12 February 2006

The "Prophet" Mohammed: Sez Who?

Sorry to keep banging on about this, but hardly a day goes by that something else doesn't come up to further exasperate me on this subject.

The latest is the mainstream media's near-unanimous adaptation - as of a few days ago - of the usage "the Prophet Mohammed" whenever making reference to the cartoon character over whose portrayal the less-civilised mobs of the world have been rioting, burning and looting these past few weeks.

Why all of a sudden it's "the Prophet Mohammed" instead of simply "Mohammed," as has sufficed for at least as long as I've been reading and writing, is hardly a mystery. Clearly it's the intent of the media to show "respect" to the disrespectable rabble who've been rampaging in the streets, and, perhaps not incidentally, forestall the burning or closing down of their own enterprises. But the way it's spread so quickly and completely makes one suspicious that the conspiracy theorists may have been right after all: could there be some Central Bureau of Media Control that tells all the newspapers and TV stations what to say and how to say it?

One thing is certain: it's not due to a heightened sensitivity toward all the world's religions. Otherwise, we'd be seeing similar references to "the Son of God Jesus Christ" or "the Creator Brahma." No, it's just the Muslims getting the special treatment that they apparently believe they are entitled to, in this case, having their religious belief, i.e., that Mohammed was/is the Prophet of Allah, reported in the mainstream, secular press as though it were fact rather than opinion.

Now I didn't attend the Columbia School of Journalism, or even the Columbia School of Broadcasting, but I've had enough basic training and experience in the newspaper business to know that one of its basic tenets is that you separate (or try, anyway) fact from opinion. Thus the correct way of phrasing it would be, "Mohammed, whom Muslims believe to be Prophet of Allah," and some variant of this is how religious beliefs are usually reported. But the touchy-feely media institutions - the BBC is among the worst offenders, sometimes even adding the ritual incantation "Peace be upon him" after Mohammed's name - routinely present programmes trying to enlighten us about Islam - not a bad thing, of course - by recounting myths and legends from the Koran as though they were irrefutable historical facts.

I personally would love to know as much as possible about Islam and the other world religions, particularly when their beliefs or moral codes might impact upon my own freedom to live in a relatively enlightened western democracy. But I would greatly prefer to have those beliefs and moral codes presented to me as such, i.e., the collective opinions of people who may often think very differently from me.

In this same vein, I'm hearing a lot of argument from the usual suspects, namely the multiculturalists and soi-disants progressives, that we need to modify our traditional concept of freedom of speech and the press now that so many Muslims, who clearly have a different concept of such things, are dwelling among us. To this I can only say, and as loudly as possible: Rubbish. Neither western civilisation nor democracy were founded, nor should they have been, on the right of overly sensitive or intellectually insecure people not to be offended. On the contrary, one of the greatest strengths of our society has been the extent to which nearly everything and everyone can be subject to rigorous examination.

Conversely, there's a good case to be made that Islamic societies, once considerably more advanced than our own, stultified and regressed precisely because they placed strict limits on personal expression and the ability to question established practices. (Historians have noted a similar tendency in Ming and Qing dynasty China, a period during which the West was able to first catch up to and then massively surpass what, while Europe was staggering around in the Dark Ages, had been easily the world's most advanced civilisation.)

With all due respect (i.e., none, at least on my part) to the multiculturalists and cultural relativists of the world, we do no one, least of all the Muslims themselves, any favours by voluntarily limiting our discourse to avoid causing offence. If the Islamic world is ever to emerge from its present backwardness (I say this only in general terms, as there are clearly aspects of Muslim culture which are admirable and worthy of preservation), it will have to become far more intellectually honest, far more willing to examine itself in an objective and dispassionate way. But as long as Muslims who attempt this sort of criticism in Islamic countries are rewarded with imprisonment or death, it is Muslims in the West who will have to lead Islam toward its long-overdue Enlightenment. Similarly, it is Muslims in the West who have the most to gain by participating in an open and free discussion of the pros and cons of their religion and culture. We, on the other hand, who have long enjoyed and taken for granted that freedom, have a great deal - perhaps everything - to lose if we backtrack on the values of our own Enlightenment because "it might hurt someone's feelings."


Adam said...

Very well written and well stated. I think you've been hitting the nail right on the head with your pieces on this particular issue.

I find it interesting that the very same people calling for patience, tolerance, and respect for Islam are the very same who will give no such quarter to Christianity. Folks will spout ad nauseum about right-wing Christians (often, for good reason), but to go after Muslims (outside of an, "of course blowing up busses is wrong, but...")is anathema.

Spoke said...

I think the American media is the greater offender in this instance, than the BBC. Those bigger networks (and Condeleeza) are trying to whip the American public into a hating frenzy again. When GWB invades Iran and Syria, the poisonous propaganda ground work would have all ready been laid. This is'nt, or least wasn't, an American issue. Oh wait, yes it is...its happening somewhere in the Universe/Earth.
The other point I'd like to make is this: Christians should be the last people to ever be offended...and the first ones to forgive. I believe Jesus demonstrated this for us all, time and time again.
You reading this George?

Mister Afternoon said...

Larry, could we please reprint this (with plug for your blog) in our next issue? we're on the web at www.buffalobeast.com and printed in western new york. yay or nay, please respond to theriordan@yahoo.com

ps - i like that song "kick me in the head" alottdrit