Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The "cartoon controversy" indeed leads to a slippery slope

I found a link from a Facebook friend to a new Wordpress blog by “Shortshrifts”, with a very challenging perspective, “Why I am Posting Images of Muhammad on ‘Everyone Draw Muhammed Day’”. The link is here.

Yes, there are two spellings in that title. But what’s more interesting is that this is looks like a first blog post for the author, who seems not identified.

But his argument is great. The kernel of what he says is this: “Part of being a mature adult is understanding that for better or worse, not everyone accepts your religious scruples—particularly rules that don’t involve one person actively harming another. In fact, such rules can often appear rather eccentric to outsiders. If you can’t understand this and choose to become aggressively “offended” or “radicalized” when outsiders disobey, then you are part of the problem and you need to grow up. It is not our job to keep you in an artifical infancy at the cost of our own free speech.” It sounds hard to rebut this argument.

"Taking easy offense" does get to an indivisible particle in the moral mindset of some religious thought. Some people don’t respect individual “freedom” because they see it as having come at someone else’s hidden expense. They see a world of virtue which works and provides stability and “meaning” only if everybody shares the same obligations and same risks, and identifies with the social and religious structure. If that universal “meaning” is required of everyone, then the commitments demanded of everyone “make sense”.

Western society has indeed decided to emphasize individual choice and the idea that consequences should follow choices, even if that isn’t always perfectly fair or doesn’t support someone’s scripturally defined paradigm of meaning. In the world of radical Islam, the idea that the concept of a particular prophet cannot be defiled adds to meaning, but so would the idea that everyone fits into the family according to prescribed gender roles. Even more subtle but revealing is that everyone owes emotional loyalty to his or her family and “tribe” and religious value set than to his ability to think for and figure out things for himself. This mindset needs absolute measuring sticks of morality and it needs its use of shame.

Shortshrifts is certainly right in that giving into bullies on this one thing (images of Muhammad) starts a slippery slope.  The need to write about giving into bullies "sometimes" certainly sounds compelling. I remember when growing up, a quandary over whether to ignore an offense and not give it credibility, or assume that it will get worse if I don’t “hit back”. That dichotomy seemed to follow the tension between functioning as an individual and functioning as a member of a group.

All religions have to deal with this problem.

Wikipedia has a detailed explanation of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, here.

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