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The Image of Mohammad, Free Speech, and Religious Outrage

In September, a dozen cartoons were published in Denmark critical of Islam, some depicting Muhammad, the prophet and founder of Islam, in an unflattering light. Many Muslims consider it blasphemy to print any image of Muhammad. One cartoon depicts Muhammad with a turban in the shape of a bomb. Another shows him at the gates of heaven, arms raised, saying to male suicide bombers, “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins.” A third has devil’s horns emerging from his turban.

The cartoons have been reprinted in Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Hungary, as well as in Jordan. Editors at papers in France and Jordan were fired for publishing them

Friday, U.S. State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said, “Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.” But he defended the right of newspapers to publish the cartoons, saying, “We vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view.”

Also Friday demonstrators filled the streets in the Palestinian regions and in Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia and Malaysia calling for boycotts of European goods and burning the flag of Denmark.

Today several thousand enraged demonstrators set the Danish and the Norwegian embassies in Damascus on fire to protest the cartoons. Chanting “God is Greatest,” the protesters stormed the Danish embassy, threw rocks and broke windows, burned the Danish flag and replaced it with another reading “No God but Allah, Mohammad is His Prophet.” The embassy was empty in anticipation of the protest and the Danish Foreign Ministry warned its citizens against traveling to Syria and urged all Danes now there to leave the country.

Is religious outrage reasonable? Should the threatened, and now exercised, expression of that outrage outweigh freedom of speech? How far do we go toward accommodating religious sensitivities in a pluralistic society? Is there such thing as a legitimate non-pluralistic society?

Varying viewpoints on the situation from Blogcritics:

College Paper Publishes Anti-Muslim Cartoons; Refuses to Publish Responses to Them
As I posted last week on Pink Pumps & Politics, The Communicator, Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Wayne’s student newspaper, ran the 12-cartoon anti-Islamic cartoons that have been creating controversy worldwide. No context to them. No editorials. Just a…
Posted to Culture by Chelsea Snyder on February 23, 2006 03:47 PM

Jesus Cartoons Everywhere and Christians Are Not Rioting
I “Googled” and “Alta-Vista-ed” the phrase “Jesus Cartoon” this morning and found that there were quite a few to choose from. Most were from Christian sites, some from anti-Christian sites, some were whimsical, some were coarse and degrading, many were…
Posted to Culture by Bird of Paradise on February 21, 2006 05:43 AM

Terror Wins Big In US News Media
Someone in the US newspaper business finally had the courage to tell it like it is. You might think this means that a newspaper had the courage to publish the Danish Muhammed cartoon caricatures but you would be wrong. Instead, what we…
Posted to Politics by Bird of Paradise on February 21, 2006 04:45 AM

The West Is Clearly on the Defensive in Cartoon Controversy
The Muslim world is on the attack, and from all accounts is doing exceedingly well. With election victories in Palestine and Iran, growing influence in Egypt and riots and demonstrations all over the world to list, the West finds itself…
Posted to Politics by Chip Spear on February 20, 2006 03:53 PM

Preserving the West in the Age of Cartoon Riots
Giving in to the calls for the censorship of all things offensive to Islam could be, in effect, paving the way for eventual Islamic hegemony.
Posted to Politics by Greg Strange on February 20, 2006 01:49 PM

Friday Femmes Fatales No 44 (Women Bloggers)
Cartoon controversy, dumb doctors, the joys of Valentine’s Day, and why you should be careful about saying you’re ‘feeling down’.
Posted to Sci/Tech by Natalie Bennett on February 18, 2006 09:47 PM

Student Newspaper Publishes Anti-Islam Cartoons
In its February 15 issue, the Communicator at Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne published the 12-cartoon series originally featured in Denmark that featured anti-Islamic messages and has sent the international community into a frenzy. In its staff editorial, the…
Posted to Culture by Chelsea Snyder on February 19, 2006 01:27 AM

Want Peace? Abolish the Priesthood!
Who fuels the hatred and violence we’ve seen across the Muslim world for the past two weeks over the Danish cartoons? Mullahs and “holy men”. Who fuels the arrogance of the religious right here in America? Preachers. Who pushes the absurdity…
Posted to Politics by alethinos59 on February 19, 2006 12:04 AM

Satire: Brokeback Mohammed
In the news: The National Endowment for the Arts has granted $100,000 to artist Andres Serrano to create an art work to be called “Piss Mohammed.” * * * The Brooklyn Museum will sponsor an exhibit by British artist Chris Ofili, in which…
Posted to Politics by Nicholas Stix on February 18, 2006 01:51 AM

