CAMBRIDGE, MA – The controversy over the publication of editorial cartoons that have sparked international protests will be the topic of discussion Feb. 21 at the Kennedy School of Government. "The Prophet Muhammed Cartoon Controversy" will begin at 6 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge.
• SHAHAB AHMED, assistant professor of Islamic studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
• JOCELYNE CESARI, visiting associate professor of Islamic studies, Harvard Divinity School; research associate, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University
• FATHER J. BRYAN HEHIR, Parker Gilbert Montgomery professor of the practice of religion and public life, Kennedy School of Government; secretary for social services and president of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston
• FREDERICK SCHAUER, Frank Stanton professor of the First Amendment, Kennedy School
• JOSEPH S. NYE, Jr. (moderator), university distinguished service professor and Sultan of Oman professor of international relations, Kennedy School
The panel discussion is co-sponsored by the following groups at the Kennedy School: Religion and Public Policy Leadership Council; Muslim Caucus; European Caucus; Middle East Caucus; and the Jewish Muslim Dialogue. The event is also co-sponsored by: Harvard's Alliance for Justice in the Middle East, Harvard's Society of Arab Students; Harvard Law School's Muslim Law Student Association; and the Harvard Islamic Society.
I didn't catch their names well when they were introduced, so my notes refer to them by representation. [moderator, Islamic Studies male, Islamic Studies female, Catholic, First Amendment]
One of the first questions the moderator posed was whether we were seeing a reaction against perceived injustices.
The Islamic Studies female talked about the history of illegitimacy and invisibility of Muslims in Europe and also about immigrant integration. She used the word "crisis" a lot.
There was a Muslim Conference at the end of December. I was unclear as to the connection.
The moderator said the cartoons had been out in public domain for some time ("public domain" seemed inaccurate phrase to me, copyright and all -- though hey, people *have* been reprinting them all over the place) and posed the question of whether the governments (of the Islamic countries) were manipulating the situation by making the issue a big deal *now* rather than back when they first came out.
The Islamic Studies male talked about the phrase "international community" as euphemism for international system.
The moderator commented that Europe has laws against homophobia etc., wouldn't publish cartoons mocking the blind for example.
The Catholic said he was going to take a Thomistic approach and emphasized prudence.
The moderator suggested that printing these incendiary cartoons was like unto crying "fire" in a crowded theater.
The moderator asked: what should be done?
The Islamic Studies female said people (on all sides) should avoid vast generalizations.
On that theme, the Islamic Studies male pointed out that there were a variety of reactions (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan). He also said it was devoutly to be wished that people would just get tired, that he really didn't see the current issue getting diffused by anything other than time.
At this point they opened it up for q&a from the audience. The moderator said that a question is short, ends with a question mark, and one per customer. "Fair warning, not censorship," he quipped.
One audience member said that we expect ... I forget quite how he phrased it, but basically that Christianity has been around for 2,000 years and is used to criticism and we expect it to deal with that rationally, so why don't we expect the same from Islam, positing that maybe it's because Islam has only been around for 13 centuries.
The moderator jokingly turned to the Catholic to weigh in on 13th Christianity, but it was the Islamic Studies male who really took up answering the question. He called him on the fact that he was basically saying that Islam needs 6 more centuries to sort itself out and also that he was starting from the assumption that Christianity has sorted itself out.
The Islamic Studies female said that the publication of these cartoons in Europe was clearly a provocation (given the all the underlying issues in Europe currently). I think this is the part where I started to feel like they were blaming the victim -- the victim in this case being those who chose to publish the cartoons.
One audience member mentioned apologies, and the First Amendment guy spoke on apology vs. condemnation, saying that the Prime Minister of Denmark could, for example, make an official statement saying that while he could not apologize for things other people had done, he did condemn the publication of these cartoons.
Audience members were asked to introduce themselves with name and affiliation before asking their question and one guy came up to the mic and before asking his question said, "My name is Richard, and I'm no one in particular," which I loved.
One audience member (wearing a "sparkly head scarf and tight jeans" -- her words) asked about the phrase "moderate Muslim."
One audience member talked about how it was the right-wing papers publishing them, positing that they do it to provoke and then get mad at the reaction. Given that I've seen the cartoons reprinted in respectable blogs I was a touch offended.
The Islamic Studies male said that: A "moderate Muslim" is someone who says what the discourse of power likes to hear.
All the panelists got to make closing remarks.
