More Mr. Nuance Guy
Meanwhile, I’m going to plug along in my role as Mr. Nuance.
Salon has two good pieces that break out of the free speech vs. censorship binary, one of which concerns the reaction in Morocco, a place I lived for a semester while in college. Morocco is overwhelmingly Muslim and was under control of the French during the colonial era, but it’s not an oil state (its biggest exports are phosphorous and hash). Consequently, the post-colonial era has left Morocco feeling more confident (and more chilled out) than other Muslim nations that are still under the thumb of what some call oil neocolonialism.
Which is why people in Morocco sound a bit like the moderate Muslims everyone’s searching for:
“There comes a point when you’ve got to handle your problems yourself — you can’t go on forever blaming poverty and colonialism and relying on your image as a victim.”
But people in Morocco also understand what’s at the root of the outrage in the Middle East:
“At the heart of this discussion is the feeling that America is trying to divide the world into two parts, Christian and Islamic, and now mythologies are being spread, so that everything that is part of Islam is bad, and every Muslim is a terrorist. This is the West’s caricature of the Middle East.”
Or, as the author of the piece puts it:
Perhaps one revelation to come out of all this may be that by drawing Mohammed down to such an earthly plane, you’re fooling with the hope mechanism of millions of believers, just at a time when modernity has never seemed more oppressive and, in many places, the pain of feeling backward has never been stronger.
A second Salon piece looks at the reasons why some regimes in the Middle East have found it so useful to fan the flames of cartoon rage, and the author, in framing how he sees the reactions, again suggests that the legacy of colonialism is at play here:
Muslim touchiness about Western insults to the prophet Mohammed must be understood in historical context. Most Muslim societies have spent the past two centuries either under European rule or heavy European influence, and most colonial masters and their helpmeets among the missionaries were not shy about letting local people know exactly how barbaric they thought the Muslim faith was. The colonized still smart from the notorious signs outside European clubs in the colonial era, such as the one in Calcutta that said, “Dogs and Indians not allowed.”
Indeed, the same themes of Aryan superiority and Semitic backwardness in the European “scientific racism” of the 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the Holocaust against the Jews also often colored the language of colonial administrators in places like Algeria about their subjects. A caricature of a Semitic prophet like Mohammed with a bomb in his turban replicates these racist themes of a century and a half ago, wherein Semites were depicted as violent and irrational and therefore as needing a firm white colonial master for their own good…
It isn’t just about some cartoons. It is about independence and the genuine liberty to define yourself rather than being defined by the imperial West.
To listen to a somewhat nuanced discussion of the cartoon controversy that took place yesterday on KUOW and included me, P-I columnist Susan Paynter, and P-I cartoonist David Horsey, click here, and then scroll down to “Your Take on the News.”