dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Wars Against Nouns

February 7th, 2006 by dk

Cartoons prove that the pen indeed is mightier than the sword, because the pen can so easily get under the skin. The strength of a cartoon is not in its own force, but in its power to provoke. Like a prizefighting fake that fools the opponent into a roundhouse, a good cartoon reveals something in the responder that they wished had stayed hidden.

Headlines this week display this strength to reveal. We in Eugene saw how cartoons could sway and shape public opinion, when the Gang of 9 bought prominent newspaper space to lambast city councilors. We’re now watching the power of cartooning to provoke outrage on a much larger stage: in Denmark, across Europe and in Washington, D.C.

By pure luck of timing, the contrasts have been highlighted.

Protests erupted in Europe last week over ironic depictions — and depictions at all — of Mohammed, first printed in an obscure Danish newspaper. For the strictest adherents of Islam, any picture of their religion’s founding prophet is seen as idolatrous, a graven image. The fact that his turban is shaped like a ticking time bomb, well, that’s adding insult to injury. Young Muslims have been taking to the streets in protest.

The same day, the newspapers had another story about a different cartoon and the reaction it provoked. This one was drawn by Pulitzer-prize-winning Tom Toles, and he was lampooning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s dissembling about the readiness of our Army forces. This cartoon prompted a rare letter to the editor from all six members of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, complaining that the cartoon was “beyond tasteless.” At least they didn’t say it was blasphemous.

As an editorial in this newspaper rightly noted, they didn’t get the joke. A speck of a joke isn’t easy to get when you have a plank of religious zeal in your eye.

Forget the cartoons and study the reactions. In both cases, the initial response was “how dare you!” One group of young religious zealots rose up in outrage because the cartoons violated their traditions and teachings in place for over a millennia. The other group was a half dozen war professionals who believed they had to weigh in AGAINST a centuries-old tradition of free expression in the press.

But then go a step further and watch the reaction to the reaction. Newspapers across Europe have responded in solidarity with those press freedoms by reprinting the offending cartoons. This has prompted more protests, and a major newspaper in Iran announced they would have their own cartoon contest for the best depictions of the Holocaust.

Newspapers in America have stayed out of the fray. Toles’ cartoon has been defended at The Washington Post and in newspapers like this one, but most saw the extraordinary protest letter as much ado about nothing. None chose to run the Toles cartoon a second time to make the point that government executives ought not to be trying to pressure editors and cartoonists to censor themselves. More significantly, no major newspaper in America has taken up Europe’s cause and reprinted the offensive Danish cartoons.

Why not?

Everyone in the First World is now concerned about what violence may be fomented by radical extremists of any stripe. Osama bin Laden has seen to it that Islam grabs those headlines first, but the radical extremist profile also fits some factions of the Zionist movement, not to mention our own Timothy McVeigh and people like him.

Europe sees these protests and their violence as criminal. As with the car-bombing outside Paris and the attacks on the London transit system, the goal is to find those who commit violence and make them stop.

We’ve declared it a war. They use police. We use the military. The difference is profound. Crime is focused on the misdeed. War defines the opponent. Wrongdoing is personalized toward evildoers. There is no measure for correction, no remedy, no redemption. Every war is in this way a holy war.

When our president declared war on terrorism, he promised the world a jihad to end all jihads. History is not on his side.

If Europe agrees that a war against a noun is what we need right now, they’re fighting against intolerance. As the world gets smaller and more interconnected, that seems to be a battle well worth joining. The unlikely lament of Rodney King’s is the closest we have to a clarion call: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Cartoonists perform an important service by exposing those intolerances wherever they appear.

Tags: 2 Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BillThePoet Feb 24, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    OK, let’s get our favorite guilty Mohammed cartoon joke out of our system.

    Did you hear about all the Psychiatrists getting beheadded? They were displaying Rohrshach ink blots of The Prophet.

    Feel better?

    I’ve been afraid of cartoons for years. I haven’t been afraid of my head being separated from my body until recently, but I’ve been afraid of cartoon-based crimes, and consequences that are almost as permanent. Islam-enforced headlessness is just another cartoon hazard to place on my list.

    I’m the archetypical middle-aged white man. I’ve got a white collar, middle-management government job with a low-level security clearance. I’ve got a car, family, home, church life, and various community and social networks.

    And cartoons threaten pretty much every part of my life.

    This isn’t a neurosis. Cartoons _are_ dangerous. I’ve been trained, counseled or warned about dozens of cartoon dangers at one time or another.

    At work, cartoons can get me fired, sued, demoted, or marginalized, depending. If I download explicit cartoons, my security clearance is yanked and my job is probably gone. If a co-worker sees a cartoon in my office that is offensive, (s)he can get me fired _and_ sue me. The record of my computer cartoon clicking is part of my web log and can be recovered at any time by the system administrator to investigate and potentially justify an accusation.

    And it doesn’t even have to actually _be_ offensive, it only has to be perceived as offensive by the viewer. I’m afraid of newspaper cartoons at work, too. If my cartoon selections have a discernable theme, I fear I’ll acquire a reputation that may typecast me as unworthy of advancement.

    I’ve been afraid of religious cartoons at work for years. If the cartoon expresses any religious theme, I may be professionally punished for creating a hostile work environment or violating a separation of Church and State regulation.

    At home I have even more cartoon fear. If I view an adult-themed cartoon and my son gets a peek, I’m afraid he might be traumatized. If I inadvertently follow link to a website that displays an explicit cartoon, and if it’s particularly vile, I’m afraid it may trip an alarm at my Internet Provider’s supervisory system and attract the attention of law enforcement.

    I’m afraid of clean, mainstream cartoons on the web, too. My pattern of internet cartoon viewing may be hacked and/or investigated by potential girlfriends. I’m afraid political cartoon amusement could kill an otherwise fun relationship. In fact this sort-of happened once when a newspaper worker I was wooing decided I was too conservative for a date, partially based on my editorial cartoon artist preferences.

    I’m afraid a cartoon bumper sticker or decal on my car can get it keyed.

    I’m also terrified by the thought of cartoons drawn or handled by my 12 year old.
    If he draws a cartoon of a gun or a girl (or God forbid, a gun _and_ a girl), and that cartoon gets anywhere near his school, I’m afraid he’ll be suspended or expelled, and we’ll both be referred to local and state authorities.

    If he slip sheets the cartoon into his Bible on the way to Sunday School or church, I’m afraid it will be discovered, and the social consequences could drive us to leave the flock in search of an new congregation.

    Cartoon liberties used to include pin-up calendars in garages, edgy bulletin board jokes, and home made G.I. Joe adventures in a boy’s notebook margins. It used to include a few guilty but fundamentally personal pleasures. Sadly, thanks to political correctness rules, thin-skinned “victims” with lawyers, and now religious zealots, freedom to own or look at cartoons has long since vanished from the land for many of us. In context, instant death by the hand of the offended was probably inevitable.

    Alas, the Danes now know what I’ve known for years: cartoons are dangerous, hazardous, and just plain scary.

  • 2 BillThePoet Feb 25, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    And bears. I meant to mention it in my previous post. Sorry. I’m afraid of cartoons and bears.