THE BLOG
02/07/2006 01:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Where's the Islamic version of John Waters?

I've been wondering how the Danish 'cartoon crisis' might affect the relationship between Turkey and the EU regarding Turkey's possible accession to the EU in the future. Thinking about this seems rather funny to me since the blow-up is only over a series of satirical cartoons. Or is it? The 'crisis' itself, to me, isn't so much about the depictions of the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (there are plenty here at Google). Rather, it is about the real or false anger and frustration in the Middle East toward the West, as well as similar, yet different angers and frustrations among Muslims who live in Europe, many who are European citizens themselves, if not 'European' by race or religion. It is also about great cultural divides over what is and what isn't acceptable free expression.

In any event, I have to think a lot of this has been blown way out of proportion by the more fundamentalist elements within the Islamic faith, in Europe and outside of Europe. Yes, it probably wasn't helped along by these crude satires being reprinted widely across Europe. But even so, crude satires that they were, the right to create them should be defended. Imagine for a moment how such satires as Monty Python's The Life of Brian could be offensive to any number of staunch Christians. And how about the 'Piss Christ'? Ouch. Funny, crude, whatever you call it -- the right to create them is one of the fundamental rights of Western society.

Also imagine for a moment how crude satires of Jesus ... maybe as a pot-smoking hippie? ... could be seen as a threat to some Christians. Ah yes, there was a row about this in Greece in April last year, wasn't there? Here's a post from Moorishgirl on the subject. Now I'm not trying to single out Laila here, I think the world of her and am currently reading her very good book about Moroccans immigrants trying to get to Europe. But compare that last post about the trial of the man satirizing Jesus in Greece with this post from a few days ago about the cartoon shmartoon fiasco.

Now I agree with many of Laila's sentiments here, especially about leaving the cartoonist alone. But this isn't about the cartoonist anymore. I don't think it ever really was about the cartoonist. It's more about what can be satirized and what cannot, what are the limits (if there are) of free expression, and how those divisions are can be quite different between the more democratic secular Europe and the more traditional, faith-based and less democratic Middle East. The case of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses is a prime example. The case of Orhan Pamuk's now-dropped trial in Turkey, though for different matters (he wasn't satirizing, he was commenting in an interview outside of his country), is also an example of this divide. (Read more about this story in the Times Literary Supplement on Pamuk.)

In the cases of Rushdie and Pamuk, the former defames faith, the latter defames the state - both of these 'authorities' in one way or another. Satirizing authority, whether of the State or of the dominant Faith, usually doesn't draw as much notice in the West because protections of free expression have created an understanding that anything is fair game. Can you imagine a director comparable to John Waters in the Middle East? We can only hope they come along soon.

At Der Spiegel, author and Muslim dissident Ibn Warraq argues for standing tough for freedom of expression against the reactionary voices of fundamentalism.

The cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten raise the most important question of our times: freedom of expression. Are we in the west going to cave into pressure from societies with a medieval mindset, or are we going to defend our most precious freedom -- freedom of expression, a freedom for which thousands of people sacrificed their lives?

A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress; ossified, totalitarian and intolerant. Without this fundamental freedom, Islam will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality; originality and truth.

Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest. Do not apologize.

Here's the top story at Zaman, (from Saturday) focusing on the 'cartoon crisis' and their take on how Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has failed to temper concerns over the cartoon in the Muslim world, including Turkey (which I'd set out to write about in the first place...)

In Denmark, the origin of the "cartoon crisis", more than 70 ambassadors in capital Copenhagen came together Friday and met Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The prime minister preferred to elaborate their views on freedom of expression in stead of apologizing. The US Ambassador James Cain said they asked Mr. Rasmussen to act on common sense in order to ease the atmosphere. Egyptian Ambassador Mona Omar Attia told if the Danish newspaper apologizes publically, the rage will calm. "The ball is in Denmark's court right now," Egyptian ambassador said. No country in the world, the ambassador added, could say that they do not interfere in media. Turkish Ambassador to Copenhagen Mehmet Akat said Turkey does not want the tension to escalate and the meeting was held in a positive atmosphere.

After Rasmussen spoke at the meeting behind closed doors, ambassadors of nine countries expressed their views on the matter. The Danish Prime Minister said the only way to overcome this crisis is by dialogue and underlined an imminent problem with the reprints of the cartoons in different countries around the world. If the unrest and protests on streets continue, incidents will became unbearable. Thus, solving the crisis is for everyone's benefit.

Why does the Danish Prime Minister even need to be involved in this situation or apologize for this? What I don't understand is the fact that GOVERNMENTS have been drawn into this mess. They are not responsible for the actions of writers and artists working at independent newspapers within their countries. Since when did a few independent newspapers become equated with the governments in those countries? One has to wonder what kind of cultural or psychological barrier there is between these worlds. How do the limits imposed upon free expression in the Middle East and the fact that a lot of the press in that part of the world have been under government and/or religious control play into the reactions we are seeing?

The greatest irony of all this, the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, is that the satire, crude as it may be, has been lost on the very people it could influence the most. Who can deny that a large faction of Islam has been debased by a militancy tied inherently, and falsely, to that religion of over a billion people? A Danish cartoonist didn't create that, he just held up a mirror. Muslims who use Islam for political means to rally others of their faith to do violence have debased the image of the Prophet Mohammed more than any cartoonist ever will. I'd say the exact same thing about fundamentalist Christians who try to depict Jesus as a militant hero, coming to slay the unbelievers, and I have.

What the world needs is more free expression, not less.