Friday, February 03, 2006

Cartoonists under siege

The problem with fundamentalists is that they lack irony. Look no further than the current brouhaha across the pond over an editorial cartoon published in a Danish newspaper, which satirically depicts Mohammed with a bomb wrapped in his turban. It gets worse, though. Recently Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah maintained that “insults against Islam” would have stopped had the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie been successfully carried out. Rushdie, you remember, penned a novel called The Satanic Verses, which the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini deemed blasphemous to the Islamic faith in general and the prophet Mohammed in particular. So the logic goes: someone disagrees, and has the temerity to say so? Kill the infidel!

That’s the problem with these people: there’s just no reasoning with them. Recently I read Under the Banner of Heaven, a fascinating book written by journalist Jon Krakauer about religiously-motivated murders within the Mormon community in the western US. Krakauer makes the important distinction that fundamentalists aren’t hampered by second thoughts, or even the framework of “belief”; to them, they don’t have beliefs, so much as they follow what they consider an incontrovertible truth. They don’t believe something; it just is that way, and if you can’t see it, too, then you’re an enemy. Period. It’s a disturbing thought to consider, especially when you turn on the television and see Governor Bush & Co. trumpeting, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”

In our neck of the woods, editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette recently told Editor & Publisher that he’s moving to the family-owned Tulsa (OK) World because “’I like the idea that there's a human aspect,’ said Marlette, especially given that ‘it's a harrowing time for political cartoonists’ as jobs disappear.” Human history is defined by the tug-of-war between differing belief structures; one rises in response to another. The arrogance that fundamentalist religious beliefs instill in distressingly large numbers of followers is an incredibly powerful force, and lately it seems as though the counterbalance is awfully late in swinging into action; more and more it appears that it’s increasingly dangerous to speak your mind anywhere. I wish I had a cute little wrap-up for this, but I don’t. This situation is getting increasingly insane, and generation upon generation of tribal warfare and religious persecution have made a solution harder and harder to grasp.

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