The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Proving a point?

Though I strongly believe that the protests growing up around the controversial Prophet Muhammed cartoons could have been stymied to a large degree by official apologies early on, apologies that would have been, if not shining defenses of free speech, at least shining examples of smart politics, this quote from a BBC article is a bit worrisome:

"They want to test our feelings," protester Mawli Abdul Qahar Abu Israra told the BBC.

"They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and to their newspapers," he said.

So they want to know if Muslims are extremists. And this man's reply is "kill them all." Not the best advertisement of your public relations savvy.


  • At 2:51 PM, Blogger Wang said…

    I got this from my Saudi friend.

    All of the violence of the past week is just ridiculous. I think this just goes to show how divided the Arab world is. There are those who hope to maintain in the world eye that the Arab world is peaceful and as righteous as all other world religions, and they have separated themselves from the terrorists and extremists.

    Then there are those that lump themselves in with a one for all and all for one sort of thing. I'm starting to think this group doesn't really care how the outside world represents them or thinks about them. There is no liberal sense of possible correctness of outside religions and tolerance, there is just the right way and the wrong way, the followers of the "wrong way" don't matter. That's scary.

  • At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting Posts with conflicting views:

    Special Thanks to Prof. Gottleib of Columbia University

    Feb. 8, 2006

    Understanding the outrage
    By Souheila al-Jadda

    The wave of anger in the Islamic world over the caricature depictions of the prophet Mohammed should not only be a debate about free speech, but also about respecting the values of other cultures and religions.

    In this latest cartoon caper, both Western newspapers and Muslim protesters have demonstrated their lack of consideration for the other, thus widening the gap of understanding between East and West.

    Many questions arise about the purpose of publishing these cartoons. What does the public gain by seeing a depiction of Mohammed on clouds, announcing that heaven has run out of virgins to reward suicide bombers? What is benefited by portraying the prophet with a bomb in his turban, looking like a terrorist? What public service has the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, provided by publishing these cartoons?

    The foreign editor of the paper, Jan Lund, said: "I don't remember anyone raising any objections. The idea seemed good. The intention was to provoke debate about the extent to which we self-censor in our coverage of Muslim issues."

    In defense of free expression

    While it is legitimate to raise questions about censorship, it is quite another thing to address the issue by defaming the most
    revered Muslim prophet in the name of press freedom. To understand the importance Islam places on Mohammed, one should consider that
    in the five daily prayers, Muslims mention him at least 38 times. One female protester told Al-Jazeera TV, "I love the prophet more
    than I love myself."

    Depicting Mohammed is generally prohibited in Islam. Portrayals, however, have and can be done in honorable ways. Persian Muslims,
    for many centuries, have illustrated the life of the prophet through miniature paintings. The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington has a frieze of Mohammed. But these depictions are done with dignity. What we saw in the European papers were blatantly disrespectful.

    Though free expression is a value cherished in the West, it is not a carte blanche to say anything. With speech comes responsibility. In the USA, there are limits. Some words can not be uttered on our
    radio air waves because they are deemed indecent. The government has the right to regulate speech that seeks to incite violence or endanger others.

    Respect for human dignity

    The press has also practiced self-restraint in favor of respecting human dignity as well as cultural and religious sensibilities. Images of dead American troops are almost never seen in the U.S.
    news media out of respect to the deceased and their families. Most mainstream press would think twice about publishing a blatantly racist cartoon that would offend ethnic, religious and other minorities.

    But these provocative cartoon portrayals came as no surprise to many in the Islamic world. Protesters see this as a pattern of Western attacks against Islam and Muslims - especially after reports of desecration of the Islamic holy book, the Quran, at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the banning of the headscarf, hijab, in public schools in France.

    Muslims are asking themselves, what's next?

    While Danish editors are free to publish such cartoons, Muslims are also free to express outrage. The republishing of the caricatures fueled even more anger because it was understood as a message from Europe that their protests, which are part and parcel of free expression, mean nothing.

    Nonetheless, the ransacking of embassies and churches as well as the targeting of European nationals by demonstrators must be strongly condemned. These acts only serve to reinforce the very stereotypes Muslims are protesting.

    Demonstrators would be better off using constructive forms of protest, perhaps buying newspaper ads explaining the religion and its prophet, spreading understanding rather than violence. European
    papers could spark a more intellectual debate rather than needlessly inflaming emotions.

