Cartoons and Bombs

I wonder, are waves of angry protest, flag burning, and embassy burning in the name of religion any less rational than waves of B-52s, cluster bombs, and torture in the name of democracy?

So when I hear any American official speak about the worldwide protests against unflattering cartoons of Islam’s Prophet, it is difficult to credit the words, but surprisingly there is one statement by an American – someone who ranks third only after George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld for total number of career lies – that I do credit.

Days ago, Condoleezza Rice – Secretary of State, fundamentalist Christian, and apologist for torture and bombing – told the world that Iran and Syria were stoking the fires of these protests. At first pass, this sounds like the days when Moscow was held responsible for every change of weather in Peoria.

But for once, I think Condoleezza may be right, but her words mean something different than she intends.

Israel’s Sharon, now sidelined by a lifetime’s accumulation of blood on the brain, has advocated American military action against these states since the invasion of Iraq, and there have been many threatening, blustering statements from Washington, at one point coming up with the silly idea that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been shipped surreptitiously to Syria. Syria has been the recipient of threats, shootings by Americans along its border, and illegal buzzing by Israeli jets.

From Iran’s point of view, the U.S. has been on a violent tear in Iran’s own neighborhood, and America’s closest partner in the region, Israel, is an open advocate of war. So there are powerful and legitimate reasons why Iran and Syria might be stoking the demonstrations – simply trying to avoid being attacked. America is definitely building a big head of steam towards Iran, but it is too ferociously engaged in Iraq and too weighed down with resulting economic problems to consider another invasion. Sanctions, bombing, missile attacks, and black ops are all undoubtedly being planned.

What better way to discourage American war plans than to encourage the naturally-occurring fury over the cartoons? The intended message is: if cartoons can cause this, just consider what attacking yet another Muslim country will do.

And this is a true message. The U.S. has achieved nothing in Iraq but releasing chaos and destruction. Indeed, Iraq has become something it never was before, a massive training ground for guerilla and terrorist forces of every kind.

As for publishing cartoons that ridicule religious figures, anyone in a modern country has that right, but is it a sensible one to exercise? I have written satirical pieces on America’s religious right, but only because that group twists religion to serve a narrow and dangerous politics. There is no purpose in satirizing those who lead quiet religious lives, the case for the overwhelming majority of the world’s billion Muslims, or in satirizing a figure such as Jesus.

These cartoons reflect prejudiced Western attitudes because they ridicule Islam’s Prophet rather than any misguided or dishonest follower. It is the same reason they make so many so angry.

More humility over the religion of others is definitely in order for Western countries, considering their own horrifically bloody pasts. In poorer lands, a number of Muslims live at a stage of development that prevailed in Europe not so long ago. It was only a few hundred years ago that Catherine de Medici started the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France, ending with the murder of perhaps 20,000 innocent people in a few days. In thanks for the deaths of Protestants, the Pope in Rome issued a gold medal commemorating what he regarded as heroic service to God and offered many special masses.