TCS Daily

The New Iconoclasts

By Lee Harris - February 8, 2006 12:00 AM

The word iconoclast, when it is used nowadays, most often refers to a person who "attacks established beliefs, ideals, customs, or institution," as Webster's Third puts it -- a definition that turns the iconoclast into a cultural rebel or a free thinker, an individual willing to buck the establishment.

By this standard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the controversial caricatures of Mohammed was an iconoclast in our modern sense, and was simply doing what many cartoonists have done before him, using his gifts to poke fun at sacred cows. True, the sacred cow, in this case, was the Prophet Mohammed, revered by millions of Muslims across the globe. Yet the artists who created the popular TV series South Park routinely represent the figure of Jesus in all manner of mocking ways -- in one episode, Jesus was portrayed in boxing shorts, fighting a grudge match against Satan. No doubt many Southern Baptists were offended by such a caricature. Yet none of them rioted about it.

Here in the contemporary West, for better or worse, there is no cow so sacred that it cannot be made sport of on national television, let alone in cartoons in small scale periodicals. We may regret this or we may rejoice over it, but in either case, we must recognize that the role of the court jester has been valuable in the West precisely because the court jester is permitted to remind the king that he is only human -- and what a useful function that can serve. Thus, parody is a prophylactic against pomposity -- though it is equally serviceable as a collective defense mechanism against fanaticism.

The fanatic is the man who will not allow you to poke fun at his particular sacred cow. He takes his creed so seriously that he refuses to permit anyone else to treat it as a subject for humor or levity.

The topic of fanaticism, however, takes us back to the original meaning of the word iconoclasm, a Greek word that literally means the shattering or destruction of an image, either a visual image, like the icons beloved by Greek Orthodoxy, or the kind of statues that were admired by Roman Catholics. Here the iconoclast is not creating an image designed to provoke irreverence, the way a cartoonist does, but he is intent on eliminating all offensive images completely and totally.

There were two great iconoclastic movements that shook the Byzantine Empire, first in the eighth century, and later in the ninth century, both of which exhibited the same fanatic zeal in destroying the thousands of icons that adorned Byzantine churches and monasteries. Why? Because the Byzantine iconoclasts argued that what were regarded by many as beautiful artistic treasures were in fact acts of sacrilege and blasphemy. They were not to be removed from the churches and monasteries, in order to be carefully preserved in a museum, as a government of zealous atheists might do -- no, they were to be destroyed root and branch.

Many modern historians have argued that the outbreak of Byzantine iconoclasm in the eighth century was the result of the expansion of the intensely iconoclastic Arab conquerors that had occurred in the previous century -- an expansion that gobbled up large chunks of the Byzantine Empire in what is now Syria. For the Arabs, however, it was not enough merely to destroy the sacred icons of Greek orthodoxy -- for them, all pictorial representation was forbidden. You could not draw a man or a peacock or a cat, nor could you make statues of them -- and any drawings or statues of them you came across had to be immediately destroyed.

The Protestant Reformers, who were also iconoclasts, were less severe. They simply wanted to obliterate any image of the Virgin Mary or of the Catholic Saints that they did not themselves accept -- and here again, not even a thought was given to the idea of sparing the item due to historical or artistic value.

Wherever iconoclasts triumphed, they did not rest content until they had destroyed all the images that they found to be sacrilegious -- what we in the modern West automatically regard as harmless art, the iconoclasts see as hideous blasphemy; and while to us a "mere" cartoon can be amusing or disgusting, none of us would wish to see every image of it effaced from the earth. We would preserve it simply because of its documentary value, if for no other reason. That is why the iconoclast is, by definition, a fanatic. He feels he has a mission to destroy all the images that he holds to be against his fanatical creed. All must perish.

It has been almost half a millennium since the last outbreak of iconoclastic fanaticism in the West. Yet if you try to discover a republication of the Danish cartoons on the reputable Internet sites, you will discover that they are not being posted. CNN on line noted that they would not be showing the cartoons "out of respect for Islam." Nor does CNN's stance seem to be exceptional. Meanwhile, profuse apologies are being offered to the Muslim world by men who had nothing whatsoever to do with either the creation or the publication of the cartoons, and who are denouncing the cartoons for being...cartoons.