Iran Embraces Western Values
Finally, some good news from the Muslim world. All that burning and looting about a bunch of stupid cartoons was so last millennium. Now, all you “Samuel Huntingtonians” out there can breathe a sigh…
Posted to Culture by Pete Blackwell on February 17, 2006 12:15 PM

Meet Mr. Insensitive … Me
“How far do we go toward accommodating religious sensitivities in a pluralistic society?” – Eric Olsen, cartoon-controversy roundup This question underscores a huge problem with respect to how the Mohammed-caricature controversy is often being cast. What I say below should…
Posted to Culture by David M. Brown on February 16, 2006 07:52 AM

For the Love of All That is America, Learn What The First Amendment Is…
Throughout the cartoon controversy people on both sides talk about free speech and a free press. While in general, these can be construed as the freedom to say what you want, people are conflating Constitutional protections with the…
Posted to Politics by John Bambenek on February 15, 2006 03:41 PM

Political Tidbits 2/15/06
Republican or Democrat, American or Foreign, the politicos are fine subject for speculation, rumination and a bit of derision Funerals and Politics This is the second funeral attended and orchestrated by mostly Democrats that I watched with my own disbelieving eyes. First…
Posted to Politics by Patfish on February 15, 2006 11:00 AM

An Orchestrated Protest
In the last few weeks, we have witnessed many protests by Muslims against the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed. Emotions have been running ‘high’ in Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, etc.,…
Posted to Politics by Aaman Lamba on February 15, 2006 12:49 AM

Why Europe Has Less Success Integrating Muslims Than North America
Recently a friend made an interesting observation about the whole Muhammad cartoon kerfuffle. He pointed out that while several European papers have published the cartoons, relatively few have in the US and Canada. Of course the Internet is…
Posted to Culture by Akeel Shah on February 14, 2006 07:27 PM

The “Offended” Offenders
The recent attempts to placate Muslim demonstrators–and calls to “understand” how “deeply offensive” the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed are to Muslims– frankly offends me to the point of fury. The reasons for this are—literally–graphically clear. The source of my rage…
Posted to Politics by Elvira Black on February 12, 2006 04:37 AM

Happy Ashura, You Maniacs
It’s Ashura! Let’s go out and celebrate by beating children with swords until we’re all splattered with blood. There’s some good holy fun!
Posted to Culture by Dave Nalle on February 11, 2006 01:12 PM

Muhammad Cartoon Interpreted
Revealing expressions in the heart of European media posted in response to Cartoon + Interpretation at post.thing.net The Danish Cartoon This guy looks like a desi – South Asian – bouncer….
Posted to Culture by Gazelle on February 10, 2006 04:11 PM

Artists Explode the Bombs
Now for some humorous violence from four artists. 1. Frederc Madre at
Posted to Culture by Gazelle on February 9, 2006 11:26 AM

Cartoon Controversy: Are Those Most Offended Least Familiar With Islamic History?
Satire is the very essence of free speech. “Free speech,” as a term and as a concept, is devoid of meaning if it does not apply to speech that makes any number of us uncomfortable for any number of reasons….
Posted to Politics by Eric Olsen on February 9, 2006 11:13 AM

Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World, And Finding Irony
As you read about the continuing riots over the caricatures of Mohammed, I urge you to please shed a tear for Albert Brooks – the comedian who went looking for comedy in the Muslim world and released his movie…
Posted to Culture by Aaman Lamba on February 8, 2006 09:32 PM

Medieval Islam Caught Flat-footed In The Modern World
There is a massive medieval tribe of 1.3 billion humans living among the rest of us on our planet. I am speaking of those folks who follow the religion of Islam. More particularly, I am speaking of a smaller section of Muslims,…
Posted to Politics by Adam Ash on February 8, 2006 03:25 PM

Sites Hacked Over Cartoon Controversy
As hackers attack Danish Web sites over the controversy over the cartoons of Muhammed and some cartoons are shown to be a hoax, Iran makes plans to publish holocaust cartoons. A news report says 800 Danish web sites have been…
Posted to Politics by Scott Butki on February 8, 2006 06:47 PM

“Death to Denmark” and Other Cartoonish Islamic Inanities
Remember the old Looney Tunes cartoons that so many of us grew up watching? Warner Brothers never failed to delight us with its gallery of delightful characters and their wacky antics: Bugs Buggy, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety and…
Posted to Culture by Greg Strange on February 8, 2006 01:21 AM

Iranian Paper Launches Holocaust Cartoon Competition
Last month Iran announced it was planning a conference to assess the scale of the Holocaust. This is the same country with a president (who some say, was among the hostage takers at the U.S. Embassy back in the ’70s)…
Posted to Politics by Kevin Surbaugh on February 7, 2006 11:03 AM

