Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sex, Politics, and Religion

There is an old rule aboard ships that one does not discuss the above topics in the wardroom. By their very nature, they are topics that can lead to arguments rather than healthy debate and conversation. And at sea, it's often best to avoid creating any unnecessary conflicts and tension. Who knows how long you'll be underway together?

It is a rule I've carried on with. So even when there are topics regarding sex, politics, and religion that interest me, I avoid bringing them up in social settings. I think I may be missing out on some good conversations, though. Recently, I've been following the story of the carictures of the Prophet Mohammed in many European newspapers. I was surprised at how strongly I reacted to the story. Christopher Hitchens at Slate wrote a good editorial that captures many of the points I would make, though more aggressively and belligerently. I would have liked to have brought up the topic at a party I went to Saturday night (more on that to follow), since it was a smart group. But it is a live wire, and I'd hate to introduce any unpleasantness to such an enjoyable evening. But it's a fascinating topic, and I'd like to find out what other people think about it.


my portfolio needs updating said...

I'm not a big fan of Hitchens, so I missed his editorial.

Did you know:
- The Appellate Courthouse building in Manhattan has statues of historical "code of law" figures, and that Mohammed was one of them...until it was removed at the request of several Muslim nations in the 1950's?
- There is a likeness of Mohammed on the Sumpreme Court building, as well as a statue inside, and that William Rehnquist turned down a Muslim coalition's mid-90's request to excise these (though I think it was a reasonable rejection; the complaint was that the statue was a sacrilegious form of idol worship, which is not at all a direct analogue of the editorial cartoon situation).

I think the whole affair is tasteless. The original cartoon was a simple-minded slur, the French reprint was idiocy, and the offense taken was histrionic and foolish.

Looking at that previous sentence, that seems like the attitude Hitchens would have, with perhaps more emphasis on the last two. Yes? Call it the "Everyone Is Stupid Except Me" approach.

Chris Ogle said...

I believe that this is another form of asymmetrical warfare courtesy of a dedicated group of insurgent forces. I don't believe that the response to these cartoons was one of spontaneous rebellion; instead, I think the flames were fanned by extremists who have made a practice of denouncing Western culture in the mosques and Muslim neighborhoods of European cities.

As for my personal reaction to the cartoons: insensitive to the religious beliefs of Muslims, but certainly not outside the realm of free press. I've seen many sacred symbols of other religions (Judaism and Christianity spring immediately to mind) mocked and desecrated for political or social commentary, without widespread violence in the streets. Unfortunately, I think the "Arab Street", as Friedman calls it, has come face to face with the double-edged sword of the "progressive" culture that goes along with democratic societies. Sometimes freedom means letting the people who don't believe as you do express their beliefs without fear of violence and death threats.