Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Famous Danish Cartoon and My Desensitization Program

Ready for the best cartoon ever ever ever ever?* Ever?** Ready for some anti-Islamic blasphemy? Here it is, the much-ballyhooed cartoon that got McDonald's burned down in Pakistan! (If it's too small here you can see it on Wikipedia.)

Blasphemy! Slay the infidels! Yeah yeah. BOO HOO. Get over it.

Of course, there have been brouhahas and tomfoolery since the cartoon; specifically a movie by conservative Dutch politician Geert Wilders that's confrontationally critical of Islam. But interestingly, "...reaction to the film was more restrained compared with the violence in 2006 that followed the publication in Europe of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, when more than 50 people were killed in riots in Asia, the Middle East and Africa."

Here's the deal. Islam is finally experiencing the desensitization that Christianity has been undergoing for well over two centuries. What do I mean by that? In a nutshell, the Enlightenment is the result of human reason reasserting itself in Europe as the best means to understand the world, as opposed to Christianity. Consequently reason, in all fields of endeavor (politics, science, morality), has gradually taken over more and more of the territory that used to belong to religion. In the process the various sects of Christianity have had to tolerate ever-greater questioning and yes, ever-greater insults to their authority.

For example, Gibbon dared to explain the history of the Roman Empire in purely material and economic terms, without invoking the Good Lord to explain history (Gasp! Hide the children!) Yes, it strikes us in the West as funny that this was ever controversial, but at the time this was in fact the case. A century later Darwin published The Descent of Man. A century after that Slayer released the awesome death metal album South of Heaven. While some might claim Gibbon and Darwin made greater contributions to human civilization than Slayer, you see the trend. You could go on Myspace right now and in 10 minutes find dozens of bands not only questioning but insulting Christianity - and no one bats an eye. It's tough to be shocking in the twenty-first century Western World, and even Fred Phelps has to pick his battles here.

A Muslim Darwin who today in the same way pulled the rug out from under Islam with original thinking might not last long - but I'll wager his chances are better now than a century ago. The constant infusion of media and ideas can only erode the sense that one doesn't dare question religion; new ideas are the worst enemy of arguments-from-authority. And that's why the Mohammed cartoon is the greatest one ever. It should be plastered on every street corner and billboard once a year for the next half-century. You can't be furious at everything all the time. Soon the same desensitization will set in, and we'll be one step closer to secularism in a huge swathe of the world's nations. Insensitive? You bet it is. And thankfully so were Gibbon and Darwin. And Slayer.

*Okay fine, Simpsons.
**And Star Blazers.

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