Christopher Hitchens on the Danish cartoon imbroglio
Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.
Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.
I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find "offensive." (By the way, hasn't the word "offensive" become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs, and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object.
Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.
ADDENDUM: While I'm quoting others on this controversy, I found this take on the issue by Tom D'Antoni pretty amusing:
Newspapers across Europe have has enraged those so very highly enrageable Muslims by cartooning Allah and causing those feeling blasphemed upon to think themselves sent by their lampooned Deity on a mission to take a variety of revenges including the always popular embassy burning.
Can the other Gods be far behind?
And there are so many to have to watch out for: Jesus and Moses along with Zoroaster, whoever Wiccans worship, Satan, Celtic Gods, Polynesian Gods, Aztec, Hindu Gods, Goddesses of the Near-East Realm, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Pilipino Deities, Lusitani Gods, Scandinavian, Tibetan, Norse Gods, Apotheothenai (humans made Gods by other Gods), African, Native American, Inca, Egyptian, Mayan, Phoenician, Persian, Slavic, Greek, Roman-Etruscan Gods and Demi-Gods are all standing by and waiting to be pissed at you for making fun of them.
They’re more than happy to send their followers around to kick your ass. Or perhaps those followers have made up their minds on their own. Or even worse, thought that their particular God was speaking to them, Mr. President.
Best to make fun of Agunua the Serpent God of the Solomon Islands (and all this time I thought Solomon BURKE was the God of the Solomon Islands). All the other Salomon Island Gods are just one aspect of Agunua, so if you make a cartoon about Agunua, you’re taking on all the other SIG’s.
Taking on a God like Australia’s Daramulun is another thing, entirely. That boy is not only heroic, but is usually pictured with his mouth full of quartz (for some reason) and brandishing both a stone axe and a massive phallus. There’s a God you shouldn’t want to mess with.
One thing is certain; believers do not have a sense of humor.