Danish Cartoon Controversy Pits Pen vs. Sword
Much ink and, unfortunately, some blood has already been spilled over the Danish cartoon controversy. Defenders of free expression are lining up opposite defenders of the faith and the situation is devolving into an unpleasant test of whether the pen…
Posted to Culture by Pete Blackwell on February 6, 2006 06:56 PM

Western Crisis Intervention Needed
Current sparks of Islamic violence across the globe in feverish protest over a handful of stupid cartoons hammer home once again the reality that these guys need to find a hobby or something to distract them from a sense…
Posted to Culture by Dawn Olsen on February 6, 2006 06:43 PM

Christianity and Cartoons Versus Islam and Cartoons
There has been a small debate recently over at Daily Pundit over whether Christianity has some of the same seeds that can spring into irrational violence as Islam. I agree with those who say that it does but that Christianity…
Posted to Culture by David M. Brown on February 6, 2006 02:18 AM

The Pen Really IS Mightier Than the Sword
I can see why Albert Brooks’ film Looking for Humor in the Moslem World was a flop. Apparently there is no sense of humor there, especially the more subtle forms like irony. The recent controversy over the two…
Posted to Politics by Dave Nalle on February 5, 2006 09:30 PM

Billy Joel, Prophet Muhammad, And The Disconnect From Reality
Billy Joel, Prophet Muhammad, And The Disconnect From Reality As a weekend guest from Denmark played Billy Joel music by memory on our living room piano, one of his country’s embassies was being burned in a blind rage that is…
Posted to Politics by allendrury on February 5, 2006 09:21 PM

Born Again to Sensitivity
The cartoon episode seems to be spinning quite out of control. Middle Eastern countries are calling for economic boycotts (a very legitimate form of protest, as is the “buy Danish” groundswell). Angry mobs burn embassies, and the Boston…
Posted to Culture by Harry Forbes on February 5, 2006 03:42 PM

Media Reality Check: Freedom to Be Offensive?
To: The Mainstream News Media From: A reporter-turned-educator who is still a news junkie Re: Unfunny cartoons All across the world, in newspapers and blogs, people are talking about offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the violent reactions they are sparking. This is…
Posted to Culture by Scott Butki on February 5, 2006 11:47 AM

The Hypocrisy of the Cartoon Controversy
I didn’t intend to write about this thorny issue because I never understand why some westerners behave stupidly when it comes to religious sensitivities. More than half the world’s problems arise from religious intolerance and I just don’t understand why…
Posted to Culture by Vijay Sappani on February 4, 2006 03:18 AM

Desicritics And Historical Commentary On Free Speech And The Danish Cartoons
Free Speech is under attack! This refrain is as old as Cato, the “conscience of Rome”. The Romans noted that “No sooner a word is spoken than it is gone never to be recalled”. Justice Brandeis commented, “Fear of serious…
Posted to Culture by Aaman Lamba on February 4, 2006 02:58 AM

Don’t Let the Islamo-Fascists Kill the Right to Free Speech
Some peacenik types, practiced in the art of highly selective observation and quotation, bleat that all that America or the West need do to defuse the threat of Islamic terrorism is forbear from ever getting involved militarily in conflicts overseas….
Posted to Culture by David M. Brown on February 3, 2006 08:19 PM

“Death to Denmark”: Freedom of Speech And Thought Under Fire
For once, it’s not American or Israeli flags burning in the sands of the Middle East. The cross of Denmark is aflame and “Death to Denmark” is a chant commonly heard from the Gaza Strip to Pakistan. My, my, what…
Posted to Politics by Mark Edward Manning on February 3, 2006 08:01 PM

Cutting Through the Static on The Freedom of Press Issue
There are some hateful and misguided people in this world as evidenced by the comments made in response to the Danish cartoon story. More importantly, I’ve never witnessed a group of people completely miss the point. As you may know,…
Posted to Politics by DJ Freq on February 3, 2006 07:52 PM

Islam – Religion Of Intolerance
Article here: The controversy over Danish caricatures of Prophet Muhammad escalated Monday as gunmen seized an EU office in Gaza and Muslims appealed for a trade boycott of Danish products. Denmark called for its citizens in the Middle East to…
Posted to Politics by RJ Elliott on January 31, 2006 01:13 AM

Freedom of Speech and Religious Tolerance
In the last few weeks, there has been quite a debate in Denmark and in various Muslim communities around the world. The debate goes to whether freedom of speech outweighs the need for tolerance toward religious communities, or at least…
Posted to Politics by Anders Williams on January 4, 2006 10:03 PM

Islam vs. Free Speech: The Case of Denmark
A battle over free speech is brewing between international Muslim groups and the Danish government.
Posted to Politics by Fjordman on November 22, 2005 03:07 PM

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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