February 21, 2006

Cartoon carousels clashing cultures









The cartoon controversy in Denmark has spiralled into a cataclysmic event involving two different cultures and setting them on warpath. From a pacifists point of view, the situation is still redeemable, but only if we see it in the right perspective. There are three issues at stake here; free speech, freedom of press, and respect for all religions. All three, needless to say, are cornerstones of an evolved civilization.

The situation that has unfolded is rather unique in that it has put in play all of these three issues and asks of us, the bystanders, to rank the three in value of importance. This is in fact what's fuming the fire. The non western world holds its religious identity as being of prime importance, a means of self assertion in a foreign land. The western world, on the other hand, holds the right to free speech and a free press as being of utmost importance; believing that the two define who they are. Both parties are justified in their stance, yet there is the one thing that they overlook; all of the three issues under fire are vital constituents of a civilzed world, and must go hand in hand. One in exclusion of the other two would only lead to chaos and anarchy in our world. In which case it is illogical to take sides in this cartoon controversy if we are to call ourselves civilized world citizens. It is also unfair and presumptuous for world leaders and heads of nations to take sides on this issue because it would tear at the very fabric of our civilization, of which they are the leaders. What would be the most rational thing to do, for all, is to let go, and to move on.

This controversy reminds one of Lester Pearson's warning that we are in a world " when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each others history and ideals and art and culture.....The alternative, in this overcrowded little world, is misunderstanding, tension, clash, and catastrophe." Obviously, national boundaries are no longer the demarcations that divide,"clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace, and an international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war."(Samuel Huntingdon). It is our culture and the values it represents that sets us apart from our neighbor. It is in our interest to seek commonalities with other cultures and to negotiate our differences so as to curb suspicion and instead forge meaningful alliances between differing cultures.

8 comments:

EXSENO said...

Really good post and some really good points to be made. I wouldn't want to give any of my rights up although at times I feel they are slowly dwindling. However when it comes to other cultures I think it is important for us to leave them to their own beliefs and not try to influence one way or another. It should be what they and their people want not what someone else wants for them. We should still be able to co-exsist peacefully with respect to their ways. We've done it in the past so why not in the future?

bablu said...

"most rational thing to do, for all, is to let go, and to move on." - Totally agree with you Iditis... Good post...

sivananth said...

it's not a clash of cultures, it's plain curtailment of freedom of speech.
Why blame journalists, religions themselves insult each other. Christians refer hindus as heathen (wild, uncivilized) while hindu scriptures refer foreigners as mlechhas or untouchables, Muslims refer hindus kaffirs (infidel)and jews and christians in even harsher ways. Former Indian deputy PM Advani and former PM vajpayee are often mockingly portrayed as hindu god Ram for their involvement in Ayodhya Ram temple. Yet no hindu objects.

May be we should reserve to right to insult each other's religion, if one starts calling cartoons an insult.

Anonymous said...

That solution is too simplistic; to let go may not be easy or even possible, now.

Ayesha said...

Actually, I would agree with Anonymous. It is far too simplistic to let go. Iditis, you are right over the genesis of this controversy. It did emerge because there are no shared values - actually not even that. The Muslim world does support freedom of speech and press - but all it asks is that certain things ought to be respected. To use the common adage - your right to punch ends, where my nose beings. If we were to let go of this issue here - there will be another one. More protests, more antagonism and more lives lost.

It is far more prudent to make use of this opportunity- to find some common ground. We have to make some good of all this mess and the only way to do that is to engage is some sort of dialogue across 'civilizations'. The need is to understand each other. The Muslim world need to understand that it cannot hold the Europeans governments responsible for the cartoons and the Europeans need to respect what is scared to the Muslims - to another faith.

These differences are not irreconcilable and thus it would not make sense to just 'let go'.

Id it is said...

Ayesha,
I am in complete agreement with you about what ought to be done ideally; a dialogue across 'civilizations'. However, at present, just by looking at what's happening around the world, establishing a dialogue seems a far fetched idea. The need of the hour is to ride the storm and let it quell. What you suggest is 'the' thing to do, but as an aftermath of the storm.

Dalulla said...

I must say, your post is great, but i do also agree with Ayesha on every thing she said especially: "If we were to let go of this issue here - there will be another one. More protests, more antagonism and more lives lost." And not out of being obsitnate or any thing of the sort, but it is a major issue for us what has happened. Too much has been happening Iditis, but the problem is that things have really gone too far this time. Islam does not contradict freedom of speech, but it does put even for us Moslems limits and respect for others and one another regardless of the faith followed.

Blaming governments had it's reasons. Governments are defined to be the law makers and appliers. Who were the Moslems to go to if not the governments? There had to be a strong stand on what has happened, but sadly enough no action was taken with the excuse of "freedom of speech". When freedom steps on others it should be haulted. What i mean is as per subject and not in general. Moslems did not demand that the freedom of speech be banned from European communities and no rational person would, however where this subject was concerned it was A MAJOR offset for most of the moslem population.

Anonymous said...

I agree with IdItIs that the immediate solution to this is for all groups to simply move past the issue - there is no point in shedding blood over what could be described as the childish musings of some Danish cartoonists.

However, there are two other deeper issues here that need resolution, issues that will take longer to take hold and reap benefits. First, freedom of press and speech must be seen as the basic right that it is by everyone. While many in the West may find offensive the diatribe provided to us via Al Jazeera by Osama bin Laden, it is not used as a reason to attack the Saudi Arabian or Afghanistani embassies in Washington DC. People and groups are allowed to speak and write freely about whoever and whatever they want, regardless of whether they are offending anyone by their speech/article/etc.

The flip side of this issue is a basic decency towards fellow human beings. No matter how strongly I may defend the Danish cartoonists' freedom of press, I do not appreciate the fact that they submitted those cartoons and that their newspapers printed them. Sure, they may have been funny to the majority of the populace, but they were also extremely hurtful towards another group as well. So, while they were within their rights in printing such a cartoon, they exhibited a lack of basic decency when they submitted those cartoons for printing. (I find the editors of the newspapers that printed them even less decent, as they are the ones ultimately responsible for what gets printed in their newspapers.)

Anyhow, to close, I agree with IdItIs that we should all just move on. But we need not "seek commonalities with other cultures," rather, we merely need to recognize and accept the differences between cultures that provide the delicate complexities of life around the world.

-SR