Friday, February 15, 2008

Dear Darwin.....

I looked at my screen, I tried to read the words and not feel the anger I was feeling. It wasn't even anger with the person, more with the situation and the mindset, one that I've come up against in the last few years.

As a person with a mixed religious background I count myself lucky to be able to see things in a way that I think is more balanced than some. And this last post by Darwin stirred lots of things within me. Before I rant, rave and sound like a wanker let me explain the background. I like Darwin, I don't know her well but we occasionally correspond via email and I do hope we get to meet someday. I'm one of the billions who reads her blog regularly and it always makes me react.

Darwin's main point is that the cartoons, those infamous ones published in the Danish paper, or rather the furore about their publication, is just a storm in a teacup. As she says diplomatically:

"Bullshit. It's just a bit of ink on paper. Get over yourself."

My opinion is that I haven't come to an opinion on this. I think that the reaction from the more extreme side, those that have led and been involved in protests, is over the top. I fail to see that the cartoons are THAT offensive. But, it's a dangerous path to take when you mock a person's religion or faith. If you choose to do it, then you're plain naive if you expect no backlash whatsoever. A storm in a teacup? Yes, but a teacup filled with some kind of chemical combination that's likely to erupt any moment anyway.

It really was Darwin's PS that got my attention. Her sentence:

"Muslims who support - or refrain from condemning - this sort of behaviour share the responsibility for bringing dishonour and shame to their beloved religion, and for the rest of us thinking that it truly is a religion based on violence."

Is one that I couldn't agree with less. Responsibility for thinking that Islam is a religion based on violence must be held by the person or people who hold that opinion. During the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s I didn't go around thinking that catholics were violent terrorists if they didn't come out and condemn things.

There are many people, particularly here in the UK, who have limited experience of Islam and their only real exposure has been to read about bombers, fundamentalists and extreme viewpoints. They are the sort who will happily discriminate against Muslims in their thinking and behaviour. It's just crap thinking, if thinking even comes into the equation. It's fuelled by much of the media and by fear and it's perpetuated by ignorance and a lack of desire to understand.

I was in a meeting the other day and someone made a comment about Muslims that just showed his total lack of understanding, but more sadly it showed that he actually thinks all Muslims are extreme fundamentalists. The sort who pray 17 times a day, only eat lettuce and hate anyone who's white. It just makes me sad that people like this are happy to read the Sun and form their opinions without really being qualified to have a sensible one.

To be fair Darwin has explained things a bit further in the comments below her original post, but my point is still there somewhere;

Islam is not a religion based on violence. If anyone thinks that, that's their problem.

People are innocent until proven guilty. That includes Muslims.


Darwin said...

Wow. I know you gave me a heads up about this post but it's a tad 'surprising' to see your response laid out like this on your blog, especially when it seems that my post has really angered and upset you. You could have easily emailed me your concerns and discussed it there but I guess you'd rather conduct this out here in a public forum, so okay then.

Freedom of speech should extend to all, and it includes the right to offend, and be offended. It does not include the right to demand the beheading of a cartoonist. I'm still amazed that those Muslims that rioted over the cartoons fail to appreciate the delicious irony in reacting with bloodthirsty violence to a cartoon that implied Islam was a bloodthirsty violent religion. They proved the point of the cartoons flawlessly.

"Islam is not a religion based on violence. If anyone thinks that, that's their problem." - I doubt the prejudices and discrimination that you mentioned on your post would ever get resolved with that approach. I agree these perceptions are unfair, which is why I think it's more important than ever for the moderates (if they truly exist) to speak out about it.

"People are innocent until proven guilty. That includes Muslims." - In a utopain world yes. In reality, that's unfortunately not how things work and you're rather naive to imagine it to be so.

Anonymous said...

london lanka - in my opinion this is one of the best and bravest posts you've done; thank you.
thank you also for choosing to do it on your blog rather than in an email to that other blogger.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is Muslims (or Hindus, Christians, and members of other religious groups) everywhere need to speak up in protest when fundamentalist forces in Islam (or Hinduism, Christianity or any other faith) commit acts of violence in the name of religion. Whining and complaining when you feel marginalized or face prejudice would carry a lot more weight if you've been just as vocal against members of your own religion for committing acts of terrorism. That will immediately teach people to differentiate between narrow minded fundamentalists and "others"..

