Monday, February 20, 2006

Radical Empathy

I’ve had a number of heated discussions recently about the Dutch cartoons and the violent responses which have arisen. For the record, I find the rioting, destruction and hateful rhetoric, which has certainly been exacerbated by politicians and clerics, to be morally reprehensible. Period.

There are two things which bother me, however, about the reactions which I am hearing and reading. First, and of lesser importance, there is a strong tendency to deny or overlook the idea that Moslems are truly, genuinely, deeply offended by the depictions. There seems to be an almost global view in the west that the reactions are almost entirely orchestrated. While there is certainly truth to this, why is it so difficult to understand that these images are belittling to deeply held religious beliefs. The average American would be completely shocked to understand how meaningful these sketches are. In this respect, the Iranian papers were not so far off base in comparisons to the holocaust. Ask yourself – do you think that Moslems are as upset by these images as we would be of holocaust cartoons? If your answer is ‘no’, then you don’t get it.

Second, and far more importantly, while there are all kinds of expressions from the west denouncing these depictions as being hateful, who among us really thinks that they are off base? Do we not think that the Moslem world is steeped in violence and aggression? Do we not view the average adherent to Islam as being less progressive, more inclined to radicalism, more likely to advocate war over peace? Don’t the cartoons simply emblemize ideas which are widely held in the west – you are the enemy, we don’t trust you, we fear you, we hate you.

Most of the Moslems in the world, the vast majority, are not rioting. They are upset by the loss of life and embarrassed by images in the media of embassy burnings. It is true that their voices are drowned out by angry radicalism, but who would they talk to anyway? Where do they expect to find an audience?

So, while we’re busy congratulating ourselves for being so far superior in the way that we have suffered the hatred which has been directed at us for so long, perhaps we can at least examine whether we have just a slightly more human feeling towards our Moslem cousins. Don’t stop condemning violence, but as we denounce all of this terrible hatred, perhaps we can try to address some of our own.

15 Comments:

Blogger e-kvetcher said...

There was something about this on "60 minutes" last night. It seems that the same paper that published the cartoons (actually actively solicited the cartoons to teach the Muslims a lesson in free speech) rejected some terribly offensive picture of Jesus on the grounds that it would be very upsetting to the public. Of course, the paper has "no comment" about this conincidence.

February 20, 2006 7:51 PM  
Blogger Just me said...

Hi, I'd like to get in touch with you. My situation is very similar to yours. Please email me notsopuny5721 at yahoo.

February 21, 2006 11:02 AM  
Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

D&D: Nobody is overlooking the fact that the cartoons are insulting and distasteful. The complaint against the Islamic world is about the use of violence in the protest. It is no more than infantile narccicism which seeks to kill when insulted. As for the non-rioting Muslims, we are still waiting for them to denounce the violence in a meaningful way. Until that happens, they are complicit.

February 21, 2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger anonymous said...

"Second, and far more importantly, while there are all kinds of expressions from the west denouncing these depictions as being hateful, who among us really thinks that they are off base? Do we not think that the Moslem world is steeped in violence and aggression? Do we not view the average adherent to Islam as being less progressive, more inclined to radicalism, more likely to advocate war over peace? Don’t the cartoons simply emblemize ideas which are widely held in the west – you are the enemy, we don’t trust you, we fear you, we hate you."

What sense does this make? They are currently rioting. Of course the cartoons symbolize something that is deeply felt in the West. They symbolize reality! If there's a stereotype, it's failure to distinguish between Arab and Muslim, but that's about it. The "feeling" is based on the reality.

I think your first point is also based on emotion. Their upset is not nearly so deep as they are claiming. They are not upset about the cartoons (the cartoons first appeared in Egypt, and got no attention at all). They are very, very upset about their position in the world, the miseries of the countries they live in, a sense that the West has passed them by, etc etc. Not by the cartoons.

February 21, 2006 6:54 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

Freak,

I’m not terribly shocked that we don’t see eye to eye on this. I do actually agree with you that not to denounce is, in a sense, complicit. I hope that you’ll agree, though, that these are two vastly different behaviors, and just painting them together is unfairly simplistic.

