March 20, 2008


Recently three men were arrested in Denmark for plotting to kill a cartoonist who had drawn pictures of the Prophet. The cartoonist has now gone underground and his wife lost her job at a day care because parents were worried about their children's safety. In order to show their solidarity with the artist, 17 newspapers decided to re-print the cartoons. This has led to a new round of protests against Denmark in the Muslim world. Egypt (which was recently condemned by the European Parliament for its human rights abuses) accused Denmark of violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, essentially of being racist.

A Danish newspaper editor commented, “It was not about mocking a minority but a religious figure, the Prophet, so it was blasphemy, not racism. The idea of challenging religious authority led to liberal democracy, whereas the singling out of minorities, as minorities, led to Nazism and the persecution of the bourgeoisie in Russia. So this distinction is crucial to understand.”

(And religion has had a good healthy life in liberal democracies.)

Hear hear. Challenging authority. My parents have asked a couple of leading questions about rebellion, whether I rebelled, what it may have meant, and I am stumped as to how to reply. The direct answer is that I have never directly challenged my parents, which would have been the honorable way to go about it. Some things I did could be classified as civil disobedience. Most of my choices were deeply influenced by my folks and some were in contrast-- par for the course. I was reminded of what was common knowledge in high school-- that the kids who rebelled the most very quickly settled into conservative lives of kids and jobs. (As they say in Sweden, 'Vovve, Vila och Volvo' meaning 'Dog, House and Volvo'.) I guess I thought I would save my steam for the long haul.

Rebellion is fundamentally conservative. The Danes saved their faith and country by rebelling against the central authority of Rome. Could anyone be more British than Sid Vicious singing 'God Save the Queen'? The British Parliament has 'The Queen's Loyal Opposition' who are not loyal to the government, but to the Queen, Queen as metaphor for country, faith and way of life. The rebel has to work hard to identify what they are rebelling against and an important question is what motivates them-- I would say it is the pain of the love they have for the very thing they are rebelling against, and that the system would collapse without the critics, Vonnegut's canaries in the coal mine, our early warning system for fundamental issues.



At March 21, 2008 7:46 PM , Blogger Papa Twister said...

I don’t understand the first part of this post. Who’s rebelling against who, the Muslim assassins or the cartoonist? Is the cartoonist a Muslim? If the cartoonist isn’t a Muslim, then I don’t get it at all. Provoking religious people is a bad idea, especially Muslims. I like your comments about rebellion, and I think we’re on the same page. However, in the face of authoritarian rule, rebellion might be a necessary step toward self-actualization. The problem with rebellion is that it potentially leads to defining identity by what you or we are not, which is what I believe you are ranking on. There’s nothing more affirmative of the existence of God than someone who defines himself or herself as an atheist. But sometimes authoritarian structures need to be broken down before maturating can be achieved. I believe this has hindered me. I also believe the problem with Islam is that it is a young religion, and it hasn’t been rebelled against yet and mythologized. So don’t mess with the prophet.

At March 21, 2008 10:14 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

The first part: What caught my attention was the editor's observation that challenging authority lies at the center of our social order/the liberal democracy- it is a vital part of our system-- my addition was calling it a conservative force. The rest of the first half was peripheral, but interesting nonetheless. Everyone I talk to here is pained that the issue has come back to life. Based on his recent statements a man hiding in a cave thinks Denmark and Sweden are part of a plot lead by the head of Vatican City.

I like how you write, 'rebellion potentially leads to defining identity by what you are not'.

If you want to change the world don't rebel, but create something new.

I met an earnest Muslim youth on the train one day and he told me that the sun is perfect because it was made by God, whereas things around us are imperfect since they were built by man. My coworker asked, 'Did he mean built by MAN?', referring to MAN AG (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg) that builds everything from trucks to printing presses.

At March 26, 2008 5:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

rebellion against parents is a natural process. You try on new masks.

When it sinks in and becomes part of your identity, it gets to be conservative. Not sure this is what you are talking about. To remain fresh, a person must create constant personal rebellion against things that have become flat or stale in one's life. Growth can slow or stop if this does not happen.

I feel that the rebellion of Jesus against the status quo of his day was not conservative, but radical.

At March 26, 2008 2:05 PM , Blogger rigtenzin said...

"There’s nothing more affirmative of the existence of God than someone who defines himself or herself as an atheist."

Papa twister, if you have time, could you explain this. I don't get it.

At March 27, 2008 5:17 PM , Blogger Papa Twister said...

Okay Rigtenzin, there’s a long a short version of why I think being an atheist supports the existence of God. The long version is about faith and how I wish I had some… But I don’t have time for that, so here’s a short version: I didn’t believe in Santa Claus until 3 years ago. I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood, and nobody celebrated Christmas or put up lights or had Christmas trees. I never thought about Santa. For me, Santa did not exist. Now, if I had seen Santa and stood up and said I don’t believe in Santa, wouldn’t that be affirmation of the existence of Santa? I know there is solipsistic nature to what I am saying, but what do I really know anyway? Fortunately, I now believe in Santa. Maybe in 10 years I will also believe in God, but by no means do I consider myself an atheist, because I have other things to do. Does that make sense? I'll post a picture of myself with Santa on my blog just in case you don't believe in him.


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