Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

World Politics in My Head and Neighbourhood

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, February 15, 2006 | Category: |

What's going on? (Something I would have submitted to the Mail and Guardian if I didn't think it had been all but written off)

There are several problems that have not seemed to be considered in terms of the publication of the Danish cartoons. The first, is whether publication of such material is responsible. Secondly, did it warrant the violent reactions that responded, several months subsequently to the publication. Thirdly, is the acceptance of liberal values such as the freedom of speech of the individual valid in the context of their the development which coincided with the Judeo-Christian dominance of international culture and economics. Lastly, is reproduction of the text viable for international news literature viable in terms of critiquing the original acts?

On the first topic, regardless of the constitutional right of freedom of speech, or whether the publication is deemed to be hate speech or not, in the current geo-political context it is outrightly irresponsible for any 'western' publisher to portray the Prophet Muhammed as a proponent of violence. Had we instead had Saddam Hussein or any Al Qaeda leader portrayed as carrying bombs it would have been far less likely to incite such hysteria, although there would most likely have been some repercussion for that. It is not politick to insult the historically peaceful and loving agent whom is the Prophet of Islam. On its own it was an irresponsible act.

The second point is equally important – did the initial act justify the violent reactions that we have seen worldwide? My personal, although secular, belief is that it did not. Islam at its core is meant to be a peaceful and gracious religion. It is meant to propagate itself through love of the family and through prayer on and study of the Qur'an. The Prophet Muhammed was not a violent man, nor did he advocate violence. Hence, I believe that the violent responses are unwarranted, and, more dangerously, to the right-wing prejudiced people who believe the texts themselves, they vindicate their publication because they now have an easily identifiable violent reaction which (to them) would prove that they are correct in believing that Muslims are intrinsically violent (a fallacious belief and a spurious conclusion to draw). If one assumes unilinear causality, it brings one back to the problem of identifying where a root cause lies. Coincidentally, the best response I have seen thus far are those by Muslims who condemn both the publication of the cartoon and the violent responses, instead advocating a peaceful response (the likes of which is more prevalent in South Africa).

Thirdly, many people in western culture have this automatic acceptance that neo-liberal values are 'right' or the 'correct' way that one should construct a society. We do not have any real factual basis for claiming that this is the case. Moreover, liberal values (originally coming out of Britain and Europe) are inherently connected to those who propagated them – the businesses and people coming from Europe and thus inherently linked to the Judeo-Christian people who were spreading this ideology. It is because of this that Jewish and Christian people are often less likely (but not at all less inclined) to act against texts that may insult or undermine their religious beliefs. Conversely, we then have to understand that attempting to place a western ideology that developed concurrently with the modern forms of Judaism and Christianity on a religious and ideological framework that does not incorporate such values will quite possibly be fallacious. To many Christian and Jewish people the violent protests will seem irrational and silly, this is because of the attachment to neo-liberal values which resulted in the disassociation of church, state and the individual. We cannot use such lenses of interpretation on the Islamic world. (Note: this is again not to claim that various Muslims do not ascribe to liberal values, many do, my comment is more on the concurrent development of ideological positioning and religiosity).

Lastly, the reproduction of the texts in my opinion was necessary in order to make the original acts and the original publications comprehensible. In my own anecdotal experience, I did not understand what all the furore was about until I saw the originals, as well as investigating the context out of which they came (right-wing newspaper that the original publisher is). As a social scientist it is necessary to view original, rather than secondary, texts in order to create an informed opinion. The access to such original texts would have been far more difficult were they not republished in South Africa (regardless of their accessibility online). As such, as a tool for understanding and re-interpreting their re-publication was a necessary evil in order to ensure that a valid dialogue would occur in South Africa, rather than something based on florid and often biased reports that came out of international news literature. For that I am grateful to Ferial Haffajee and her compatriots at the Mail and Guardian.

Thus the original production and publication of cartoons was irresponsible, the reactions by large numbers of the Islamic community were equally so, but the subsequent discussion and understanding needs to be located in a context that acknowledges cultural and ideological differences and the problems of moral absolutism (i.e. Assuming that liberalism is the political ideology). Lastly, for the sake of science and adequate response I thank the Mail and Guardian and I hope that they continue to facilitate the responses that they do in a responsible and peaceful manner.

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