Sunday, February 05, 2006

Choosing to Be Offended

In the past few weeks, a few cartoons published in a Danish Newspaper have aroused a storm of outrage amongst Muslim extremists. They have learned very well how to exploit political correctness, a mailed fist wrapped in velvet which seeks to limit public discourse only to those subjects and expressions which will not offend someone or other. The politically 'sensitive' make much of the decision of the Danish newspaper, and other European newspapers, to print these cartoons. But no mention is made of the choice by those offended to take offense--as if such offense were beyond choice, but a simple given. The debate is thereby not just conceded, but completely forbidden. It seems that Muslims are to be treated like children, whose delicate ears are too tender to be subjected to the conversation of adults. Behind the apparently sensitive, motherly aspect of the politically correct lurks a much older, more sinister figure: the European colonial who, taking up the White Man's Burden, spares his less gifted brown charges from the rigour of civilized thought. The insult to Islam is not the cartoons, but the carefully orchestrated outrage of a few religious demagogues, who encourage this caricature of Muslims as infantile invalids too feeble to withstand the rough and tumble exchange of ideas so common in the West.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the purpose of humour. Laughter is the safety valve of sanity, our means of coping with the absurdity and contradictions of our beliefs and those of others. In a joke you can say what you could not say straight out--the conversation is not given the weight of a serious debate. The joke can be outrageously false or outrageously true. It's bullshit, but bullshit that comes labelled as such, an invitation to play with the subject without serious commitment. Best of all, humour deflates pomposity. The king farts, the gods fall on their faces, the wise men babble. Humour offends pride, but as virtually all religions agree, pride exists to be offended and defeated. If you've lost your sense of humour, you've probably lost much of your humanity.

Pride is the deadliest of sins because it is born of the deep and abiding sense of inferiority, an overcompensation for real or perceived inadequacy. It is a bulwark mounted against criticism, which, if heeded, might lead to real change and correct the faults that criticism addresses. If one of the cartoons depicts Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, the question that should be asked is who put that turban on him--the cartoonist, or the fanatics who seek to make Islam synonymous with intolerance and violence? If those who do evil go to hell, there is a special, deeper hell reserved for those who do evil in God's name, who make good seem evil and evil good.

The governments of Islamic countries are milking this for all it is worth. There's nothing quite like a foreign slight to distract the people from the failings of their own government, and as the Nazis demonstrated, nothing like a scapegoat to make your own people unite. The scapegoat, of course, is never the problem. Denmark is irrelevant to the Muslim world; no one would even have noticed these cartoons had the cartoons not been reproduced and widely distributed amongst Muslims. Also included in the cartoons being circulated amongst Muslims were three additional cartoons which are far more outrageous, which no one can trace the origin of and which have not appeared in any major publication that anyone can name. In short, the riots and protests are the product of a deliberate propaganda campaign. As long as everyone focuses their energies upon such fictional monsters, the real problems will never be solved.