Queen from Another Planet said...

I must say, I agree with both Darwin's post and the comment here. Freedom is freedom - I think it's absurd that people have no problem making all sorts of comments or jokes, based on a wide variety of things, but feel the need to walk on egg shells when it comes to Islam. Islam is no greater than any other religion, and must be equal to the same rules. That includes being made fun of.

The reaction to these cartoons can clearly be juxtaposed against the Vatican's reaction to the 'Da Vinci Code'. No book burnings, special security and death threats then. Why is Islam expecting special status? Why are we giving it special status?

And yes, like Edmund Burke said, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. If moderate Muslims insist on remaining silent, then they too are fuelling the world's increasingly negative view of Islam. If you didn't look down on Catholics during the height of the IRA, perhaps it was because Catholic leaders never united in suporting the IRA. The case with regard to Muslim fundamentalists are different.

Some excellent points on this topic:

Darwin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


I had never read a Darwin post until this one. I'd heard she was intelligent. Sadly this does nt appear obvious in this bigoted, bizarrely one dimensional post of hers. (I assume she is a woman).Though hiding behind these pseudonyms and ranting and raving about Islam or any other subject I find her to be greatly amusing, and certainly cowardly.

I work in the media, fortunately not in Sri Lanka, (thus I can actually write), and am amazed by the stupidity of this post. Clearly she is trying to incite something herself. What, I do not know.

The "western" media has a position on "eastern" religions and our way of life. I do believe in a conspiracy of sorts where our "eastern "values are often mocked, or subtly looked down upon, where we are subliminally conditioned and often times end up devaluing ourselves."Eastern" power and influence over the world is a daunting prospect for a "western " society, that has held on to their power through force and then through economics for centuries.

From the ridiculous Buddhist statues that are sold in British garden centres to the Ganesh paintings that appear on womens bikinis in a Victoria Secret catwalk. Hardly respectful of our beliefs our values. Small examples certainly but eroding respect and dignity, gradually, subtly.

I truly believe that the cartoons were first drawn, then published to provoke anger in an already fragile situation. I also believe as the media does in many situations (and i have seen first hand) that footage was shot by the likes of CNN and the BBC to actually show rioting "crazy muslims". When in fact initially at least they could have been ten people on one side of a street behaving badly in an otherwise totally calm area. The media is biased. One way or another. Wake up there is always an agenda!

Tick tick boom.

You put enough firewood under any small fire, IT WILL BURN.

Do we parade around in T-shirts baring the name of all the paedophilic catholic priests in the world (too many to fit on one t shirt methinks). No we dont. Do we go on about the atrocities that that same church has committed for over 2000 years. Not really.

I suggest that Darwin "gets over herself", and tries to recover that part of the brain that the lobotomy clearly removed.

Darwin said...

Gah, typo. Sorry RD! Here's a second attempt - Anon #2 explained my point very succinctly. Thank you. Also, QFAP, thanks for the links. The Hitch is one of my favourite authors :D

themissingsandwich said...

Why are we automatically blaming everyone of a religion because of the acts of a few? I am not responsible for what someone who shares my faith does, nor am I required to speak up about it if I don't want to.

Dawin, just a question. Do you think they demanded the beheading because they were Muslims or could it be that they were simply barbaric, vicious people by nature?

I understand how they would be offended whilst the rest of the world laughed. But I don't think their actions as a result of it had anything to do with their religion.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Darwin - I don't understand why you're surprised really, you chose to say provocative things on your blog, which is in a public forum, and I chose to respond on mine.

Regarding freedom of speech I agree that it should extend to all, but I think that includes the people who demanded the people who demanded the beheading of the cartoonist. I think they have every right to express their opinion, I also think their opinion is a massive overreaction and wrong, but they should have the right to voice it. As I stated I think the reaction to the cartoons was extreme and over the top.

