What? They all read Danish now?
What? They All Understand Danish?
By Uwe Siemon-Netto
This Monday, Feb. 6, the Issues etc. program of station KFUO in St. Louis will continue its series of interviews on lay vocation. This series deals with God’s many callings to service in the temporal realm. In view of the current riots in Islamic countries over the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper allegedly depicting Mohammed as a terrorist, I shall once again reflect on the vocation of the media.
Forgive me for being perplexed. How come so many Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians and Indonesians understand Danish? How come thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them whirl around like dervishes, torching northern European embassies, churches and shops because of a series of cartoons that appeared in “Jyllands-Posten,” an irrelevant local rag compared to which the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the stature of the New York Times, to say the least?
Watching that seemingly demented rabble of bearded young men waving the green flag of Islam, I am tempted to wonder whether they belong to the same species of homo sapiens as I. But then I recall old documentaries showing my fellow Germans screeching just as hysterically in proclamation of Hitler’s glory. Hence I concur with a German colleague that, like Nazism, the radical variety of Islam we are observing today is comparable to the drug Ecstasy. It simply deprives its junkies of their senses.
It is strange that of the many memorable dicta of philosophers past I find myself quoting an aphorism by René Descartes (1596-1650) most often: Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). If Descartes is right, then those mobs I watch on television simply do not exist because surely they aren’t thinking.
If they used their brains they would surely realize that the ones dishonoring Islam are not some editors and artists, however gratuitously klutzy, in some one-horse Nordic town. No, if Islam has acquired – rightly or wrongly – a terrible name around the globe these days it is because of the following horrors committed before the eyes of a gasping world:
n Men and women having their heads chopped off for the “crime” of converting to Christianity, as happens in Saudi-Arabia;
n People being lashed in public because they attended Christian worship services;
n Christians being crucified, as has happened in Sudan;
n Innocent men and women being kidnapped and having their throats slit in God’s name, a regular occurrence in Iraq;
n Fervent Muslims hijacking passenger planes and flying them into New York skyscrapers, killing thousands;
n Hundreds of commuters dying in bombing attacks on Spanish trains – “in the name of God,”
n Muslim fanatics outfitting young men and women with belts containing explosives, promising them 72 virgins in the afterlife, and then sending them out as walking bombs to kill and maim Israeli civilians – in Allah’s name;
n Young men and women willing to become suicide bombers;
n Palestinians giving Hamas, which organization is more responsible than most for these outrages, the majority of their votes;
n Palestinians torching the Gaza offices of the European Union, which until now has kept their administration going financially.
I could append this list ad infinitum but I guess I have made my point. Now one is tempted to lean back and say: Clearly, these maniacs have lost their minds but thank God the rest of us haven’t. But if, according to Descartes, thinking is proof of existence, then I wonder about the existence of those Danish editors whose superfluous publication of those cartoons have endangered human lives – indeed cost human lives; riots in Afghanistan have already caused at least two deaths.
Not that I am favoring censorship here; a U.S. State Department spokesman was clearly out of line when he criticized the Danish paper for printing those cartoons – and other European and New Zealand publications for reprinting them. It is not for government officials to question the exercise of the freedom of expression and of the press in other free countries. But it is the calling of journalists to exercise self-restraint, and to counsel their colleagues in this way. And I am a journalist.
It cannot have escaped the attention of those editors that our world today is like a powder keg, which the tiniest spark could ignite. Having a bit of graceless fun with Mohammed could be one of those sparks that could easily be avoided.
The media are often chided for the infantile self-importance displayed by far too many of their practitioners. The current crisis is only one case in point. Another was the recent decision by “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” a highly reputable German newspaper, to blabber needlessly about the activities of the BND, Germany’s equivalent of the CIA, in Iraq. Two BND officers, the paper alleged in an unsubstantiated report, helped the U.S. military in selecting targets for rocket attacks in the early phase of the Iraq war.
To anybody with brains this report seemed an open invitation to terrorists to plant bombs in Germany and to target Germans in Iraq as supposed “spies.” And, sure enough, a few days later two German engineers were abducted by insurgents threatening to kill them. As of this writing their fate is unknown.
“Cogito ergo sum” – René Descartes, where are you now that the world needs you?
Uwe Siemon-Netto, Ph.D. D.Litt.
Concordia Seminary Institute on Lay Vocation, St. Louis, M.O.