Shifting cartoon coverage

muslim protestsI've noticed a shift in the cartoon coverage and in many bloggers' attitudes toward the image-inspired violence and arguments over whether the images should have been published by media organizations. This shift has been driven largely by events on the ground that are just too huge to ignore, particularly as the "Furor Over Cartoons Pits Muslim Against Muslim," as a New York Times headline writer phrased it Tuesday. As Muslims turn on Muslims, one can only imagine how this would drive Middle East reporters insane, unless they had a deep knowledge of issues relating to Islam and its culture. The NYT focuses on the compelling story of Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani and Yemen editorial writer Muhammad al-Assadi and their writings condemning the violence in response to the cartoons. Here are the key paragraphs that show the significance of these developments:

Mr. Momani and Mr. Assadi are among 11 journalists in five countries facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons. Their cases illustrate another side of this conflict, the intra-Muslim side, in what has typically been defined as a struggle between Islam and the West.

The flare-up over the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper, has magnified a fault line running through the Middle East, between those who want to engage their communities in a direct, introspective dialogue and those who focus on outside enemies.

But it has also underscored a political struggle involving emerging Islamic movements, like Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Arab governments unsure of how to contain them.

"This has become a game between two sides, the extremists and the government," said Tawakkul Karman, head of Women Journalists Without Constraints in Sana, Yemen. "They've made it so that if you stand up in this tidal wave, you have to face 1.5 billion Muslims."

One thing this development is doing is putting to rest the idea that this conflict is somehow leading to a clash of civilizations. I posed the idea in this space two weeks ago, but I am beginning to realize that the cartoon controversy is nothing of the sort, as S. Brent Plate profoundly explains over at The Revealer:

First of all, in utilizing such a grandiose phrase as "clash of civilizations," we (journalists and the rest of us) must remind ourselves of the rather small-scale nature of this current clash. As Juan Cole notes, the protests have, by and large, been limited. In general terms, the Muslim world numbers as much as 20% of the world's population, so if major protests were to somehow be widespread among the Muslim population, every one of us would know about it -- not through CNN, but by hearing screams and gunshots in our own backyards. I write this in Fort Worth, Texas, a place not typically thought of in relation to Islam, yet within a couple miles of here there are a half-dozen mosques, regularly attended by Muslims from North Africa, Arabia, Indonesia, and by U.S. Latinos and African-Americans. It is only a minority of Muslims who are of the Arabic race. Muslims, now and for much of history, are not the antithesis to the West, they are the West.

golden dome mosqueThe clash within Islam is even more apparent with the destruction of the golden-domed Shia shrine in Samarra early Wednesday morning. The attackers are still at large and unknown, but no matter, the incident is sparking reprisals and protests against Sunni Muslims. If the cartoon violence and protest was any measure, Iraq is about to become a very violent and dangerous place in the next week -- not that it was not already a seething caldron -- considering that the St. Peter's Cathedral of the Shiite world has now been destroyed under the United States military's watch.

Here's the Independent's take:

In a number of respects civil war in Iraq has already begun. Many of the thousand bodies a month arriving in the morgues in Baghdad are of people killed for sectarian reasons. It is no longer safe for members of the three main communities the Sunni and Shia Arabs and the Kurds to visit each other's parts of the country.

"Iraq is in a Weimar period like Germany in the 1920s which will either end with the country disintegrating or in an authoritarian government taking power," said Ghassan Atiyyah, an Iraqi political commentator.

Was it not only a matter of time for an event of this magnitude to occur in Iraq? I would consider this one of the worst developments in the Iraq since we invaded, and it could end up setting back all the positives gained in the elections.

The article in the Independent is where I found the St. Peter's/Golden-dome comparison. It certainly put the incident in a perspective with which I could relate. The Independent also gets the religious significance of this event when it comes to creating a sustainable government in Iraq. American papers seem to be focusing on reporting the who, what, where, when and how the bombing happened, rather than the so what? or why. Not a bad approach, considering the event did just happen, but it also can be limiting.

As it stands now, the stories posted on the New York Times and Washington Post websites do little to show the significance of the structure to Muslims. Perhaps this will change as the story progresses, but as it stands now, what is the average reader supposed to take from this story other than the massive headlines, words like "revered" and "holiest shrines" and, of course, statements from officials in Washington?

While the European press tends to be better about understanding the Middle East -- as I pointed out here, I'm holding out hope that U.S. publications will get the significance. I guess we'll see in the morning.

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