It All Started With A Children’s Book

It all started with a children’s book. Kaare Bluitgen is popular in Denmark, although Amazon never heard of him, and Powell’s only lists one title, A Boot Fell From Heaven, intriguingly summarized with a single sentence: “God meets the boy who found his lost boot.”

Bluitgen wanted to write a kid’s book about Mohammed, and ran up against an important Muslim prohibition against drawing pictures of the prophet. He couldn’t find an illustrator, and this caught the interest of the Jyllands-Posten editors, who intentionally sought controversy by inviting twelve cartoonists to publish pictures of Mohammed in their daily paper.

Author and blogger Laila Lalami criticizes the cartoons but dismisses the insult as typical “ignorance and bigotry” and calls for calm: “Leave the cartoonist alone! He has a right to his stupidity!” I respect Lalami’s article very much, but, interestingly, this jewishguy comes up with a different interpretation than that moorishgirl. In fact my intuitive responses are almost a mirror opposite of hers.

She is being generous in shrugging off the religious offense the Jylland-Posten editors committed in broadcasting visual images of the prophet Mohammed in direct contradiction of a deep spiritual principle. Muslims have avoided drawing Mohammed for over a thousand years, and there’s certainly something admirable and beautiful in this austere tradition. I remember hearing about a new film biography of Mohammed that had been released a few years ago; the entire film avoided showing the subject’s face. Obviously, this is an important tenet of the religion.

Yes, of course, there is free speech in the great land that gave us Prince Hamlet, Soren Kierkegaard and nice fruit-filled pastries with icing. But I’m not impressed by the hooligan-style “Free Speech means they can shove it!” reaction to the Muslim outrage on, for instance, many blogs. In fact, free speech is safe in American and Europe and we don’t need to rub it in the faces of devout Muslims just to make sure.

I think Lalami could have come down harder on the editors and cartoonists for this reason, and at the same time I think she misses an important point when she calls them stupid and ignorant. They may have been obnoxious, disrespectful, blasphemous and many other things, but they set out to cause a stir and their plot succeeded — even, I imagine, beyond their goal. Like the orange in the turban says: it was a publicity stunt. So call these editors and artists manipulative, call them wicked, but don’t call them dumb. They knew what they were doing, and they ain’t dumb.

This last point leads to a larger one, which is that these twelve cartoons express a deep seething anger towards the propaganda and rhetoric of violent Islamic extremism that may be boiling more rapidly around the world than anyone realizes. Speaking just for myself, as an American Jew born in New York City (call me a triple threat), my first reaction to the Muslim outrage about these cartoons is best expressed by this other cartoon, which says a lot.

I pray for better times ahead for all of us ethnic pariahs. We really should talk more.

“God meets the boy who found his lost boot.” Hey God, we’ve got more important things for you to help us with these days.

15 Responses

  1. killed over cartoonsThere’s
    killed over cartoons

    There’s another point that I think people are missing here, and that’s the utter hypocrisy of those who claim to be following a man of peace who turn around and actually murder innocent human beings, whether it be because of foreign policy, or stupid cartoons, or whatever. People are dying because of a cartoon! I find it unfathomable!

    The very things that these extremists are railing about in reference to the West, are the very same things that they themselves are guilty of: hypocrisy, religious intolerance, and slaughtering of innocent people because they are different and pose a ‘threat’.

    I don’t believe in cutting people slack just because they feel justified in taking others lives because they’ve been ‘wronged’ religiously – whether they be Christians, Muslims, Jews, whatever.

    Religious intolerance cloaked in nationalism and hidden foreign agendas (both sides) are nothing but dirty business and until these animals who operate this way come to their senses (if ever) the innocent continue to suffer at their hands.

  2. I agreeI’ve also been angered
    I agree

    I’ve also been angered at the reactions to the Muslim outrage, in Europe and elsewhere. I believe in freedom of speech, but just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. I have the right to call people chinks, spics, n-ggers, wops, etc., but I don’t because there are certain boundaries. And if I offend someone, I apologize. I don’t go around rubbing it again in their face. In this case, the cartoon was published on a “dare” that no one would publish images depicting Mohammed in an unflattering light. The paper knew that these images would be offensive to Muslims, yet they went ahead and published it anyway. To me, this is even worse than inadvertently publishing an offensive image (that is, publishing something without being aware of the consequences), because they KNEW that it would provoke outrage in the Muslim community. And then to make it even worse, they had the gall to republish the images under the guise of “freedom of speech” which, to me, is just despicable. To claim that Muslims need to understand “western values of free speech and plurality” is condescending and also betrays a lack of knowledge of history. The West has often been intolerant and freedom of speech has not always historically been a Western value. The right to freedom of speech doesn’t give you the license to do so whenever you please.

