Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why Islamists are up in arms against cartoons

As the shock after the Jan. 7 murder of 17 human beings in Paris because of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad gradually subsides, some people discuss why cartoons are so effective in stirring the anger of Islamists.

We can remember what Kenneth Clarke wrote in his Civilisation: The "aggressive, nomadic cultures of Israel, Islam and the Protestant North" (called by H. G. Wells "communities of the Will") "produced very little religious imagery, and in most cases positively forbade it." There is indeed a taboo in Islam on creating images of humans, especially Muhammad, and even of animals. I don't know the original source of this taboo, but it is taken seriously by too many. Recently, a Saudi cleric even issued a fatwa against snowmen.

Islamists, however, have an additional reason to be up in arms against cartoon representation of their Prophet: such pictures could sow the seeds of doubt and dissent in the rank-and-file Muslims who are likely to overlook more sophisticated argumentation against the tenets of their faith.

Back in 2006, during the first Muhammad cartoon crisis, Wesley Pruden made an interesting comparison:

'Boss Tweed, who presided over New York in the 19th (century)... suffered boils and warts at the hand of the great newspaper cartoonist, Thomas Nast. "Stop them damn pictures," the old Tammany tiger told his hit men. "I don't care what the papers write about me. My constituents can't read. But they can see the pictures."'

In that conflict, cartoonist Thomas Nast won. Boss Tweed was convicted and died in jail.

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