Wednesday, February 08, 2006

There, but for the grace of Muhammad, go I

Image hosting by PhotobucketI read a headline at "Bush urges end to cartoon violence". I was elated. Finally, in our time, we might see an end to the horrifying spectacle of cats having their faces blackened by sticks of dynamite shoved into their mouths by mice. To coyotes crushed under boulders. To ducks having their beaks spun around their heads by shotgun blasts.

As it turned out, although animated mayhem might somehow be expected to be one of the president's pet subjects, he was actually speaking out against the global crisis over the printing of anti-Islamic cartoons in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. It seems crazy. Personally, I don't get enraged by cartoons now that Lennie Peterson has retired the execrable The Big Picture. Yet, the current uproar has resulted in a boycott of Danish goods by Muslim consumers, withdrawal of ambassadors from Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and the deaths of 10 people so far in violent demonstrations. I wouldn't be surprised to hear of a fatwa calling for the deaths of the cartoonists and the publishers of Jyllands-Posten.

The funny thing I just realized: This could have been me.

Back in university, when I used to write for the satirical rag Golden Words, I used to draw a cartoon called The Blasphemy Corner that dealt with religious themes. I think the title really overstated the case most of the time. Some notable exceptions aside, it wasn't really that blasphemous; rather, it was just some gentle fun being poked at bible stories. It gained a pretty enthusiastic following (probably more because of their ability to épater le bourgeois than because they were particularly hilarious), and I still occasionally get requests to scan them and put them online. In fact, a few crappy scans are online, and can be seen here. I've never bothered with the rest because it seems like a lot of work to digitally republish a lot of my juvenalia that I don't really think is particularly great anymore.

Some people sure liked them, though. For example, my girlfriend at the time loved them enough to show them off to her parents. Why she thought this was a good idea, I'll never know. Her mother is a super-devout Roman Catholic. In recent years, she's taken to worshipping a water stain on a wall at her cathedral that looks like the Virgin Mary. So you can imagine how much she liked them. She talked her daughter into breaking up with me, and to this day, those parents hate my guts.

The Blasphemy Corner was also the source of my very first complaint letter, which was published in the Queen's Journal. I was so proud that I clipped it out and saved it for years. Continuing the theme of complainants sending letters criticizing Golden Words to any paper but Golden Words, which was certain to respond with mockery and character assassination, the next complaint letter went right to the Kingston Whig-Standard. I saved that one too.

Another situation that comes to mind didn't stem from a cartoon, although it easily could have: We published an editorial critical of the elevation of Toronto's own Aloysius Ambrozic from archbishop to cardinal on the basis that he'd made some pretty misogynist and homophobic remarks. The day it published, three strapping young Catholic lads showed up at our offices to discuss the issue, ruddy with fury. So what did I do? I locked myself in a room with them and stubbornly debated theology with them until they got sick and tired of it and went home. In retrospect, this was a pretty foolhardy thing to do, as it could have gotten ugly.

Case in point: A couple of years before I was editor, Golden Words published "Jew-W", an issue parodying anti-Semitism that was itself taken as anti-Semitic and managed to get into the national media, an impressive feat for a student newspaper with a circulation of 8000. The lesson learned from this was twofold: First, a fire like that can spread faster and further than you'd think. And second, stick to making fun of Christianity, which is hardly an oppressed minority in this country. It's not necessarily right, but it's safe ground, like making fun of white people or men.

So it's not outside the realm of possibility that a Blasphemy Corner ridiculing Islam might have caused some problems. It's not likely, and it seems like egoism even to imagine such a thing as embassies being set aflame on my account. But if trouble like this can come out of Denmark, of all places, tucked up out of the way up there as it is, it can happen anywhere. And a fatwa I don't need.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, I didn't know about the "locking yourself in a room to discuss theology" incident. I'd love to see a video of it, though.

2/08/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

The only thing I remember about it is:

"...and don't even bring up the crusades."

"Okay, but since you did..."

2/08/2006 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken said...

I wish I'd been there. Haha.

2/09/2006 03:07:00 PM  

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