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.