Peace Be Upon Him. The Grand Poobah. The Grand PBUH.
In our first draft of an Op-Ed regarding the cartoon controversy, we actually discussed whether if we referred to Mohammed (PBUH) we actually had to include the PBUH. After all, we weren't Muslims. But we would be writing to a Muslim audience. In the end, we punted and decided not to mention Mohammed (PB… – oh forget it) by name.
Enough time has passed that it has become time for Rashid the Political Officer to comment on the cartoon controversy. Protests in Pakistan were particularly well-attended and fairly violent. The Danish Ambassador skedaddled out of Dodge, citing threats to his Mission. Finally, in the English newspapers the voices of moderate Islam deplored the self-destructive impulses and actions that Pakistani protesters (and by implication protestors in other countries) displayed. Clearly, some people are happy just to destroy property and loot for personal gain. By the time I left Islamabad, there still wasn't much recognition that the protests have been themsleves hijacked by the religious parties for (surprise, surprise) political gain.
An article in a recent New Yorker pointed out that depictions of the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) are not forbidden in the Koran.
It's also nice to remind ourselves (myself) that in the U.S., this issue is so been there, done that. Interesting how few protests, if any, have taken place on this side of the Atlantic. Not for a lack of Muslims, or to take away from the offensive nature of the cartoons to American audiences, but people probably know that there's very little traction here for protesting and calling for the death of people who express their views. Plus, this is seen quite happily by some as a European problem, at least this time around, except that many protestors are chanting "Death to America!" in the same breath that they condemn the Danes.
But hate speech, and this is what some of these cartoons drift perilously toward, does exist, and does have an effect on its intended audience. It doesn't bother me if there's enhanced punishment for hate crimes. It sucks to be called a name because of where you come from. It eats away at your self-worth, and it's a power tool. Those aren't particularly scholarly opinions, but I have read those as well and would refer anyone to articles on the topic. Hate speech is probably the single biggest reason I never joined the ACLU, aside from Gerald Weber, who was the head of the Georgia ACLU office when I wanted to work there. I liked that Gerry wore a black leather jacket. I didn't like that he was arrogant as all get out. Had I gotten a job in his office we would always have been trying to outdo each other in which of us knew more about or could remember lyrics from obscure indie band songs. I didn't come close to getting a job there. He probably knew more about music too. I can admit it.
Europe, and in particular, Scandinavia should have seen the Muslim and immigration issues coming. The integration that these countries tries to promote hasn't been happening. It's not that the programs aren't there, it's that it's easier not to have to learn Dutch, or Swedish, because it's hard enough moving to another country in the first place. But really, people should take advantage of the opportunities they have when they move to a new country. They really do exist. I used to tell clients from Latin America that the best thing they could do for themselves was learn English and make sure their kids learned it too.
So what to do about the cartoons? Point out that history began a long time ago. Muslims have been depicting Mohammed for centuries (see Persian art). The wheel has just cycled around to fundamentilist interpretation in this age, and we have to handle it.