Friday, January 05, 2007

It's been about a year and a half since the worldwide furor over the publication in a Danish newspaper of a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The reaction in the Islamic world to the cartoons was explosively violent, with many people killed, churches and diplomatic facilities attacked and burned, and a boycott of Danish products in Muslim countries. The violence eventually died down, but not before several Muslim clerics had issued fatwas calling for the murder of the cartoonists, and Osama bin Laden demanded that persons insulting the Prophet be turned over to Muslims to be tried under Sharia law.

With the passage of time, the development of the cartoon crisis has come into somewhat clearer focus, and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has just published an interesting study which traces the onset and growth of the crisis and shows how it was cynically used by many Arab governments to deflect Muslim anger from their shortcomings to the imagined Western onslaught against Islam, and by radical Muslim clerics to stoke popular anger against Christians and Jews. You can find the article, titled A Retrospective Study of the Unfolding of the Muhammand Cartoons Crisis and its Implications, on the MEMRI website - just click the link at the left and look for Report Number 313.

While you're there, look at MEMRI Special Dispatch Number 1412, titled 'Confronting the Death Arriving From the West' – Santa Claus in Algeria. It presents the translation of a Christmas Eve op-ed piece from an Algerian newspaper that depicts Santa Claus, that jolly, red-cheeked bringer of holiday cheer, as an example of the insidious Christian threat to Muslims.

It's very difficult for a person with a liberal Western education and values to understand the blindly passionate religious fervor of Muslims and their spring-loaded negative reaction to what we would perceive as innocent criticism, but it behooves each of us to make the effort. In a world that is growing increasingly polarized along religious lines, while we are mired in a war stoked in large part by religious fervor, the old adage know your enemy is more important than ever. Take the time to read the translations of Arabic publications offered at the MEMRI website, and pay attention to the better quality news reporting coming out of the Middle East. Our future is largely being shaped in this region which is largely opaque to most of us, so take every opportunity to learn more about it. It's enlightening, and it's scary.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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