Offense, Persecution, and Islamophobia

War Against ChristianityEarlier today, I saw a great article by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, Vox Got No Threats for Posting Charlie Hebdo Cartoons, Dozens for Covering Islamophobia. The website decided that as part of the coverage of the recent massacre, they would publish the cartoons that supposedly caused the whole thing, because they were part of the story. I think there are a couple of problems with this. One is that I don’t actually think the murders were a response to the cartoons — any more than the Columbine murders were a response to The Basketball Diaries. Another is that I don’t think people needed to see the cartoons — everyone knows that they aren’t offensive in a general sense the way that the photographs from Abu Ghraib were. But that doesn’t mean I have a problem with them being published. It was an editorial decision — just not a necessary one in my opinion.

One thing is for sure: the act was not “brave” — a fact that the editors of Vox agree with. The same act in isolation was brave. And the same act in other areas — like Saudi Arabia — would be brave. But not for a media group based in Washington DC and read by people like me. But there is another reason why I think that Vox had nothing to worry about: it isn’t an Islamophobic outlet. And that really does seem to be a critical element in the anger of normal Muslims about such cartoons: they feel like they are a sign of hatred.

I discussed this issue a year and a half ago, Another Conservative Atheist? It had to do with a comment by Robert M Price — a man I greatly admire for his writing about religion, and the Bible especially. But in an interview, Price expressed surprise that a fatwa hadn’t been taken out against the artist who creates Jesus and Mo. I had read the strip a long time before then, so I knew it and liked it. I wrote, “It is kind of like a road picture, but instead of Hope and Crosby, it has Jesus and Mohammad. It is silly and insightful and even, I would say, sort of sweet.” I grabbed the most recent installment and asked if people could “spot a reason why Muslim’s might not find this cartoon so offensive.” Here it is:

Jesus and Mo

Or consider the strip this week and how scrupulously evenhanded it is to both religions (Moses shows up now and then too):

Jesus and Mo - Charlie Hebdo

Note that I am not talking about murderers. I’ve always found the excuses of murderers in cases like this to make no sense. I mean, Mark David Chapman claimed that he killed John Lennon because he somehow offended God by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus or some such. There were millions of Christians who Lennon offended, but it was only Chapman who murdered him. So I’m talking about the general offense that any religious person feels when their religion is depicted in an unflattering way. I don’t think they should be pandered to. But I understand. I was offended when Glenn Beck co-opted my hero Thomas Paine with the insipid Glenn Beck’s Common Sense (it is clear that Beck has never actually read Paine). I assume most Muslims think as much about these cartoons as I do about Glenn Beck.

As expected, Vox has not had its offices fire bombed:

Writers at Vox have indeed been bombarded with threats for our Charlie Hebdo coverage. But not one of those threats has come from a Muslim or in response to publishing anti-Islam cartoons. Revealingly, they have rather all come from non-Muslims furious at our articles criticizing Islamophobia

Our coverage of Islamophobia has brought a very different response. Articles decrying anti-Muslim bigotry and attacks on mosques have been met with dozens of threats on email and social media.

The most common states a desire that jihadist militants will murder the offending writer: a recent email hoped that Muslims will “behead you one day” so that “we will never have to read your trash again.” Some directly threaten violence themselves, or imply it with statements such as “May you rot in hell.”

Others express a desire to murder all Muslims — one simply read “I agree with maher Kill them all” — also often implying the emailed journalist is themselves Muslim. One pledge to attack Vox writers begins, “Fuck you and any cunt who believes in allah.”

You should read the whole article. It goes on to discuss how the coverage of the threat to free speech has been almost entirely focused on Muslim extremists. But the threat of violence — which comes fast and heavy from Islamophobes in this country — is also a potent threat to free speech. There are a lot of people who don’t want free speech. They just want an excuse to hate Muslims. And the smartest of them can finesse the argument by claiming that Islam is an especially bad Abrahamic religion. But it’s still just an excuse to hate a minority group.

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