Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Feud Over Cartoons Fruitless

Thank you, Denmark. For once, the Muslim world is angry and it’s not America’s fault.

An Egyptian shopkeeper I talked with last week seemed pleased to learn that I was American, as he immediately launched into a tirade against Denmark, calling the nation a “son of a dog,” a strong Arabic insult. A Norwegian friend standing beside me then lied and said she was Slovakian, as a small Norwegian newspaper had also reprinted the now notorious Danish cartoons that have incensed this shopkeeper and many across the Muslim world.

Hundreds of students on the usually apathetic American University in Cairo campus attended a demonstration during which speakers called for a boycott of Danish products. A department store in one of the most Westernized areas of Cairo posted signs announcing that all Danish goods had been removed from its shelves.

While these actions seem subdued compared to the burning of embassies in Damascus and Beirut, they underscore the real anger felt at the publication of the cartoons. And over the past few weeks this anger has stoked the coals of the already fractious rift between the Muslim world and the West.

But before we run wild with Huntington’s clash of civilizations theory, both sides need to pause. For although the Danish cartoon issue has incited anger, the differences it highlighted are not beyond our collective understanding.

Unlike the war in Iraq or U.S. support for Israel – issues that typically inflame emotions along the Muslim-West divide – the cartoon row is refreshingly un-mired in political and historical complications. Both sides’ reactions to the issue reflect the extent of the misunderstandings between the Muslim world and the West, and in this case, these differences can be understood and perhaps even resolved if both sides would just try to see the other’s point of view.

Last week in my Arab media studies class, the professor was discussing how certain press laws in Egypt could prosecute newspapers to protect against slander, libel and defamation.

A Muslim student spoke up, asking “Don’t they have these laws in Denmark?”

Her question reflects the injustice felt by many Muslims at the cartoons. For on top of the fact that Islam forbids depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, to this student, the Prophet had been slandered and was not there to defend himself.

Conversely, my Norwegian friend discussed how she felt religion was viewed in Scandinavia.

“In Norway, nothing is sacred,” she said, commenting about how the musical movement Black Metal burned down churches in Norway during the 1990s.

Under the secular attitudes of many Western nations, ridiculing religion is nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, ridiculing the religion of a rapidly growing minority group that often feels institutionally marginalized (as in France and much of Western Europe), is never wise.

But when movies like “Dogma” make it clear that nothing is out of bounds, cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, even perceivably offensive ones, don’t give many pause.

In the Middle East, however, religion matters. Rather than being a caricature, the Prophet is a real, vibrant figure, protected under the same laws against slander and libel as a government official.

Coming from a country where one can buy a Jesus Christ action figure, I have to step outside of my secular comfort zone to understand how things as seemingly trivial as cartoons can incite so many to anger.

Western nations are, on the one hand, publishing derogatory cartoons that only exemplify the stereotype that many in the Western world are ignorant and intolerant of Islam. Meanwhile, much of the Muslim world is reacting to the cartoons in an equally counterproductive way, burning flags and protesting against governments when the offenders were newspapers (boycotting Danish products won’t do anything to shut down a Danish newspaper).

The so-called clash of civilizations is what we make of it, and those in both the West and the Muslim world can chose to either exacerbate each other’s sensitivities to the point of offense or learn to understand each other and work through the potential conflicts.

Everyone can either choose to resort to the stereotypical responses – Westerners can caricature Arabs and Muslims as crazed terrorists and the Arab world can protest ineffectively against Western policies – or everyone can try to go beyond those hackneyed views and work to bridge the gaps in understanding in hopes of actually living in peace someday.

There are unfortunately few indications that much is being done to further this cause, and the clash of civilizations stands to become a self-fulfilling prophecy with each cartoon that is re-published or flag that is burned.

For now however, I can only hope to enjoy my own country’s relative hiatus from the popular anger of the Muslim world.

Now I just hope Bush keeps his mouth shut about Iran’s nuclear program.

Kerry McIntosh is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. She is currently studying abroad at the American University in Cairo. She can be reached at mcintoshthehoya.com. SALAMAT appears every other Tuesday.

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