Besides inflicting an awful lot of physical and mental damage, extremists and extremism is just plain stoopid. It comes from a place of emotion over intellect, half truths, misinformation and herd mentality.
It’s something I feel like I’ve been writing about a lot lately, but it never ceases to amaze how extremism rears its head in different avenues to cause different sorts of trouble, trouble that is overstated and overblown in the worst ways.
This week a Somali man was charged with terrorism in a Danish court for the attempted murder of editorial cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in January. Westergaard is the artist behind the “Bomb in the Turban” cartoon which appeared along with 11 other editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper back on Sept. 30, 2005.
Since them, Islamic extremists, whose religion forbids the rendering of Muhammad, have been waging a war on Danes, Danish newspapers and Westergaard. In fact, Islamic extremism tied to the Muhammad cartoons has seen violence and over-the-top protest spread to many other Western countries and their newspapers over the course of five years. Danish troops helping in Afghanistan even came under specific threat from the Taliban thanks to these, really, innocuous drawings.
The cartoon isn’t the issue, or at least it shouldn’t be. Even in Denmark, editorial cartoonists and newspapers are afforded protections under their system of government as it applies to freedom of speech. Whether it’s a cartoon making a valid and well-done point — the Danish cartoons were talking about self-censorship in the media from discussion of Islam and criticism of extremist Islamic factions themselves — or an editorial cartoon that wasn’t all that funny or poignant, the same rules apply in respect to protection.
But the story on the Danish cartoon flap is the reaction, and how violent and maniacal it became, even five years after the fact. In truth, there are still those out there who are probably plotting. Westergaard had already been the victim of an earlier plot to kill him by Islamic extremists that was foiled before it got off the ground. The attack by the Somali man, who was a member of a radical Islamist militia, was nearly successful, with the man getting into the artist’s house even while under police protection.
This is another case of the peaceful religion being corrupted by the most violent, radical extremes of the faith, extremes that dominate all the conversation, go above and beyond all good sense and will stop at nothing to push their agenda on everyone else. And really, it’s a belief system they seem to wait in the wings to espouse, waiting for the right opportunity to present itself so they can spring into action.
With those ends, political extremism and religious extremism are merely different sides of the coin. They work the same way, inflicting different types of damage, but completely overwhelming the victims, the opposing sides, and anyone else in their way with their beliefs, with their rhetoric and their threats.
Still, it’s easy to look in from the other side and understand why this happened with the Danish cartoons. We’re talking about the Prophet Muhammad here; we’re talking about the most sacred figure of the world’s largest religion. We’re not talking about some marginal figure.
Extremism, in all its forms, has a way of taking a conversation and turning it into a gunfight. Reason goes out the window, like a body thrown from the top floor of a high-rise. Nothing good will ever come from that; rational argument will explode as it crashes on the pavement into a million bloody pieces.
Extremism — and I’ve made this point before — attaches itself to one piece of the puzzle and runs with it. It could be the wrong piece, one that doesn’t fit or has no place in the drama, but it will get bled and milked and beaten to death until the other side screams mercy and taps out.
It’s just a cartoon, for Christ’s sake — for Allah’s sake. Thankfully, we don’t have those types of extremist reactions here that the Danes have to deal with. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with unhinged zealotry over something so minor as a caricature of a caricature.
At least this isn’t one of those situations of life imitating art imitating life.