  3. I agree with you. Listening
    I agree with you.

    Listening to NPR coverage of this story yesterday, I finally learned the source of the concept that “free speech doesn’t extend to someone yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theatre.” It was an actual ruling, in 1919, by Supreme Court Justice Olver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in the case of Schenk v. United States.

  4. Well, it’s pretty easy to sit
    Well, it’s pretty easy to sit over here and watch the news and call people names, but I don’t think it solves anything. It’s not that I believe in flipping out and killing people (at least not in a non-ninja way, because ninjas are totally sweet), but for people not to be angry over the obvious insensitivity of these cartoons is what’s actually unfathomable. And to think that because someone has religious faith, they have to roll over and let people mock them (because to do anything else makes them sub-human — I believe you used the word “animals”) is incredibly naive. It sure would be nice if people didn’t do bad things that make it really hard to see their perspective, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Instead of adding fuel to the fire, maybe we should try just that much harder to understand each other.

  5. Yeah, I’m tired of people
    Yeah, I’m tired of people doing things “just because they can.”

  6. Free speech is not an
    Free speech is not an absolute freedom either, as far as I believe anyway.

    And by animals, I’m referring to both the extremists and the westerners who hide behind religion while they are killing innocent people…

  7. “There’s another point that I
    “There’s another point that I think people are missing here, and that’s the utter hypocrisy of those who claim to be following a man of peace who turn around and actually murder innocent human beings”

    I really don’t think many people are missing this point at all … not as far as I can tell from all of the media coverage, conversations and commentary I’ve seen. However, I’m not sure that’s the point we’re trying to address here. In any case, I think, as Jamelah says, it’s probably comfortable to distance ourselves by using language like “animals”, “these extremists”, etc. but I think it’s a sort of dangerous practice and falls short of attaining a true line of commonality and understanding. I don’t think that’s anything to do with “cutting people slack”, but making an effort not to short-sightedly dismiss something that’s been dismissed and compartmentalized for too long. There will always be extremists and intolerance, but how we choose to foster, address or react to these issues probably do more to define us than the issues themselves.

  8. “And by animals, I’m
    “And by animals, I’m referring to both the extremists and the westerners who hide behind religion while they are killing innocent people…”

    It’s a dangerous game, calling people animals. Just like with any other epithet, it becomes necessary to qualify it by specifying which people lose the right to their humanity, and it’s a slippery slope that’s hard to stop sliding down once you start. If the freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to use that freedom wisely, then I think it behooves us not to degrade other people because we don’t like or understand their actions — that’s how these things start, isn’t it? Arabs and Muslims are people that have been misunderstood and marginalized for centuries, and the repeated misunderstanding and marginalization has made the situation amazingly volatile. It does little good to look at the things that people do as a result of that volatility and anger and dismiss those people as less than human, no matter how abhorrent their actions may seem or be. Especially here, as writers, I think we should be looking a little deeper, understanding the power of words a little more, and stating things wisely.

  9. Old Mo’ takes over the
    Old Mo’ takes over the WORLD

    Whoo boy! I should really not respond to this but sometimes I have no choice. A girl’s gotta do…and all that.

    Speaking of girls and boys. Did you notice that it was a penile world? All those young bucks running about, torching things, blowing themselves (and innocent bystanders) up with the understanding that there is a heaven with virgins running amuck when the ‘real’ women in their lives are living in walking tents because the guys can’t control themselves? It is not about religion…it is about CONTROL…pure D (I mean C)CONTROL.

    Now, all these guys that are running our world are running it right into the sewer of inequalities. We can defend their rights to their beliefs but can we suspend our rights to good sense?

    Some dude is on the cover of the Stone with a crown of thorns… (Hey! I have an idea, lets burn the Rolling Stone offices down!)

    Come on!…when people that are different refuse to accept differences, it is a very sad thing and does not bode well for the future of this planet.

    I am taking the ‘bonobo’ matriarchial mode, i.e. kiss and make love to those that are having frontal lobe issues.

    It is said (and I don’t know if it is true) that you can buy a postcard or poster picture of old Mo’ at most any curio shop in the Mideast.

    Yes kids, it is still a penile world and who is getting screwed?

  10. hey Steve…you can call me
    hey Steve…you can call me an ‘animal’ anytime honey.

    In our ego-centrist world where we give short shrift to all the other creatures and think that calling someone an animal is denigrating, doesn’t that speak volumes?

