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Cartoon Outrage: The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons Controversy

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Cartoon Outrage: The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons Controversy

The controversy in question is simply a series of cartoons which were first published in a Danish newspaper (Jyllands-Posten) in 2006. This controversy has recently been stirred by a reprinting of the article in many European newspapers in a stand of solidarity for freedom of speech. The original (and subsequent) publication(s) led to a public outcry, and sparked violent protests in the Islamic world. Danish Muslim organizations staged protests, while the cartoons were being reprinted in more than 50 other countries. Critics of the cartoons call them “culturally insulting,” “xenophobic,” and even so far as “blasphemous.” Supporters claim that the cartoons simply illustrate an issue important to current events, and the publications of such cartoons simply an exercise in the worldwide right of free speech.

When trying to formulate a response to such a controversy, one could ask themselves if they are more of a relativist, or an objectivist. Relativism is a ethical position which can be defined as a belief that a stance on moral dilemmas do not reflect universal moral truths, simply that they make a claim relative to the social, political, cultural, or personal beliefs of the person. Objectivism is an ethical position which states that certain acts can be objectively right or wrong. As you can see, there are incredible problems with both of these stances, when faced with an ethical dilemma such as the publishing of a cartoon depicting Mohammed.

On the one hand, with relativism, it can be said that each party is right in their own way, that the publisher could show these cartoons without fear of repercussion, for it is his right as a human to do so, according to the western world’s democratic ideals. In all true democracies, freedom of speech is protected, and the editor who was “blamed” for this controversy, Flemming Rose, claims that it was not bigotry, but religious “integration”, which inspired him to publish those cartoons:

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims. (Rose, 2006)

However, there is an entirely opposing viewpoint to this, and this opposing viewpoint sparked incredible violence and retaliation. “The violence came one day after protestors in neighboring Damascus, Syria, torched the Norwegian Embassy and the Danish Embassy, furious that newspapers in both nations had published images banned under Islamic law” (Protesters burn consulate over cartoons, 2006) The violence escalated into “fights between Muslims and Christians.” Now, how did one page of cartoons cause all of this trouble? Chapter 42, verse 11 of the Quran reads: “The Originator of the heavens and the earth; He has made for you, from your selves, mates, and from the cattle mates: by this means He multiplies you. There is nothing whatever like Him” (The Holy Quran, Ch 42). This is traditionally taken further by Muslims to mean that Allah simply cannot be depicted by human hand. Attempting to do so is an insult to Allah (Q&A: Depicting the Prophet Muhammad

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