The Cartoon Controversy

Recently, the Washington Post decided it was too afraid to run a “Non-Sequitir” cartoon displaying a book titled, “Where’s Muhammad?” The caption read: “Picture book title voted least likely to ever find a publisher.” Wiley Miller, the artist, remarked that the Post, a newspaper that “took on Nixon … runs in fear of this tame cartoon, thus validating the accuracy of the satire.”

Five years ago, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a group of cartoons pictorially depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammad. This is forbidden in the Islamic faith, and a portion of the Muslim community made sure the entire world knew by rioting, destroying embassies and threatening war against the Western nations they lived in — so-called “disrespectful” infidels, Jews and Christians. As a result, Western media threw itself at the feet of these irate Muslims. So began the Western media witch hunt; any depiction, any utterance, any reference to the picture or name of Mohammad was swiftly deemed taboo for fear of offending some of our Middle Eastern neighbors. Meanwhile, articles and cartoons criticizing, making fun of and outright insulting the Catholic church continued to run rampant in our newspapers. The entire ordeal brought to light an embarrassing truth about the Western world; we’re all about the freedom of speech … unless enough people get pissed off, in which case we will fold like paper patriots.

Five years after the fact, nothing has changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse. Publishing companies by-and-large flat out refuse to publish anything that contains pictures of Mohammad; any that initially accept are cowed, intimidated and threatened by Muslim radicals until they relent.
Earlier this year, Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was physically attacked during a lecture in which he portrayed pictures of the prophet Muhammad; campus police had to detain his attackers as a portion of the room effectively shut down the event. Islamic sheikhs and Muslim governments and organizations have placed bounties that number into millions of dollars on the heads of cartoonists, such as Vilks, who draw the Islamic prophet. Time and again, Muslim-dominated countries have tried to introduce what they call a “Resolution to Combat Defamation of Religion” into the UN, an international law that would technically ban criticism of any religion, but the only one of which specifically cited is Islam. Quite ironically, many Muslim countries still spawn a plethora of anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-European, anti-Western and anti-Hindu cartoons on a daily basis. But the Western world doesn’t get upset over that. No, that would be childish. We believe in everyone’s freedom of speech – but we’ve lost the spine to stand up for our own.

What’s happened to us? Have we forgotten the hundreds of years, the multiple wars, the oceans of blood spilled that it took to gain the freedoms we take for granted today?

The cartoons controversy has unveiled an unsettling element of hypocrisy and cowardice within the Western system of values. We’re willing to trumpet our precious freedom of speech and flaunt how hard we’ve worked to obtain it – but when push comes to shove, we shrink back, kiss the toes of our aggressor and go to great lengths to appease him.

Countless politicians have taken beatings in the press and on the drawing desks of cartoonists. So have the Catholic church, the American government and numerous public figures. But not until 2005 had we seen any group of people riot because something they hold dear was made fun of in the media. So now the world knows that in Islam, it’s forbidden to draw the prophet Muhammad. That’s fine. In fact, it’s safe to say that just about anyone who has ever drawn the prophet Mohammad wasn’t a Muslim. A religion’s doctrines do not extend outside of the religion to people who are not members.

Just like a certain Muslim group at UCI creates a bad rap for the entirety of UCI’s Muslim student population, the worst of all of this is that, yet again, a small group of Muslim radicals are embarrassing the peaceful majority who keep to themselves. The media these days is bloated with accusations against people they feel they have the knowledge to deem “Islamophobes,” such as O’Reilly and Juan Williams. Perhaps some of these people are indeed Islamophobic (not the aforementioned, though), but one has to consider how that bigotry started. All the violence and death Muslim radicals threaten and bring upon their peers over something as piddling as a cartoon makes a lot more noise and nonsense than the Muslims who live their own lives and don’t bother anyone. For many people, that’s the only Islamic noise they hear.

The cartoons controversy has revealed another disconcerting fact about the relationship between the Western world and radical Islam; it’s just not going to work out. There is plenty of hope for the Islam that assimilates into its host country, intermingles with its peers and engages in a give-and-take exchange of culture and values. But for the Islam that burns down its local embassy whenever a person of that nationality utters something that can at best only be construed as offensive to Islam, there is no hope. Freedom of speech, as hypocritical as we’ve turned out to be about it, is still a value implicit in the West. Radical Islam has made it abundantly clear time and again that it will not stand for a freedom that runs even the mere risk of allowing people to criticize or make fun of it, or even just draw its prophet. It’s time to do away with the delusion that we can get along with an Islam that has exemplified its nature as the photo negative of our Western values. We should instead focus on befriending the Islam that is willing to not only teach us about its values but accept ours as well, and, more importantly, is willing to befriend us back without a laundry list of concessions and humiliating subjugations as a precondition. After all, that’s not how friends treat each other.


AE Anteater is a fifth-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.