More notes on the Muslim cartoon issue

persianOne of the more interesting aspects of the controversy about Muslim cartoons is the decision of the vast majority of news outlets here in the States not to publish them.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the few outlets to have published the images. It did so on Saturday. The paper was picketed today by a group of Muslims in response. In any case, the Inquirer defended its decision:

The Inquirer’s senior editors decided at Friday’s afternoon news meeting to publish the most controversial image. It is being published “discreetly” with a note explaining the rationale, said Amanda Bennett, The Inquirer’s editor.

“This is the kind of work that newspapers are in business to do,” Bennett said. “We’re running this in order to give people a perspective of what the controversy’s about, not to titillate, and we have done that with a whole wide range of images throughout our history,” she said.

Bennett compared it to decisions in the past to publish photographs of the bodies of burned Americans hung from a bridge in Iraq, as well as the 1989 photography of an artwork by Andres Serrano showing a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine.

“You run it because there’s a news reason to run it,” Bennett said. “The controversy does not appear to have died down. It’s still a news issue.”

It’s nice to see this debate taking place. And even nicer to see it taking place in relative calm. It also needs noting that many reporters (including me) have repeated the “fact” that Islam prevents any depiction of Muhammad. And a few other folks have noted that might not be the case, given the myriad depictions of Muhammad in art museums around the world, such as the Persian example above. A frieze on the north wall of the Supreme Court also shows Muhammad. He’s the one in the middle in the image below. Go here for more examples.

scotusnfriezeReporters really need to start explaining some basic information in this story. It’s getting incredibly frustrating. There are huge groups of Muslims responding to this story in widly divergent ways. Look at the restraint with which American Muslims have responded. Compare that, even, with the extremely violent language used in protests in London this weekend. And then compare those with the property damage, extreme violence, kidnapping and murder occurring in the Middle East and Asia. Is this not a story worth looking into? Charles Moore raises both of these points in the Daily Telegraph:

There is no reason to doubt that Muslims worry very much about depictions of Mohammed. Like many, chiefly Protestant, Christians, they fear idolatry. But, as I write, I have beside me a learned book about Islamic art and architecture which shows numerous Muslim paintings from Turkey, Persia, Arabia and so on. These depict the Prophet preaching, having visions, being fed by his wet nurse, going on his Night-Journey to heaven, etc. The truth is that in Islam, as in Christianity, not everyone agrees about what is permissible.

Some of these depictions are in Western museums. What will the authorities do if the puritan factions within Islam start calling for them to be removed from display (this call has been made, by the way, about a medieval Christian depiction of the Prophet in Bologna)? Will their feeling of “offence” outweigh the rights of everyone else?

Why are reporters and editors so reticent to discuss these differences in Islam? It seems like it would be so newsworthy. It seems like opinion pieces and blogs offer the best news and analysis, which doesn’t bode well for mainstream media.

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  • brian

    Muslims and Protestant Christians aren’t the only ones who fear idolatry.

    Despite anti-Catholic assertions to the contrary, Catholics do not worship idols, nor do the Orthodox.

    And Judaism also has a Commandment against making any graven image.

  • Avram

    How many of the differences are religious and how many political? Not that there’s a sharp distinction between those two realms.

    One of the things that turned up in my reading about the mass car-burnings in France a while back was that Muslims in Europe are socially and economically segregated in much the same way that blacks were in the US till recently.

  • Tom R

    > “Despite anti-Catholic assertions to the contrary, Catholics do not worship idols, nor do the Orthodox.”

    Brian, I think you missed the point that was made here; not which brands of Christianity do or don’t worship idols, but which brands do and don’t subjectively fear that they might be committing the sin of idolatry by making statues and depictions of their religious leaders. It is objectively true that there are no “Shrines to the Blessed Calvin” in Geneva, to which Presbyterians and other Reformed make pilgrimages; in fact, I believe Calvin’s grave is unmarked (although Geneva does have a mini-Mt Rushmore-style wall with engravings of four Reformers — Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Beza, IIRC).

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Mollie–Here in the Boston area the Boston Globe is notorious for publishing cartoons and columns that are nasty, intemperate, vicious, sarcastic, rotten, even blasphemous. Some have been particularly virulent — even from a secularist perspective–against Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.
    Now read from a Globe editorial of last Saturday: “Freedom of the press need not be weakened when it is infused with restraint. Newspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive carticatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment virtue: tolerance. That is why the Danish cartoons will not be reproduced on these pages.”
    Somehow I suspect cowardice is at the root of the Globe’s sudden passionate concern about not hurting believers’ sensibilities. When it was Christians they were bashing, smashing, and thrashing they knew that the only protests they would have to endure would most likely be civilized and non-violent. But–OOPS– doing the same to Moslems could endanger one’s health and property. Suddenly “Freedom of the press” isn’t a value worth sticking up for in practice. The only good thing that might follow is some Globe sensitivity for the sensibilities of Christian believers. BUT, considering the Globe’s record–and the record of their masters and handlers at the NY Times–I doubt anything will change.

  • Bartholomew

    I once took a Bible course where the lecturer wouldn’t say “Yahweh”…

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  • Herb

    Excellent comment, Deacon John. With you all the way. In case anyone didn’t see this, they should.

  • Herb

    Oops, for some reason my link above didn’t work when I tried it, but it does if you paste it in your browser:

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  • brian

    Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe I didn’t.

    If there’s a Catholic Shrine to someone blessed, it is most likely to the Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary.

    And the Bible calls her Blessed.

    The Bible doesn’t say anything about Calvin.

    Maybe I’m finding that he and his destruction of the idols are bigger gods to some people than I realized.

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  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Juan Cole ( has been all over this issue. Even if you don’t agree with his analysis it is certainly worth a look.

    Also it is starting to leak out that much of the (violent) outrage over the cartoons seems to be politically orchestrated. This could very much be a case of faith being manipulated to create hatred and controversy.

  • Molly
  • Tom R

    Brian, when I used the example of “Blessed Calvin” (ironically, though I did once hear the phrase used — by an Anglican priest, of all people), I was comparing him not to Mary the Mother of Jesus, but to other Catholic saints, some of whose claim to respect in the eyes of Evangelical Christians are decidedly shaky.

    An Evangelical would agree that Mary is mentioned in the Bible — and that’s the problem with forming a cult of adoration around her: Jesus said quite plainly that everyone who believes and obeys Him is as “blessed” as she is (which is, of course, extremely blessed indeed!). I have never heard a convincing Cathodox answer to this teaching, other than to slander Protestants as “Mariophobic” or some similar ad hominem.

  • Herb

    Hey folks, check this link out. Not surprising that the hatred is being fomented by imams themselves, but this has got to be the lowest of all tricks.

  • Herb

    Well, I don’t know what the problem is with my links, but the web address is:

  • Herb

    And I personally have to agree with The Washington Post at least printing this:

  • Herb

    Oops — I didn’t see that Daniel had already mentioned The Washington Post piece in his latest post.

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