It’s hard to talk about the ongoing flap over the Danish political cartoons without feeling a sense of irony. Here you have a handful of drawings making the argument (clumsily at times) that the Islamic faith has turned violent, and thousands of Islamists respond with violent protest. As if proving the cartoons’ point wasn’t enough, the response happened several months after the offending cartoons were printed, reminding me of Homer Simpson realizing that his friends had insulted him as “a little slow” many hours after everyone has already left.
Surely the protesters didn’t intend to leave those impressions, but there they are. It’s a testament to the fact that the way that a message is conveyed can often overpower the message itself. In the PR-savvy Western world, extremists of all stripes have learned that lesson countless times.
For example, when Christian fundamentalists protested against a theatre’s showing of the porn movie Deep Throat, the message intended was: Don’t see this movie; it is vile and disgusting. Instead, the movie became one of the most successful of all time because everyone wanted to know what could be so vile and disgusting about this movie that people would actually bother to protest against it.
As the fundamentalists eventually realized, the mere fact of a crowd gathering creates interest in passersby. If something is interesting enough to attract a crowd, the average person is curious to see what that something is. As a result, religious groups in America are very wary about how they protest things. It is counterproductive to be sparking interest in something you hope nobody sees.
Hopefully the protesters have started learning that lesson as well. Since the protests started, the cartoons have enjoyed far greater circulation throughout Europe and elsewhere. Some printed the images out of solidarity, others in a commitment to principles of free speech, and others simply to inform readers what it is that is causing all the ruckus. Had there been no protests, these cartoons would have been seen by only a few thousand Danes. Now, millions have seen them.
From a purely insular view, the protests make sense. There’s nothing like a good angry protest to get Islamist Arabs focused on foreign nations rather than their own corrupt and bumbling governments. Muslim leaders have been shrewdly pushing these cartoons to stoke further anti-West sentiment, not really caring whether the anger is properly focused or not. For instance, protesters have called for a boycott of all Danish goods even though the Danish government simply has no authority over what is printed in the country’s newspapers. And some protesters think it appropriate to demand beheadings over mere drawings. To us, these are embarrassing lapses in logic. For them, it’s solidarity.
It may also be the result of a culture that emphasizes the concept of shame over that of guilt. In a shame-based society, preserving one’s honor becomes the dominant, if not the only, concern. Extreme threats and acts, such as “honor killings,” become acceptable, or at least tolerable, even for the least provocation.
Such an approach is sure to hold little respect in other societies that, quite rightly, agree that peaceable protests are fine, but burning embassies and threatening beheadings over cartoons published months ago in a little country far away is anything but. Western analysts have already exposed the innate hypocrisy of hard-line Islamists being upset over cartoons depicting Muhammad while enthusiastically supporting cartoons of Jews with devil’s horns eating babies. That Iran responded to the Danish cartoons by canvassing for Holocaust cartoons, as if that were a novel idea!, drew a sad laugh from those who had already seen scores of such cartoons plastered in Arab papers for decades.
In the end, we’re left with wondering what we should do now. Do we treat Islamists with kid gloves, frantically making amends whenever some protest? Do we ignore their pleas? Or do we ask for more exchanges of “dialogue” and “understanding?”
Sadly, the answer is it doesn’t matter. If something as insignificant as 5-month-old cartoons can be used to stoke protests that make Cindy Sheehan envious, then there will be no use in appeasing anybody. The protesters already feel ignored, and the extremist rhetoric is inherently fatal to any kind of dialogue or understanding. No, what needs to change is what the protesters believe should be their goal. Right now, their goal is to solidify themselves as a group. Only when they start seeking help from outside, where the opinions of non-Islamists matter, will their sensibilities and tactics change.
Remember, Christian fundamentalists didn’t stop protesting against porn movies because they felt that porn movies were okay after all. They stopped protesting because they realized that their tactics only encouraged non-fundamentalists to view the movies. Once the protesters start caring about what non-Islamists think, expect a similar change in demeanor. Until then, they’re just parading before a mirror.
James N. Markels is an attorney and a regular columnist for Brainwash.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire