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Cartoon discussion

An interesting discussion on February 7 about the Muhammed cartoon issue is available at the liberal website Democracy Now. The Angry Arab As'ad Abukhalil, author and professor of political science at California State University and Irshad Manji, author and Visiting Fellow at Yale University feature in this debate hosted by Amy Goodman. Transcript and audio/video are available HERE.

The segment features an excellent quote from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:
"We understood why many Muslims found the cartoons offensive. We found... we talked about the fact that we found the cartoons offensive. But we also spoke out very clearly in support of freedom of the press. As to what appears in newspaper and what is broadcast over the airwaves, those are decisions, in free countries, for free media."
As'ad Abukhalil begins with his assertion, which he has made repeatedly, that it is acceptable to mock religion, but in order to do so one must mock every religion. What isn't clear is how many religions one must include, as according to him must be done in order to be secular or to support enlightenment. Must the religion of say, ancient Aztecs and Mayas be included in order to mock Roman mythology? If one wanted to point out a fallacy or disagreement with Taoism, would one also have to include criticism of Scandinavian worship of Odin to make the point? Perhaps he means only Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Must Buddhism also be included to criticize any of these? This assertion is certainly very thin. He seems to support free speech concerning religion, but only under certain qualifying conditions.

As'ad also questions why Nazi propaganda isn't published today in the media. Besides not being newsworthy or having any relevance to anything today, maybe because it wouldn't interest the readers? Islam is in fact relevant to events today, as Islamic extremists are being fought against every day.

Irshad Manji points out that although she has written about the need for reform in Islam, it doesn't mean the other religions are problem free. But according to Abukhalil's theory, criticizing any religion requires criticizing all religions, although he wasn't specific about the number of religions which must be included.

Manji correctly points out that anti-Semitic programming is common in the Arab world, which the Muslims do not protest, and questions Abukhalil's idea that Islam is being singled out.

As'ad Abukhalil then amusingly launches into ad hominem arguments against Manji, but he is after all, the Angry Arab. Abukhalil affirms that although anti-Semitic items have appeared in the Arab media, these are the responsibility of the governments, and many of these governments are allies of the United States, implying that the U.S. shares some responsibility for anti-Semitic material in the Arab press. Does Abukhalil mean to imply that the U.S. has some sort of control over the state run media in the Arab world? Or is this just a red herring?

Abukhalil then refers to the big debate written in Arabic or Persian against the anti-Semitic material, which Manji may not be able to read. Does Abukhalil mean to imply that these writings somehow diminish the anti-Semitic material in the Arab press? Is he not aware of the plethora of writings in the US and Europe condemning the publication of the Muhammed cartoons? Why wouldn't this condemnation have the same diminishing affect on the Muhammed cartoons as the Persian and Arabic writing supposedly has on the anti-Semitic material? Double Standard?

Abukhalil makes an interesting point that depictions of Muhammed have been created in Islamic art throughout history. Then Abukhalil says,
"But you cannot, in the name of the freedom of speech, deny the Muslims and Arabs the right to be outraged about something that offends them."
I wonder who supposedly denied Muslims the right to freely express outrage at the Muhammed cartoons?

Abukhalil then implies that in the media, for example, comedians, do not mock other religions. He could not be more incorrect. Does he ever watch western stand-up comics? There is no shortage of mockery for Christians and Jews alike.

Manji draws a comparison, pointing out that FOX News showed some of the anti-Jewish cartoons which appeared in Arabic media, and that Jews aren't going to storm the FOX News offices or threaten the deaths of journalists or people with American passports.

Manji makes a good point that anyone denying that Muslims have a problem containing their violence is clearly living in the world of theory and not in the world of reality. The conventional wisdom of this statement is unmistakable. And it seems those who want to defend the attacks on embassies and threats of death or terrorism must create theories to explain why this is acceptable. The reality of the situation today is painfully obvious. How can denying the realities help in any way to find solutions?

When asked if he thinks that what is happening today because of the cartoons is an overreaction, Abukhalil says it is not up to him to decide, yet he states again that he feels there is some sort of hypocrisy and inconsistency, which suggests that he may feel the riots and attacks are justified. Abukhalil obviously means that the hypocrisy or inconsistency refers to the 12 Muhammed cartoons which have only recently appeared, and not the abundance of other offensive material which has appeared for decades, especially in the Arab press.

Abukhalil again mentions the Arabs and Muslims who speak out against anti-Semitism in the Arabic press, as if to offer some sort of defense. "Where are the protests, where are the ordinary people pouring into the streets," Manji asks, again pointing out the obvious.

Abukhalil claims that Manji criticizes Islam although she is not trained in Islam. But according to Abukhalil's own theory, in order to criticize any religion one would have to criticize them all. Would this mean that one would have to be trained in all religions then, if one cannot criticize without being extensively trained? If to criticize any religion one must criticize them all, and to speak about any religion one must be a specially trained expert, exactly how many religions must one be expertly trained in order to talk about any of them? The theory becomes even more complicated and less practical. Fortunately (or unfortunately) in most free countries free speech is not limited only to those who are qualified.

And why is it suggested that Manji is not qualified in Islam, when she claims to be a Muslim and has authored the book "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith"? Apparently more of Abukhalil's ad hominem.

Abukhalil completely overlooks condemnation that has been published about the Muhammed cartoons, because this condemnation does not have the same cleansing effect he attributes the Arabic condemnation.

To be fair, it should be noted that in Europe and America more people support the publishing of the Muhammed cartoons than oppose it. Just as in the Arab world, support or indifference to the anti-Semitic material will certainly surpass the condemnation of it.

Manji asks a question which Abukhalil dances around and cannot answer,
"Where are the ordinary Muslims in the Islamic world pouring into the streets to demonstrate against Saudi Arabia's policy to prevent Jews and Christians from stepping on the soil of Mecca, merely because they are Jews and Christians? Tell me! Where are those protests? Answer!"
Irshad Manji is incredibly articulate and keenly intelligent. Abukhalil is also intelligent, and presents compelling arguments. Even if some of the arguments seem flawed, they present ideas which stimulate consideration and debate.

Abukhalil makes a very insightful observation:
"I totally believe that these demonstrations have been instigated and have been set off by the Arab governments and Muslim governments themselves. These are corrupt bankrupt governments that are very much aware of the anger of their people about Israel and about U.S. foreign policy in the region and about wars"
Abukhalil identifies that there is "hypocrisy going on now from many different places on this very issue," which is a very good point.

The debate veers into the Palestinian issue which is fascinating and should be viewed/read.

Irshad Manji makes an excellent point:
" What “Mr. Angry Arab” there doesn’t seem to appreciate or care to acknowledge is that in the past 100 years alone, more Muslims have been tortured, imprisoned, raped, maimed and murdered at the hands of other Muslims than at the hands of any foreign imperial power. This is not to deny Western colonialism, not at all. It is to point out that colonialism comes in many shades and many colors, and if we're going to have integrity as human rights advocates, then we also have to stand up on that front, and that's what he seems to be forgetting."

And As'ad Abukhalil makes an excellent point:
"But it seems to me, we should insist on the principle of freedom of speech and the right to offend people's beliefs and values"

As'ad then offers some qualifiers, perhaps because he is struggling to intellectualize the argument in his racial terms, but I think As'ad appreciates and understands freedom.


Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Totally agree. I wrote the same arguments on my blog a couple of days ago.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your point of view and some of your assessments, but, in all fairness, this post is well written and offers a valuable contribution.