friends discuss “the cartoons”

When I learned of these cartoons (via two headline stories in the NYTimes a week ago), I inquired of a journalist friend. I then summarized our conversation to another friend via email:
“We agreed that provocative humor is important but ought (?) to be wielded with an eye toward some ‘higher’ goal rather than the mere incitement of xenophobia. My pal also talked about the editorial responsibility of making the decision to publish. In the current political context, there needs to be complete assurance that no one’s job is going to be sacrificed to appease the predictable public outcry. In other words, the decision to publish carries a lot of ethical weight. It must be clean and clear enough to be justifiable and withstand criticism.”
She responded:
“I agree on your point about editorial accountability/responsibility, in the muhammad cartoon debate. I also find it very interesting to think about how the issue has been conceptualized in terms of minority/majority cultural conflict; however, who constitutes the threatened minority (muslims in denmark or danes in the world?) and who constitutes the majority in power (danes in denmark or muslims in the world) changes continously, depending on whose perspective is assumed.”
Meanwhile, I received an inflammatory anti-Muslim email from another friend, which I passed on to my journalist buddy with the comment:
“I became friends with this woman, a Jew, who impressed the hell out of me on every level…. our friendship has cooled some since I learned of her rabid views but I’m intrigued…. how can such contradictions be possible in one otherwise kind and wise?”
The response was both sharp and insightful:
“Yup, and then there’s that. How easy it is to be asking “But why aren’t they rising up?” of downtrodden people, uneducated and unemployed, whose lives have, for generations, been mired in helplessness, forced and ideological submission to clever thugs… cosntantly searching for something spiritually meaningful (if material welfare is not to be had at any costs).”
I had all this in mind when I was reading the comments posted in two British web-forums last night (excerpted in Dr Suess and WAR). Toward the end of a long, detailed, markedly “rational” discussion, someone blames the media for making it such a circus. Of course, the participants neglect to notice how their own comments inflame and enliven the very tensions they bemoan.

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