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    A raw nerve

    Gaijin Biker links to a Japan Times interview with the Egyptian ambassador here, in which he does that oily I’m-not-making-threats-I’m-just-stating-a-fact thing:

    Attacks like the ones on the Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon last weekend could take place in Japan if the media here insult Muslims by reprinting cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Egyptian Ambassador to Japan Hisham Badr warned Friday.

    “This is not a question of freedom of expression…. This is a question of blaspheme of religion,” Badr said in an interview with The Japan Times. “It touches a very raw nerve” with Muslims worldwide.

    So it’s not a question of freedom of expression; it’s just a question of whether expressing certain things will get your life, liberty, or property threatened.

    I’m glad that’s cleared up.

    This whole thing is frustrating because I’m always happy to see calls for civilized behavior and wish there were more of them. I was brought up by and among fervently religious people, and despite being an atheist homo, I try to be respectful of their beliefs. Of course, you can’t debate some points of spirituality without telling people directly that you think they’re full of baloney, but that’s why you don’t introduce religion as a topic socially unless you’re sure everyone’s game for a pretty rousing discussion. I meet some religious people who are just interested in a neighborly manner in my current convictions; I meet others who are pretty clearly more interested in seeing whether they can try to draw me into their congregation. But never have I encountered anyone who’s acted as if I were somehow obliged, even as a non-believer, to follow the strictures of his faith or risk reprisal.

    Most of us in the West are not part of the ummah. We are not. We don’t feel the need to act as if we were. I don’t think these sorts of discussions can really get anywhere until a critical mass of Muslim public figures and opinion-makers make it very clear that they get that. I would think it discourteous if a group of Christians (and Jews and New Age types and atheists) decided to eat in a pointed fashion in front of a Muslim friend or corworker during daylight hours in Ramadan. But what if some Muslims had started things off by demanding that the cafeteria be closed so that no one could buy food on the premises during their holy month? Well, that would change things, wouldn’t it? You might still recognize the public eating of Egg McMuffins with exaggerated relish as an affront, but you’d recognize that it was an affront with a point: we can be friendly and accommodating after you recognize that we are not bound as adherents by your religious rules.

    After all, if we’re going to criticize hostility to foreign religions, we could get quite a long discussion going about Saudi Arabia, where policy actively interferes with the religious practices of non-Muslims (indeed, even Muslims who don’t belong to the official sect) who want to wear crucifixes or see clergy regularly or bring in copies of their sacred books. But I guess it’s more important that liberal democracies be lectured about cartoons.

    Added at 0:06: Speaking of Saudi Arabia, Al Gore is… cheese and crackers.

    15 Responses to “A raw nerve”

    1. The plasticity of fascism and blowing things up . . .

      My first reaction to Muslim persecution of the wholesome Ronald McDonald was shock and awe. “Next, They Came for the Plastic Clowns” opined David Bernstein, joined by clown defender Glenn Reynolds. Can we get serious? I mean, shouldn’t we be…

    2. John Mahoney says:


      I have the hardest time understanding ” fervently religious people.” Unlike you, I belive there is a “God” – the true nature of which is beyond us for now. However, I bleive that this God is either unwilling or unable to intervien in the affairs of mankind.

      Why do you think your parents felt such a powerful need to belive in God – and you did not?

      For me I could only imagine being very religious if I thought that I could curry the favor of the almighty.



    3. Portia says:

      Look, Heinlein said that “One man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh.” I’ll go with that. In a democracy with freedom of religion all of us have friends whose religious practices we think border on the absurd. Politness means sometimes you — okay, me — bite your lip very hard to keep from giggling as they mention the function of the… oh, extra holy, blessed underwear.

      However, if I chose to — and I might very well choose to, though probably as a joke — write an article about how the purchase and or manufacture of the extra holy blessed underwear is distorting society (not that I know, btw) and my friends got their nose out of joint, they might retaliate with a funny article about my religion. I’m almost sure that they would NOT threaten to kill me. (Except maybe in the way they do over other stuff, like, say, my calling them at five in the morning to share some insight because I got up early to finish a project and forgot what time it is.)

      This level of … oh, maturity and civilization (in not killing people who trespass on your religion, not in calling people at five in the morning) is what I hope we see from muslims before it’s too late. Hopeful? No. But you could say I’m praying for a miracle (tongue firmly in cheek)

      P. — who clearly needs more coffee.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:


      “Why do you think your parents felt such a powerful need to belive in God – and you did not?”

      Oh, but I did. I realized I could no longer honestly say I believed in God around the same time I figured out I was gay. The combination nearly did me in. I may have had some problems growing up with individual cases of specious logic on the part of church elders and stuff, but as much as a teenager can be, I was a believer. My parents wanted me to go to the Bible college affiliated with our church, and I originally turned down Penn to go.

      That was my first encounter with pretend disinterested inquiry slapped on top of true believer-ism; after four weeks, I thought I’d lose my mind. I realized that wasn’t the college for me, and returned home two weeks later. But I remained in the church until I was a senior in college. Every Saturday I got up in the morning, put on a suit and tie, and walked past all the coeds doing the walk of shame to the subway to go across the city to services. Giving it up–the sense of a benevolent force in charge of the universe, the idea that there are rules to follow that were worked out by a Way Higher Consciousness, the community–saying goodbye to all of that was extraordinarily difficult. But the alternative was to pray to a Transcendent Immanent Imaginary Friend, and that would have been a sham. So I stopped.


      “However, if I chose to — and I might very well choose to, though probably as a joke — write an article about how the purchase and or manufacture of the extra holy blessed underwear is distorting society (not that I know, btw) and my friends got their nose out of joint, they might retaliate with a funny article about my religion.”

      Yes, it’s amazing what having a sense of proportion will do for you–like, how many ways you find not to torch things or threaten people with bodily harm. I’m not pushing the line that words don’t matter–but none of these cartoons could possibly be construed as an incitement to violence in itself, so (as you say) the proper response is counter-argument. Or, if you’re not in the mood for that, shunning those who drew them.

    5. John Mahoney says:


      George Carlin said “Most people believe in an invisible man who lives in the sky.”

      From what I hear of Japan, it is much like Europe in its lack of fervert religious feeling. Are there people in Japan as fervernty Buddist or Shinto as your parents are Christian?


    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      The Japanese don’t believe in a single deity. The native system says that everyone becomes a kami (ususally translated “god” but more like plain old “spirit”) upon death. If you’re bad, you’re an evil kami, of course. There are a lot of Buddhist sects here–one of the most tiresome myths held by Westerners about Japan is that people here are all gaga for Zen and speak in koans to the clerk at the grocery store–and they focus, naturally, more on achieving enlightenment than on following the dictates of a grand paternal deity.

      That’s one of the reasons you’re told, on your first day of a Japanese history or sociology course, that the Japanese are the most and the least religious people on Earth. They don’t obsess over whether they’re pleasing a big, transcendent father figure; but at the same time, they tend to conformism, and so they adhere to all the little rules very carefully. Of course, that’s changed somewhat since industrialization.

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