I think it's depressing that so many choose to discriminate against a whole religion because of the actions of a few.

Queen from another planet - Thanks for your comment. I'm unsure though whether it's fair to say Islam is demanding special status or whether it's just some Muslims with extreme views.

L said...

"I think it's more important than ever for the moderates (if they truly exist) to speak out about it."

Well...last time I checked my TV, the radio, the internet, the newspapers and even books...they have. So it is possible, that people consciously or unconsciously choose to simply register in their minds, images of teddy bear hating muslims, or cartoon burning muslims rather than seek out nuanced discussions on the complexities of Islam and the variety of views and opinions held by muslims from a variety of backgrounds?

A similar discussion occurred here. Apologise if it isn't proper blog etiquette to link to it.

Anyway, while typing this I noticed more comments appearing from people who have said things here in a more elegant and succinct manner including RD's sum up

Josh said...

RD, you may have missed the point that Darwin was trying to make, which was indeed garnished with provocative commentary causing her to not fully convey the core of her post but did work to instigate a few. The bottom line however is evident. If moderates speak out against acts against Islam, they should speak out against fundamentalist acts. It's only fair.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Josh - I agree with the statement "If moderates speak out against acts against Islam, they should speak out against fundamental acts". But I see no indication that that was the point in Darwin's post.

My interpretaion of her post was more that she was saying that it's the duty of moderates to speak out against violence and, if they don't, then it's their fault if other people think they are violent and extreme.

Mooo said...

Just one question, If and when moderate muslims were to speak out you think the media would air it on the news and have it in the papers and people would listen? No, for two reasons- one, its not exciting stuff, whats better to watch is the few people who are rioting and the other being we live in a world where its a trend to be atheists. No one wants to learn about religion

LHJ said...

This is so appropriate right now, in so many ways.

L said...

Moderates have spoken out against acts of violence in the name of Islam. This is the point I made earlier.

Hakim said...


I think Darwin got it all wrong

"Freedom is Freedom", yours to enjoy as long as it does not harm others physically or mentally.

Why is there a law against deformation (curtails freedom of speech right?), punishment against homicide (curtails freedom to commit murder right?), in fact why are there any laws? Laws are there to stop people abusing their "freedom" and harming others mentally or physically.

How would you liked to be called a whore? What is someone calls your mother a prostitute? What if someone calls your a father a drunk woman beater? What if someone posted nude pics of you on the net? What if some one squeezed your butt on the street? Would you like that? Would you not feel anger? Would you not feel outraged? If you cried out in protest, is it that others must condemn your protest when your defended your mother, father or yourself?

There is two sides to a story, so don't try to make a judgment about others with you limited knowledge.

Many may not have morel values or believe in a religion, but that does not mean others cannot believ in theirs and have their morel beliefs. Don't be an ignorent fool.

"You have the freedom to show the world your limited ability of reasoning"

Hakim said...

Oh one more thing!

I do not agree with violent protest, but I agree that everyone has the "FREEDOM" to protest. The "freedom" to detest what affects him/her mentally or physically!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

mooo - I'm unsure if you're asking me that question, but if you are, then I agree. It wouldn't be newsworthy, violence is just so much more like fun!

LHJ - thanks, great cartoon.

Hakim - My point too, people have free specch, even if others disagree with the content they should have the right to say it.

Darwin said...

@Hakim: I couldn't care less what someone had to say about me or my parents. Words have no impact on me when I know they're not true.

However, I'm highly amused at how you seem to equate sexual assualt ("squeezing butts on the street")with insulting the prophet via cartoons.

D*B* said...

I completely agree with Darwin's points. In fact, I'd go even further. It's a tendency of the liberal conscience to gloss over the acts of fundamentalists just because their idiocy is perpetrated in the name of religion. As if invoking Jesus or Mohammed or Hubbard entitles them to some kind of divine protection. Bullshit. Every time politicians and commentators stand up and utter mealy mouthed platitudes about the importance of respecting the religious sensitivities of morons, they justify the stance of the fundies. The fundamental question is: why should religion--any religion--get that sort of special treatment?

