I sit here today in a neighborhood bakery having just finished a blueberry bagel and a half pint of milk. Mmm, good. There is a preschool here this morning touring the facilities to learn how bakeries work and what bakers do. It's adorable. The kids are made to wear little plastic gloves while they're back in the baking area. But it's to no real avail. They still stick their fingers in their mouths and pick their noses. So much for a germ free environment! It's so precious, I almost want to cry.
A moment ago, they got to take turns using the PA system calling out orders. "Bagel!" "Lemonade!" and my favorite, "Tart!" which of course sounds more like "taut." I'm listening to one of the bakery reps telling the children that the bakers come in very very early in the morning to bake. "They sleep while you're at school," she tells them. They must think bakers are a whole other species; like bats!
... so I did some more reading about the tempest in a teapot that is the global Muslim reaction to the tasteless Danish cartoons. This article doesn't really go that deeply into it, but apparently the whole thing began with a children's book author. He had written a book for children about Islam, and couldn't find any illustrators for his book. The ones he had contacted all refused because they were afraid if they drew an image of Muhammad, they'd meet the same fate as Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. I have no idea if the children's book was meant as a mockery or like so many children's Bible and Torah storybooks I've seen in my life. The Danish paper Jyllands-Posten printed the story about the author's dilemma and then offered the challenge to 25 illustrators to draw Muhammad as they saw him. Apparently, when the Danes didn't appologize to the a Danish Muslim group, they took their issue to Middle East counterparts. And so, four months after the original printings, we've got burned embassies, dead protestors and enough charred effigies of Denmark's leader to fill an Ash Wednesday urn.
Yesterday, I viewed the twelve. I would say 7 or 8 of them are tasteless and about 6 flat out offensive. Of the other four, however, some of them are mere depictions: a man leading a donkey in the desert, could'a been any shepherd; a crescent and star with the face of a turbanned man in it. With most of them, if you didn't know you were supposed to be looking at Muhammad, you probably wouldn't know. That probably stems from the fact that unlike Christianity which after 2,000 years of popular art kind of has a standard "this is what Jesus looks like" image, Islam has no standard, so looking at the images you just think: oh, uh, dude with a turban and a beard. One, which I thought was kind of funny, had a line up of scraggly looking guys with beards, some of them turbanned, others not, and the person viewing the line up says something to the effect of, "I really don't know which one he is." That seems to be a comment on the image ban - how would you know? One didn't included any image of Muhammad, but rather a guy at a chalk board complaining about the image ban. Another showed an artist drawing an image of the Prophet, furtively, in the dark, so as not to be "caught." One showed a duo of scimitared angry men charging, only to be stayed by Muhammad's hand: "Don't bother with them," he tells them, "They are just ignorant unbeliever Danes." I'm sure that can be seen as offensive, but the fact that Muhammad stops them, seems to me to give the Prophet a credit toward tolerance that the Western world seems to ignore. On the whole, I thought the exercise was iffy. On the one hand, I kind of thought the invitation for images kind of set up an environment of "Hey, let's be an asshole." On the other, I thought it produced some interesting pieces, which, as good political cartoons should, add to the dialogue. But it doesn't sound like satire is a concept many Islamic republics and monarchies.
Many of the cartoons were indeed offensive and out-right meanspirited. But others were good: if not just plain depictions, then reflections of how western artists feel stymied in discussing Islam in public. I know there are many people who find The Davinci Code and the Last Temptation of Christ as offensive to Christianity and their personal relationship with God as Muslims find any depiction (whether positive or negative) of Muhammad. But to my knowledge, none of the DaVinci code protestors have burned the house of Dan Brown or Ron Howard or Kazantzakis or Scorsese. If these images are that offensive, is violence the only proper response? Protest - yes. Boycott - why not? But kidnapping, burning embassies, firing guns into the air, carrying signs that call for the 9/11 of London? What the hell does that do? Just reinforce the fearful, ugly stereotype that the West has of Muslims. And who does that help? Not Muslims. And not the West. Jyllands-Posten was intolerably tasteless to instigate, but it seems the Middle East response just plays into their prejuecies, and is in and of itself intolerable.
Whom I feel sorriest for is the children's author and the children who will now be denied a book about Islam. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he was writing a book for children about Islam so that little non-Muslim Danish children could learn about their Muslim friends. Or so that Muslim parents could better teach their own children. But it looks like that won't happen anytime soon.
I hope this all blows over. I want to laugh again.