Wednesday, February 08, 2006

UH 330 Media Review No. 2

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. The words “cartoon” and “comic” are not synonymous. Sure, it’s a nitpicky thing, but given the rise of adult-oriented cartoons and comics in the US, as well as the ever-increasing popularity of anime and manga, one would think the media could get such a simple distinction right. I suppose it shouldn’t be surpising, then, that the various media sources can’t get other things right, either. Just as the media goes around incorrectly calling the comics published depicting Mohammed “cartoons,” so do they go around implying that the protests about those comics are nearly universally violent and pervasive throughout the Islamic world. Sure, some of the protests have been violent. But the controversy isn’t truly about violence, nor, in many cases, is it about the abhorrence to Muslims of depcting the prophet Mohammed. It is a controversy about a troubling double standard, in which hypocrisy seems to reign among various publishers.

In France, a Muslim group sued to prevent the republication of the offensive comics. The French satirical paper, Charlie-Hebdo, published a new comic along with the old, featuring Mohammed lamenting that “[i]t’s hard to be loved by fools” (CNN. Perhaps in an attempt to defray any allegations of discrimination, Charlie-Hebdo even decided to publish comics that poke fun at Christianity and Judaism. (Incidentally, CNN, in an attempt to remain objective, refuses to publish the comics on their website.)

On the other side of the spectrum, AlterNet reports that Jyllands-Posten, the paper that started the whole controversy, had previously declined to publish comics poking fun at Christianity. The artist behind the comics mocking Jesus, Christoffer Zieler, noted that at the time they were rejected, the newspaper’s publisher claimed they were too offensive. Now, however, the publisher’s story has changed, claiming instead that he didn’t have the heart to tell Zieler that the comics were bad, and let him down easy by saying they were too controversial. Which is it? Were they actually that bad, or is the publisher too scared to face the heat for not publishing comics depicting Jesus when he went ahead and published comics depicting Mohammed? The same paper now is claiming that when the Iranian paper Hamshahri publishes comics making light of the Holocaust, it plans on reprinting them, presumably to show that it really can play with the big boys.
And then there is the question of how big this controversy really is. All the estimates put the protesters’ numbers in the “tens of thousands,” and Islam’s adherents at approximately 1.4 billion. Which means that those who are protesting really represent a maximum of 0.00007% of the Muslim population. And that doesn’t even take into account the number of protesters who have turned violent, which would be even smaller. So why the controversy? Yes, the comics were offensive. But why are the protests getting the air-time they are? That’s the million dollar question. Literally, perhaps. It’s easy to say that the comics are causing Muslims to be violent. It was easy to say that the Civil War was all about slavery, too. But a closer look reveals some startling things.

Sure, the comics are offensive. But perhaps the manner in which they were published, who published them, is the core issue. According to Mother Jones, a root issue is the capitalist countries that have been involved in the controversy. It is not merely that the comics are an affront to Islamic society, but that the very societies which condoned those comics are an affront. An acknowledgement of that simple fact is only the first step to healing, and certainly a better one than publishing more offensive comics, whether they be about Muslims, Christians, or Jews.

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