The Korea Times February 10, 2006
Protesting the Caricature of Islam
Granted, it would be wrong to caricature or ridicule the religion of Moslems, especially when they reside as guests in your country. But this is not the issue. The few Danish cartoons that have reached Taiwan don't do that. They clearly lash out against a caricature of Islam by Moslems themselves, a sketch of the prophet Mohammed and his teachings that is blasphemous but has gone unchallenged by Moslems in Denmark and across Europe, and which encourages violent actions that insult the mores and religions of their host countries.
The prohibition of figurative depictions of the sacred isn't just found in the Moslem religion and isn't to be viewed shallowly as some literal interpretation of the Koran. It represents a core truth about the sacred that cuts across all religions. The very essence of the sacred is that it cannot be depicted. It cannot be known by means of a mental idea or image.
This is because any image we make of it is not it. The danger of fashioning such an image is that it can stand in the way of the real thing. The same is true for any idea we form of the sacred in our minds, or any conceptualization or ideology we fashion from it. All these secondary reflections may be lovingly constructed as modes of access to the sacred but they have an unfortunate tendency to install themselves in its place. They become idols. The violent ideology of jihad is such an idol.
A problem that any great religious prophet faces is that he wants to share what he's experienced of the divine with others; and yet his followers are forever taking his teachings, which come from the imageless source, and turning them into these images, or idols. The common people, with their limited understanding, have an unfortunate tendency to turn even the sacred into something they can understand. In their simple cartoon-like minds, that divine radiance, the most natural and everyday thing in the world, is turned into something supernatural and at a remove from the world. Its incomprehensible nature becomes in their simplistic thinking some image, myth or story-line. The ideas of the jihadist who last year stabbed to death the Dutch filmmaker are not Islam. They are an image of Islam, a caricature. They paint a picture of the Prophet Mohammed and of his teachings that is patently untrue. It is this untrue caricature of Islam that the Danish press pilloried, not Islam itself. The cartoonist sketched this wrong idea of Mohammed, this idol, not Mohammed himself. Let's get this straight once and for all and then the discussion can return to an intelligent basis. What the Danish press did may have been in bad taste. But it was not wrong. It was not blasphemy. It pilloried blasphemy -- and reaffirmed the core truth of Islam.
The real question that needs to be brought forward is why this had to happen in Denmark. Why didn't Islam do it first? Why instead -- in mobs unruly, brute, and without understanding -- does Islam burn the Danish flag and storm its embassy? If these street mobs would make a fire to burn what offends Islam, then let them jump into the flames themselves.
Over here in Asia, some months back, in the name of Islam, a zealot in Indonesia hacked the heads off three innocent girls as they walked home from the Christian school their parents had enrolled them in. Islam was silent. A few days later, in the name of Islam, zealots in Thailand stormed a peaceful Buddhist monastery, murdered the enlightened abbot and burned the place. Again, not a peep out of Islam. The first step towards a cure is to name the illness. Not mighty Islam, but tiny Denmark had the courage.
We can be grateful to the Western tradition and its freedom of the press for providing the needed corrective and hopefully preventing the subversion of a great sacred tradition into a crude and violent caricature of itself.