I pick up a magazine and there it is again, the Islamic cartoons by some idiot in Denmark hits me in the face, telling me it has stirred up enough anger around the world that we are not about to see the end of it any time soon. Amazing how the media can divert everyone’s attention. These days, the world is so preoccupied with the aftermath of the insulting Danish cartoons, the only other topics anyone seems to have time for are the winter Olympics and the upcoming Oscars! I said “aftermath”, but this seems to be way after, months after, almost a half a year after.
No doubt the Danish cartoonist is as overwhelmed as everyone else because when he took his sketchpad to draw something he considered “funny”, he couldn’t have seen this coming. Or maybe, like Salman Rushdie, he too is enjoying the sudden fame and the fact that his otherwise worthless cartoons are now estimated at millions. Does anyone stop to think who is the true loser in these games, name-callings and cheap insults? I’m reminded of an old Persian saying, “The best response for the idiot is silence.” When I was a child, my friends considered that phrase to be the coward’s way out, but the truth is, it did help me out of a few losing battles.
As I think more about it, a deep wisdom begins to surface from the old words, one that my young mind had failed to decipher. I’m no longer sure how much of the recent cartoon was intended as an insult and how much of it stemmed from pure ignorance. After all, one can’t overlook cultural differences. Those who burned the American flag, to this day fail to grasp the hurt they had caused; by the same token, people of another faith will never understand how sacred the image of Mohammad is to a true Muslim. Freedom being a given, people on this side of the world can’t fathom the hurt their crude remarks may cause those who live a more conventional lifestyle. Free to do and say as they please, it is inconceivable to most westerners that other people still respect certain limits, especially when it comes to religion.
On the other hand, Muslims in general, and those who feel so deeply hurt in particular, need to understand that perhaps the intentions of the idiot who came up with such cartoons weren’t as evil as it seems. They need to be reminded that he comes from a culture that allows, tolerates and even condones insults of the kind.
Last Christmas, an American friend forwarded a video clip to me over the Internet. In it, a young Jesus look-alike danced half naked while mouthing the words to I Will Survive, in Diana Ross’s voice. The distasteful offense made me so mad, I erased it before the clip had ended and I’m not even a Christian. The truth is, in the free world, especially when it comes to jokes, nothing and no one is considered sacred. I bet if the Danish cartoonist had sketched Jesus with a machine gun attacking Iraq, no one would even take notice, let alone provoke nations enough to declare war over it.
As I read article after article that voice out yet more anger and threaten to retaliate with other insulting cartoons, I wonder if we are not in fact glorifying the idiot. A darker thought further crosses my mind and the mere notion that this calamity could lead to further trouble, even more bloodshed around the world frightens me. Freedom is every man’s dream, but unfortunately, it seems to also go hand in hand with irresponsible journalism. As wonderful as it may be to imagine a world in peace, the media in its thrive on hot topics fails to do its fair share to contribute to that.
One would hope to learn from experience, but that too is a naïve notion. Just look at the way some of the previous Iranian “minorities” are treating the Muslims. Not only have they forgotten how excruciating it was to be discriminated against, their harsh criticism, if not brutal attacks, tell me they are settling an old score and enjoying it, too. Painful as it must have been to be insulted and infuriated as a religious minority in a Muslim country, suddenly it’s acceptable to disrespect one billion innocent Muslims around the world based on the wrongdoings of a few.
The Danish cartoonist will live to enjoy his undeserved fame and fortune, the Muslims will no doubt put this behind them and the world once again will forget the disturbance caused by it. But somewhere out there, another idiot is thinking of a plan to earn fame by attempting what will cause enough rage to make headline news. He depends on the media’s thirst for scandal and counts on every one of us to feed the fire that he plans to ignite. Indeed, that old phrase does have a deeper meaning and perhaps sometimes the best answer for an idiot comes through silence.