Tuesday, February 07, 2006

There Is Something Rotten Outside the State of Denmark

Don't forget to check out the Über-Offensive Bonus Blog below!

Despite the fact that I am genuinely uninformed and generally underwhelmed by my own intellect, it is my duty as a writer to weigh in on the "Kartoon Kontroversy" involving the matter of offensive drawings involving Muhammad, Islam's sacred prophet, and the riots that these pictures have generated.

As with all blogs, there is a temptation to lecture you, "the reader," on the "evils of censorship" and "intolerance," or the spinelessness of Western governments in not condemning the subsequent violence after these cartoons were published (several months after the fact), and how, no matter how distasteful and disgusting the message might be (and, having viewed the cartoons, I can say they are offensive), we must stand up for freedom of expression, stand up for freedom, stand up for the right to speak freely without fear of retribution.

Been there, done that

But since I really don't believe in any of that liberal democracy crap, and because there is a special, protected tiny subset of Muslims (of which about 1 billion are no more violent than than your Auntie Liz or the bike messenger who almost ran me down a few mintues ago), a subset that condemns cartoons and not, say, crashing planes into office buildings or the killing fellow Muslims, or who apparently are patiently awaiting their turn as ruler so they can kill those who don't share their beliefs, not unlike many other religious groups, I'll move on.

Not that I'm cynical or anything like that. There are, after all, some hopeful and intelligent responses to the violence. Islamic clerics with common sense have condemned the violence -- you can be offended and protest and not trash buildings, burn flags, or kill anyone!

There will always be "crimes" against religious belief, but they're usually not worth rioting over. It's not like anybody is storming the Bastille over the upcoming musical (and I am not making this up) "Sidd", from Herman Hesse's novel "Siddhartha," although if Keanu Reeves reprises Siddhartha role from "Little Buddha" for the Broadway stage, you can bet I'll be leading the posse with a sawed-off shotgun.

As a writer, one immediately thinks of Salman Rushdie, whose life was turned upside down after "The Satanic Verses." Like the fatwa for trying to engender debate about Islam in his novel (or, like the supposed Koran-in-the-toilet scandal), we're seeing mullah-inspired rioting that regional politicians have no problem in encouraging, even if it means innocents are killed or Danish embassies are trashed.

That freedom-lovin' leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued Rushdie's death warrant because the book was "blasphemous against Islam." Riots ensued. Rushdie's Japanese translator was stabbed to death. Rushdie himself went into police protection. That he outlived the Ayatollah -- and wrote "The Moor's Last Sigh," one of my favorite books of the last decade -- is of little consolation.

But this whole Danish brouhaha really isn't about Muhammad or even Islam. Islam, like Christianity, Judiasm, Buddhism, etc., doesn't need protection from a buncha stupid cartoons, even if your local mullah or politician says your beliefs are under threat.

My not-very-original-thesis is that such disturbances aren't about protecting a religion or an idea, they're about people in power trying to stay in power.

These people who are inflaming violent protest aren't threatened by the cartoons -- they're empowered by them. Point out all the infidels, and how the infidels are defaming something sacred, and how you need to take to the streets, and, hopefully, nobody will notice that you're an incompetent, power-mad dictator or one in waiting. That you have nothing to offer the world except your rallying cry of hate.

Look at the fatwa on Rushdie -- it happened at a time when there were stirrings about the Ayatollah's grip on power. He was able to deflect the fact that Iranians were miserable, the stumblebums in power had ruined the economy, and was beating back dissidents.

This type of demogogery has gotten much play in the Middle East, where Israel and Jews are the evil of choice. But simply extend the practice to its logical conclusion, recall history, and you'll see plenty of bad, bad people who use this tactic, creating straw monsters to consolidate power. Think of Hitler and Jews. Mao and bourgeois intellectuals. The White House and those who dare oppose their views on terrorism (You're either for this administration, or you're supporting the terrorists; never mind all the bungling on Iraq, Katrina, Medicare, Where's Osama?, etc.).

And that's my ascerbic commentary for today.

As sala'amu alaikum.