In short, the new iconoclasts are winning -- they are realizing that they have the power to make us suppress any image that they find disagreeable to their stern and mirthless fanaticism -- even if it is just a funny cartoon in a paper published in a cold corner of Europe, far far from Mecca.

Either Muslims need to begin to get a sense of humor, or we need to became a great deal more serious.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and It Enemies.


iconoclasme and the Danisch cartoons
Unfortunately we can forget about the sense of humor. Next Saturday Dutch moslims are going to demonstrate against the Danish cartoons as well. Place: Dam square in Amsterdam. We have freedom of religion here, which is perfect ofcourse but it also means that we are allowed to make cartoons about the dark sides of those religions. The cartoons were not against islam but against terrorisme in the name of islam. It is a shame that people who came to live here do not respect our open society. The demonstration will show that. On this side you can read more about the history of 'iconoclasme'. In Dutch!

Taking creeds seriously
"He takes his creed so seriously that he refuses to permit anyone else to treat it as a subject for humor or levity."

I take my creed very seriously. I think I take it about as seriously as anyone can take a religious creed. For some reason I'm not violent (excluding rugby). Sometimes I think it's because I can see the difference between mockery of myself--I just love it when South Park or the Simpsons makes fun of Christians--and mockery of my God, which is why I'm uncomfortable at best when they show images of Jesus in irreverent ways. At times like this, I think I don't resort to violence because non-violence in these matters is simply a part of my creed.

Words matching deeds?
I agree with yout comments. However will TCS match deeds to your words by posting the cartoons? And if not what reason will TCS give for not posting them?


private property
There is a big difference in braking statues that were paid for through donations to a church (the people owned the churches to some degree) or that the people were forced through taxes to pay for. If you miss that you miss an important basis of western civilization, that is private property.

Useful Idiots
Anyone believe these cartoons are being used to rally the ignorant back into the radical fold?
Recent events in Lebanon and elections in Iraq and Egypt suggest a majority of Muslims don't agree with radical theocracy.
The fascists are loosing control.

humour and iconoclasm
It is a scientific fact that some people do not have a sense of humour. Iconoclastic movements occur when such people gain enough power to run their own particular world.

Are you arguing that if my taxes went to pay for something, I have a right to destroy it?

What if I decide to blow up a bridge or two? After all, my tax dollars paid for them.

As near as I can tell, there are significant portions of the Muslim community who do not believe that anyone has a right to any beliefs other than their extremist version. And they are willing to kill and destroy to preserve their vision.

intersting aside
I find it interesting that CNN et. al. are not willing to print copies of these pictures out of concern for the feelings of Muslims.

They had no such concerns regarding the works of Serano and Mapplethorpe.

I'm inclined to rub the Islamic nose in this mess. does it well. And Derek, the host of the site is much fun to read.

Only if it hurts Bush
It's ok to inflame the muslims if you can hurt the Bush administration (Abu Grab).

It would be a lot more fun to read if the web designer chose a less moronic colour scheme. Miniscule white text on a dark black backgroud? You have to be kidding!

It has to do with the respect of individual rights leading to the creation of wealth.
It has to do with the respect of individual rights leading to the creation of wealth.

My first thought watching a bunch of protesters in the middle of the day carrying banners and screaming was that these folks were not doing their work. Why? because they have no work because they fail to respect basic human rights. The group of folks who refuse to respect individual speech are exactly the ones hurt most when their society hampers the individual from improving his/her condition and thus the conditions of society.

I take my creed very seriously too!!
I take my creed very seriously too, recite it as clear as I can, defense it as good as I can organize my thought and live according to His providance!

As a Christian, I sense the hostility in many area in this world too. And yet, Instead of imposing our faith through mere assertion, protesting and violence, we are instructed to be the "salt" and "light"in this earth city in a quiet and simple manner!

The Lord's mercy is bestow upon sinners and had instructed His children to love their enemies. When Jesus was crucified on the calvary,He said" Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do".The true eternal city of God outlive the rise and fall earthly empires and proved to be a triumphant over any hostility through His word, not His sword!

