A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.


I’m having a really hard time writing about the workshop because I’m so saturated with thoughts about so many different things that I simply cannot collect my thoughts into one solid and coherent post. So I decided I’ll divide it into little posts (or not so little, just relatively little to all the thoughts in my head). The first post will be about a thing that wasn’t of much importance to the aim of the workshop, but of which I feel inclined to share- what was discussed in regards to the cartoon controversy.

To those who expressed that I wasn’t the best representation of Middle Eastern faith, let me start by putting your mind at ease by telling you that it wasn’t interfaith dialogue as much as it was intercultural dialogue.

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The Arab group consisted of 11 people, which included four Egyptians, three Lebanese, three Jordanians, and a Syrian. Four of the 11 Arabs were Christian and the rest were Muslims. The Danish group consisted of 14 people, which included atheists, Christians, and a Muslim.

The first day was spent preparing and presenting a presentation to exptess each group’s point of view as to why the controversy was blown out of proportion. Naturally, each person in the Arab group had a different opinion, but we managed to draw circles around what we all agreed on and we, as Arabs, managed to present a united front (surprise, surprise).

Here are the three main points we presented:

1) There most definitely is a mutual misunderstanding of the other culture which helped escalate the controversy into a crisis. We agreed that the reactions to the cartoons weren’t as much religious as they were cultural- Arabs generally identify more with their religions than with being Arab, perhaps because we are politically, economically, and socially frustrated in our own countries. Meanwhile, the Danish and the Europeans in general do not associate with religions as much as they associate with their countries. This point drew a lot of nods from the Danes, some of who said that the worst part to them about the whole issue was the burning of the Danish flag, which they cherish to the extent that they hang it outside their houses whenever the weather is good (we, meanwhile, are quite used to burning flags aren’t we?).

2) The reactions were way out of proportions and that violence managed to only accentuate the message of the cartoons. The Prophet is a religious symbol that should not be shaken, and there are many other much more effective ways to express dissatisfaction. We also have had many other disasters in our region that are far more drastic in their effects than a bunch of cartoons, such as the Palestinians which are currently boycotted and starving, and the Iraqis who are practically on the brink of a civil war.

3) Finally, we also agreed that the media played a very major role in escalating the crisis. The Western media is biased towards portraying Arabs as aggressive. They kept playing the violence over and over again while ignoring the peaceful demonstrations that took place around the Arab world. The local media is very sensationalist and it helped in furtherly aggravating the other already emotional and reactive Arab street.

The Danish chose to not represent a united front but instead expressed the different opinions of the 14 people in the group. Most agreed that the cartoon was provocative.

The Cartoon Crisis was only discussed during the first day. The other 3 days were spent trying to develop a personal approach to dialogue, which I will discuss in a different post.

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“Midt i Beirut”


  1. Shy

    Seems to me u did a good job summing up the workshop :) Did this workshop get much press coverage? It would have been a positive thing for a lot of people to hear about it

  2. I like the “united front” conclusions. Good job!

  3. if u r not the best representation then who is?! ;)

    but..i didnt get why did u present a united front? i mean it’s not a war it’s just a workshop and i’m sure it wud’ve been more useful if everyone presented his own point of view individually..just a thought

    anyways..welcome home roba!
    c ya

  4. Marianne

    Just a note:

    In the Danish satirical tradition – cartoons are ment to be provocative.

  5. Marianne, lol, I think that satirical cartoons are meant to be provocative in every single place in the world.

    Fadi, we didn’t really have enough time to argue out 14 different opinions in each group :)

    Shy, it will get coverage. I think.

  6. moi

    Roba, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Sounds very intersting. However, I’m wondering why the Arab group was not so diverse? There weren’t any participants from the Gulf countries, which in my view was a region deeply affected by this and where the boycott began (I think). I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or they weren’t included for logistical reasons, but I think it’s very important to emphasize that even within the Arab world there is a diversity of opinions. I don’t like it when we lump the Arab world together, because in reality, we’re not united and we’re not a homogenous group. It seems to me that the organizers might’ve been a little short-sighted on that issue.

    Otherwise, I can tell that the workshop had a positive affect on you and I hope that we have more such events springing up across the Arab/Muslim world before incidents such as the Cartoon Controversy even occur.

  7. Roba,

    You brought up an important point about the role the mainstream media plays in fueling misunderstanding.

    I rememember how late in the day on September 11, 2001, American networks showed footage of Palestinans dancing in the street at the news of the twin towers falling. I was at work. My boss was standing next to me as we watched the television. She said something to the effect that this isn’t what the networks need to be showing. Even then we recognized how images of isolated groups could be taken out of context and be perceived as representative of a whole region.

    This underscores the importance of blogging. It allows a multitude of voices to contribute to the narrative of “what happens”–voices that are not on anyone’s payroll & have no commercial pressure to show decontextualized images.

  8. Roba, welcome back… you’ve been missed!
    it seems that the workshop went positively… and I always think that… those who try and do are far better than those who don’t…
    I agree with most of what you said… but… there is something that should be understood… if Danish cherish their flag and conform to their national identity they should respect and accept Muslims who cherish their Prophet and conform to their religious identity!
    what has been done as a reaction from Arabs and Muslims was surely wrong… for no matter how we argue we can’t deny the fact that most of the Arab and Muslims are ignorant and not well educated… it aches me to say it… but the masses are like that… and usually those who are portrayed in the Media…
    lucky enough that the intellectuals have their own arena that they can brighten up the image of Arabs and Muslims….

  9. Anonymous

    Hi 21stcenturyshea.

    What about this Festival in Denmark?

    danish person

  10. SuperDevoika: “if Danish cherish their flag and conform to their national identity they should respect and accept Muslims who cherish their Prophet and conform to their religious identity!”

    Where – in Roba’s posting – do you see _any_ disrespect from the Danish participants in the meeting ?

    Or do you mean more generally ? the flag is a collective symbol – it is “ours”, whereas religion is a personal matter – it is “mine”….

    That said, I’m happy to discuss faith and stuff here on ME blogs…you just don’t do that in DK – it’s kinda like ….indecent….weird, innit ?

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