February 10, 2006

Putting the Brakes on Cartoon Furor

Is there a limit? Does there come a point when we are just too over the top, too antagonistic to those with whom we are at odds? Seeing these cartoon images now on t-shirts, I begin to feel uneasy. I can't see anybody putting on such a shirt doing it for any other reason than to say, "Your religion sucks". Of course I am not questioning the rights of citizens to do such a thing but at some point we are not trying to express our ideas but to hurt those with who we diagree. I see this cartoon freedom movement reaching that breaking point.

Case in point, Peter March, a philosophy professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada.

Some of the public passions roused internationally by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad surfaced in Canada on Thursday with shouting matches erupting at a protest in Halifax, and Muslims in Montreal saying they were worried a weekend protest there could turn violent.

The largely peaceful protest in Halifax turned tense when some Muslim students confronted a professor who has drawn fire for posting the contentious drawings on his office door.

Peter March, a philosophy professor at Saint Mary's University, said he was merely trying to promote a reasoned debate when he suddenly showed up in the midst of 100 protesters.

When the students realized who he was, a group of angry youths started yelling, "Go away!" and "You don't belong here!"

The shouting that ensued, all captured by TV cameras, was precisely the kind of image Canadian Muslim leaders are trying to avoid as governments and religious leaders continue to call for calm amid fears the recent violence has only reinforced Islam's negative image in the West.

There is something about this man which makes me very uncomfortable. He posts the cartoons on his office door then gives out his home address. There is no point to this other than to antagoize Muslim students. Is he looking for a fight or martyrdom? Either one seems overblown, self indulgent and most of all, pointless.

I am not in any way wavering in my support for the newspapers and periodicals which have published the cartoons. I think they are courageous. It appears that most, if not all, did so to reaffirm and vindicate the principle of free expression. They did so with deliberation and thoughtfulness and I suspect without hostility against a religion. The fight must continue as we see liberal countries like Sweden shutting down websites posting the photographs.

Now we are at a point where we can turn down the volume and let the hatred subside. We can still work against those trying to censor speech as a result of this controversy but do so in a way which is not designed to inflame the passion and invoke the anger of the other side. We will never be as repugnant and vile as those calling for holocausts and beheadings. No, but lets not get on the road which leads there.


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