It has been said that the Christian church conquered the Roman empire, not through the weapons of this world, but because it out-thought,out-worked and outlived paganism. And I never forget the fact that I once was a pagan and loved and saved through His son Jesus Christ and His love is patient and long enduring!!


Good for you
That is why Christians will not riot when the world attacks our faith. We will forgive them.
However, when they attack me, I won't turn the other cheek so easily. Forgive me.

Just a small correction
An excellent article, on the whole. But there's certain inaccuracies that Mr Harris might do well to acknowledge. Firstly, the cartoons number twelve, by twelve _different_ artists who responded to the call by the culture editor Jyllands-Posten, Flemming Rose, for images of Mohammed in an attempt to probe the degree to which self-censorship had rendered depictions of this particular subject taboo (subsequent events have answered the question admirably). Secondly, Jyllands-Posten is not a 'small-scale periodical', but the highest circulation daily newspaper in Denmark, with a per-capita readership that would make an average US publisher salivate. To refer to it as a small-scale periodical is about as accurate as to call Newsweek an 'obscure current affairs journal'.

The difference
There is a difference between the rioting Islamists of today and the rioters in Luther's time. It's NOT their motivations, which are revenge and a lust for power. "The difference" is the teaching of their spiritual guides. Islamist clerics actually teach the subjugation of non-believers, that Islam will triumph through the use of force. But Martin Luther never taught this way. Luther was a Catholic professor who was thrown out when he refused to change his beliefs. He had been promoting grace and faith from the Bible, which was a banned book. Luther railed in righteous anger against the corrupt excesses of Catholic officials and their subjugation of believers. Riots that sacked churches in Luther's time occurred when the populace chose evil all on their own. Luther grieved the riots. Lee Grossman's lumping together of Islamists and Protestants is therefore inexcusable.

One Possible Reason..
One possible reason that TCS may not wind up posting these cartoons is because the original paper who published them has wisely required that the original article which appeared with the cartoons must also appear with any reprinting; it's their requirement for licensing them for reprint.

It was a good idea too, because that way, no one could reprint the cartoons without also offering up, without taint or ambiguity, exactly why they were published in the first place, and gives people a good starting point for truly understanding the controversy.

Depending on the licensing cost, TCS may either decide that the cartoons are easily-enough seen elsewhere on the net, making spending any money on them at all a waste, or else, it could juts be that the fees might be prohibitive. I do not know.

However, this requirement may also serve to shed light on CNN's cowardly refusal to reprint them. CNN would doubtless love to show them, but without the accompanying article, so that they could add their own anti-american, pro-terrorist spin.

In any case, I do not know if any of this really plays into TCS' decisions, but it strikes me as at least one possibility.

The Politics of Anarchy - Nothing is Sacred
As a devout Judeo-Protestant Christian, I know by the overwhelming historical evidence, by the Word of God (The Holy Bible) and by the gift of faith present within me by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son who came at the appointed hour to give His sinless life to atone for the sins of His people (all people from every nation whom God has chosen and foreordained to receive salvation and mercy before the foundation of the world throughout time), that He rose from the dead on the third day, that He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and that He is shortly to return to judge and destroy this present sin-filled world. That is my sacred and somber understanding of God's Word the Bible.

Accordingly, the Law of Non-Contradiction does not, by law, allow for two conficting premises to be true at the same time. In other words, all the claims and assertions of the Bible, particularly all the testimony of Jesus Christ throughout the Bible, can be true, and at the same time, the claims of godless atheists (i.e. Friedrich Nietzche, Emanual Kant, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Lenin, Mousolini, Hitler, etc) be true, and at the same time, the claims and assertions of Mohammedism (Islam) that arose in the 7th century that utterly refute, deny and contradict 5,000 years of established Judeo-Christian teachings (from the beginning of creation) be true, and at the same time, all the claims of Hinduism, Shintoism, Bhudism, Mormonism, WatchTower, and a sea of other contradictory worldviews, religious and non-religious beliefs ALL BE TRUE AT THE SAME TIME. What is the source and foundation of your worldview? What "fruit" is produced out of these teachings and doctrines (love, compassion, understanding, wisdom,peace, hate, cruelty, malice, intolerance, despair, enslavement, fear)?

