Writing in the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab Asharq Alawsat, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed points to Ayatollah Komeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie as the start of sectarian wars conducted on the field of creative arts. I’d antedate Khomeini by a few millennia, but whatever…

Al-Rashed’s point is that today, the world is filled with violence directed at religions and the violence is being fed by films, books, video clips, and cartoons. It is not so much those pieces of creativity that fuel it, but how people react when they believe themselves or their religion to be insulted. Some call for countries to suppress such offensive expression; some call for the UN to make it an international, criminal law to offend religion; others think the proper way to stop offensive speech is to punch the speaker in the mouth. None of these are the correct solution.

The only useful way to meet offensive speech is, as Al-Rashed notes, positive speech. He points to efforts like The 99 series of comic books as an example of good speech, speech that seeks to cast religion in a favorable light. It is, but the series occupies a very small niche in the universe of ideas and communication. But because it is not all-encompasing, reaching all corners of the world, doesn’t mean it’s useless. Similarly, religious outreach programs are good — so long as they are not themselves offensive to other religions — but they’re not for everyone, either. I have my doubts about the utility of the plastic arts in conveying messages of religious tolerance, but those may be more related to my thoughts about the utility of contemporary arts in general. There’s certainly a market for books and films that have a positive message, but they have to be of sufficient quality if they’re to have any impact.

Most of all, though, people have to grow thicker skins. We do not, ordinarily, react violently to the daily little outrages that come our way. We need to transfer the ability to ignore little affronts to bigger affronts. Our all-powerful God does not need us to defend him, otherwise he would not be all-powerful, would he?

The never-ending culture of hatred
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

Ayatollah Khomeini began the battle in 1988 when he issued a fatwa calling for the killing of the author of a book that not man many people had heard of until then. However “The Satanic Verses” is still on sale today, whilst its publisher has made millions of dollars in sales and its author, Salman Rushdie, has become an international star, even though prior to this book, he had only written three novels that were not well-known outside of Britain. Colonel Gaddafi and others then entered the fray when it became clear that they could use this issue to gain popularity.

This was followed by a series of similar events and clashes, such as the Danish cartoons that were published 5 years ago, a Dutch short film, not to mention calls to burn the Quran in Florida, and others. However today, an anti-Islam film has managed to represent a greater danger than at any time before. This is because this film was reportedly produced by an Egyptian Copt; whilst it is being seen at a time when Egypt’s sectarian scene is on the verge of igniting. In addition to this, we are now passing through the post-revolutionary era, namely the Arab Spring, which the Americans have lauded, saying this will open a better world in terms of communication between peoples, rather than dictatorial government.

Anybody who believes that clash of civilizations, or religions, will end in the next decade is wrong, for this is something that will only get worse! This is not because of an increase in the number of people who want to insult and abuse the religion of others, for such figures have always been present, but rather due to the growing means of communication and activism.

… This abuse is not just limited to Islam; Christians, Jews and Hindus are fighting their own battles against hostile literary and artistic projects. The difference is that Muslims are afflicted with the presence of armed extremist organizers – such as Al Qaeda – that believe it is their duty to defend Islam. Catholics protested against and indeed tried to ban the “Da Vinci Code”, which denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. Prior to this, large controversy focused on Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” movie, particularly its portrayal of the Jews. These all resulted in controversy that sparked disagreements and tensions and hatred at a time of intellectual, political and cultural turmoil.

September:16:2012 - 06:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
7 Responses to “Art as a Medium of Hatred”
  1. 1
    Solomon2 Said:
    September:16:2012 - 14:36 

    “Most of all, though, people have to grow thicker skins. We do not, ordinarily, react violently to the daily little outrages that come our way. ”

    Latest Washington Post article I read has the theme that Muslims are taking to the streets against Western embassies as an expression of power. For as the Muslim world grows in population and self-perceived might – as seen by Islamists as the success of the Arab Spring at vanquishing Western-oriented puppet regimes – the desire to assert its primacy over other cultures has also grown. Skins are growing thinner, not thicker. This urge can only be satisfied by non-Muslims acting with base subservience to Muslims as their masters.

    Note that there is no call for the U.S. to convert to Islam. If the U.S. spontaneously became Muslim tomorrow it would automatically become the world’s strongest Muslim power and the power urges of the rest of the world’s Muslims would remain unsatisfied. So this isn’t a matter of religion but mob psychology, a massive displacement of domestic frustrations redirected against Westerners.