The usual answer is that religion is close to peoples' lives, and that anything said against that religion grievously hurts their well being. Hakim's post is a case in point. Well, the thing is, much the same can be said about fandom. But will anyone excuse, say, a gaggle of rabid Michael Jackson fans from staging violent protests against the caricaturing of him as a lunatic pedophile? Substitute the former king of pop with any idol of your choosing--Princess Di, Ronaldo, Nelly or Ranjan Ramanayaka--the answer is no. Yet the sense of hurt will be pretty much the same to the person concerned.

Someone will inevitably try to point out that this is a flawed analogy. Nobody, except hysterical teenagers, take superstars that seriously, so the problem is unlikely to arise. In fact, this cuts to the very heart of the matter. The only things that differentiate fandom from religion in a public sense are an appeal to divine provenance and strength in numbers.

Unlike Michael Jackson, Mohammed is supposedly the messenger of god. Why should we be compelled to modify our actions just because this idiotic seventh century dogma is accepted as the bedrock of their lives by millions of true believers? And lest anyone tries to paint me as an anti-moslem creedist, let me hasten to add that I think the same about ALL religions.

Just because you think your man is holy doesn't mean I need to moderate my actions to accomodate your delusions. I don't care whether it's Mohammed you affirm or Jesus or Buddha or Yahweh or L Ron Hubbard. If I choose to write a polemic that pisses on them, that's my right. Ditto cartoon. Ditto opera. Ditto t-shirt. Your belief in these people doesn't trump my right to free expression any more than a Michael Jackson fan's faith will stop me from making fun of Bubbles.

Jack Point said...

Lack of understanding is the issue at heart I think.

How might this be bridged?

God knows. Any suggestions Rhythmic?

David said...


There are laws against defamation and homicide because defamation and homicide are aimed at human beings. The only human being the cartoons perhaps defamed was Mohamed. He alone would have the right to sue the cartoonists.

But Mohamed's been dead lo these 1500 years; what the cartoonists were attacking was an idea. Ideas are fair game. Ideas are not people. Ideas feel no pain. Ideas deserve only the protection that they can mount for themselves, by being true or useful.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Jack Point - I think you're right about lack of understanding. It has to come from people who have a desire to understand.

Once again I'd like to attempt to explain that my post was NOT a criticism of Darwin's opinion on the cartoons and the furore surrounding their publication, the calling for the beheading of the cartoonists etc. It was about her PS, the wording of it and the assertion that a Muslim who doesn't speak against violence and extremism shares the responsibility for what I think is narrow minded thinking.

L said...

I kind of agree with the fact that a desire to understand is important.

For what its worth, I was reminded of an attempt by a documentary film maker Morgan Spurlock's insightful series called "30 days".

There was one particular episode that I think teaches an important lesson not just about "Muslims in America" but about racial profiling. In this episode "A Christian agrees to uproot his life among his like-minded family and friends and live for 30 Days in a large Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan."

Also discussed on Oprah here

Jack Point said...

Just trying to explore a line of thought.

I'm just trying to gain some understanding and I will try to state the problem in as neutral a manner as possible.

For a start to break up the problem, there is one issue:

Protests by individuals against the free expression of ideas by others.

This issue gives rise two further questions:

1. Do the protesters have a right to protest?
2. If so, to what extent can they protest?

Stated like this it would appear that:

a) The protesters can express whatever they want, subject to
b) the applicable law of the land.

They would be free to stage peaceful protests, write letters, stage boycotts etc but they have no right to break the law.

In the event the law is broken, then it should be treated as any other breach of law.

Does the above look reasonable?

There is a further factor tobe explored but I will post it as another comment because I don't want the issues confused.

Jack Point said...

I hope my previous comment was saved. There is something else I'm trying to work out.

I would like to understand the factors that prompt some to condone or execute violent protest.

This is not about protest per se,or the rights and wrongs (that we can debate in relation to my previous comment) but to try to understand the root causes.

