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13 February 2006

As the mother of a cartoonist who frequently posts cartoons in questionable taste, I have paid perhaps closer attention to the issue of the Danish cartoon making fun of the Prophet Mohammed than some.

I have heard some, to me, amazing things in discussion about this issue.

The first thing that made me sit up and say "HUH????" was on a KGO talk show, where an incensed woman called in to say how silly it was for Muslims to be upset about the cartoon.

"That's just how we are," she sputtered.  "It's no big deal.  Those people have to understand that."

(aside:  for "we" I am clumping the Western World into one lump, since, for once, it wasn't the Americans who caused this problem!)

My instant reaction was... uh.... aren't we under the same sort of expectation to understand the feelings of the Muslim world about how it feels to have the foundation of your religion held up to public mockery?   Don't we need to understand "How the Muslims are?"

I mean, it's all well and good to say that people in the Muslim world need to understand that "we didn't mean anything serious by it" and that they need to understand "how we are"....but what is our responsibility in the Western world about this?  Is anybody making an effort to truly understand why this whole issue is offensive to Muslims?

Next, I watched Oprah.  Some guy who was discussing the subject  and had he audience giggling about the funny comic about Mohammed then made a reference to some funny picture of Hitler in bed with Ann Frank.   There was an audible gasp from the audience.  Cut away shots to appalled faces in the audience.  No laughter now.  Genuine offense that someone would joke about Ann Frank being in bed with Hitler.

Not quite so funny when it hits us where we live, is it?

Later, I heard a Muslim being interviewed about that comment.  He said that the idea of Hitler in bed with Ann Frank was maybe a little offensive to people in the Western world, but it was nowhere near as offensive as making fun of Mohammed was to Muslims.

Which should, if we are open to it, put the whole Mohammed cartoon brouhaha in perspective for us.

Press and religious groups in several countries around the world are agreeing that it was wrong to make fun of the Prophet Mohammed.

In Singapore, the National Council of Churches said it "disapproves of any deed that is disrespectful of any religion or religious figures held sacred by any community."

It adds that it cannot be right, under any circumstances, to offend the sensitivity of any religious group.

At the same time, Council President Reverend Doctor John Chew urges those who have been offended by the cartoons, to react in peaceful ways.

A representative of the Muslim community in Ireland said: “We are not violent people and we do not call for an international day of violence. We are dignified people and we control our anger.

“We appeal to our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world to stop the violence in the name of Mohammed.”

Some seem to take a different tack, at least in some places.  One columnist wrote, "it is the essence of maintaining our very lives and independence to assert and defend our correct rights to self-expression. Should we foolishly and outlandishly bend to their triumphalism of droit du religion."

Several European countries are adding their own cartoons, in order to support the Danish right to publish them.

Die Welt, Berliner Zeitung, La Stampa, El Mundo, NRC Handelsblad and Corriere della Sera were among various European media who decided to publish the pictures, or create their own cartoons of Mohammed.

What we have here are two cultures, each with deeply engrained sentiments about the most sacred things in their culture, each upset that the other takes it so lightly.

That's what's wrong with this whole cultural divide.  Everyone is fighting for the things that are most precious to them, without bothering to take the time to actually think about or understand what is sacred to the other side, or to respect the sensibilities of the other side.  Heck, it's not just Al Qaeda or terrorists.  There were older women calling in to the talk show, expressing anguish about how their religious leader was portrayed.

What a better world this would be if, for example, we in the Western World could make a genuine effort to understand the Muslim culture enough to know how abhorrent those cartoons would be, and if those in the Muslim world could make a genuine effort understand, perhaps, why this happened and how there has to be a better way to get your point across without setting buildings on fire.



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One of Ned's cartoons

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