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.
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.