    Name-calling is our calling. We humans have it down to a fine art but those animals, they just mind their own business and look at us askance.


  11. Perhaps “the” most dangerous
    Perhaps “the” most dangerous game, Jamelah. On the way to work this morning, I heard someone on NPR discussing how the leaders of nations influence their citizens by calling other countries names, calculated to evoke deep feelings of of hostility, often based in religion. We say “axis of evil”, they say “great satan”, and it spirals into increasingly hostile attitudes. I’m trying to find the quote on NPR’s website but so far, no luck.

  12. I like it, SooZen. This goes
    I like it, SooZen. This goes back to Lysistrata and Aristophanes, doesn’t it? If feminine consciousness can help our pathetic world, I’ll speak for my gender and say “Take over, now, please”.

  13. Chiming in ….I do not
    Chiming in ….

    I do not condone or even comprehend all the furor over the cartoons. It is all because of misunderstanding of the scriptures within the Koran.

    I did a google on images and how they were written about in the Koran itself… the root of the misunderstanding.

    I found –

    “Chapter 42, verse 11 of the Koran does say: “[Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth… [there is] nothing like a likeness of Him.

    [Quote] This is taken by Muslims to mean that Allah cannot be captured in an image by human hand, such is his beauty and grandeur. To attempt such a thing is seen as an insult to Allah.


    “Chapter 21, verses 52-54 of the Koran read: “[Abraham] said to his father and his people: ‘What are these images to whose worship you cleave?’ They said: ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’ He said: ‘Certainly you have been, you and your fathers, in manifest error.’

    [Quote]From this arises the Muslim belief that images can give rise to idolatry – that is to say an image, rather than the divine being it symbolises, can become the object of worship and veneration.

    The BBC article continues –

    “Islamic tradition or Hadith, the stories of the words and actions of Muhammad and his Companions, explicitly prohibits images of Allah, Muhammad and all the major prophets of the Christian and Jewish traditions.

    More widely, Islamic tradition has discouraged the figurative depiction of living creatures, especially human beings. Islamic art has therefore tended to be abstract or decorative.

    Shia Islamic tradition is far less strict on this ban. Reproductions of images of the Prophet, mainly produced in the 7th Century in Persian, can be found.”

    Given the context of what was written in this article,

    one can easily conclude that this insanity of a few is completely taken out of the context of what they are professing to protect.

    The Koran only says that to make an image of Allah or his prophets can lead to idolatry, i.e., giving more importance to the ‘image’ than to the ‘experience’ of Allah.

    Also of importance is that if one were to follow the larger picture of strict Muslims, note the prohibition against any living creatures!!

    Why are these radicals singling out Mohammed, when the Koran embraces Moses and Jesus as prophets equal to Mohammed… they have certainly been artistically imagined, as have billions of living creatures.

    Would it not stand to reason these same rioters should tear down all pictures of living creatures, their families included, in order to strictly adhere to their interpretations of the Koran?

    IMHO, the rioting is more deeply rooted than the outcry against some cartoons (read: pen & ink drawings). It’s in defense of a religion that is not even fully understood by the rioters themselves. The fault lies in the preachers of Islam and how they themselves interpret the Koran’s words. Add to that the threat they see from, what they view as, the outside world intruding upon their milleniums old culture. They feel completely threatened by the pressures of the modern world engulfing them more quickly than they can respond to without violence slowing down the changes.

    For non-Muslims, the threats of retaliation against the radical followers of Islam is to submit to the demands one particular Theocracy over the freedom of belief of the individual. That would be against the wishes and desires of any sensible god.

    [note: ‘images’ has the same root word used in ‘imagination’… one of humanity’s greatest gifts – creativity]

  14. Fascinating info, Cecil —
    Fascinating info, Cecil — thanks.

    Since you are a visual artist, I think it makes sense that you would respond in this way.

  15. Thx, Levi! The only
    Thx, Levi!

    The only terrorism is ignorance… ignoring the facts over fear only enhances that fear and does little for advancing the facts in search of truth.

    A revolution aimed at overthrowing ignorance worldwide may be necessary, but it must begin within one’s overthrow of indoctrinations and misleadings that inhibit our own search for Truth amidst the plethora of facts at our disposal.

    The social aspect would bring an understandable violence, but we have that anyway, as two ignorances (currently Christianity and Muslims) battle each other over different interpretations of the wisdom spoken by enlightened men – Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, all of whom the Muslims proclaim to honor, but obviously ‘read’ differently from the opposition!

    (Sorry, I meant to give my two cents worth but have unwittingly given two bits worth! My apologies, please…)

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!