Friday, May 05, 2006

Response to "Anonymous" on Wafa Sultan and Insulting Islamists

(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

There have been occasional comments here by anonymous visitors, some of them pleasant enough and some of them unpleasant enough. I can understand that some people prefer anonymity to onymity, but I'd prefer that they go for pseudonymity because a name, even if false, would help to keep actually distinct commentors more conceptually distinct.

That mild rant aside, let me post here a pleasant-enough anonymous comment to a previous post dealing with Wafa Sultan in which I acknowledged that Sultan is angry and too often inaccurate but that I understand her anger while regretting her factual carelessness. Anyway, here's Anonymous:

Hi Guys; this is Anonymous again. Sorry for this late rejoinder, but I think I need to clarify few points here. You can challenge the Islamists from within their communities and Islamic framework, and this is I think the way that can produce progress and good change; or you can challenge them from outside, as a member of a different religious or cultural group, which, though sometimes inevitable, is more tricky and unpredictable. In either case, though, it is pointless, and even counterproductive, to engage in hyperbole polemics and attacks on the core beliefs and values of Islam itself. By depicting Prophet Muhammad as a pig or as a terrorist you're simply insulting most Muslims and soliciting outrage and calls for revenge. If you do this from within, you are doomed to failure and perhaps risking your very own life. And if you do it from without, you're looking like a crusader and you’re just creating more demons to fan the fires of the clash of civilizations. I concur with the need to oppose extremism and dogmatic Islamists, but this must be done carefully and rationally, without denigrating the foundational beliefs of Islam. Any opposition to Islamists that finds it somehow necessary to humiliate Muslims everywhere, no matter how noble its objectives are, is misguided and can be easily construed as a tool of extremism itself. Finally, let me just use jj mollo's metaphor in its literalist meaning and say that I personally wouldn't care to be in the same room with either Wafa Sultan or seemingly cool and collected Islamists; If I could choose, I'd rather be with Zhang Ziyi, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, or Scarlett Johansson! Now, wouldn't you?
On this last query, my wife says that I'm required to state that I prefer to sit with the Islamists or Wafa Sultan. That formality aside, I see your point.

As for your more serious point, that we non-Muslims shouldn't insult Muslims in presenting our critique of Islamism, I would generally agree. I think that one is standing upon higher ground, ethically, in avoiding insults. And you're correct that gratuitous insults are going to be counterproductive.

But I want to make a couple of points here.

First, whatever the moral status of an insult, I think that the law should generally protect people's right to express themselves freely even if this means insulting others individually or in groups.

Second, Islamists -- and even many Muslims -- seem especially senstive to 'insults' of Muhammad and readily take offense even at what non-Muslims would consider not insults but criticisms.

You mention two insults: "depicting Prophet Muhammad as a pig or as a terrorist."

Let's take the second insult first. One of the cartoons did present Muhammad in a guise that could be interpreted as the image of a terrorist. If if recall, this was an image of Muhammad with a turban shaped like a bomb. I can easily imagine that Muslims might feel insulted, but that might not have been the intent of the cartoonist, who may instead have genuinely held that Muhammad acted as a terrorist even in his own day and may in fact be prepared to provide reasons for why he holds this view. I don't happen to think that Muhammad was a terrorist in the strict sense of targeting civilians with violence in order to achieve a political goal, but I do think, based on some of the hadith that I have seen, that Muhammad could act with extreme cruelty for reasons that I find difficult to warrant. I can state this as a criticism of Muhammad, but I suspect that many Muslims would take it as an insult.

As for the first insult, depicting Muhammad as a pig, this would be insulting, I agree. But I should like to point out that the pig 'cartoon' was not one of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, was not originally a cartoon or even an image of Muhammad, and may have been a hoax perpetrated by the Islamists themselves to incite Muslims. The Islamists, ironically, would themselves seem to have been insulting Muhammad. But even if this pig image had been one of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, then I think that it should be legally protected as free expression even though I myself would not choose to publicly depict Muhammad in this way.

