In fact it was the first time I actually sat down in my life to think about repercussions, instead of just blabbing my pen or mouth off. When Danish cartoonists decided that they had absolutely nothing else to caricature in their entire list of characters (they had drawn the Queen twice over with saggy boobs, and you can only do that so often.) they decided to take a shot, vodka of course, and draw a picture of the Prophet Muhammad.
I really don’t think they were hoping for as much publicity as they received, but that was a kind of a good thing. As the press often says, “There’s no such thing as bad press.” Why do you think Fatney Spears has photos of her taken when she’s obviously looking like a beached whale? Still, the anger it aroused in the governments all around the world was a tad ridiculous.
What is a cartoon? It is a drawing made of characters, often to satirize, or as a sort of comment, not necessarily in a bad light. I’m NOT saying the cartoon was in good taste; obviously religious sentiment and common sense would suggest to the average person not to do so, but that is merely keeping the dirty linen in the laundry basket, and not to air it. (Bear with my mixed metaphors, I do have a point.)
Muslims reacted with anger, as they had the right to do, but also violence, to which they should have refrained from, because it is in their religion to embrace tolerance, rather than lash out in the name of religious fervor. But one must remember that it has always been in the nature of Western culture to deprecate and laugh at itself.
Whats-his-name appearing as Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone? Or Jesus caricaturized in South Park? Perhaps the fact that they were willing to caricaturize the Prophet should be seen as a sign that they considered the Muslim population part of their community and culture sufficiently to accept and talk about it in a casual manner. In that sense, perhaps it is not as severe a comment on Islam as many have simply assumed.
As I said, the cartoons were not in good taste, and apologies and amends should be made to the Muslim population if they so desire. But the Muslim population, or segments of it, did seek reparation in an inappropriate manner.
First of all, anger should not have been inflicted on embassies and the media, which was only doing as it should, in allowing free press. If one expects respect for one’s cultural ideas, one should return the favour. The West has always prided itself on its freedom of press. Whether this be true or not, it should be given that allowance.
But this cartoon has brought up something rather disappointing, not just throughout the world, but in Singapore. Our PM has said that “We would not have allowed it in Singapore.” and “In a multiracial society, we must ……. and not deliberately insult or desecrate what others hold sacred.” By disallowing it, are we just avoiding the issue?
The issue here of course, is tolerance, but it seems to have become more concerned with avoidance. The moral of the story: if something is sensitive, don’t talk about it. Such self-censorship can only hurt a multicultural society, not help it. Is there a middle ground that we can stand on? Some compromise between art, however crude it is, and respect? Because if there isn’t, art will fail, and I will be out of a job.
In a world which is becoming increasingly global, there are no cultures that can remain exclusive, to retain that privilege of being above comment. All minorities must realize that we are now all part of a majority, a world culture. And now that we are aware of this, perhaps we can all learn to take any criticism with a pinch of salt and a touch of olive oil.
Perhaps it might seem a little scary, but I think it comforting as well, because it means that we belong, a global community learning to live in comfort with each other, not just tolerance. To go beyond respect and tolerance, into understanding is what this event has given us a chance to do. Are we going to let it go, or are we going to take up this task with open arms, and perhaps truly become “one people, one world”?
Perhaps at this point, it is helpful to use a line from Rent the musical, when Mark sings that “the opposite of war is not peace, it’s creation”. Instead of using this anger aroused in the population to strike back, using it to educate the world why the Prophet is not cartoon material would be a better end. And perhaps one day, we’ll all be taught to sing in perfect harmony.