In saying this, mankind daily battles to make sense of the world around him. Hence, that is why the world is filled with religions (including Darwinian Marxist Atheism), philosophy and modern pop-psychology to make sense out of the madness, the chaos and the senseless inhumanity that exists in this present fallen world. Yet all of these conflicting ideas and worldviews cannot be true at the same time. Mankind has been battling to discover and defend whatever worldview he believes to be true for thousands of years. It is within the nature of all humanity to fight and battle for one's own beliefs, ideologies, worldview.

By nature, Islam is the natural enemy of Christianity and Judaism (by it's own doctrinal teachings and practices); and "hardline Judaism" is militantly opposed to and the enemy of Christianity and Islamic teachings; and Hinduism rejects and is militantly opposed to all mono-theistic religions; and Darwinian Marxist Socialism (Atheism) is militantly opposed and the antithesis of all other faiths and worldviews -- so much so that hundreds of millions of people have been exterminated in the cause of Darwinian Marxist Socialism.

Yet, it is possible to battle for ones beliefs and understanding with others holding contrary beliefs and worldviews in the "free market place of ideas" where real genuine freedoms of conscience and religion are secured (only in secured Constitutionally protected societies).
"Hate crimes" (thought crimes) is the tool of fascistic totalitarian states to silence anyone who challenges the official imposed worldview. This most insidious weapon is found in all totalitarian states, in now is spreading through Europe, Canada and now the US. If I don't agree with your beliefs, opinions, worldview, I charge you criminally with "throught crimes" for daring to publish your thoughts in "the public square" where others might be offended (disagree) with such views and opinions. This is the antithesis of genuine Republican democracy and human liberty that man has been fighting to secure for centuries.

The Danish cartoonist may have mistakenly thought he was living in a free society where freedom of expression and opinion is allowed. Bad taste? I believe so. Disregard and an affront to that which is known to be sacred to millions? Absolutely. However, in the west, under Darwinian Marxist Socialism, all that is religiously sacred (except for atheistic icons and symbols) must be impuned, attacked, thrown down, ridiculed and mocked (whether genuinely holy and sacred or not). Let this same cartoonist make sport of and mock marxist "sacred cows" (i.e. racial differences and characterists, marxist "marxist heroes" evolution, etc) and he would be quickly arrested and charged with "hate [thought/feeling] crimes."

I do not agree with Islam and other faiths contradictory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; however, I thrive on honest dialogue and debate with those for whom I disagree with and who are contrary to the Christian faith that I may honestly share the Gospel with. For those who reject Jesus Christ and the Gospel, I am commanded to pray for them, to forgive them and to bless their life as I can as a witness -- Not to harm them, do violence to them, or impose the Truth of the Gospel upon anyone by force (that's not how genuine faith works).

Islam is, however, since its very inception, spread by violence and force (as is the case with 19th century Darwinian Marxist Fascist Socialism) Beginning with Mohammed and his original band of terrorists, Jewish Arab cities such as Medina and Yathrib were completely exterminated by Mohammed and his cult gang of followers. And yet, despite centuries of historical facts, great efforts are given to protect this terrorist religion - (THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT ALL PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE AND PRACTICE A BENIGN FORM OF ISLAM ARE TERRORISTS! Peaceful Muslims are attacked and killed as often as "infidels") and mask over the fascistic nature of Islam that continues to this very day. The world is engulfed in war and violence principly through two world views: One is militant Islam and the other, Darwinian Marxist Fascist Socialism.

Reasonable people of differing faiths and worldviews can and do co-exist and live peaceably together. Militants come in and by physical force or by implementation of fascistic ilegitimate laws impose oppression and stir up conflict and divisions amongst otherwise peaceable citizens. Something to Think About.

the religion of islam in the hands of 95 % ( +/- 5%)of its pracitioners is full of pig dung . And the ones who fly planes into buidings ,etc are being punished in hades being fornicated by pigs!!

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