Mohammed Image Publication Condemned by US State Department. Does the U.S. have any idea what it is saying?
Earlier today, U.S. State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper condemned the publication of images of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed. Speaking for the Bush administration, Cooper reasoned that “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims. We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable…. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices.”
Let’s unpack that. First of all, the cartoons may indeed be “offensive to the belief of Muslims.” A number of cartoons are offensive to the belief of many people. Open the op-ed section of any American paper and you’ll see the demonization of peoples and beliefs of one sort or another almost every day. Does the U.S. State Department have a similar problem with American editorial cartoons?
Second, Cooper identifies as unacceptable “inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner.” To incite is to bring into being : induce to exist or occur (Merriam-Webster) or to cause to act (Wordnet). Is it really the position of the United States that the cartoons induced religious or ethnic hatreds, that they caused death threats, riots, kidnappings and invasions of embassies? This reminds me of what I used to say when caught in a fight as a kid: “He made me do it! He yelled at me! He called me a name! He made me do it!” The grown-ups in these situations reminded me that I was in full control of my own behavior, that I decided to react the way I did. Does the U.S. State Department really believe that the fundamentalist Muslims involved in death threats, riots, kidnappings and embassy invasions cannot control their own behavior, that they were induced by a cartoon to engage in these destructive behaviors?
Finally, the State Department declares: “We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices” as a way of saying that it’s not appropriate for a newspaper to publish a cartoon that offends Muslim beliefs and practices. Well, then. If it is being consistent, doesn’t the State Department position imply that it is inappropriate for newspapers to publish cartoons that offend Christian beliefs and practices? Well, that’s interesting. How about the religious beliefs and practices of those sects of Mormonism that still practice polygamy? Must those be tolerated and respected?
And what about my own religious beliefs and practices? I’m part of a community with a particular set of religious beliefs and practices. We’re variously called agnostics and secularists. We believe that anybody proclaiming to definitively know a universal standard for behavior, handed down from a deity, is probably full of bullshit. We work as hard as we can to practice an avoidance of the worship of religious texts and authority figures as infallible. Agnostics and secularists in the United States make up a larger community than the community of either Jews or Muslims here. Is the State Department going to condemn any lack of tolerance or respect for secularism or agnosticism?
… or is the State Department’s declaration conditional: we condemn the offending of religious sensibilities when those offended choose to become violent and threaten the lives and safety of other people in reaction? Because, you know, that’s what it looks like. And, gee, that would not only be a kind of weasely, counterproductive appeasement, but also an indication that there’s a problem with the very beliefs and standards of the religious community in question.
Oh, dear. Was that offensive of me to say?