OK, so I have witnessed the impudent display of reductionism otherwise known as a Jack Higgins cartoon last Wednesday. I have seen his characterization of the Prophet Muhammad as a sword-wielding, raging lunatic with a mountain of skulls at his trail. I have noted his insinuation that Islam itself inspires the violence we see on TV — as opposed to, say, ignorance, poverty, repression or radicalization.
So now what am I going to do about it? According to Higgins, I would be burning his effigy right now, or perhaps I would be setting ablaze copies of the paper with a posse of my fellow violent brethren as we chanted maniacally before the cameras. Admittedly, I may feel some anger against the careless desecration of something I hold sacred, but it is highly unlikely that I would react emotionally, thanks primarily to the prophet Muhammad, no less. His famous saying that “the strongest amongst you is he who can conquer, not all others, but his own anger” is a life lesson I go by.
So how will I respond to Higgins’ abuse of ink? By reaffirming his right to free speech and then responding with mine. Firstly, I write to protest the vilification of an entire people or religion based on what their worst stereotypes have to offer. Secondly, I vow to redouble my own commitment to dialogue and education. These — and not anger — are the most effective weapons against ignorance.
“Show me what Muhammad brought,” the pope quoted a medieval emperor as asking. Every day, my colleagues and I strive to answer that question by waking up to serve community and country with dedication and integrity. Every day, as we square up to the daunting task of securing equal rights in an increasingly prejudiced environment, we muster up patience in the face of tribulation, resolve in the face of insolence. Civility is what Muhammad brought us.
Finally, I ask the Sun-Times to do something about its pitiful track record where, invariably, its editorial treatment of Islam-related topics is marred by a tendency toward reductionism, generalization or oversimplification.