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Jullands Posten , a Danish newspaper started it. Believing they were only testing the limits of propriety, they ended up instigating a tidal wave that dwarfed anything since Hitler's occupation. Indeed, like a Tsunami, it swept all continents with some African and Near-Eastern nations recalling their ambassadors from Denmark.

Many in the West were amazed at the Muslim response. We were, too. But having thought about it, we now think that much of the response was staged. Salmon Rushdi endured a fatwa over a matter, but there was no burning of embassies or street demonstrations. These were likely staged.

Furthermore, offense was not immediate. Depicting Muhammad may have been meant as a light-hearted commentary challenging the limits of free speech, or it may actually have been meant to be provocative. Whether or not either is so, a Danish Imam, Abu Ladan, toured the Middle East with even more outrageous cartoons he claimed to have received. With his tour, the emotional pot of Islam boiled over even though there are voices of moderation in the Middle East.

For context, how would Jews and Christians feel if a neo-modern Muslim paper printed similar cartoons of Jesus and Abraham? Would Jews and Chnristians laugh it off? Some would, most perhaps. But the fundamentalist wings of each monotheism would be incensed, maybe even to the point of taking the insult personally or retaliating as the Muslims did to Denmark. Such is the charged atmosphere of today. Neither side has much empathy for the other. Peace wlll be elusive to impossible until they do and actively practice Dialogue in a meaningful sense.

Whatever the chain of events, an international ruckus was stirred up. Commentators have weighed in from all over the international spectra on this issue. Most make good points. We are now ready to ask a few questions:

  • Of the cartoonists: Should we rethink the boundaries of good taste vs. political or cultural value?
  • Of the editors: ramifications are potentially there for anything we publish. Are we ready for the fall out?
  • Of the publishers: where is our publication with regard to the emotional currents over the world; how strongly and by what means are we willing to defend our right to publish as we see fit?
  • Of the governors: Regardless of the type of governance we oversee, have we tried to balance:
    • personal freedom and liberty vs. cultural sensitivities of our peer nations?
      • If so, are we prepared to go public with our measured position?
      • If not, are we willing to study the history of cultures-in-conflict for the sake of humankind?
    • Cultural sensitivities from the past vs. likely future trends?
  • Of the internationalists: Have we set aside our individual cultural biases so that we can see conflicts in the context of societal differences and the history of those differences in order to react as wisely as possible?
  • Of all humanity: Have we studied the political histories of the world along with cultural interactions in order to better understand the events of today (and likely future trends) and to support leaders who have prepared likewise?

One historical perspective might just be: if Islam is too sensitive about religion, we are too insensitive. And on other subjects it might be the other way around. Part of becoming civilized is learning to tread softly with regard to the feelings of others. At the same time, we must be allowed freedom to express ourselves. It is an individual choice.

It is a hallmark of our times that the Muslim world staged protests and embassy burnings. That didn't happen with Salmon Rushdie; he and only he was attacked.


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