Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What the Danish Cartoon Controversy Tells Us About Religion, the Secular, and the Limits of the Law

By Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Taken from here.

A new book by four leading intellectuals (Talal Asad, Judith Butler, Saba Mahmood, and Wendy Brown) brings attention to the ongoing failures of the Euro-American liberal legal order in the face of the conflict between religious and secular values—and in doing so puts those very categories into question.

Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech
by Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood
(California, 2009)

This very rich little book seems to me a very good place to begin the new decade. It is smart, informed, thoughtful, urgent—and properly unsettling. It is also very difficult to read quickly or to summarize in short order. It is well worth the effort.

The principal essays, by anthropologists Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, take the Danish cartoon controversy as a starting point. They review the contexts of the publication of the satirical cartoons of Mohammed in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, and the angry responses that ensued; they ask us to take seriously the fundamental incoherence of the assumptions about religion that underlie the dominant narratives of those events (dominant narratives that were repeated again this week in the stories about a recent attack on one of the cartoonists.) The book also includes an introduction by political scientist Wendy Brown and a response to the essays by philosopher Judith Butler.

The Danish cartoons were first published in 2005. The angry response from Muslims around the world was incomprehensible—and repellent—to many outside those communities. In some places there were riots, and later boycotts of Danish goods. The most common explanation for the violence in the English and European language press was that the production of images of Mohammad is prohibited by Islamic law and further that Muslim immigrants in Europe and elsewhere have failed to internalize the democratic value of free speech. Jyllands-Posten, for its part, self-righteously claimed to be heroically rescuing free speech in the face of the fearful self-censorship practiced by Danish writers and artists with respect to criticism of Islam. The incident was portrayed as a clash between the liberal values of an open society and an anti-modern, authoritarian, and superstitious religion.

In their essays, Asad and Mahmood convincingly argue that this narrative largely misses the point in almost every respect. It misunderstands Islam; it misunderstands the liberal political order; and it misunderstands the complex common genealogy of Christianity and secularism.

(click here to read the rest)

Yes yes, another Danish Cartoon article... Very well written though, don't you think?

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