Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Weighin' in on the cartoon debacle

I know y'all have been waiting to hear what I have to say on this. To be perfectly clear, I am completely against the physical and explosive violence toward Denmark that has been displayed around the world. I'm also muhejebah, I cover my hair and dress modestly outside my house. I am in no way oppressed, but you wouldn't know that by seeing me through Western stereotypes. But what's new?

I keep running up on the question of the violence against Danes and Danish property as reaction to the cartoons published back in September and again last month. One of adult ESL students is the sole television journalist for a European station. He's stationed with the Washington bureau; and so along with the perks of teaching him and his wife about pop culture (think why black women have straight hair, hip hop, and southern accents and expressions) I, as a muslim woman but also his teacher, faced his very journalistic questions.

Many of us Muslims will hear the questions. So first, to those of us who are bothered by society's monolithic view of Muslims and Islam: Get Over It. I learned a long time ago as a Christian Black child that what I do represents the race in so many ways. That meant if I acted up and vandalized places and treated people with disrespect, some person who didn't know that all people, Black people included, are different, would say, "Look! See! No wonder those people don't have anything. They're uneducated , rude, ignorant, and undeserving." Say what you like. As part of the generation raised by those who fought the Civil Rights revolution, I know that eyes are on me. I will be questioned, fairly or not I will be held as part of the actions of my brethren. Get over it. Tis life in the U S of A. I can distance myself, but the greater good is to educate someone else while I'm doing so. It's like the whole taliban thing. Or being asked why my husband makes me cover my hair (I'm neither married nor a muslim from birth, so that takes work to correct!). I know it'll happen. And move on.

Next: "Why is everyone freaking out? It's just some pictures of this prophet guy."
astaghfir'Ullah Al Aziz.
I had to keep in mind that this particular student is really more agnostic than secular Christian, is European, and thus is just ignorant to the point of view that's sparking such protest.
Many many people can and have explained this better than I, including Umm Z and the morning commentator who was on ABC yesterday at 4AM. If you are Christian, and you hear a fuss about a prophet, you may not understand how big a deal this is because you're making the wrong analogy. In terms of reverence, what Muslims are commanded and believe is a lot closer to what today's western Christians think of as Jesus Christ (may he be granted peace) himself, and not the pope or any other contemporary figure. Yes. Yes. This is true. Since Islam has been established there has been agreement within the religion (and that, my friends, is hard and almost an oxymoron in itself unfortunately) that there are to be no images of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him. None. No stained glass windows in masajid with images of the Prophet, no icons in your art history books. Only if you understand this do you know that just putting the pen to paper with the intention of drawing this man, however benign, was apt to land somebody in some hot water regardless.

But then they took it a step further?! God help them.

"What about the freedom of expression?"
Secondly, as has been said again, the cartoons drawn are not just representations of a god-touched but still human man. To the contrary: they are being used to represent an entire religion as violent, ignorant, and unworthy of respect. And THAT is why I know every Muslim who saw this will react- inwardly, calmly or violently, but a true reaction nonetheless- to the disrespect implied. That the editors and others of a similar opinion would hide behind freedom of expression is not only despicable but irresponsible, and unworthy of the profession of journalism in our times.
You see, freedom of expression comes with the responsibility to use it properly. That's why libel is against the law. And it's why censorship is definitely applied in the editor's offices across the world. Some things you just don't say. As Mama says, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should. You can say anything. But how you say it is what really counts." Give me a break. Hiding behind the skirts of freedom of expression doesn't exempt you from using good judgment.

And all this was about the religion of Muslims. In the west we have to remember that life isn't all fun and games in the majority of the world where Islam is practiced. It's hard. Men and women work, they come home, they may or may not have television, but they certainly don't have the magnitude of media and diversions available here. You live for work and religion. Want to tick somebody off? Belittle one of the two. Want to make your life really hard? Make fun of the one uplifting example so many people have, take it and sully it as if it means nothing, when it's the most sacred thing there is. Hello!! Were you trying to bait someone? I truly believe that the editors in question were aiming for such an explosive response. No one who publishes daily journalism can be that ignorant. They knew what they were doing.

Dr. H. Hassaballa on the danish cartoon escandalo says it better than I can:
"Now, this is total speculation on my part, but I believe in my heart of hearts that the publishers of these cartoons think that Muslims are nothing but a bunch of barbarians. To prove it, they intentionally published offensive and provocative cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a horrible manner so that Muslims will threaten innocent Europeans, shoot guns in the air, and burn Danish flags. And you know what? Muslims, by and large, took the bait and ended up looking like barbarians. Isn't that a stupid thing to do? I think so. Don't you think so?"

I'm disappointed in my people. We took the bait- not of the danish and french and german editors. No. This was the bait of asshaitan, to pull Muslims away from the right path and into committing wrong against others who HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS ISSUE.

Going back to my southern Black roots, I'm all about a boycott. I've heard opinions against that, most lucidly AbuSinan's argument that a boycott hits unsuspecting and unrelevant Danes where it hurts. But having that tradition in my cultural heritage, I know it works, I know how to do it, and it is a form of disapproval that will be heard without my physical striking of any blow. Please believe that even now the government of Denmark is straining to control the economic effects of one editor's stupidity, because in the end, it's going to hurt a lot more than the preservation of his particular freedom of expression warranted.

Or, as my aunt likes to say, "Economics ain't nothin' but a war. You tryin' to keep your money, and the other side tryin' to get you to let hold of it."

Watch me hold my money til' Lincoln hollers. That, I can easily do in solidarity, within my conscience as a Muslim. So I'll miss those exquisite butter cookies- but for the sake of the Prophet, I think that's fair.


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