Generalization, over-generalization, and moderate Muslims

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.
And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

Book of Genesis, 18:20-33

The spirit in the passage above is the spirit that informs Jack Grant’s post on The Moderate Voice on the ongoing controversy about cartoons of Mohammed first printed in a Danish newspaper and now re-printed in newspapers all over Europe and the United States. The situation seems to be escalating:

PARIS, Feb. 2 — Protests against European newspapers’ publication of cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad gained momentum across the Islamic world Thursday as Pakistani schoolchildren burned French and Danish flags and Muslim presidents denounced the drawings. At the same time, more European news organizations printed or broadcast the caricatures, citing a need to defend freedom of expression.

In another day of confrontation between the largely secular nations of Europe and Muslim countries where religion remains a strong force in daily life, Islamic activists threatened more widespread protests and boycotts of European businesses. While some European officials sought to defuse the crisis, many journalists insisted that despite Islamic outrage, religious sensibilities should not result in censorship.

“We would have done exactly the same thing if it had been a pope, rabbi or priest caricature,” wrote Editor in Chief Serge Faubert in Thursday’s editions of France Soir, one of the newspapers that printed the cartoons.

Mahmoud A. Hashem, a businessman in Saudi Arabia reflecting broad sentiment in Muslim societies, called the cartoons just another example of a “sport to insult Islam and Muslims” after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Under Islamic teachings, any depiction of Muhammad, the faith’s founder and messenger of God, is blasphemy, including depictions that are not negative. The cartoons violated that dictum, and many of them also ridiculed the prophet. In one, he is depicted as a terrorist, with his turban holding a bomb with a burning fuse.

Political analysts from both sides described the newspapers’ printing of the cartoons as a dangerous incitement in a conflict that has already alienated the growing Muslim populations of West European nations and hardened extremists in both camps.

Alexandre Adler, author of “Rendez-vous With Islam,” criticized the newspapers. “We’re at war,” he said, citing the Iraq insurgency and the electoral victories of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “And sometimes war demands censorship. In this context, anything that might strengthen the hate of the West is irresponsible.”

The European Union’s trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said the continued printing of the cartoons was “throwing petrol onto the flames.” Acknowledging the desire to stand up for press freedom, he said newspapers must understand “the offense that is caused by publishing cartoons of this nature.”

But more news organizations continued to display the cartoons Thursday, including the BBC, which said it hoped to “give audiences an understanding of the strong feelings evoked by the story.”

In the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a German citizen from a hotel restaurant and threatened to seize more foreigners. The German was later released, Palestinian security officials said.

Many Europeans left the Gaza Strip as a precaution Thursday. The E.U. shuttered its office there after warnings that staff members would be kidnapped. About a dozen gunmen briefly surrounded the empty building, firing their weapons. Some European countries warned citizens against travel in the Middle East.

In the city of Multan in central Pakistan, several hundred students from Islamic schools burned French and Danish flags in protest. Boycotts of Danish grocery products expanded across the Middle East.

See Joe Gandelman’s post for a complete rundown of media and blogospheric commentary.

I’ve been pretty clear about my own views on the subject: publishing the deliberately provocative cartoons was churlish and adolescent; the threats of violence and actual violence by some Muslims has been thuggish. In my view the proper response was stated eloquently by a Muslim commenter on the superb blog, L’Ombre de l’Olivier:

Wester people are not the enimies of muslims, but most of them are not aware and studied what is Islam. The duty of muslims is to show them what is Islam by witnessing them as the best people on earth. Only by name as a muslim, there is no benefit, if only they lead a life in accordance with the directions of Allah and prophet Muhammed, a man become a muslim. A real muslim will never keep hate and prejudice in his mind, but sympathy upon ignorance and tolerance upon mistreatment and try to teach them through their excellent behaviour and work, as the holy Quran orders, defent evil with good.

The present cartoons are nothing to bother, as they can never defame Islam or muslims, if muslims lead a good life and stand as a witness for excellent deeds, no body can create misunderstanding in the minds of others.

But one thing is important, all the good men should make their voice upon these kind of bad behaviour as this is making split in the hearts of various religious people and it creates damage to the smooth life and culture.

I think that Jack Grant is a smart, sensible, and sensitive guy but, unfortunately, I think he goes off the rails a bit when he writes:

I’m sure most recall the groups self-named with unintentional but biting irony “pro-life” who published the names of doctors who performed abortions and labeled them as murderers. Groups who also preached that killing a murderer was not a sin. At least one murder of a doctor was encouraged by this behavior of “pro-life” groups.

So, should we label all devout Christians who are truly pro-life as hypocritical nut-jobs?

Christianity does have its nutcases, its Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons. If the organization he cites was, say, the Knights of Columbus or the individuals calling—even obliquely—for violence were Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Christodoulos Paraskevaides, the Archbishop of Athens, he’d have a point.

But none of the examples he cites are of mainstream Christian leaders. They’re all fringe actors (regardless of how politically influential they may be).

Is the same true of Muslims? Honestly, the situation is mixed. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the foremost figure in Shi’a Islam, appears to have taken a pretty balanced view:

In Baghdad, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, denounced publication of the caricatures. However, he suggested that militant Muslims were partly to blame for projecting “a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood.”

I don’t care quite as much for the statement of Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, head of the International Association of Muslim Scholars and cited by some as an example of a Muslim moderate:

A leading hard-line Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, called for the day of anger to protest against the printing of the cartoons – first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September – in other European papers.

“Let Friday be an international day of anger for God and his prophet,” said the sheikh, who is the head of the International Association of Muslim Scholars. He is one of the Arab world’s most popular television preachers and made a controversial visit to London in July 2004 as a guest of the mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Generalizations, even generalizations about human beings and human behavior, are not bad things. Our lives would be impossible without generalizations. We wear overcoats in the winter time rather than Bermuda shorts because we generalize. We believe that guy in the car coming toward us will stop at the red light because of generalizations. We avoid stepping off a cliff and lock our doors and have porch lights because of generalizations.

And, yes, I think it’s possible to over-generalize. We should keep open minds. But I think we need to be open to the idea that having large numbers of resident guests from traditional non-Western societies—whether they’re Muslims or animists or what-have-you—may be very problematic for Western societies.

6 comments… add one
  • Orson Link

    You write:
    “I’ve been pretty clear about my own views on the subject: publishing the deliberately provocative cartoons was churlish and adolescent….”

    This is WRONG. To point out the hypocrisy of an Islam laiming to be a “religion of Peace” whose members assasinate leaders, behead innocents, murder apostates, and terrorize thousands – and to do so with an image of Muhamid with a bomb on his head – is only to speak the Truth!

    There is serious politics and too much neglected reality to the Danid cartoon crisis. In fact, my local radio (Mike Rosen, KOA in Denver) had on a woman from the Nixon Center, then in Istanbul, Turkey. She said is was precisely THIS cartoon that Turkish Muslim’s found instulting – ie, the one most truthful about Islam’s hypocrisy!

    I say tell the Truth, and tell it loud! The LSM has been avoiding the truth for so long, they’ll never find it.

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