I’ll lose the ability to come up with clever titles if I keep starting a new entry for every article having to do with the cartoons and Islam I read today.

Opinion Journal – Bonfire of the Pieties: Islam prohibits neither images of Muhammad nor jokes about religion. BY AMIR TAHERI

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued “fatwas” against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments–which include a ban on depicting God–as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is “an absolute principle of Islam” is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

There, you see? He also provides a pretty extensive, but by no means complete, list of famous artworks of Mohammed, in the Muslim world.

Now to the second claim, that the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. That is true if we restrict the Muslim world to the Brotherhood and its siblings in the Salafist movement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda. But these are all political organizations masquerading as religious ones. They are not the sole representatives of Islam, just as the Nazi Party was not the sole representative of German culture. Their attempt at portraying Islam as a sullen culture that lacks a sense of humor is part of the same discourse that claims “suicide martyrdom” as the highest goal for all true believers.

The truth is that Islam has always had a sense of humor and has never called for chopping heads as the answer to satirists. Muhammad himself pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him for more than a decade. Both Arabic and Persian literature, the two great literatures of Islam, are full of examples of “laughing at religion,” at times to the point of irreverence. Again, offering an exhaustive list is not possible.

Iraq the Model – Time for a cartoon post…

You know that those cartoons were published for the 1st time months ago and we here in the Middle East have tonnes of jokes about Allah, the prophets and the angels that are way more offensive, funny and obscene than those poorly-made cartoons, yet no one ever got shot for telling one of those jokes or at least we had never seen rallies and protests against those infidel joke-tellers.

What I want to say is that I think the reactions were planned to be exaggerated this time by some Middle Eastern regimes and are not mere public reaction.

And I think Syria and Iran have the motives to trigger such reactions in order to get away from the pressures applied by the international community on those regimes.

Good lord, Omar agrees with my Grand Conspiracy!

One last thing, even if the entire EU apologizes it won’t change a thing; fanatics in our countries here had always considered the west their infidel arrogant crusader enemy and no apology no matter how big or sincere can change that.

Uh huh.

The Economist Special Report – Self-doomed to failure<br/> An unsparing new report by Arab scholars explains why their region lags behind so much of the world

WHAT went wrong with the Arab world? Why is it so stuck behind the times? It is not an obviously unlucky region. Fatly endowed with oil, and with its people sharing a rich cultural, religious and linguistic heritage, it is faced neither with endemic poverty nor with ethnic conflict. It shook off its colonial or neo-colonial legacies long ago, and the countries that had revolutions should have had time to recover from them. But, with barely an exception, its autocratic rulers, whether presidents or kings, give up their authority only when they die; its elections are a sick joke; half its people are treated as lesser legal and economic beings, and more than half its young, burdened by joblessness and stifled by conservative religious tradition, are said to want to get out of the place as soon as they can.

Across dinner tables from Morocco to the Gulf, but above all in Egypt, the Arab world’s natural leader, Arab intellectuals endlessly ask one another how and why things came to turn out in this unnecessarily bad way. A team of such scholars (it is indicative of the barriers to freely expressed thought that there are almost no worthwhile think-tanks in the Arab world) have now spent a year putting their experience to diagnostic use in the “Arab Human Development Report 2002”, published this week by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Skipping a whole bunch of interesting statistics…

The barrier to better Arab performance is not a lack of resources, concludes the report, but the lamentable shortage of three essentials: freedom, knowledge and womanpower. Not having enough of these amounts to what the authors call the region’s three “deficits”. It is these deficits, they argue, that hold the frustrated Arabs back from reaching their potential—and allow the rest of the world both to despise and to fear a deadly combination of wealth and backwardness.

Freedom. This deficit, in the UNDP’s interpretation, explains many of the fundamental things that are wrong with the Arab world: the survival of absolute autocracies; the holding of bogus elections; confusion between the executive and the judiciary (the report points out the close linguistic link between the two in Arabic); constraints on the media and on civil society; and a patriarchal, intolerant, sometimes suffocating social environment….Democracy is occasionally offered, but as a concession, not as a right.. . .

Knowledge… Another, no less grave, result is the dearth of creativity. The report comments sadly on the severe shortage of new writing, and, for instance, the decline in the film industry. Nor are foreign books much translated: in the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, say the authors, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.

Women’s status. The one thing that every outsider knows about the Arab world is that it does not treat its women as full citizens. The report sees this as an awful waste: how can a society prosper when it stifles half its productive potential? After all, even though women’s literacy rates have trebled in the past 30 years, one in every two Arab women still can neither read nor write. Their participation in their countries’ political and economic life is the lowest in the world.

And a couple conclusions:

A country can have one or two of these deficits, says Clovis Maksoud, a respected Lebanese involved in the report’s preparation, and still surge ahead…. There are no clear historical reasons why it has turned out like this. The priority, in the years after the second world war, was to get rid of the western powers that were still ruling much of the region either directly or through proxies. The emphasis was on national liberation, not on individual liberty. Nationalism was drummed into people, leaving little room for thoughts of personal freedom.

But when the imperialists were gone, the new independent governments often aped their old colonial administrations (not the European governments behind these administrations) by adopting their characteristics of extreme centralisation, very little separation of power between different branches of government, and a generally paternalistic attitude.

And:

The most delicate issue of all, again carefully skirted by the authors of the report, is the part that Islam plays in delaying and impeding the Arab world’s advance towards the ever-receding renaissance that its intellectuals crave. …discouraging critical thought and innovation and helping to produce a great army of young Arabs, jobless, unskilled and embittered, cut off from changing their own societies by democratic means. Islam at least offers them a little self-respect. With so many paths closed to them, some are now turning their dangerous anger on the western world.

Yeah. Meanwhile:

FaithFreedom.org – Iran : A 17 year old girl is sentenced to death by hanging.

A young girl who defended herself and her chastity against three male assailants who intended to kidnap and rape her causing injury to one of them who later died in hospital was condemned to death by hanging in an Islamic court in Iran. Nazanin who has seen no more than 17 Springs, all of which under the tyrannical rule of the Mullahs is now facing execution for trying to defend herself and her honor.

No where in the world and under no law self defense is considered to be a crime, but in the tyrannical mullacracy of Iran if a woman does not resist rape she will be stoned as adulterer and if she does she will be hanged.

But I bet she’s glad her proud male defenders are so nobly defending their faith from attack by obscure European cartoonists.

Telegraph – ‘We would welcome your troops with flowers…’<br/> While Iraq has been grabbing the headlines, Iran, its once tempestuous neighbour, has been relatively quiet – or has it? John Casey spent two weeks in the country and found that a new generation has tired of the claustrophobic rule of the old mullahs, so much so that many people envy the invasion of Iraq

I then realised that the excitement was not just over the destruction of Saddam – a man universally hated for the eight-year “imposed war” that he fought against Iran, in which half a million died and many thousands were gassed – but over the prospects the war might have for Iran itself. Another said: “This government is worse than Saddam Hussein. You cannot be serious. But yes – if the Americans and English come and land at the airport with their troops, Iranians will throw flowers at them. Please tell them this in England, please, please, please!”

This one’s pretty long, but his experience at prayers makes it worth it.