In the spirit of the Canadian Election and politics in general I will once again put off writing about the Great Pacific Garbage patch and instead concentrate on a hot button political topic, making the environment, as usual, wait its turn behind sensationalism.
Now the issue that I really want to talk about is the burning of the Koran by an obscure Florida church, but this incident has so many parallels to the Mohammad Cartoon Controversy that I think that discussing it would give the appropriate background to further understand what is going on now.
In 2005 in Denmark, there was a battle between what should be covered and what should be self censored, and at the culmination of this struggle the Jutland Post showed an article consisting of 12 political cartoons (shown above) some of which depicted Mohammad. Those cartoon images sparked over 100 deaths in riots that took place agianst them in many Muslim countries.
The deaths were a direct result of the hypersensitivity numerous Muslim people to what would be seen as rather routine political cartoons and what is comparable to many cartoons published about other religions.
In a question and answer on the BBC the answer to why the cartoons were received with such vitriol and venom was given. "Of course, there is the prohibition on images of Muhammad. But one cartoon, showing the Prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, extends the caricature of Muslims as terrorists to Muhammad. In this image, Muslims see a depiction of Islam, its prophet and Muslims in general as terrorists. This will certainly play into a widespread perception among Muslims across the world that many in the West harbor a hostility towards - or fear of - Islam and Muslims."
Hrmmm, the deeply puzzling thing is not the hypocrisy that it is alright to have political cartoons of other political figures, and religions, but not of Muslims or the Muslim religion. That hypersensitivity is pretty well understood by there being such a barrier to religious criticism, as Dawkins puts it in The God Delusion, ""A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts - the non-religious included - is [held] that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offense and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other.(p.20)"
There is so great a barrier to criticizing anything Muslim that it isn't puzzling at all why there was a visceral response to the cartoons, but how that response played out is puzzling. How is it that someone offended by being characterized as a terrorist could, in any way, think that the answer was in taking part in terrorism?
This is what happened again last week. A church in Gainesville, Florida put the Koren on trail, and burned it after a deliberation of 8, hard thinking I'm sure, minutes. A video of the 'trail' and burning was then placed on the internet and took a couple of months to resurface in Afghanistan last week, but it resurfaced in a big way. The video was shown and there was a call for justice during April 1st sermons and thousands took to the streets causing riots that have reportedly settled on Monday and a death toll around 20.
A United Nations building was surrounded, two people were be-headed and Nine people foreign to Afghanistan died including, "Five Nepalese guards, a Norwegian, a Russian, a Romanian and a Swede." No one from Florida was found injured.
Barack Obama in response released a statement saying, "The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry...However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity."
Now the act of burning the Koran has been rightly criticized as causing harm, and showing the intolerance of some people in the west, yet I do believe in a strong enough freedom of speech that it would allow someone to be extremely intolerant and make political statements like burning the flag out of protest or holding a mock trail to burn the Koran (I'll post about this at a later time).
So while the burning of the Koran showed intolerance, Barack and any sane commenter rightly condemns the mob actions as an atrocity that lies on a completely different scale than burning any book.
"What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect?" p.27 The God Delusion. All this respect does is build up a barrier that makes people think that when that barrier is broken that they can respond with mob justice or purely unjustifiable actions.
There is a systematic self limiting of criticism of religion because of reactions like this and the answer isn't to demonize and alienate Muslims, it's to treat them like equals and let people have the freedom to make political cartoons and allow people to burn Koran as a political statement even if only to condemn the action afterwords as bigoted and intolerant.
The answer isn't to not talk about peoples religions at all, it's to be much more open about them.
Thanks for Reading,
-the moral skeptic