The Necessity of Open Criticism - Religion Included
The violent protests by Muslims around the world against the publishing of
cartoons depicting Muhammad are obviously about much more than that, on both
sides of the issue.
Undoubtedly the Muslims are outraged at more than just the cartoons, and the
point of the cartoons was about far more than just disparaging Muhammad or
The cartoons were commissioned because of violent intolerance by
Muslims shown towards people in the Danish region. With only 5% of the
population in Denmark, writers and reporters there live in fear of offending
Muslims even in the course of honest and correct reporting, because offences
against Islam can result is being killed, as has been demonstrated by two high
profile murders of people who criticized Islam from the area of Northern Europe.
The point of the cartoons was for the newspaper to prove that it was not
afraid to criticize Islam, as many in the area claimed that all of the press was
afraid of the Muslims. Indeed, the cartoons have proved there point, there
is something to fear from Muslims.
The issue, however, is not simply "making fun of" Muhammad. The exact same
fanatical intolerance and eagerness to resort to violence to silence criticism
of Islam that has been displayed in relation to these cartoons is also
responsible for facilitating many other abuses that take place in Islamic
culture. So-called "respect", the idea that certain people, ideas, or
institutions, should be beyond criticism is nothing more than a socially evolved
mechanism for the entrenchment of exploitive institutions of power.
Under the guise of "respect for Islam", women are raped, women are stoned to
death for having been raped, people are not allowed to in engage in scholarly
examination of Islam, women's genitals are mutilated in order to prevent them
from feeling sexual pleasure, thousands of people are sentenced to death every
year on flimsy charges and for offences such as blasphemy, young teens are
sentenced to death for minor crimes, and entire Islamic cultures are completely
stifled from freethinking and personal freedoms.
Yet, with all of this, many Western leaders, and almost of all of the
American mass media, has come to the defense of Islam.
Yes, American and European leaders and media outlets have come to the defense
of the taboos that are responsible for perhaps the single leading contributor to
human rights offences in the world today.
Many Muslims have claimed that the cartoons are hypocritical, because Western
society would not tolerate desecration of sacred Western images. They go further
to show their anti-Semitic obsession by saying that the biggest taboo in Western
society is criticism of "the Jews". We all know that there have been plenty of
desecrations of Jesus over the years in Western society, everything from
pictures of Jesus and Mary smeared with piss and dung to movies and plays that
make fun of him, and in no case have Westerners taken to the streets, burned
buildings, and killed people because of it. People don't live in fear of
offending religion in Western society anymore, at least not in fear for their
physical safety. There was a time when we did, that was called The Dark Ages and
later The Burning Times.
Iranians have claimed that cartoons lampooning the Holocaust should now be
printed to "prove" the equal treatment of freedom of the press. This only goes
to further show the hatred and lack of understanding of these Iranians. The
cartoons of Muhammad were a legitimate criticism of practices that take place
among some Muslims. There really are many Muslims around the world who use Islam
to legitimize violence, abusive treatment of women, and the silencing of critics.
The figure of Muhammad in the cartoons was used a figurative symbol for
Islamists who engage in these these bad practices, that we can look out in the
world every day and see taking place. The Holocaust, however, was a real event,
in which millions of people were killed in an attempt to exterminate an entire
group of people. Disparaging this event can bring nothing to the table, there is
no criticism to discuss. The fact is that the same Iranians who claim that
printing cartoons about the Holocaust would show equal "free speech" are known Holocaust deniers, who claim
that the Holocaust never happened and claim that Jews are making up lies to get
European sympathy and have an excuse to steal the land of Arabs. We know this
drill already. So these two different subjects are not equal, but nevertheless,
if people want to print cartoons "criticizing the Jews and the Holocaust" then
they can go ahead, we know that we won't see riots in the streets over it, but
we also much know that such an act is not equal to the valid points made by the
Several people in the press have mistakenly claimed that the lesson of The
Enlightenment was "tolerance", insinuating that we should be tolerance of
Islam's taboos, but this is completely false. The Enlightenment saw heavy
criticism of the Christian religion. The lesson of The Enlightenment was
TOLERANCE OF CRITICISM.
Tolerance is a two way street, and clearly Muslims, even the so-called
"moderate Muslims", do not know how to reciprocate tolerance and they don't know
how to tolerate criticism.
The mass media in America, however, has now decided to become a propaganda
outlet for Islam apparently. Virtually every single news report on the cartoon
images makes the claim that"Muslims are offended by images of Muhammad, which is
forbidden by Islam."
This is a flat out lie.
Doesn't anyone in the Western media actually investigate
anymore, or do they all just repeat what people tell them to say?
There is not one single thing in the Koran that says anything about images of
Muhammad. Islam has teachings against "idolatry". Idolatry is the worship of
"idols", or objects. In Islam there is a prohibition, not based on the Koran,
but on later Islamic thought and Sharia law, against any images of
people, animals, gods, spirits, etc. So, according to some Islamic teachings, just
about all media in the West is in violation of Islam. This is why in many mosques
they only have patterns, they don't have any images. Since Jesus is also
considered a prophet in Islam every image of Jesus is also a major offence
against Islam. Muslims consider having images of Jesus to be "idolatry", and
this is one of the things that classify Christians as "infidels". Not
all Muslims go by this rule however, in fact some mosques have images of
Muhammad painted on them.
There have been thousands of images of Muhammad made
by Muslims over the years anyway, in part because the teachings against images
of Muhammad are not universal in Islam and are not a part of the Koran.
Here is an Iranian website with many images of Muhammad:
Image of Muhammad on Iranian Mosque
Secondly, idolatry has to do with the worship of images. The only, I
repeat only, laws against making images in Islam are laws about
idolatry. They are laws designed to prevent people from worshiping images.
Clearly, the cartoons do not violate any idolatry laws. Interestingly, the fact
is that the only violation of Islamic law for making images of Muhammad is if
you make respectful images of Muhammad, because those are images
showing worship of Muhammad, and you aren't supposed to worship Muhammad, you
are only supposed to worship "the one true god, Allah".
So, the Western media, instead of using this as an opportunity to advance
understanding of Islam and to engage in honest reflection upon the situation,
have instead chosen to be spokesmen for intolerance, spokesmen for oppression,
spokesmen for the single largest groups of human rights violators in the world
today, and to give false credence to their false claims, and they have decided
to take the side of those who would use violence to silence dialog instead of
those who have proven the point that they set out to make, that Islam is
intolerant of criticism. The only laws in Islam against images of Muhammad are
Sharia law, the same laws in use right now that result in stoning women to death
if they were raped.
Great job American "free press", great job again at doing your work and
"investigating" the issues.
We have seen in recent times the importance of open criticism across the
board, and Islam is no exception. The case of the South Korean stem cell
scientist Hwang Woo-suk is an example of a situation where his students and lab
assistance were afraid to criticize his actions, resulting in ethical violations
and the publishing of false research papers and lying to the scientific
community. It was only when an American scientist had the fortitude to stand up
and criticize Hwang Woo-suk's work that the truth was known. The culture of
opposition to criticism is inevitably a culture that leads to corruption and
violation of rights, because "respect" is used as a weapon to silence honest
This same "respect card" was played in the America media again after the
Coretta Scott King funeral. During the funeral of this active opponent of war,
violence, and government infringement of civil liberties, several speakers gave
political messages about the very same things while in the presence of
President George Bush. The response from the conservatives has been that this
was "disrespectful" to "Mrs. King". In reality they mean that it was
disrespectful to George Bush, because it showed the greatest respect for Mrs.
King, I'm sure that she would have used the opportunity to spread her message of
non-violence and civil liberties herself if she could have.
But no, conservative commentators have said repeatedly that it was
"disrespectful", and that it was not "the time and place". Of course not, it's
never the "time and place" for open discussion as far as opponents of criticism
In the lead up to the war with Iraq we were told again and again that opposition
to the war was disrespectful to the president, and that it was not the "time and
place" for criticism, it was only time to "get behind the leader". Of course, as is often the
case, the critics were right and the administration was wrong. Basically nothing
that the President said turned out to be true, and what many of the critics said
turned out to be correct.
This issue of the cartoons is about much more than cartoons or even about
Muhammad and Islam, its about the issue of open inquiry and criticism.
Nothing can be above criticism, not religion, not the President, not
scientists, not anything. Respect can only be a two way street and can only come
from openness to criticism and tolerance of debate.
Critical perspectives on the Muhammad Cartoon controversy:
Everyone Is Afraid to Criticize Islam
Something Is Rotten Outside the State of Denmark