Archive for February, 2006

Cartoons and Icons

February 6, 2006

Hugh Hewitt makes note of the fact that sometimes we can do things that are within our rights, but are not smart. Such is the case with the current European controversy over newspapers publications of a series of cartoons that depict the founder of Islam in different forms.
No matter what your Christian practice- be it evangelical protestant (like me), Catholic, old-line mainstream denominations, or even what I consider to be off-shoot cults of Christianity that profess some allegiance to Christian scriptures, the Pauline epistles are part of your guide for life. And Saint Paul (don’t get him mixed up with this fellow) admonished us in 1 Corinthians 10: 23: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” The publication of cartoons that are likely to be insulting to many devout people is not “edifying” in any way.

That doesn’t meant that there is not a real inconsistency here. The reason that cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad are deemed to be wrong is that portraying his image is tantamount to blasphemy, and could lead to quasi-canonization and temptations to worship him in the same manner as the Catholic saints have spawned virtual iconic cults. The backstory to the “no image depictions” is that Muhammad is the founder to whom the final truth was revealed, but still a man, one of 22 veryial prophets (including Moses, Aesop, Jesus, etc.) who had particular honor of transmitting Allah’s words and instructions to earthly types.

In practice, this appears to be handled very differently. According to the prescribed mode of behavior, to avoid temptations to idolatry, Jesus, and any of the others on the list of 22, is to be treated as an equal to Muhammad. Yet, you get a strong impression to the contrary, because in standard discourse, a Muslim friend would not refer to the prophet without immediately adding “PBUH” (“Peace be unto him”) after reciting the name; I don’t see that done with other supposedly equivalent prophets. Here is an example in the title of an historical piece:

If there were ever a case where something is definitely and absolutely legal, and persons are well within their rights to do what they do, it is where papers publish illustrations as the Danish, Norwegian, and French newspapers have done. But, as much as we can point out the inconsistencies and our view of the double standards we believe we see regarding the usual handling of these issues, we have a lot of rights that we routinely surrender in favor of wisdom, or kindness. You don’t tell your wife that you hate the way she looks in her new jeans even though you might be right about the unflattering effect. And you have the absolute right to speak. Sometimes it is wise to find a different subject.