The Islamic Studies female said that questions to ask all religions are: what do they say about the Other, women, and respect for legality.
The Catholic said that Bill O'Reilly [who had been mentioned earlier] calls himself a Kennedy School graduate and a Catholic and "we failed him on both counts."
He talked about ethics as a mediator between religion and politics and commented that if we can reach a consensus on ethics that gives us a much better place to go from to try to reach agreements in discussions about religion and discussions about politics.
The First Amendment guy said we should remember how many media have chosen to not publish the cartoons. The Islamic Studies male had tossed out 10 million to 1 earlier as a guess as to the ratio of the Muslims not reacting violently to the publication of the cartoons, and he suggested that perhaps the ratio of media outlets that haven't published the cartons is similar.
He also suggested that next time we put together a panel of editors to talk about how they make decisions about what to print and what not to print.
The talk wasn't a complete waste -- I came away with some good ideas from it -- but on the whole it felt really lacking. Like, it felt too superficial. And yes in large part I mean the viewpoints/ideas I've seen represented in links my father has sent me were not represented. (But really, that's a legitimate concern, no? That we're having this panel discussion and no one is representing views other than the one that publishing these cartoons was A Bad Idea? We're just discussing the reactions and how to make things better?) Unfortunately, I hadn't done enough prior reading to have ideas organized enough in my head to actually ask questions when they opened up the floor.
So, tonight I finally finished writing up my notes from the talk, finished going through all the links my dad had sent me, and wrote up stuff on all of them.
There have been a number of articles (Slate, OpinionJournal) talking about Islamic law/tradition on depictions of Muhammad, and this is a really full archive of representations through the ages.
Eugene Volokh comments: "As I understand it, many Muslim critics of the cartoons are themselves distributing (and presumably reproducing) the cartoons, precisely because they believe it is important for Muslims to really understand what the controversy is about. Are they too committing blasphemy? Should they too face boycotts and protests?"
He also talks about how "when the 12 Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed were distributed in many Muslim countries, they were distributed alongside three other cartoons that were much more offensive," saying:
Now the first two cartoons, if they purport to be depictions of Mohammed, would presumably be at least as blasphemous as the original ones (if not more so). What's more, anyone who distributed them as the work of the Danish cartoonists, knowing that this wasn't so, is guilty of bearing false witness against others — potentially in a way that threatens others' lives. I take it that Islam takes a dim view of that.
Is there an attempt to bring this heinous blasphemer to Islamic justice? To punish him for his sins against Allah and his fellow man? If there is, please let me know about this.
I am amused that back at the end of January, InstaPundit wrote, "If Kanye West had balls, he'd pose as Mohammed, instead of Jesus. But he doesn't. Efforts to be controversial have become so predictable. Yawn."
InstaPundit posted links to various commentaries on newspapers refusing to publish the cartoons out of fear of violent retaliation. He also comments: "I also think that if the press is this scared of Islamic extremists, claims that Bush is manufacturing an artificial climate of fear regarding Islamic extremism ring rather hollow."
At the bottom of this post is an excerpt from Right Wing Sparkle which ends: "I don’t think offending their faith will bring them any closer to democracy and it especially won’t bring them any closer to understanding our faith and freedoms." That strikes me as a good argument.
InstaPundit links to another blogger who quotes a Washington Post Op-Ed: "But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy." The op-ed-er continues: "Nowhere do so many religions coexist peacefully as in a democracy where freedom of expression is a fundamental right." In contrast to the argument I mentioned above, the blogger argues: "publication of the cartoons helps our allies -- not our enemies -- by serving as a wake-up call." She quotes Fleming Rose from the Jyllands-Posten [the Danish paper that originally published the cartoons -- and recall that the whole purpose of their commissioning these cartoons originally was to accompany a piece about self-censorship]:
Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people's beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue -- in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV.
Christopher Hitchens argues: "As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. [...] Of course there are many millions of Muslims who do worry about this, and another reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There's an insult to Islam, if you like."
Virginia Postrel also says smart things.
And Tim Blair gives lots of examples of offensive Muslim commentary on other religions, commenting that, "All of this is far more hateful and moronic than those twelve Danish cartoons," and, "Far from being against hate-speech, many Muslim spokesmen seem to be aggressively for it."
P.S. Everyone was all over mocking "freedom fries," not even seeming to notice that it only effected the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria, but where is the attention to this, which seems to be in effect throughout an entire country?