Saturday, February 18, 2006

Smithers v. Fogbot

[photo caption] An action photo of Smithers in hot pursuit of sweet Abu Ghraib photos and Mohammed cartoons. Photo: courtesy SmithersMPLS.com

But Smithers started it!

Wednesday afternoon, Smithers posted the following:

Smithers: For the record: I am in favor of the news media publishing the newly released photos from Abu Ghraib. I am in favor of the news media publishing the Mohammed cartoons.

Ugh. Well, here we go with another round of "Fogbot Gets All Righteous With A Local Blogger".

Fogbot: is it really about "freedom of speech", or is it about something called "ignorance"?

maybe it's just me, but if a religion and it's followers do not condone the use of imagery in relation to one of that religion's prophets, it would seem to me that it's highly ignorant, disrespectful, and arrogant for a non-believer to violate this sacred law.

from a western point of view, this is an issue of "freedom of speech".

from the eastern point of view, this is an issue of "blasphemy".

from any point of view, however, this is an issue of ignorance. and i, for one, am not going to condone the viewing of this image, for in doing so i would be supporting and defending that very ignorance that played such a key role in creating that image. period.

Smithers: I'm not talking about publishing the cartoons to tweak Muslims. This cartoon issue is such a big deal right now that I believe that the media should not feel that they have to censor themselves from showing the source of this controversy. If we were talking about publishing cartoons for the sole reason of angering a group of people I would, of course, not be in favor of that.

Fogbot: Smithers sed: "I believe that the media should not feel that they have to censor themselves from showing the source of this controversy."

In the very next sentence Smithers sed:"If we were talking about publishing cartoons for the sole reason of angering a group of people I would, of course, not be in favor of that."

Oh, I get it now: publishing them initially is different from presenting them after the fact for, you know, public discussion.

Nope, no hypocrisy there...

Smithers: I guess, for me, it's a difference of the media printing something for the sole reason of pissing someone off, versus printing something that has already got someone pissed off in order to show the rest of us why the person may be pissed off. See the difference?

Fogbot: But do you see that to many there is *no* difference?

Muslim law states that you are not to create an image of Mohammed. There is no exclusionary clause stating that it is permissable to do so "to show the rest of us why ther person may be pissed off".

There is no difference, Smithers. Do you see that?

Smithers: Sure I do. I guess the question is, should US media be expected to adhere to the laws of any religion? I don't think so.

Fogbot: And maybe they shouldn't. However, I do expect the US media to adhere to a certain level of decency and professionalism that would inhibit them from fanning the flames of hatred, ignorance, and misunderstanding any further.

I would expect that much.

Get out of your "freedom of speech" cocoon and try to empathize a little bit. Try to understand that the cultural context of others may not agree with your own. That does not mean, however, that they need to conform to what feels comfortable to you. Instead, there needs to be respect and understanding.

I do not believe that your position reflects either respect nor understanding, but rather arrogance and pomposity.

And it is this very same "Ugly American" line of thought that makes you no better in this case than Bush & Co., who you are constantly ragging on for their failure to comprehend the "big picture".

One has to be capable, or at least attempt to, see beyond the cultural limits of their own society. Not everyone has to play by your rules; sometimes we need to reach a necessary compromise of attitudes.

This is the last time I'll respond to this topic. While I'm not trying to be overly righteous, I am trying to visualize a world in which people empathize with one another and respect the belief systems that each of us hold.

Smithers: Well, I don't know how you can adequately tell this story unless you give those who are unfamiliar with the situation the details. And I don't know who you expect people to empathize and respect each others beliefs if you don't provide the details regarding a situation that has inflamed a particular community.

If you don't explain what is driving people to riot, by showing the details of what is in these cartoons, or showing the details of the abuse at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo, then I believe you are telling half the story.

Call it a "freedom of speech cocoon" or "arrogance" or "pomposity" if you like, I guess I disagree.

Fogbot: Am I confident that abuse took place at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo by reading statements provided eyewitnesses and former prisoners?


Am I confident that some American prisoners of war during World War II in the Pacific theater had to endure what became known as the "Bataan Death March", not because I have ever seen pictures or film of it, but because I have read the accounts of those who survived, including Bernard T. Fitzpatrick?


Am I confident that many Muslims worldwide have reason to be incensed by the fact that a Danish cartoon of Mohammed exists, let alone how that cartoon depicts Mohammed, without ever having seen the cartoon?


Am I confident that Elie Wiesel and millions of others experienced and witnessed the atrocities of the Jewish Holocaust as carried out by members of the Nazi army as Wiesel so described in his novel "Night"?


See where I'm going with this?

Sometimes a credible account speaks just as much, if not more, than a visual image ever could.

Have I actually seen the Mohammed cartoon? I have. I wish I hadn't.

Have I actually seen images from Abu Ghraib? No, and I would prefer to keep it that way, though I have no doubt that the alleged abuse and torture did indeed occur there.

[The End]


Blogger AdamB said...

It really is an interesting problem, but I don't think the answers are as easy as you make it sound.

To me it's a lot like republishing caricatures of black people, or republishing hate speech, or republishing caricatures and blasphemy directed at Jesus. If Pat Robertson said that the creator of www.christonthecrapper.com should be killed, what would you think of that? What do you think of people linking to that site, or me even writing down its URL?

Another problem is the whole semiotic side of it, the old postmodern "signifier, sign, signified" etc. Since no one really knows what Mohamed looks like, it seems the main problem is the caption identifying the image as Mohamed. Would a simple stick figure captioned as Mohamed be just as blasphemous? Probably not, but it's hard to say. Or, what if special steps had been taken to make sure that no Muslim ever saw the cartoon? Would it be blasphemous then? Or, isn't the word Mohamed itself a visual representation of the Prophet? In fact, isn't the phrase "the Prophet" also a visual representation of the dude?

Jews run into similar problems, because they have a similar prohibition against visual representations or "graven images" of God. So you can't write or say the name "Yahweh", unless you're the high priest on a certain day. So then they started calling Yahweh "God", but that's also a representation of Yahweh, so now it's down to G-d. But the image of God persists as though it were trapped between parallel mirrors.

I appreciate your efforts at going beyond the tired old modernist "free speech" quandry (which is still a serious question, but if you're arguing about it then you've already decided in favor of free speech) to take into account other possible problems posed by the cartoon.

But I think it's even more complex than you let on, and just dismissing the question of free speech doesn't make it go away. In our increasingly interconnected world these kinds of problems aren't going to go away, so it's worth thinking it through to the end.

I, for one, haven't seen the photos, and I think I'd be a little embarrassed to see them, but I can see why people might feel as though they needed to republish them as a way of reasserting the right to blasphemy. And I hope you would agree that's an important right.

Mon Feb 20, 12:35:00 PM 2006

Blogger AdamB said...

ooh, and i got another one:
what if a muslim had drawn the cartoon? obviously wrong by islamic law, but does it offend your sensibilities so much? since a muslim would more completely understand the emotional and cultural implications of his/her actions? kinda like that episode of seinfeld where the dentist converts to judaism so he can make jewish jokes? or how only black rappers can say the n-word?

i think this goes way beyond modernist "free speech" problems to also include post-modernist semiotic problems.

Mon Feb 20, 12:55:00 PM 2006

Blogger Smithers said...

Your forgot the part where I asked "Why do you hate America?"

Wed Mar 22, 05:05:00 PM 2006


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