Insults and reason


The Mohammad caricature saga continues, and it is all quite predictable. Extremists on one side go out of their way to insult traditional Muslims. Extremists on the other side allow themselves to be insulted and try to retaliate by burning flags (pretty hopeless) or violence. And the media, always looking for a good story, focuses on the extremes and not the large middle ground dismayed by the whole spectacle.

Deliberately offending or hurting someone seems a poor strategy, and in this case, it only serves to inflame an already too hot and dangerous situation. Can we expect others to gain respect for “freedom of speech” when what they see is the most misguided and infantile examples of its use? Much better then to say what we have to say, with clarity and respect, defend freedom of speech through laws and regulations, and demonstrate responsible use of free speech.

It may also be good to notice that we have taboos as well, and there are places where we are hurt in a similar way, the boundaries are just located differently. When a discourse treads close to our own taboos, we expect respect and sensitivity, so we may as well treat others with that same respect.

Both sides are examples of what happens when we take a story as absolutely true. And it is all a good mirror of what happens here when I take a story as true. The dynamics are the same, even if the stories and the way it is expressed may be different.

When do I go out of my way to offend others, in my mind or interactions? When do I get offended? What do I complain about, in either situation? What do I find when I investigate those stories?

And, where are the taboos in our culture? Where are my taboos? How do I react when someone else breaks these? What are my stories around it? What is more honest for me than those initial stories? How would it be to live from what is more honest for me? How does it look? Feel?



Making a point while (intentionally or unintentionally) insulting or offending may be a typical western style discourse around these topics, and it works here because we are used to it and won’t act on it with violence. But in this situation, deliberately hurting someone is likely to backfire and inflame an already dangerous situation. A more reasonable approach is to say what we have to say, as pointedly and clearly as we feel is necessary, while avoiding deliberately hurting or offending people. If we want to desensitize Muslims to western style discourse around religion, there are other and better ways than using “freedom of speech” as a defense for an infantile need to insult and push buttons. Can we expect them to gain respect for “freedom of speech” when what they see is the most misguided  examples of its use?


– the concern of westerners: (a) not be too soft against anti-democratic/fundamentalist muslims + (b) familiarize muslims with western style discourse
– the concern of traditional muslims: (a) their religion and traditions treated with respect
– can easily do both: clear boundaries (according to western values) + respect, not needlessly/intentionally set out to hurt/insult
– be a good example: freedom of speech/say what’s important + do it in a respectful way
– also, recognize that we have our own taboos, in other places, so treat their taboos with the respect/sensitivity we expect in respect to our own taboos (our: child abuse, don’t kick someone who is down, etc.) (and we do kick someone who is down when we insult islam, b/c the western culture has the upper hand through globalization)

  • insults and reason
    • mohammad caricatures – ongoing saga
    • skewed impression of the situation, media focuses on the extremists on both sides
      • the ones set to insult b/c it is an expression – or bizarrely – a defense of “freedom of speech”
      • the ones overreacting b/c they feel insulted (also a little comical when they burn flags etc. in a futile attempt to offend back, kick in an open door)
    • seems simple
      • respect their religion, sensitivities – no need to needlessly insult or offend
      • also respect freedom of speech, when have something important to say – when appropriate (not for childish insults, rebellion – then just cheapen it)
      • both, examples of what happens when we take a story as absolutely true – a mirror of what is here (although not always expressed in the same way or as dramatically, still a good mirror)

2 thoughts to “Insults and reason”

  1. Yes, I know. I chose that picture because I am Norwegian and notice it doesn’t do much for me either way if people burn “my” country’s flag. My response is “go ahead, have fun” combined with curiosity and puzzlement.

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