I have been hearing a lot recently about Muslim sentiments and reactions to the Danish cartoons so much in the news these days. I want to add a little balance to the on-going anti-Western-cartoon tirade.
Firstly, a few of notes about the cartoons themselves. Most of the cartoons were fairly harmless and not particularly offensive. A couple were very good commentaries on current Islamic topics, things that should be open for discussion – like nikab (which the West just doesn't get). It must also be agreed that a couple of them were certainly in poor taste – but enough to kill anyone over?
Please note that the worst ones, which were peddled with the others around the Middle East in an effort to get anti-Western support, never appeared in any newspaper and were obviously gratuitously added to increase the flames. (As an additional comment, the depiction of Mohammed (PBUH) as a terrorist, for example, should not in my view be seen as an insult by main-stream Muslims – surely the terrorists blowing up school buses in Mohammed's name are the real insult to Islam, to which the cartoons really refer. But I guess we don't get to raise such questions…)
Secondly, in the so-called 'West', freedom of speech is a well established fact of life and widely practiced, without favour. Despite the Christian outcry, art exhibitions and movies, not to mention cartoons, often depict Christian topics in a poor taste manner, sometimes outright blasphemously (like the exhibition 'Piss Christ'). I am not a Christian, but have always disapproved of such behaviour – but where do you draw the line between freedom of speech and ideas, and totalitarianism?
On another note: no death threats or violent riots were evident from the Christian communities in these cases. Asking why not might be a good thing to do about now.
Also, I have seen a number of extremely nasty anti-Israel and anti-American cartoons in the Arabic press. Depicting Israelis as jackbooted Nazis is surely extremely insensitive, but the world takes it as a political satirical comment and the Israelis don't go and bomb something because of it (yes, they find other excuses, but that is not what we are talking about here). Why should the Muslim world be free from such outside comments but be free to make them? 'Double standard' comes to mind. A double standard backed up with the threat of extreme violence. (Should I start sweating for saying so?)
One of the 'outrageous' cartoons that the Muslim world is rioting about shows a cartoonist sweating, looking over his shoulder for the fundamentalist hit-man, as he draws his comment on some Muslim related topic. How come the death threats and the violent riots etc only ever happen when Muslims feel insulted, and why should the rest of us be afraid to make any comment in case there is a fatwa against our lives or our property is burned down? The idea that what is 'yours' is sacrosanct and what is 'ours' is open territory is the height of arrogance and cannot lead to meaningful interaction.
Sensitivity is absolutely required, I agree, especially in any matter of faith, and cartoonists everywhere should follow this (not just in Denmark). Pointing a gun at someone and demanding they comply to ones wishes is, however, in the long run not going to do anyone any good – and the message it gives is worse than any cartoon image.