Friday, February 10, 2006

Voice of Reason

Slate's Reza Aslan has a modest, reasonable response to the caricatures of the prophet Mohammad that originally appeared in the Dutch paper Jyllands-Posten. He's extremely even-handed in attributing blame to the various nodes of this silly debacle.
[T]he sad irony is that the Muslims who have resorted to violence in response to this offense are merely reaffirming the stereotypes advanced by the cartoons. Likewise, the Europeans who point to the Muslim reaction as proof that, in the words of the popular Dutch blogger Mike Tidmus, "Islam probably has no place in Europe," have reaffirmed the stereotype of Europeans as aggressively anti-Islamic. It is this common attitude among Europeans that has led to the marginalization of Muslim communities there, which in turn has fed the isolationism and destructive behavior of European Muslims, which has then reinforced European prejudices against Islam. It is a Gordian knot that has become almost impossible to untangle.

And that is why as a Muslim American I am enraged by the publication of these cartoons. Not because they offend my prophet or my religion, but because they fly in the face of the tireless efforts of so many civic and religious leaders—both Muslim and non-Muslim—to promote unity and assimilation rather than hatred and discord; because they play into the hands of those who preach extremism; because they are fodder for the clash-of-civilizations mentality that pits East against West. For all of that I blame Jyllands-Posten. We in the West want Muslim leaders to condemn the racial and religious prejudices that are so widespread in the Muslim world. Let us lead by example.
Nevertheless, while I agree that Jyllands-Posten's original publication was in bad taste and hypocritical (the paper wouldn't print caricatures of Jesus), I do stand with the various papers that decided to reprint, as I have, the original cartoon in the face of violence and intimidation. While the religious try to paint secularism as a hollow and vain belief system, we who believe in the advance of the Enlightenment beg to differ. From the minute those original thinkers unraveled the chains established religion had shackled them in, humans have demanded their freedom at the pains of humiliation, censure, and death. To boil it down concisely, we believe in a saying of Thomas Paine, which we also will pay the ultimate price for if it comes to it, "My mind is my own church."

It is a church that's open to all if they so desire.