    The “culture of hatred” will begin to decline when Muslims take responsibility for their own democratic governance, as the Puritans did in the Mayflower Compact. Both the old and the new forces of hatred and tyranny are going to attempt to stamp it out – unless they receive some new wisdom, I guess.

  2. 2
    kayjays Said:
    September:17:2012 - 00:20 

    And I am not sure that it’s true to say that Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, which pre-dated The Satanic Verses, was not well known outside of Britain. Not well-known in the Arab world maybe, where the reading of fiction, or anything other than newspapers is barely known, with the possible exception of Egypt where their best known author was consistently persecuted.

    I do not believe that these riots have much to do with hurt feelings; they are an outpouring of frustration by large, poorly educated populations with an inferiority complex which is often enhanced by the rather clumsy and ill-informed stumblings of a USA with a very poor grasp of foreign relations.

  3. 3
    Marnie Tunay Said:
    September:17:2012 - 00:30 

    I agree that Ayatollah Komeini made Rushdie much more famous and wealthier than he would otherwise have been. I was in Texas at the time, and bought a copy of ‘The Satanic Verses’ out of sheer curiosity to see what all the fatwa fuss was about. The book IS highly blasphemous, IMO, both from a Muslim point of view and also from a Christian point of view, considering how the Archangel Gabriel is depicted. If it hadn’t been for that fatwa, Rushdie would be flipping burgers at Macdonalds, today, IMO. I’ve always been surprised that nobody else noticed the issue of blasphemy from a Christian standpoint. Maybe they would have eventually, if Komeini hadn’t fixed their attention on the fatwa issue.

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    September:17:2012 - 07:25 

    @kayjays: I agree. Rushdie was not an unknown and Midnight’s Children had made a name for him. But Khomeini’s fatwa certainly made him globally famous.

    @Marnie Tunay: I think rather than outright blasphemy, it was that he chose to write about the ‘Satanic verses’ at all. That’s a very sore point among many Muslim scholars. It’s awkward to deny the story because it is reported by hadith of the highest quality.

  5. 5
    Marnie Tunay Said:
    September:17:2012 - 08:16 

    @ John Burgess: Okay, I Don’t know what you mean then by ‘Satanic verses.’ I’m not a scholar, and it’s been some years since I went through Rushdie’s book again. However, there is no question that Rushdie’s book is a blasphemous portrait, not only of the prophet Mohammed and his family, but also of the Archangel Gabriel. It’s just the mental maps are different. In the west, we are perfectly fine with allowing idiots to choose their own route to salvation or damnation, providing only that they don’t try to take anyone else along with them. The Middle East by and large doesn’t get that. They don’t understand the profound emphasis placed on individual choice as a Value in the West. So, being a Westerner, I don’t care if Rushdie is a blasphemous writer. I consider that to be His problem with God, not Mine. I do hold it against Komeini, however, that his stupid fatwa made an atrocious writer rich and famous, and caused me to spend twenty bucks on tripe.

  6. 6
    John Burgess Said:
    September:17:2012 - 09:12 

    @Marnie Tunay: Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Satanic Verses, not the Rushdie book. The problem is that if the story of these verses is true, then the legitimacy of the Quran as the uncorrupted word of God is brought into question.

  7. 7
    Marnie Tunay Said:
    September:17:2012 - 19:16 

    @ John Burgess, okay, thanks. I’ve read it now. An object lesson in not painting any human being as being “perfect,” IMO. As soon as we think We’ve got a “perfect” teacher, we’re bound to be intolerant of everyone else who doesn’t agree with us. No human was perfect. Perfection is an attribute of divinity. It’s not like it’s the only time in the Quran that fault is attributed to Mohammed. Religions should be seen as maps to the sacred, IMO; you follow a map as long as it’s taking you where you want to go. People always want to take the Form for the Reality. Of course, Rushdie’s blasphemy is not even in the same league as the blasphemy of al Qaeda, who take the Quranic verses giving Mohammed permission to defend the believers against attack as meaning they can seek out and kill innocent civilians. The 9/11 attacks are unlawful, according to the Quran itself, and blasphemous in the extreme, from an Islamic point of view.

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