I’ve been thinking about the Danish cartoon row during the course of reading today, and I find it a difficult problem to deal with. My automatic response is to side with the Danes and others who are protecting the ideal of freedom of speech. It seems outside all proportion to be threatening violence in response to political cartoons.
That said, I really can’t imagine a mindset from which the simple depiction of a figure in such a way could create such outrage. The satirical modification of various symbols and icons is part of the stock and trade of western media and art. While such depictions can sometimes exceed the bounds of good taste, it’s hard to imagine them creating genuine anger – at least among the relatively level headed. Because I can’t imagine such agitation being a legitimate response, it seems like a contrived or artificial over-inflation to me: a sub-conscious conclusion based upon my own assumptions rather than an understanding of the situation, from the perspective of many of those involved.
The biggest question raised is about the appropriate boundaries on religious tolerance. At what point can we legitimately call a belief that someone holds unacceptable, at least insofar as it isn’t allowable to act upon it. A religious duty to make human sacrifices, for instance, few people would object to curtailing. On a matter like this, where there is a genuine schism of values between different groups, it’s much more difficult to make that kind of a call.
To me, it seems as though mature ideologies – whether political, ethical, religious, or otherwise – need to be able to stand up to legitimate criticism. That’s perhaps the defining characteristic of their maturity. While it may be incredible patronizing to say that Islam needs to develop an internal dialogue about the direction it is to take in the future, it still seems to me that such is the case. I hasten to add that a similar dialogue is necessary on the part of other ideologies that serve as a source of normative directions about how to behave in the world. Just like we need to rethink nationalism (if not abolish it entirely), there must be self reflection and fairness within ideologies that expect respect from those outside of them.
All in all, it’s an area I feel particularly hesitant about. I would be especially interested to hear what people think.