Thursday, February 09, 2006

Depicting Mohammed

Reza Aslan, the Iranian-born research associate at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, writes why he is offended by the Danish cartoons of the prophet. As a Muslim myself, I find this to be one of the best commentaries I've read on the Danish cartoons issue so far:

...No one doubts that the press should be free to satirize. But freedom of the press cannot excuse the promotion of noxious stereotypes. Jewish groups were furious when the Chicago Tribune published a cartoon in 2003 that portrayed a hunched and hooknosed Ariel Sharon salivating before a pile of money doled out to him by George W. Bush, ostensibly as an incentive to maintain the peace process. ("On second thought," the avaricious Sharon is depicted as saying, "the path to peace is looking brighter.") And rightly so.

As international human rights law recognizes, in any democratic society freedom of the press must be properly balanced with civic responsibility, particularly at a time when the world seems to be engaged in a "war of ideology," to use President Bush's words. Extremist groups and some political leaders in the Arab and Muslim world are eager to exploit any opportunity to propagate their belief that Islam is under attack by the "West" and thus rally Muslims to their murderous cause...

Of course, the sad irony is that the Muslims who have resorted to violence in response to this offense are merely reaffirming the stereotypes advanced by the cartoons. Likewise, the Europeans who point to the Muslim reaction as proof that, in the words of the popular Dutch blogger Mike Tidmus, "Islam probably has no place in Europe," have reaffirmed the stereotype of Europeans as aggressively anti-Islamic...

And that is why as a Muslim American I am enraged by the publication of these cartoons. Not because they offend my prophet or my religion, but because they fly in the face of the tireless efforts of so many civic and religious leaders—both Muslim and non-Muslim—to promote unity and assimilation rather than hatred and discord; because they play into the hands of those who preach extremism; because they are fodder for the clash-of-civilizations mentality that pits East against West. For all of that I blame Jyllands-Posten. We in the West want Muslim leaders to condemn the racial and religious prejudices that are so widespread in the Muslim world. Let us lead by example.

Read the article in full.

UPDATE: Chad Evans from "In the Bullpen" responds to Aslan's assertions here.