Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Danish Newspaper's Cartoons Back in the News

It could have been worse. David Coleman Headley and and Tahawwur Hussain Rana / Tahawar Rana were caught and charged before they could carry through on their plans. From the looks of it, they wanted to help "commit terrorist acts against overseas targets, including facilities and employees of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005...."

The arrests have been a major news item today. Many of the recent reports seem to be ringing changes on this U.S. Department of Justice press release:
"Two Chicago men have been arrested on federal charges for their alleged roles in conspiracies to provide material support and/or to commit terrorist acts against overseas targets, including facilities and employees of a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, federal law enforcement officials announced today. There was no imminent danger in the Chicago area, officials said, adding that the charges are unrelated to recent terror plot arrests in Boston, New York, Colorado, Texas and central Illinois.

"The defendants charged in separate criminal complaints unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago are David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, also known as Tahawar Rana, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI. The complaints remained under seal temporarily after the defendants' arrests, with court approval, so as not to compromise further investigative activity...."
(U.S. Department of Justice)
There's more - quite a lot more - to the DOJ press release.

The bottom line is that another terrorist attack - attacks, more likely - won't happen. Not on schedule, at least.

And that's good news.

The bad news is that some (a few, I trust) people who are convinced that they're following - and defending - Islam apparently still have that Danish paper on their hit list.

Freedom of Speech and Callouses on the Soul

I don't approve of terrorism. I think I understand some of the emotions and motives involved, but that is not the same as condoning terrorism, or excusing terrorists from responsibility.

A few years ago, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published a number of cartoons by a Swedish cartoonist. Depending on your point of view, they were clever, sophisticated, in poor taste, or a world-class example of intellectual jingoism.

They portrayed the prophet - which is unacceptable by itself, in some flavors of Islam - in a very, very unfavorable light.

But, that sort of in-your-face contempt for religious beliefs is protected by 'freedom of expression' these days, in Western countries where 'free speech' is valued.

As a devout Catholic living in America, I'm used to seeing and reading angry, disgusting, and clueless 'comic' references to my faith. It goes with the territory. I don't like, particularly when I'm forced to help pay the salary of someone who commits sacrilege. (August 5, 2008)

I've gotten gut-wrenching angry, sometimes. But I couldn't support a bunch of crazed Catholics who wanted to kill the governor: and would, if by some freak of probability such a group existed and I had information about them, cooperate with civil authorities. Yes: I'd be helping people who attack my faith. But I'd be following my faith by being a good citizen.1 And, I think, helping people who didn't know all that much about Catholicism what my faith was really about.

I'd probably be even more emotionally worked up, if there weren't so many callouses on my soul. Some of the subcultures I lived in weren't just anti-Catholic - they didn't approve of any sort of 'organized religion.' Except maybe some very non-Abrahamic ones. After a while, you almost get used to it.

Which may be why this blog isn't anywhere near as vehemently anti-Islam as some 'real American' ones are. As I said, I don't condone terrorism: But I do have some idea of what it's like to follow a faith that most people in my country either doesn't care about - or are hostile toward.

Two Chicago Men and 'Those Muslims'

I think it's a good idea to remember that, after wild reactions to anti-Islamic cartoons made Muslims look like out-of-control rioters - and Islam like a repressive and dangerously violent cult - the more sane and sober followers of Islam took stock of what they believed, and how they should react to insults. And came to the conclusion that
  • 'Freedom of speech' was part of contemporary culture in many parts of the world
  • Violent reactions to naughty cartoons made Muslims look silly
    • At best
  • Following culturally-normative channels of protest were a better idea
I've posted about this before. (February 13, 2008)

As I've said often: 'Islam' isn't some great, homogeneous, monolithic block of people who all feel, think, and act the same way. It's prudent to remember that the loudest, most violent, craziest of any group aren't representative of the whole group.

Related posts: In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
1Which makes being a Catholic in America really interesting these days. That 'be a good citizen' thing is one of the rules I have to follow, but I also have to obey God's law. Still, in could be worse. Look what happened to Thomas More.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.