The world has been gnawing away at its fragile cultural barriers lately. People seem to exalt offensively "free" speech because a hegemonic control over organized violence and information exists to put the uppety and powerless in their "place." To push those ethnic buttons, each group in this interethnic strife appears keen on staking out a claim on what aspects of its culture are sacrosanct and what assets cannot be claimed by other groups.
In my mind, the satirical cartoons of Mohammed aren't so different from a news video I recently viewed about a public high school teacher calling his pupil "niggah." Ok, so the prevailing theme seems to be that there are certain offensive ways of addressing one's own people or heritage that are only acceptable if engaged in by members of one's own group. Many Muslims are privileged to cite Mohammed and the Islamic creed in justifying political behavior. Similarly, in their estimation, black Americans uniquely possess the cultural right to address one another by racially sensitive terms. But, when the hegemonic power usurps this ethnic privilege in order to critique or deconstruct the ethnic speech or behavior, there is a violent and indignant reaction. Ethnic groups don't like to be told how to govern their own intra-cultural exchange.
The most evident and pressing notion that emerges from these controversies is that white/Western society controls, to a significant global extent, material and informational flows. Attained via the use of constant and concerted organized violence, the West maintains its domination over most of the vast non-Western sea of peoples. So, when the West affirms that it has the right to label or define the terms of someone else's intraethnic culture, violence is bound to erupt. Spasms of such conflict occur essentially only in the non-West at this historical juncture because the Western world has attained such an extreme level of wealth and control that underprivileged white people no longer need to revolt in a violent fashion - leaving such outbursts for the so-called ethnic entities that the West enjoys labelling as morally inferior because of this need to engage periodically in violent struggle with the West in response to their subjugation. When pushed to the limit, this paroxysm of anti-hegemonic fervor on behalf of the subaltern classes functions as an expression of inferior material status and invites a crackdown on these rebellious, ignoble savages.
This discussion of ethnic battles cannot possibly begin to explain the extent which certain groups have been included/excluded from the West. In America, the integration of Hispanics and Asians incorporates entirely different factors and is beyond the scope of this blogline. The cyberoisie might address such things later on, but these groups, like all other ethnic groups mentioned and assumed to be homogenous, classifiable, and generalizable are so complex that it becomes very difficult to reach any conclusions that could begin to be judged as scientific.
In the eyes of the subjugated groups (those actually present within the geographical confines of the metropolitan West, those who inhabit the periphery, and those of Western heritage who sympathize with the non-Western powerless), the Mohammed cartoons and the white use of the N-word are attempts to irreverently rub in the fact that the West is the ultimate legal arbiter of speech and violence. Though the West largely fashioned its dominance out of a persistent tradition of violence carried out under the aegis of the Judeo-Christian godhead, Western reactionaries feel that they must preserve their control over the discourse. The indefatigable power wielded by the West to crush resistance invites unfortunate violence upon the epicenters of Western life. A clash of civilizations exists empirically because people perceive it as such. However, normatively, a statement that there is an ongoing clash serves merely to egg on the perpetrators on both sides who seek to exacerbate tensions. There are huge numbers of Muslims and blacks who seek to justify their monopoly over their own cultural deities. Provocation of this desire to preserve the barriers of cultural exchange invites a seemingly irrational reaction on the part of the dominated groups.
Is this justified? Do white people have the right to toss around the n-word just because black people have this right? Do white people have the right to characterize the Islamic prophet because Muslims possess this right? To understand cultural barriers means that we must observe limits. There is undoubtedly humor in racist jokes and classifications that cannot be enjoyed by those outside the specific group because such labeling appears to threaten the group's power over its own destiny and image.
Retaliation for obdurate white behavior brings on the potential for cartoons satirizing Jesus with a machine gun aimed at the barbarians/infidels or depicting a Jew swiping a gentile's possessions. Ethnic stereotyping always consists of truthful (and potentially hurtful) elements. The hegemonic civilization is held to a higher civilizational standard, however, precisely because it already is in the lead. (Thus, Danish newspapers are said to be compelled to observe standards not observed in the Arab press and the Israeli government is obligated to abide by rules not followed by other Middle Eastern regimes). The West is castigated for pushing Islam a la limite. My sympathy goes out to those Danes and those Muslims who aren't engaging in the fundementalist discourse. The reactionaries on both sides fall into foolish assumptions about the intentions of that mysterious Other. The Other is exotic, seductive, dangerous. The more we seek to understand the Other, the more we erect barriers around Us that excludes Them. Thus, additionally and paradoxically, the more the Other seeks to call attention to its status, the more it identifies itself as different and separate. There will never be an end to ethnic, racial, or cultural conflict. It is a permanent feature of human, tribally fragmented civilization. Of course, its permanency ought not be exalted, but it's idealistic to declare postmodern society as postethnic. Ethnicities hybridize and collate, but they do not disappear.
I simultaneously mock, celebrate, and condemn ethnic divisions because it's so incredibly difficult to preserve a one-sided perspective. Though my voice arises from the hegemonic West, I cannot stop myself from advocating the position of the oppressed Other. I find myself caught in the middle of the civilizational schism.
So who wants to submit a cartoon satirizing Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed? Can we extract ourselves from the ethnic categories to which we belong and critique all our affiliations? Or are we limited to labelling/classifying only according to the cultural and "legal" rights ascribed to us?