God and Government: The Cartoon Thing

Have you heard about the whole Muhammed cartoon controversy? Every other blog in the world is talking about it as though everyone is entirely up to speed, but I can’t really trust you people to read the news, so let me summarize.

Islamic tradition (law?) holds that it is wrong to draw images — particularly cartoons — of the Prophet. This seems to be akin to the “using the lord’s name in vain” thing, but I’m no expert on Islamic tradition (law?). No, really.

Well, anyway, last December a small Danish newspaper printed a series of comics depicting the prophet, the most notable one featuring him wearing a turban that looked like a bomb. For some reason, it took a long time for anyone to notice, but sometime last week a lot of Muslim nations and organizations began creating a huge stir over it, demanding an apology and organizing a widespread boycott of Danish projects (that actually severely hurt several Danish organizations in a very short period of time). The government and the editor of that paper both offered a…sort of restricted apology, but then newspapers throughout Europe picked up the cartoons and started to run them in a show of solidarity for the little Danish paper, and for freedom of speech in general.

The argument seems to be this: that the Western world is not subject to Islamic law, and shouldn’t be expected to operate under it. Furthermore, that the Western media has long used political cartoons to attack Western political and cultural icons, as well as (of course) Christianity and Judaism. When “they” start to cause a ruckus over this, try to tell our media what it can and can’t print based on their religious doctrines, we have to remind them that most of what makes us separate from them is the sort of freedom that allows our media to print stupid political cartoons.

(That is, as I understand it, the basic argument in favor of the cartoons — not necessarily mine.)

And then, on the other hand, the big point is, simply, “Well, yes, sure, you can print anything you want in your papers, but why would you choose to print something viciously offensive to millions and millions of people?”

And whoever is asking that question has never really paid any attention to Western media….

But all of that is background. As I was driving to lunch yesterday, I was listening to a story on the topic, and I was thinking, “If I were a cartoonist, I would draw one showing Mohammed rolling his eyes, with a little chat bubble that said, ‘Stop killing people!‘” And I thought about it a little and decided that, for historical reasons, I’d probably go ahead and throw in Jesus there next to him, and the two of them together reprimanding their audience.

So that got me thinking that, really, it sounded kind of like a message incompatible with my own beliefs. The actual line running through my head was, “No religion has any good reason to go killing people.” That’s the line that got Jesus added in, actually. But, then, it comes across as kinda pacifist, which I obviously am not.

So, pondering these things, I came to this conclusion. “Every government has good reason to kill people.” It goes without saying, really. Doesn’t necessarily mean they will, or should (after all, there may very well be better reasons not to), but they’ve got a vested interest in making some people dead. Religions don’t. Religions benefit most from living people, although all of their offered rewards tend to be for the dead. It’s an odd situation.

But here’s what I’m saying: if the United States is in a war because of Christianity…that’s an atrocity. If the United States is in a war for territory or resources, well, that’s a practicality. Such wars have been the foundation of most every nation you could name today, the United States very much included. If it’s in a war to protect its citizens from an external aggressor (even, yes, preemptively), then it’s serving the interests of the citizens which is, in fact, a state’s first responsibility. States have good reasons to go to war, but religions don’t.

So, yeah, I stand behind my cartoon. Any decent Prophet would stand up in front of his followers, and roll his eyes, and just shout in exasperation, “Stop killing people!” He’d be right, too.