That Swedish Cartoon of Mohammed Was Offensive ...

March 11, 2010

To dogs. Why should our canine friends be demeaned by being conjoined -- even figuratively -- to the head of someone such as Mohammed?

I am referring, of course, to the 2007 cartoon by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, which depicted the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog. Vilks has received numerous death threats since the cartoon was first published, and in the last couple of days an arrest was made of a person involved in a new, bizarre plot to kill him. The person arrested was an American, Colleen Renee LaRose, a/k/a Jihad Jane, who allegedly was conspiring with some terrorists in Ireland to assassinate Vilks.

Congrats to the three Swedish newspapers who republished the Vilks cartoon after the latest conspiracy came to light. The papers noted that the threat to Vilks constituted a threat against one of the most fundamental human rights, namely freedom of speech. Bravo. Their actions in supporting Vilks and republishing his cartoons contrast sharply with the craven, apologetic attitude adopted by some after the furor over the 2005 Danish cartoons. Maybe the West has some backbone after all.

My only quibble with the cartoon is that it may be a bit unfair to focus only on Mohammed and, by extension, Islamic fundamentalists. Sure, the Koran is suffused with incitements to violence, and we are all too familiar with contemporary Islamic terrorism. But Judaism and Christianity don't exactly have clean hands. (Hence my three-headed dog.)

There probably never was a Moses, but the actions attributed to him in the Bible portray him as a murderous, genocidal fanatic, willing to slaughter his own people for almost any faux pas in matters religious and positively eager to exterminate anyone who was not a Hebrew. We are often told Moses should be honored as a law-giver and role model in matters of morals. Excuse me? Perhaps his desire to ethnically cleanse the Promised Land made him a role model (ironically) for those Germans who dreamt of Lebensraum , but I fail to see any basis for revering him.

Jesus is a more ambiguous figure. The New Testament does refer frequently to peace and love, but it also attributes to JC the assertion that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. And the book of Revelations does not exactly portray a gentle, forgiving Jesus. What is certain is that Christianity has inspired as much violence and bloodshed as Islam. If we didn't have suicide bombers during the centuries of warfare between Protestants and Christians, it's only because the technology was not available.

So sharp criticism of Islam is appropriate, but let's not forget that almost all religions have been the enemies of religion and the midwives of mindless violence. There are, of course, many believers who are agreeable, responsible, moral, wonderful individuals. But they don't get that way by allowing their lives to be dominated by religious dogma. Slavishly adhering to the supposed teachings of semi-legendary figures who (may have) lived long ago, in conditions starkly different from our own, is not a recipe for an informed, fulfilling, morally laudable life. If you rely solely on religious dogma as your guide to life, you're likely to end up with a dog's breakfast.