It appears that there are strange parallels between the manufactured rage over the Danish cartoons and the Chinese demonstrations against the Japanese last year. In both cases, ordinary folks with strong legitimate grievences against their own government have their anger turned outward by those governments toward a foreign enemy. That way, using the uniting force of a foriegn enemy, a national government can entrench its authority and blunt any internal criticism. Though the idea might have its roots in Marxism, it's an idea with some merit.
So whilst the Arab Street continues to seeth over what is essentially a non-event, its women continue to be raped, its freedoms continue to be curtailed and its governments continue to be corrupt and nepotistic. All without fear of protest.
For what it's worth, here are the cartoons which have whipped up a storm. You're all mature people (most of you, anyhow) and I trust you can all view the following without the need to rape and pillage:
And thanks to Wikipedia, here's what we're looking at:
After an invitation from Jyllands-Posten for around forty different artists to give their interpretation on how Muhammad may have looked, twelve different caricaturists chose to respond with a drawing each. These twelve drawings portrays Muhammad in different fashions. In the clockwise direction of their position in the page layout (I've rearranged the order so it matches what you see. -AOTW):
Muhammad as a peaceful wanderer, in the desert, at sunset. There is a donkey in the background. This is presumably a reference to Don Quixote.
Muhammad standing with a halo in the shape of a crescent moon.
The face of Muhammad as a part of the Islamic star and crescent symbol. His right eye the star, the crescent surrounds his beard and face.
Another drawing shows an angry Muhammad with a short sabre and a black bar censoring his eyes. He is flanked by two women in burqas, having only their eyes visible.
Muhammad standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with "Stop Stop vi er løbet tør for Jomfruer!" ("Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins!"), an allusion to the promised reward to martyrs.
An Oriental looking boy in front of a blackboard, pointing to the Farsi chalkings, which translate into "the editorial team of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs". The boy is labelled "Mohammed, Valby school, 7.A", implying that this Muhammed is a Danish second-generation immigrant rather than the man Muslims believe was a prophet. On his shirt is written "Fremtiden" (the future). According to the editor of Jyllands Posten, he didn't know what was written on the blackboard before it was published.
One shows a nervous caricaturist, shakingly drawing Muhammad while looking over his shoulder.
A police line-up of seven people, with the witness saying: "Hm... jeg kan ikke lige genkende ham" ("Hm... I can't really recognise him"). Not all people in the line-up are immediately identifiable. They are: 1) A generic Hippie 2) Politician Pia Kjærsgaard 3) Possible Jesus 4) Possible Buddha 5) Possible Muhammad 6) A generic Indian Guru 7) Journalist Kåre Bluitgen, carrying a sign saying: "Kåres PR, ring og få et tilbud" ("Kåre's public relations, call and get an offer")
An abstract drawing of crescent moons and Stars of David, and a poem on oppression of women "Profet! Med kuk og knald i låget som holder kvinder under åget!". In English the poem could be read as: "Prophet! daft and dumb, keeping woman under thumb"
Two angry Muslims charge forward with sabres and bombs, while Muhammad addresses them with: "Rolig, venner, når alt kommer til alt er det jo bare en tegning lavet af en vantro sønderjyde" (loosely, "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel South Jutlander". The reference is to a common Danish expression for a person from the middle of nowhere.)
The most controversial drawing shows Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb.
Another shows Kåre Bluitgen, wearing a turban with the proverbial orange dropping, with the inscription "Publicity stunt". In his hand is a stick drawing of Muhammad. An "orange in the turban" is a Danish proverb meaning "a stroke of luck."
UPDATE, 11/2, 2:00am: I've been copping a bit of heat in the comments section over my decision to publish the cartoons. I think it would be useful for me to explain why I did decide to publish them. For starters, I don't necessarily agree with the message of the cartoons. I do, however, defend people's right to make up their own mind. One of the problems with the public debate over the cartoons is that only a handful of people have actually seen the cartoons and so can offer an informed opinion: broadening their circulation can aid people in constructing their opinion.
There have been many attempts to find parallels with other potentially blasphemous examples. Look at the response to Monty Python's Life of Brian, a similarly blasphemous portrayal of Jesus Christ. To true believers it was offensive, but to most of us it was quite amusing, but there was never any serious suggestion that the film be banned, let alone any potential for bloody riots. (At least, by the way, both Life of Brian and the Mohammed cartoons are understood by all viewers as clearly fictionalised. Unlike the documentary-style presentation of Protocols of the Elders of Zion which appears on TV in the Arab world.) Similarly comedic represenations of the Holocaust, such as Life is Beautiful, might not be enthusiastically embraced, but are certainly not deserving of censorship.
Difficult as it is to see now, I think the whole controversy will be a good thing for the Arab world. The reason for the difference in response between democratic and non-democratic societies is the difference in the extent to which those socities are exposed to the exercising of free speech. As is so often the way, the first attempt to challenge taboos (whether it be Graham Kennedy or Deep Throat or Chris Masters) is greeted with uproar, however it is only through these groundbreakers that followers can speak freely. One can easily imagine that in the future, cartoonists and writers in the Arab world will feel more free than they otherwise would to speak their mind on sensitive subjects.
For a really perceptive commentary on the topic, check out the wonderful Irshad Manji, published in The Age.