Offensive Cartoons

You know, when I first started Quaequam Blog! 1.0, one of my objectives, such as I had them, was to tease out the intersections of politics and comics. Over the past two years I have to say I’ve found myself getting less interested in comics – I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find anything that has anything new to say. As such, my posts on the subject have slowed down to a trickle. But it would be remiss of me not to comment on the latest row over the Danish “Mohammed” cartoons.

My own view is that this episode highlights everything that is wrong with the collective mindset of Islam. As I commented on Will’s blog yesterday, who is committing the greater sin? The non-Muslim cartoonist who is reliant entirely on their imagination when picturing Mohammed? Or the Muslim who sees Mohammed in a jumble of lines and colours? Surely the devout response is to not recognise these cartoons as having anything to say?

Secondly, all these protests, all this outrage, is completely over the top. Far worse atrocities are committed on a daily basis by Muslims. I don’t need to hear Muslim voices condemning these – it goes without saying. I do however need to hear even greater outrage over, for instance, the kidnapping of Norman Kember from anyone who thinks a couple of pictures is worth burning a flag over.

But I won’t. The problem isn’t these cartoons. It is a set of values that places honour over and above liberty and mutual respect. The West has treated the Middle East appallingly over the past century or so. But the Middle East has treated itself far worse. More to the point, it is precisely this set of values that means that terrible mistakes like invading Iraq leads to suicide bombing. It isn’t just the invasion that should be condemned; it is the mindset that reacts by lashing out blindly.

I don’t believe there is anything inherent in Islam that is forcing this; Christianity was in a similar state 500 years ago and it still is in many parts of the US. But it does need to break free of these cultural restraints. Every time an idiot like Jack Straw indulges such crass sentimentalism, or the government gets carried away with Religious Hatred laws, we are only letting them off the hook. There are plenty of voices within Islam itself that despises this medievalism – we should be helping them not their opponents.

There is something wrong with our own culture that we seem to have internalised the moral lesson within the Emporer’s New Clothes and yet are incapable of applying that to other cultures. Cultural relativism does no-one any favours.


  1. Very well said.

    It is worth repeating that when westerners (the left, perhaps) make apologies for the lunatic fringe of Islam, they are taking sides in a debate that is internal to Islam – and they are siding with the authoritarian, misogynist and intolerant, and against the moderate and liberal.

  2. If we are talking about authoritarian and misogynist sooner or later I’m going to post something about burqas.

    The preamble to our constitution begins with

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community….. ” – which relates to the work you are doing with Reflecting Britain very nicely.

    “….and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” and I can’t think of anything that signfies enslavement to conformity than the burqa. . There are several reasons why wearing them is bad for society, and as liberal democrats (which small letters) as well as Lib Dems we need to consider our attitiude to them.

  3. It’s the radical Muslims that need to understand what we in the liberal West hold deer.
    Just as radical Christians need to temper their comments, the lunatic fringe of Muslims do not speak for the majority.

    We can live in peace and harmony. That is what I would like to hear advocates of the new Lib Dem cause “Reflecting Britain” say!

  4. Chris,

    Derailing this discussion a bit on the topic of the burqua. They may well be every bit as conformist as neo-goths here in teh Uk wearing black, but I presume that you don’t wear one. Neither do I. Why therefore do I need to take an attitude on what someone else is wearing?

    I thought James’ post summed up the important issues which relate to the fundamentalist Arab states in the middle east and their inevtiable knock-on effect on muslims here in the UK. Spreading the discussion to a religious-cultural form of dress just creates new problems – it doesn’t solve the ones that we have already.

  5. Peter, I think the burqa issue is a specific example of the medievalism that James is writing about in general. Also, I don’t consider it comparable to Goths or any other western style. But perhaps it’s best that I assemble my arguments into a proper posting in due course.

  6. For what its worth, I don’t see the burqa as an example of medievalism, although I can certainly see its potential for oppression.

    An item of clothing is just that. I’d rather not get sidetracked on the issue, to be honest!


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