There's all sorts of uproar among many Muslims about the cartoons of Mohammed that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September. It's supposedly against the Koran or a surah or some such to produce visual representations of the prophet. So for the paper to do was, again, supposedly a great affront and insult to Islam. In response, Muslim groups called for various sorts of retribution: apologies from the media and from governments, anti-discriminatory laws, a boycott of Danish goods, demonstrations, riots, and the ever-popular death of the infidels.
Several other European newspapers, in a show of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten and free speech, recently also published all or some of the 12 cartoons on their own pages. This has naturally been followed by an even greater outcry. So far, there have been demonstrations in the Gaza strip that closed the EU office (way to keep that funding you want, Hamas!), the editor of a French paper that published the cartoons got canned, there have been protests in Pakistan, the Turkish Prime Minister said the freedom of the press should have its limits, and a few prominent Muslim leaders residing in Europe have said, respectively, that "the war has begun," that "Friday be an international day of anger for God and his prophet" in which violence is anticipated, and that anybody to do with the cartoons should be killed.
So what's the big deal, you ask? What are these cartoons? Here are they are:
Brutal, right? You should also notice some irony. While the toon with the turban bomb has been getting most of the attention, also observe toons 8 and 11 (the chalkboard one and the one with orange falling on the guy's head). Both of those are criticizing the Danish newspaper for seeking to publish the cartoons. Then you go to toons 3 and 9 (the guy hiding his drawing and the one with Mohammed calling off his guards) and you'll see that they're a commentary on Muslims' potential reaction to the drawings, which was obviously warranted.
Thus far, no MSM outlets in America that I know of have dared publish the images or show them on TV. CNN.com's article, in fact, says that "CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons in respect for Islam." The other MSM folks have said pretty much the same thing. European papers have shown up for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but not those in America. Even a newspaper in Jordan published a few of the drawings and told Muslims to chill. And as MM points out, their excuse of respect for religion seems weak when none of the MSM outlets have had hesitations about showing pictures of Kanye West dressed up as Jesus, of the virgin Mary accessorized with an elephant turd, or of the world renowned "Christ in Piss" that featured a crucifix in a jar of urine. Were people upset at those things? Sure, but nobody, not even Pat Robertson in one of his loonier moments, called for the death of those who would insult Christianity. And the protests certainly didn't stop the images from being published, nor should they have done so.
So either the MSM are afraid or this is a case of tolerance gone wild. One should wonder why, with all the things that come out of the media that could fairly be called insulting to Christianity, that Christians don't have the same reaction as the Muslim world is having over these exceedingly mundane scribblings. The answer is multipart (and this list is hardly exhaustive). First, Christianity has had a reformation, something Islam is sorely in need of having.
Second, in the West, Christianity and the government are not the same entity. Once upon a time in Europe, displaying a crucifix in urine as an objet d'art would likely earn you an appointment with flaming lumber or with an inconveniently large stone pressing down on your chest. The separation of religion from government, though, meant that the Church, no matter how put out it was by a particular act of heresy, did not itself have the power to punish; that belonged to the secular authority.
Third, and perhaps most important, in the West, we believe in certain secular values that allow for effective pluralism and debate. Among them are freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Freedom from being insulted or from being miffed, however, is not among them. Thus, my right to say a religious belief is wrong or to violate a tenet I believe is false, e.g. that displaying a depiction of Mohammed is heresy, overrides somebody's perfectly non-existent "right" not to have that tenet violated. Similarly, though I think "Christ in Piss" is insulting to Christianity, the media's right to free speech overrides my non-existent â€œrightâ€ not to be insulted and so they can do display it. I may say that they shouldn't do so, but this is not a normative claim and it is merely another example of free speech. I certainly wouldn't threaten coercive measures to prevent it.
So this is a case of Middle-East meets West. Islamic values are again coming into conflict with Western values, something that is becoming increasingly common in Europe. The question is how will the West respond? Will it stick to its core values, or will it allow itself to be dictated to by a select group? One core value of the West is tolerance. This, however, merely means putting up with people with whom you disagree. Tolerance does not mean that I shouldn't post representations of Mohammed against Islamic strictures. Tolerance also means that the Muslims, in the West at least, should put up with people not of their faith who do not follow the strictures of their faith and so they should not advocate death for those who violate those strictures.
Two cultures enter and two may leave, but one will have to come out a little different. Either Muslims must conform to Western values of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and of tolerance, and they must give up their militancy at perceived slights, or the West must conform to the religious tenets of Islam and through self-censorship not do anything that could possibly insult Muslims.
The latter would be truly unfortunate. I have said before that nobody can ever defeat the West, the West can only defeat itself. We must remain convicted of the importance of our core values and not shy from controversy. If a subculture in the West advocates anti-Western ideals and that the West also take on those anti-Western ideals, then we must confront it. If one side must conform to the others' core values, then the subculture must conform to the West. If it's the other way around, then the West is lost.