What's all this hoopla about? Is't possible to be about few cartoons? And against who? Two northern European small states, Denmark and Norway, the least pretentious and imperial among all the so-called civilized world! Or, these outbursts are only the tip of the ice-berg? The fury and pent-up rage were boiling under the surface waiting for the most trivial provocation to gush out in one jet after another torrent. It maybe as Shakespeare had said time ago in Hamlet:"There's something rotten in the state of Denmark," but if he were alive he would also have added: " These days there're more of rotten things in another part of the world, in the Arab states." Otherwise, amidst all the mess there're in, they choose the one where anyone with few synapses still working will only shakes his/her head and laughs (as Arabs say the worst things make you laugh!). When the banal is added to the trivial the result is the classical making a mountain out of a molehill.
These days Arabs and Muslims are on the roll. Screams everywhere from self-inflicted injuries for no valid reasons except pure idiocy. What a fracas about nothing! Back in September of last year a Danish Newspaper (Jyllands Posten) commissioned a competition among the cartoonists to come up with some satirical vignettes about Islam and terrorism. A cartoonist drew twelve of these vignettes showing presumably what appears to be the Prophet Mohammed, in a stylized form as the central figure, sketching Western perceptions of the role of Islam in terrorism. [Perhaps one can say one or two of these drawings are bit in bad taste but all are an old hackneyed images that wouldn't even attract the attention anymore!]. The sketches are so stylized and stereotypical to appear to have been pulled out right of one of the shelves or chests from the vast stockpiles the Western imagination has long depicted of other humans and their cultural milieus that one wonders what all the fuss about! The central character could be any of the long-robed figures with wrapped or turbaned head, and fully-bearded chubby face with big hooked-nose and large popped-out eyes, and pot-bellied of the many who call themselves sheikhs or commons in that forsaken sandy peninsula somewhere between the Gulf and the Red Sea. We've seen these drawings appear here and there, maybe under different captions before many times over; worse just read Edward Said's "Orientalism" to see further how the Western mind's output has rendered the culture and depicted the real or imaginative countenances -mugs- of the "oriental" stiffy characters! Then one asks why now and why against small North European States, in particular Denmark and Norway? The answer is not as simple as many would venture to advance.
It may appear at first sight what's taking place is a potential successful tactic: one can only take what one can chew on. If you cannot stand against the small and relatively vulnerable there's no way you can stand to the strong and powerful. Say it's a sort of a balloon trial! to see how far one can go before some other big brother steps in and say that's enough! The tactic is morally questionable and its effectiveness is still to be seen.
The uproar is symptomatic of a way of thinking and dealing with the world. The problem with the Arabs/Muslims is that they look to the world as they look to themselves. In the ideal world it may be the right thing to do, but in the world we live in, and with the state in which Islam and its followers are finding themselves to cope with, there must be another and better way to look to others differently than oneself. It's thinking in both the box and out-of-the-box simultaneously: to see the others as yourself yet they're different. Different cultures, lenses to see the world, and different stages of development make people experience life in truly different ways! Here where some analysis of the background to the genesis of the mishap may shed some light why Arabs interpret what they see the way they do. There're many components to the controversy that go from psychology, social and individual, to culture and religion, and just plain how humans interact with each other. Psychology, culture, and forms of human interactions determine the timing and intensity of the response mechanisms to kick in, sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously and inadvertently. As far as the psychology is concerned, perhaps, the uncontrolled agitations and sudden outbursts have to do with what some psychiatrists have called social, as well as individual, states of "internalized oppression" and the behaviors therein, out of convolutions mixed with oppression, poverty, ignorance, defeat, and humiliation (just read Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth"). These states are known to push individuals and social groups to have the tendency to explode at any moment for the slightest provocation.
But the most important are the cultural and religious values that are inimical to the Visual Arts in general and Representation in particular; or to the idea of "guardianship and custodian" of religion versus the idea of religion as a universal heritage and as such the property -or rather concern?- of everyone and no one in particular. As to visual representation, it's well-known throughout the past history that orthodox interpreters of the Holy Texts (Qur'an + Sunna) have discouraged, if not prohibited, the practice of representation altogether but human representations and the figuration of the Prophet, his companions and the Almighty High in particular! Why? No satisfactory answer I"ve run to so far, except my own reflections which presume a milieu made out of nomadic beduins had no use for all forms of arts except the oral ones. And because of this tradition the area is poor in the arts and their contributions and ways of looking to the world. Especially when you think of them as full blown languages that describe, analyze, and interpret actual and perceived realities, just as mathematics is a language that sketches its outputs in symbolized equations so do painting, sculpture, or auditory and performing arts each through its own medium. The result Arabs are still suffering from visual impairments, not to say visual illiteracy! The asceticism of religious life makes it difficult to understand arts or come to grips with their places in the hierarchical scale of values, and to appreciate their streams's contributions to the larger river called culture.
As to religion! The irony is a religion which came to all humans and thus by definition is universal and should be accessible to each and everyone of the living and to come to accept, refuse, and to do with it anything in between. In the light of Islam's lack of center and priesthood fraternity, who's such a super-qualified, or rather self-appointed guardian, to say to world: you cannot imagine this Prophet or you cannot draw this or that Messenger the way you want? If God sent "His Religion" to all humanity across time and space, then it's the right of each individual in this world to interact with it the way he/she sees fit. Nobody should be offended. It hadn't been sent only to you or me specifically -God says to the 'alameen, whoever they're or it's! Ain't said religion is to God so let God deal with those folks who "blasphemed Him or His Prophets and His Texts". Ain't He, the Big Kahoota, has set a date and way to judge every and each creature according to their deeds on earth? So why bother to accelerate that date or to appropriate some activity only He's capable of performing. When some folks accused a woman of prostitution and brought her to Jesus so he okays the Old Testament's punishment be inflicted upon her; his only utterance to them was: anyone of you who's no sin throws the first stone. Everyone looked around to the others and all had left the woman alone! What wise Man had he been, and what piece of wisdom he left behind?.
Tolerance and the other cheek are much effective tools of persuading others of the value and attitude and stands of one's Faith, rather than collective hysteria! Denmark and Norway probably both sell few industrialized products to the Arabs, they're not going to starve if no one of the Muslims ever bought some of those goods and services, in time they'll find a substitute market for the high quality they both produce. What Arabs will do then? Shove some barrels of oil, you know where, and rant more about the scourges of imperialism? Beggars, as they say, are no choosers; they've to live with what they get.
If Arabs and Muslims want the others to respect them, to treat their Faith and cultural values with what due them, they must first stop stretching their hands to whoever has few crumbs to spare; second, they should show a better judgment and a high degree not only of integrity but also of tolerance in all matters but particularly that which deals with how the others see you. How the others perceive us, deal with us, are inseparable from the way we project ourselves to them and to the world at large. If they see us through the stereotype of Hollywood it's because we never done anything to contest or correct, in deeds and not in words, folks! to change any of those ugly images. Surprise, if you keep doing the same things don't expect others to change their opinions about you just because you've something they badly want. No, even if and when they do publicly still what's in the heart is in the heart, a completely different matter.
Stop all this nagging, ranting, and squealing and put yourselves to work. Only with diligence and farsighted efforts can a change in the minds and behaviors of other fellow humans be expected. Until that work is done we've to live with all kinds of buffooneries. That's part of human behavior not yet anybody able to genetically modify! We can learn from the others. Look what the Chinese and Indians are doing. Everyone in this world, particularly in the Western World knows and appreciates the contributions they're bringing to the table, i.e. civilization! More ranting and complaining are only going to lead to nowhere, except to the alley of losers are always fund of sour grapes.