This morning while waiting for a meeting, I sat down and read the International Herald Trib. What immediately grabbed my attention was the article from Dan Bilefsky reporting from Paris about the furor caused by a series of 12 cartoons - depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad in different contexts - that the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, had published at the end of October.
In the IHT article, they quote the cultural editor of Jylland-Posten, Flemming Rose:
”This is a far bigger story than just the question of 12 cartoons in a small Danish newspaper. This is a question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society. How much does an immigrant have to give up, and how much does the receiving culture have to compromise?”
The article also said that other European media also published the cartoons and brought the story to their public. They quoted the French newspaper, France Noir, as saying that they had also published the cartoons ”…because they constitute the subject of controversy on a global scale, which has done nothing to maintain balance and mutual limits in democracy, respect of religious beliefs, and freedom of expression. No religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society”
This triggered my curiosity about value conflicts, so when I returned to the studio, I began an investigation to see if I could follow what had happened.
First, I found the cartoons in the Brussels Journal from 22 January 2006. Apparently, according to Islam religion, it is blasphemous for Muslims to make images of their prophet Muhammad. Because of this, Muslim fundamentalists threatened to bomb the Danish newspaper’s offices and kill the cartoonists.
In an editorial published 30 January 2006 by Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten wrote:
“In our opinion the 12 cartoons were moderate and not intended to be insulting. They did not go against Danish laws, but have evidently offended many Muslims, for which we apologize. Meanwhile a couple of offending cartoons have circulated in the Muslim world which were never published in Jyllands-Posten and which we would never have published if they had been offered to us. We would have dismissed them on the grounds that they breached our ethical limits.”
According to one of our local Amsterdam newspapers, De Volkskrant, Dutch cartoonists admitted last week that they do not dare to depict Muhammad out of fear for violent retaliations. Considering the escalating violence in our country right now and the percentage of active and radicalized Islamic extremists here, I can imagine that this self-imposed censorship is simply protective behavior. After all, The Netherlands runs on risk aversion.
Even so, there is a Muhammad Image Archive and even a comic book online and available for anyone to access.
What bothers me about this story is how can we resolve conflicts at the core cultural value level? In our westernized society, we believe so strongly in freedom of expression with equal treatment for all without regard to sex, religion or race. In the Islamic religion, they seem to believe in exactly the opposite. But, is this true? Nothing is that black and white – or is it? Is a cultural conflict so deep and core really an opportunity to open a new kind of dialogue where we begin with a discussion about how these core values drive our societies’ behaviors? Human beings have to stop trying to conquer one another. We must find a different path to discover how to live respectfully alongside each other. Otherwise, we will find ourselves continually at war.
If you want to follow this story, The Brussels Journal online is tracking updates to this story from other media. If you read through the comments at the bottom of the page, you can begin to get a sense of the opinions being shared.
n.b. Please understand that I have not posted any controversial images on this blog to avoid insulting anyone or addding more fuel to the fire.