The drawings -- one of which depicts the prophet wearing a turban-shaped bomb -- touched a raw nerve among Muslims. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.Hey, I'd gladly take idolatry over violent fanaticism.
Many people have either seen or heard of the Danish cartoon, but I suspect that most people (including myself, until yesterday) were unaware of what prompted that cartoon. The Chicago Sun-Times' John O'Sullivan wrote this Tuesday column, offering some pertinent background that hasn't been widely reported:
[The cartoon] was a serious and justified protest against the fact that danish artists had been frightened out of illustrating a children's book on Islam and Mohammed.Anyone who has read many of my posts knows that I am not a knee-jerk, America-is-always-right kind of guy. But I can't help but note the contrast here. America certainly has its mean-and-hateful crowd -- Falwell et al. But, in the 1980's, when controversy raged over Andres Serrano's depictions of a Christian icon in urine, it didn't lead to violence or even large-scale protests.
They feared for their lives -- and their fear was reasonable. In Holland last year the film-maker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a radical Islamist for his semi-pornographic film criticizing Islam as hostile to women.
... Nor were the Danish cartoons all as crude and pointless as some critics have alleged. One cartoon shows the Prophet with his turban evolving into a bomb. Insulting? Maybe. Blasphemous? Perhaps. Or maybe a perfectly fair comment on the arguments of radical Islamists that their religion justifies the murder of innocent bystanders ...
Three cartoons were more harsh and insulting than the rest. But these had not been published originally in (the Danish newspaper) Jyllands-Posten. They were added by the radical Islamists who distributed the cartoons around the Muslim world .... this trickery by radical Islamists at least demonstrates the uselessness of appeasing their demands for censorship.
The debate back then centered over whether such art was deserving of taxpayer funding. And whatever view you take, you have to admit that this kind of debate is far healthier than watching 5,000 Muslims in Pakistan chant, "Hang the man who insulted the prophet."
The concept of free speech and expression is yet another example of the huge gap between how the West thinks and lives and how much of Islam thinks and lives.