In September 2005, Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, printed a series of editorial cartoons depicting Muslims, and the Prophet Muhammad, as terrorists.
Because of the sacrilegious nature of the cartoons, Danish Muslim organizations began to stage peaceful protests. But it is not until recently that Middle Eastern Muslims have begun protesting and boycotting Danish products. Most recently, some of these protests have become violent.
In no way, and under no circumstances, do I advocate or support the use of violence and force to prove a point. The way some Muslims have steered these protests from an essentially modern and peaceful process toward the extremes of chaos and violence is disgraceful.
Protesting the printing of a cartoon which degrades a religiously iconic figure is, by Western standards, the “right” thing to do. It is the democratic way.
After all, protests were used to fight against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, as well as to gain political and social recognition in the civil rights movement. Boycotts were also essential in the 13 colonies’ ability to wrest political power from Britain.
All of these American examples of protests became violent in varying degrees – the latter resulting in the Revolutionary War – yet all of those protests eventually achieved their goals.
So how can so many Americans look at what is happening in the Middle East with such upturned noses as if protesting something is wrong?
The fact of the matter is that these cartoons are not trivial. Though it may seem that the Middle Eastern world simply cannot take a joke, the symbolism goes far beyond a simple illustration. To many Muslims, the ability of foreign nations to print an image that denounces their religious savior, and their religion as a whole, is the same symbol of the Western world continually undercutting Muslim traditional values, not just Islam.
In regards to the recent relations between the United States and the Middle Eastern world, it has become increasingly clear that not all countries can possibly fit into Western democracy.
We, as well as other Western countries, have been insensitive and selfish in constantly promoting Western-style democracy as the only and right way for all countries.
What makes us think that all cultures throughout the entire world should think and act just like us?
To a Muslim, this cartoon is just one more sign of the West dominating the Muslim way of life. And in a situation such as this, the only way to get Western countries to notice the unhappiness of the people is to protest – the “correct” (in the Western system of thinking) thing to do.
Maybe my point would be more easily understood if taken from a Western point of view. If a picture was printed in the United States that poked fun at Jesus, I have no doubt in my mind that thousands of conservatives and Christians across the nation would be protesting. And just imagine the insult we’d feel if whoever printed such a cartoon was a foreign-owned and Muslim media outlet!
So, in the end, protesting a cartoon that denounces a certain group’s religion should not be looked upon with such disgust by others, especially those nations that grew out of the use of boycotts and protests that turned violent.
I do not condone or agree with the violence that has come from these protests, but I think it would be beneficial for us Westerners to understand the perspective of the protesters and realize that if it were us, we’d be doing much the same thing.
Morgan Ashenfelter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.