively free press AND the free press from around the world.

It also reminds me of the Mapplethorpe controversy and the Piss Christ cultural battles fought when I was younger. The non-outcomes of those two controversies in America was to strength the Christian Coalition and other socially conservative groups and, simultaneously, strengthen liberal secularists who were convinced that freedom of expression had triumphed over backward religious concerns.

Will the same thing happen in the Muslim world?