Characterizing Moslems (or Arabs) as violent is no different than saying that Blacks are unintelligent. So, we can keep on thinking that they’re unintelligent, deny them opportunities, education and rights, and, wow, look, they really don’t seem too smart, they can’t find decent jobs, they don’t get ahead – boy we must be right, we’re not prejudiced, it’s just ‘reality’. Or, we can look a little deeper, have a less simplistic view of people, and set start challenging some of those long held assumptions.

I’m not saying that will change the situation – certainly not in any short time frame, but you’ve got to start somewhere. People, and certainly not an entire segment of humanity, are not one dimensional. You don’t have to close your eyes or drop your vigilance to have a bit more understanding.

Besides, dramatic change can happen when you have a little courage. I was in Israel in yeshiva in 1979 (in the west bank, no less) and I thought that giving back the Sinai was the most irresponsible thing in history. Well, that was 27 years ago, not only has there been no war with Egypt, but there has been no serious threat of attack by Syria. (No, I’m not saying that everything has been just a bed of roses.) Had Begin kept to the mindset that Moslems/Arabs are inherently unable to keep the peace, we would now have far more stones up on Har Hertzel.

February 21, 2006 9:18 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

just me,

You can reach me at dbs.blog@gmail.com

February 21, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Just a nitpick, but as a descendant of Danes, I'd like to point out the cartoons were Danish (published by a Danish newspapaer in Denmark), not Dutch (and not published by a Dutch newspaper in Holland).

February 22, 2006 4:24 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

Foilwoman,

Much apologies. I have the typical American education and have gathered all of my knowledge of world geography by playing lots of Risk when I was a kid. (Well, I’ve been all over, but mostly on business, where learning the local culture consists of figuring out how to get the toilets to flush.) Let’s give credit where credit is due.

February 22, 2006 5:10 PM  
Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

February 23, 2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger anonymous said...

DBS Radically skeptical blogs are probably more offensive to Orthodox Jews than these cartoons are to Muslims! Double standards.

"Characterizing Moslems (or Arabs) as violent is no different than saying that Blacks are unintelligent."

"Muslims are violent" is a statement about Muslim society and culture. It's not a statement about individuals! "Blacks are unintelligent" is not a statement about a society or culture; it's a covenient way of lumping people together to deny individual people opportunity based on some irrelevant average. The "average black" is an irrelevancy to whether you hire a specific black.

February 23, 2006 12:18 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

I wonder what the 'average' intelligence of Anonomous commenters would be, though I still believe in equal opportunity for them.

By the way, I don't know what a "Radically Skeptical" blog is, but I doubt that it's any more offensive than, say, a Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon blog would be to an Orthodox Jew who chooses to read them.

For the record, I'm not a radical skeptic, I'm a firm beliver in reality.

February 24, 2006 1:51 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

February 24, 2006 5:32 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

"I wonder what the 'average' intelligence of Anonomous commenters would be, though I still believe in equal opportunity for them."

apparently not, as your blog doesn't allow anonymous comments :-) Anonymous is my handle.

"By the way, I don't know what a "Radically Skeptical" blog is, but I doubt that it's any more offensive than, say, a Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon blog would be to an Orthodox Jew who chooses to read them."

They are no different than cartoons, which you say deeply offend these Muslims in a way Westerners don't appreciate. But surely the blogs that take on Judaism specifically are more offensive to OJews, because Hindus, Christians etc are frequently saying things that OJews don't believe, but mostly not going out of their way to denigrate Jewish beliefs in particular.

I meant skeptical of religion.

February 24, 2006 5:39 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

are more offensive to OJews, because Hindus, Christians etc are frequently saying things that OJews don't believe, but mostly not going out of their way to denigrate Jewish beliefs in particular.


So like when Christians write that all Jews are going to hell, or the Muslim blogs that write that Jews are descended from apes and the Torah is a corruption of G-d's word?

But there is a difference between a blog where you pretty much choose to read it and publishing cartoons in a widely circulated newspaper where it is pushed to everyone.

February 24, 2006 4:11 PM  
Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

March 01, 2006 1:03 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home