Again, these are just ideas I'm throwing out, with malice to none.

Could the cause be cultural?

There are many one-party, feudal or theocratic states where Islam is used as a tool, to varying extents to help prop up the state.

These regimes seem to intertwine religion very closely with the stat e. A great deal of emphasis is placed on following religious teachings exactly, little or no leeway is available for personal interpretation of texts.

The regime uses this to keep the public under control. Any dissent against the state is equated to dissent with God and punished harshly.

People who grow up in cultures where dissent or even different views are on religious matters not tolerated find it difficult to understand how this may be the case in other cultures.

For example Rhythmic may be offended by the Cartoons in question but he does not attempt to murder the cartoonist, he may blog in protest or sign a petition instead. A Malay, Indonesian, Lebanese may react in exactly the same way as RD, indeed the majority do exactly that.

On the other hand, someone brought up in another culture (say Iran or Saudi Arabia just for the argument) may conclude that killing the cartoonist is an acceptable reaction.

Disaffected minorities, resident in the West who are insecure or unhappy may turn to religion for solace and find themselves under the influence of radicals from other cultures where violent means may seem acceptable.

The cause therefore is cultural, rather than religious.

Just some ideas, not fixed opinions , any comments?

Hakim said...

One reaps what one sows, if the cartoonist sowed hatred, then they will reap hatred...


You say "what the cartoonists were attacking was an idea. Ideas are fair game"... well I think Religion is a much greater than an "idea".. and I would say deserve respect. If not will there be an end to the "religious clashes" caused by stupid people who have nothing better to do with their time? All those stupid people are responsible for the situation the world is in today, they just keep adding fuel to the fire... bliss full ignorance.


I see how weak your ability process thought is, so I leave you in your ignorance. After all my judgment of you has no consequences to you or me.

Fazli Sameer said...

Darwin's post implies that every single human being should be held responsible for the others actions and statements.... Try selling that on this planet for crying out loud?

L said...

Jack Point, you might find this article interesting. Aptly titled: "Just listen and You will learn". discussing a book called "People Like Us, How Arrogance is dividing Islam and the West".

Jack Point said...

Hey L, thanks for the link.

Where have you been hiding? Have not seen you around of late.

David said...

"I think Religion is a much greater than an "idea".. and I would say deserve respect"

Darwin's post was about the cartoons, not religion in general. Here's the central issue:

Muslims are forbidden to draw pictures of Mohamed(*). Fundamentalist Muslims go further and say that everyone is forbidden to draw pictures of Mohamed. People to whom Allah is a fairy tale, who never consented to any such stricture, who live in another country even, must nevertheless abide by the fanatics' rules. The cartoonists disagreed. They, non-Muslims, didn't think they had to follow Islamic rules. To prove it they drew pictures of Mohamed. Some of them highly uncomplimentary of him. Hakim, which of these ideas do you think is worth respect? The opinion of the fundamentalists? Or the opinion of the cartoonists?

Me: the fundamentalists' viewpoint deserves only derision. From where I'm standing, the rules of Islam are private revelations to a mystic 1500 years ago. Why on earth should those rules be obeyed by a non-Muslim? It's not like there's any compelling evidence that they are truely from Allah.

Now, this not to say that protest is wrong. It's perfectly ok to be offended by the cartoons and to protest peaceably against them. But the mob that burned buildings and killed people weren't expressing their offense (which, after all, was entirely self-inflicted.) They were violently trying to impose their personal opinions on others. That is utterly wrong.


PS (*) While current versions of Islam forbid Mohamed portraits, some Islamic cultures in history were cool with them. Medieval Islamic pictures of Mohamed can be viewed here.

L said...

Hello Jack Point :-) You are welcome.

Found above point made by David quite interesting. Actually, can be extended to Judeo-Christian religion, where man-made imagery of god and therefore for Christians, forbidden. But well it has occurred for centuries. And there have been Christian groups which have disapproved and probably burnt some of these icons etc.

Fazli Sameer said...

No one has the right to point fingers at what other religions have to say as opinions can vary even amongst the followers of the same religion across the board.