February 3, 2006

The Cartoon That Could End The World


Saudi Arabia and Syria recall their ambassadors from Denmark and Libya closes its embassy in Copenhagen.  Muslims storm the Danish embassy in Jakarta, and gunmen threatened the European Union offices in Gaza.  Why?  Because of 12 cartoons that ran in a Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, in September.

Originally, editors at the paper asked 12 artists to draw depictions of the prophet after an author complained that no artist was willing, under his own name, to illustrate a book about Mohammed.  A controversy then broke out between Danish Muslims and the paper which appeared settled after the paper apologized for causing offense, but defended its right to publish the material.  The current crisis started, however, when European papers began reprinting the cartoons in a display of press freedom.

From The BAG’s standpoint, however, the strangest thing about the controversy is that the specific cartoons (with the exception of the one above) have barely been discussed.  Instead, the anger centers almost exclusively on the fact that the prophet is involved.  Religious leaders insist that Islamic tradition bars any depiction of Mohammed for fear that such images can lead to idolatry.  As muslimwakeup points out, however, these restrictions only apply to Muslims, not to non-Muslims.

So how offensive are the specific cartoons?  Rather than cover all twelve, I’m mostly touching on the one above, with the others linked below.

Given the embedded explosive (and an incendiary aspect to the nose, mouth, eyes, and eyebrows), maybe it’s obvious the figure means ill.    But what’s the message exactly?  Is the figure inherently destructive; has bombing on his mind; or is ready to explode with rage?  On the other hand, isn’t it just as possible that the figure is oblivious to the bomb?  Who’s to say the bomb isn’t just “planted” on the figure to blow him up?  (Still, whether perpetrator or victim, the Muslims lose either way.)

As far as tension goes, perhaps the edgiest part of the image is actually the fuse.  With all the cross-cultural hostility in the air right now, what seems more provocative than anything is the mere suggestion (gotta love all that Iranian hysteria) that some explosion involving Muslims is imminent.


The cartoon with seemingly the richest story was one I really couldn’t get a handle on.  Obviously, the trappings are aggressive.  They guy has a bin Laden feel to him.  The blacked out eyes convey a convict.  But what’s the narrative?  Muslim women see all too clearly the repercussions of their violent men?

I have linked to the rest of the series for your review and discussion.

Cartoon 3

Cartoon 4

Cartoon 5

Cartoon 6

Cartoon 7

Cartoon 8

Cartoon 9

Cartoon 10

Cartoon 11

Cartoon 12

(illustrations: Jyllands-Posten.  Denmark)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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