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February 5, 2006
Empathy and the Muhammad cartoons
Our frequent contributor Rick Moran writes on his site Rightwing Nuthouse of the importance of empathy and his reservations about publication of the Muhammad cartoons.
Yes they do. Especially, the one showing the Prophet with the face of a pig and the one showing a Muslim bent over at prayer sodomized by a dog.
But of course, those are fakes, never published in the Jyllands Posten, and apparently fabricated by Muslims interested in creating hatred of the West. But almost nobody, certainly not the rioters and not the American antique media, shows any interest in finding out who created and distributed the really offensive images.
Rick does acknowledge that some Muslims are interested in stirring up trouble (and doesn't mention the fakes), but then says
Well, not exactly nothing. Death threats? Riots? Flag—burning (which Rick acknowledges causes him great pain)? All of these "somethings" preceded the republication of the cartoons.
I understand and sympathize with Rick's empathy. I also will offer Rick space to respond here.
But I am also convinced that we are facing not just "sensitivities" but an actual plan, carried out over four months, to exploit the original publication of the cartoons (which passed with relatively minor bruised feelings) for broader political purposes.
Thomas Lifson 4 05 06
Rick Moran responds:
Mr. Lifson makes several excellent points including an important one I left out — that three of the most offensive cartoons were indeed manufactured probably by Danish Imams. That said, I would really only take issue with two of his points.
Are we to judge all Muslims by those who threaten us? I'm sure Mr. Lifson would say no. And when I wrote that we were causing pain to Muslims, I was talking about the overwhelming majority of ordinary Muslims around the world who irrespective of where the cartoons originated, are distressed at their publication.
I was trying to draw a distinction between Muslims as an amorphous mass of co—religionists and Muslims as human beings. And it isn't just a matter of hurt feelings. When I tried to draw a parallel between how a Muslim felt about the cartoons and how I felt about watching our flag burn, I was trying to show that the psychic pain felt by a devout Muslim in violating one of Islam's most sacred laws — showing "graven images" of Mohammed and Allah — is something that we in the secular west cannot understand.
There is nothing in our culture that hasn't been parodied or satirized at one point or another. Therefore, we have no point of reference with which to relate to how a Muslim feels about this sacrilege. The nauseating anti—Christian "art" that has been displayed in recent years was deliberately hurtful to Christians. But we are used to the parodying of religion and even comical portrayals of God in our popular culture with films like Bruce Almighty and the Oh God! series. For a devout Muslim there would be no difference between the two — each would be equally offensive. And it must be terribly puzzling to ordinary Muslims why we in the west are congratulating ourselves by showing what we consider courage by republishing the offending cartoons. To them, it seems as if we are simply rubbing their noses into the dust. They miss the point of the free speech/free press argument entirely.
This is where empathy comes in. My father once told me that the difference between a gentleman and a lout was that a gentleman is always aware of other people's feelings and constantly strives to place himself in another's shoes and treat that person as he himself would want to be treated. Old fashioned wisdom from a man whose favorite saying was "Old things are best." But if empathy for another has gone out of style, what sort of world are we making?
Clearly there are other issues involved, not the least of which is that the violent reaction by a minority to the publishing of these caricatures has, as Mr. Lifson so perceptively pointed out, probably been planned by those who are using the devoutness of ordinary people as a weapon against the West. There is also the troubling realization that even ordinary Muslims can't see that the reason they can be so easily be manipulated is the total control their religious leaders have over their minds. I wrote this on Friday:
I guess my purpose in writing the post is that we can fight this kind of ignorance without offending millions of people. Yes, we should be all means stand up for free speech and freedom of the press. But not at the expense of human kindness and simple common decency.