I would, generally, agree with you that our opposition to "extremism and dogmatic Islamists" should "be done carefully and rationally," but I can't see how we can avoid "denigrating [some of] the foundational beliefs of Islam." Even careful, rational criticism can implicitly denigrate some foundational beliefs.

Finally, I think that Muslims should learn to tolerate the ridicule of their views, just as Christians have had to learn this lesson and accept such 'insults' and 'ridicule' as Andres Serrano's Piss Christ.


At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with many of Anonymous's points, but wish to make a few of my own.

To use an analogy that I think is the closest, ancient Israel had within it a xenophobic, racist, intolerant, and hate-filled monotheistic doctrine that called in its foundational texts for the complete destruction of non-practicioners, their artefacts, and beliefs. Judaism in the modern sense has never had an opportunity to perpetrate similar crimes against humanity, and, indeed, has been remarkably spiritualized since the second revolt against the Romans, when the Jews lost Jerusalem. (For the record, I'm not suggesting that the sins of the ancestors be visited on the children, or that the first and second century Jews were in any way responsible for the crimes of their ancestors.)

My fear is that Islam will only "go within," i.e. advocate personal spirituality as the primary expression of religion when one of two conditions is achieved: the entire planet becomes Muslim, or Islam is militarily vanquished in the very center of Mecca. Neither looks very likely in the near future.

I think the nature of much of Islam calls for an "all or nothing" approach to the religion by its adherents. In contrast, many Christians still consider themselves Catholics or Protestants, even though they do not believe in all the doctrines and practices of their church. They have the freedom to do that. Muslims in countries like Iran do not; as I've noted previously, we're likely in for a demographic earthquake in that country, as the younger generation, despite prohibitions, has widespread access to illegal forms of western media.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries did much to quell the all-or-nothing tendencies in Western Christianity.

We may be entering a new era of religious wars that will require an updated Peace of Westphalia to bring an end to global religious strife.

That would be a desireable end, but the process could get very bloody indeed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:45 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Beautifully said. I fully agree.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Saur.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffery, I've been enjoying your blog very much lately. I especially liked the last point you make in this post. Muslims seem to be taking for granted the idea that insults should not & cannot be tolerated. But why not? I don't advocate insulting people, of course. It just seems to me we all have a choice: how to treat others and how to respond to others' treatment of us.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Brendan, the shame-and-honor ethos seems to seems crucial to this Muslim sensitivity about insults.

In a milder way, I understand them. I come from an American subculture that doesn't take insults lightly (though I've learned to moderate my reactions). The Scotch-Irish culture of the Ozarks simply doesn't cotton to insults. Insulting someone there is likely to get you a punch in the nose.

The Scotch-Irish feistiness is moderated by the Christian emphasis upon turning the other cheek, but feuds can still break out (though no longer as bad as the Hatfield-McCoy sort).

Muslim emphasis upon vengeance, however, seems to exacerbate the reaction to insults.

My impressions, anyway...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take your point. My reading on Muslim culture has been, shall we say, light, but I have read that much. My upbringing in the American Midwest was just so so so so different . . .

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless of cultural "insult-tolerance" levels, another question, which I find very interesting, should be: how many danish flags were there in northern Nigeria, rural Sudan (sorry if pleonastic), Indonesia, etc., ad muslim country aeternum?

The contestation started a good couple of months (4?) after the actual publication, but also I cannot believe that there was no orchestration of this whole affair. Mohammed has had pictoric representations throughout history, in both West and Middle-East(he became unrepresentable, so that his image and figure were not adored as a God's - avoiding the "trinity syndrome") and decent people did never complain or resorted to wanton violence.

Insults? Meh...

This question is irrelevant. This in nothing but a bit more pressure on the foothold.

(still, on a personal note, thank you Gipsy for your Blog, and cheers for your good answer on this subject)

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Luso, for your comments and kind words.

Also, like you, I too think that the protests were orchestrated.

Jeffery Hodges

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