Re: Cartoon meme

From: Douglas Brooker (
Date: Sat 11 Feb 2006 - 17:53:23 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "RE: Cartoon meme"

    Wade Allsopp wrote:

    > The idea that those carrying out suicide/martyrdom attacks in the name
    > if Islam, will
    > be rewarded in the afterlife and in particular can expect to be
    > "given" 72 virgins.

    the idea has certainly captured the imagination of westerners, particularly male westerners, judging by the number of times it is raised in this type of discussion. The spread of this meme may be more marked in the west than amongst actual suicide bombers. Ask westerners today what they know about Islam and the 'promised virgins' will likely be amongst the most numerous replies.

    is there any citable evidence the meme is not a western invention? Is there an iconic version of this, say a verse in the Quran?

    a problem would seem to be - how can one determine whether the meme is understood literally or whether it is understood metaphorically? Arabic is a rhetorically rich language, and I doubt that invocation of a metaphor means people necessarily believe it literally. The richness of Arabic in this area is demonstrated by default by the way some rhetorical flourishes have become common usage in English. i.e. 'the Mother of All Battles'.

    Christianity has metaphors about the afterlife, the 'land of milk and honey' and things like this. There are probably Christians who believe them literally and those who don't. The evolution versus creationism controversy in the US in fact turns on a literal versus metaphorical axis.

    just a thought - it might be a criminal offence (in theUK) to suggest plastering anti-Islamic cartoons in major Arab cities.

    > On 2/11/06, *Douglas Brooker* <
    > <>> wrote:
    > Wade Allsopp wrote:
    > >
    > > On 2/11/06, *Kate Distin* wrote
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > > Your analysis strikes me as having hit the nail on the
    > head. I've had
    > > conversations with very moderate, culturally English, not
    > particularly
    > > religiously observant Muslims in the UK, who feel very
    > strongly that
    > > although they condemn violence and terrorism they can
    > nonetheless
    > > understand the feelings behind the violence and
    > terrorism. As you
    > > say,
    > > there is a perception of being marginalised and not having
    > their needs
    > > met within Western society. And another part of the problem
    > is of
    > > course the entanglement of any encounter between Islam and the
    > > West with
    > > the situation in Israel/Palestine. All of this creates a strong
    > > feeling
    > > of identity with fellow Muslims, whatever their behaviour, and a
    > > consequent reluctance to condemn even very extreme behaviour
    > by others
    > > within that brotherhood. Heightened in this case by
    > identifying with
    > > the feelings of outrage about the prophet being ridiculed and
    > > denigrated. Then we as non-Muslims hear even our very moderate
    > > friends
    > > expressing sympathy with the feelings underlying terrorism -
    > and the
    > > alienation is exacerbated.
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > > I agree, this is the point I was trying to make when I said that
    > the
    > > main losers of all this
    > > have been the moderate Muslims living in the west whose main
    > goals are
    > > not jihad
    > > but simply to get on well with their lives and live peacefully with
    > > their neighbours.
    > >
    > > My sense is that many moderate British Muslims and those such as
    > Jack
    > > Straw who
    > > strive to represent their views, were wrong footed by the cartoons.
    > > The initial reaction was:
    > > "this is outrageous, people are linking Islam with terrorism,
    > this is
    > > yet another example of the
    > > prejudices we face, these publications should not be allowed."
    > >
    > > We then saw maybe 50-100 radical Islamists (representing about
    > 0.007%
    > > of the British Muslim population) outside parliament screaming
    > "behead
    > > the cartoonists, let's have another 7/7, go go Bin Laden etc etc"
    > >
    > > In an important sense it was these people who the REAL cartoons.
    > > Remember the idea behind a cartoon
    > > is to exaggerate real features of the subject to comic effect.
    > >
    > > Whereas the original cartoons were pretty weak images published in a
    > > Danish newspaper months previously and would have had approximately
    > > zero impact on British people's perception of Muslims, these
    > real live
    > > cartoons got headline coverage on every TV news channel and just
    > about
    > > every serious newspaper in the UK for 2 or 3 days. They will
    > have had
    > > a material effect on reinforcing the prejudice against Muslims
    > in the
    > > UK. It was only a day or two later that moderate Muslim opinion
    > > seemed to wake up to this and begin a largely ineffectual counter
    > > offensive.
    > >
    > > What I think moderate Muslims have not woken up to is that
    > successful
    > > cartoon images "work" because they magnify aspects of the
    > subject that
    > > are really there. Think of the domineering, handbag bashing Spitting
    > > Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher or the grey, mousy puppet of John
    > > Major.
    > >
    > > I think the comedy side of this whole story has not received much
    > > attention to date. The Muslim reaction to the cartoons
    > > has generally been that because they are cartoons they are there to
    > > "ridicule" and perhaps humiliate Muslims. In fact I would say that
    > > this is to mistake the nature of comedy and cartoons, at least in
    > > British society. Comedy is there to bring us down to earth in a
    > non
    > > violent, non threatening way, to prevent us from taking
    > ourselves too
    > > seriously. When successful it is perhaps the most effective form of
    > > criticism, which is presumably why in just about all of the major
    > > world dictatorships, from Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam
    > Hussein
    > > to the current Islamic theocracies, making fun of the leader and
    > > regime in public was something that could rapidly lead to prison
    > or in
    > > many cases death.
    > >
    > > Most discussion of the cartoons has centred on the one with Muhammad
    > > with a bomb in his turban, which is really just making the point of
    > > the link between Islam and terrorism. I think most people have
    > said
    > > that the only one of the cartoons which is actually funny is the one
    > > with Muhammad sitting on a cloud being approached by a line of
    > suicide
    > > bombers saying "sorry we've run out of virgins". This is the
    > one (or
    > > something like it) which should be on posters all over Gaza,
    > Baghdad,
    > > Kabul and Bradford, because there is a very dangerous meme out there
    > > which needs to be doused and the traditional forms of argument
    > simply
    > > don't work against it.
    > What is the very dangerous meme out there that needs to be doused?
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