Friday, February 10, 2006

What does a man have to do to get civilizations to finally clash?

A couple of days ago in discussing the Muhammad cartoon row I mentioned Robert Fisk as someone who is very much worth reading when it comes to discussions of the Middle East. I should have mentioned another writer – this one an academic rather than a journalist – who is very dependable when it comes to going in-depth into Middle Eastern matters. Juan Cole runs a blog with a well chosen name – Informed Comment. Yesterday, ran a piece by him explaining at length what is going on:

Muslim touchiness about Western insults to the prophet Mohammed must be understood in historical context. Most Muslim societies have spent the past two centuries either under European rule or heavy European influence, and most colonial masters and their helpmeets among the missionaries were not shy about letting local people know exactly how barbaric they thought the Muslim faith was. The colonized still smart from the notorious signs outside European clubs in the colonial era, such as the one in Calcutta that said, "Dogs and Indians not allowed."
Indeed, the same themes of Aryan superiority and Semitic backwardness in the European "scientific racism" of the 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the Holocaust against the Jews also often colored the language of colonial administrators in places like Algeria about their subjects. A caricature of a Semitic prophet like Mohammed with a bomb in his turban replicates these racist themes of a century and a half ago, wherein Semites were depicted as violent and irrational and therefore as needing a firm white colonial master for their own good.

I think the article is a truly articulate answer to those who just think that Muslim are violent and backward. As a person on one of the forums I read pointed out, some Muslims are burning down embassies while the US went and pretty much destroyed Iraq. Who is the violent one again?

Also in is another article on the same matter, this one a report by a guy in Morocco, who is saying much what I suggested was probably the case – most of the Muslims are insulted but are very much against a violent response:

In the past few days, I've talked to a variety of Moroccans whose views stretch from conservative to liberal. They are tradesmen, academics, officials, students and journalists. The consensus, contrary to the apocalypse on television, is that the cartoons are highly disrespectful, but violence is neither warranted nor part of Islam. The consensus has become a unifying force.

At this point I would like it if some reporter could trace down the exact way in which the cartoons from the Danish paper made their way over to the other papers and, also, to the Middle East, as I would like to understand the motivation of the people who have led to this massive re-eruption of a problem that was dying down.


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