Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cartoon Riots and the War on Christmas

These days, I hear a lot of Americans speaking about Muslim protestors with righteous indignation. They complain about a group of people who get all bent out of shape over a set of cartoons claiming that those cartoons are an insult to Mohammed and to all Muslims; yet those same Muslims do not get bent out of shape over those who kidnap and behead or blow up innocent men, women, and children in the name of Mohammed.

I made some comments like this myself, and I will stand by them.

However, I find the comments somewhat hypocritical when they come from Americans who engage in a similar form of behavior.

For example, let’s put the Cartoon Riots up against one of the top news items in this country a couple of months ago . . . the “War on Christmas.”

Instead of drawing cartoons of Mohammed, the offense in this case consisted of saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Somehow, it was a attack on Christianity for an individual to decide that he was not going to assume that the person he was talking to was a Christian – that he would leave his options open and use a neutral greeting to those he did not know.

For some reason, this act of free speech was an assault on the Christian God and an affront to Jesus, for which the offenders deserved the harshest condemnation.

Now, I cannot even pretend that the “War on Christmas” Christians in this country went nearly as far over the line as some Muslim critics. These Christians did not call for the execution of those who engaged in this blasphemous religious crime.

I do not recall angry Christian mobs burning down businesses that dared to say “Happy Holidays,” or leaders calling for the arrest and imprisonment of corporate event planners that organized a company holiday party.

Yet, it was also far harder to actually make a reasonable sounding case that “Seasons Greetings” is as much an anti-Christian message as a cartoon of Mohammad as endorsing terrorism is an anti-Muslim message.

At the same time that many “War on Christmas” Christians were in a range over somebody saying “Season’s Greetings,” they had nothing to say in protest of those who abused and tortured prisoners, sometimes to death. Nor were they protesting the fact that the Administration takes people off of the streets of allied countries, ships them to foreign prisons where they can be held and brutalized without a trial or court system to protect them, only to have it be discovered that the government had caught the wrong man.

These charges cannot be applied universally against all Christians or Muslims. There are Christians who are outraged over news of the abuse, torture, and sometimes murder of sometimes innocent people in U.S. custody. There are Muslims who are shamed and outraged over Muslims who suggest that it is appropriate to respond to these cartoons with acts of violence and death.

Yet, the voices of these proponents of peace and human dignity are drowned out by the shouts of anger that come from those more concerned with affronts to a God (who, we may assume, is capable of taking care of himself if he exists at all), while ignoring as insignificant the crimes committed against real people in the real world.

Both groups show a highly distorted sense of reality.

If these groups could learn to respond to terrorist bombings, and the abuse, torture, and murder of prisoners as they respond to these affronts (real and imagined) against their Gods, then the evils of suicide bombings and the abuse, torture, and murder of prisoners would be far behind us by now.

In fact, rather than bringing peace and security, these oversensitive concerns with affronts to one’s religion are exactly what is making the world less safe. We are approaching a time where, if a store clerk says “Happy Holidays” he has declared war on Christianity and can be held in contempt for his vile and disrespectful act. Yet, if he says “Merry Christmas” he has declared war on Islam and deserves to die.

There is no way to win in this type of environment. This is a recipe for conflict and, as the anger and intolerance grows, it is a recipe for war -- a war that cannot end until one of the two groups has destroyed the other.

Let’s be honest; secularists are not immune from this way of thinking. Clearly, if a cartoonist from Denmark has the right to draw a picture of Mohammed, and a store clerk has the right to say “Happy Holidays”, then a schoolgirl in France has a right to wear a cross on a necklace or a scarf without the state demanding that she remove it.

Here are the rules for peace:

No person has a right to force somebody who does not belong to their religion to act as if they do belong to that religion. Jews may not be permitted to eat pork, but they have no right to protest those who do not have the same dietary restrictions. Claiming that eating pork is anti-Semitic would be absurd. Muslims may not be allowed to draw images of Mohammed, but others drawing pictures of Mohammed is not anti-Islam. Some Christians may feel a need to wish others a, “Merry Christmas,” but “Happy Holidays” is not a declaration of war on Christianity.

The state should act as an impartial referee between conflicting religions and not take sides in the debate. The instant the state takes sides, those it favors begin to treat unjustly and immorally those who do not share the state’s favored religion. Bigotry becomes the law of the land.

People have a right to say whatever they want about other religions. Dale Reich has a right to say that atheists are sociopaths. By this I mean that the government may not punish those who make these types of statements.

However, freedom of speech includes an obligation to speak truthfully and responsibly. Violating this rule may not warrant state punishment, but it does warrant harsh condemnation from those who have an interest in promoting honest and responsible dialogue.

Similarly, if anybody from any religion calls for violence against those who say what he does not like, the person calling for violence deserves the harshest condemnation. Those who escalate a situation into violence are far more dangerous than those who can limit their disagreement to words alone.

We’ve had 7 people at least killed in protests over these cartoons, at least three buildings torched as far as I can tell, destruction of property, and whole nations of people now afraid for their lives. All because people who call themselves moral could not follow some simple little rules.

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