    The Quran states, "Mankind! We created you from a pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other."

    We must look for ways to build the bridges between East and West - not break them down - so that some day we can truly begin to respect and know each other better.

    Souheila al-Jadda is a journalist and associate producer of a Peabody award-winning program, Mosaic: World News from the Middle East, on Link TV. She also is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors.

    February 9, 2006

    Drafting Hitler

    You want us to know how you feel. You in the Arab European League published a cartoon of Hitler in bed with Anne Frank so we in the West would understand how offended you were by those Danish cartoons. You at the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri are holding a Holocaust cartoon contest so we'll also know how you feel.

    Well, I saw the Hitler-Anne Frank cartoon: the two have just had sex and Hitler says to her, ''Write this one in your diary, Anne.'' But I still don't know how you feel. I still don't feel as if I should
    burn embassies or behead people or call on God or bin Laden to exterminate my foes. I still don't feel your rage. I don't feel
    threatened by a sophomoric cartoon, even one as tasteless as that one.

    At first I sympathized with your anger at the Danish cartoons because it's impolite to trample on other people's religious
    symbols. But as the rage spread and the issue grew more cosmic, many of us in the West were reminded of how vast the chasm is
    between you and us. There was more talk than ever about a clash of civilizations. We don't just have different ideas; we have a different relationship to ideas.

    We in the West were born into a world that reflects the legacy of Socrates and the agora. In our world, images, statistics and
    arguments swarm around from all directions. There are movies and blogs, books and sermons. There's the profound and the vulgar, the high and the low.

    In our world we spend our time sifting and measuring, throwing away the dumb and offensive, e-mailing the smart and the incisive. We aim, in Michael Oakeshott's words, to live amid the conversation --
    ''an endless unrehearsed intellectual adventure in which, in imagination, we enter a variety of modes of understanding the world and ourselves and are not disconcerted by the differences or
    dismayed by the inconclusiveness of it all.''

    We believe in progress and in personal growth. By swimming in this flurry of perspectives, by facing unpleasant facts, we try to come closer and closer to understanding.

    But you have a different way. When I say you, I don't mean you Muslims. I don't mean you genuine Islamic scholars and learners. I
    mean you Islamists. I mean you young men who were well educated in the West, but who have retreated in disgust from the inconclusiveness and chaos of our conversation. You've retreated from the agora into an exaggerated version of Muslim purity.

    You frame the contrast between your world and our world more bluntly than we outsiders would ever dare to. In London the protesters held signs reading ''Freedom Go to Hell,'' ''Exterminate Those Who Mock
    Islam,'' ''Be Prepared for the Real Holocaust'' and ''Europe You Will Pay, Your 9/11 Is on the Way.'' In Copenhagen, an imam
    declared, ''In the West, freedom of speech is sacred; to us, the prophet is sacred'' -- as if the two were necessarily opposed.

    Our mind-set is progressive and rational. Your mind-set is pre-Enlightenment and mythological. In your worldview, history
    doesn't move forward through gradual understanding. In your worldview, history is resolved during the apocalyptic conflict
    between the supernaturally pure jihadist and the supernaturally evil Jew.

    You seize on any shred -- even a months-old cartoon from an obscure Danish paper -- to prove to yourself that the Jew and the crusader are on the offensive, that the apocalyptic confrontation is at hand. You invent primitive stories -- like the one about Jews who kill children for their blood -- to reinforce your image of Jewish
    evil. You deny the Holocaust because if the Jews were as powerful as you say, they would never have allowed it to happen.

    In my world, people search for truth in their own diverse ways. In your world, the faithful and the infidel battle for survival, and words and ideas and cartoons are nothing more than weapons in that war.

    So, of course, what started in Denmark ended up for you with Hitler, the Holocaust and the Jew. But in your overreaction this past week, your defensiveness is showing. Democracy is coming to your region, and democracy brings the conversation. Mainstream leaders like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani are embracing democracy and
    denouncing your riots as ''misguided and oppressive.''

    You fundamentalists have turned yourselves into a superpower of dysfunction, demanding our attention week after week. But it is
    hard to intimidate people forever into silence, to bottle up the conversation, to lock the world into an epic war only you want. While I don't share your rage, I do understand your panic.


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