Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: The Irony is Delicious

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, The Stanford Daily published a cartoon that, by virtually all definitions of the word, was “offensive.” The cartoon depicted an alarming caricature of recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI holding a scepter that read “conservatism” while a number of badges littered his cloak with slogans like “No Gays,” “No Condoms,” “No AIDS Prevention,” and so on.

To anyone who identifies as Catholic – or even as a non-denominational Christian – the cartoon was unquestionably disrespectful and, to many, downright crass.

However, my issue here is not to pronounce my outrage and demand some public spectacle of an apology from The Daily, but rather to make two observations:

First, The Daily would never even contemplate the publication of a similar portrayal of Mohammad or Allah (and for good reason), despite the fact that Islam and Christianity share the majority of the doctrine that the cartoon calls into question (same-sex unions, women clerics, etc.). Besides the fact that such a depiction is considered blasphemous in Islamic doctrine and would unquestionably have provoked immediate backlash and critical protest, such a depiction would be considered disrespectful and insensitive.

Sound familiar? The double standard that is applied when examining Christian versus Islamic doctrine is by no means a new phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth being reminded of from time to time. In the end, if The Daily wants to publish a cartoon that “offends” my constituency, they have every right to do so. I just wish the playing field were a little more even.

Second, rather than pronounce a call to arms due to the grave “offense” I have suffered at the hands of a small drawing, I think it’s worth reiterating that I do not actually have the “right” not to be offended by the world around me. That is not to suggest that I am defending hate speech (because I am absolutely not). Instead, I am simply suggesting that people around us have differing views about how the world operates, and invariably those views will rankle us from time to time; c’est la vie.

Take, for example, the recent case of Joel Brinkley and his unfortunate column on Vietnamese cuisine. Was his logic questionable? Certainly. Was his claim outlandish and frustrating to those of Vietnamese descent, or really anyone who thought about it for more than 30 seconds? Absolutely. Does that mean his opinion was “offensive” and should be silenced? I am no defender of Brinkley, but I can’t be the only one to find this response over the top.

Our idyllic campus has gone to great pains in recent years to create a “safe and open space,” and, while I think this initiative is an important and necessary step, it appears to have come at the expense of all critical dialogue on this campus. Any position or idea that is deemed “offensive” – whether as mundane as the idea that one could vote conservative or as radical as that marriage should be between a man and woman – is immediately stamped out in the name of tolerance and openness.

I understand where this reaction comes from, but that does not mean that students on both sides of the issues should not be able to recognize the irony involved. Next time you find yourself “offended” by something, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I upset because the comment or action was genuinely aimed at causing me physical or mental harm, or am I just mad because they don’t think like I do?”

Andrew Gay ‘12

  • Great Article

    Great article. Well done

  • Sharia

    Andrew, you bring up a a lot of points so let me try to respond to each one!

    1) Firstly, as a Muslim, I want to make a small distinction between an offensive cartoon of our prophet vs. an offensive caricature of the Pope. Well, Islam not only discourages the depiction of any human being, it outright bans the depiction of our prophet (even if it is a good one). To insult this and portray him, esp. in a negative way, will elicit a very STRONG backlash b/c we have a duty (I believe) to defend our prophet and uphold his wishes to not be portrayed (much in the same way we have a right to ask a defamatory photo of us to be removed from the internet). Of course, I think people have a right to draw their dumb cartoons and I’m never advocating for violence, but I sure as heck have a right to rally against such incendiary social “commentary.” Also, I understand your frustration and I think there ought to be more respect afforded to a person who holds religious value to some Christians, so don’t misinterpret me.

    2) This is the rather interesting point you bring up: the values themselves of Islam and Christianity. First off, the vast majority of Muslims believe in contraceptives and there are documents indicating the prophet allowed it (though not permanent sterility, unless for medical reasons). So, that is different. As for the religious texts on homosexuality, I would say they are rather similar as you mention (story of Lot, homosexuality an “abominable act” according to Quran etc). The thing is, like you said, on campus there is a very hostile environment toward *some* dissenting views. If I were to say I am against gay marriage (which I have) the ad hominem attacks are flung at me like crazy (“you ignorant, fundamentalist, insensitive, backwards…” etc). Well, I’m offended by the intolerance of the so-called “tolerance.” Even if I calmly explain my reasons (religious, semantic, personal, biological and so on), I’m automatically ignored and branded as unworthy to even listen to. Whereas I’m capable of entertaining their belief and defending their right TO IT, I am regarded as a backwards prick who has no right to such “radical” contrary opinions.

    3) I’m having a bit of trouble trying to understand exactly what you’re advocating for in the end. Are you trying to say we should be more open to offensive stuff or that we should be more respectful of others and not publish such stuff (out of courtesy?). Or are you being even more bold (and frankly an a-hole) and advocating that we make the Daily more of an equal opportunity hater towards Muslims? (Let me also add that I haven’t seen the pope cartoon you mentioned and given your explanation I don’t find it thaaaat defamatory lol).

    But anyway, here’s something interesting to think about: you know that God-forsaken show called South Park? I used to watch it and found it, well, kind of funny and perfect for some numb-minded entertainment. Slowly, my seething anger towards it culminated during one of their episodes in which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh) were portrayed in a reaaaally mocking way. I was completely stunned and pissed off. Well, 2 things. I was glad that Muslims created a backlash and asked that the cartoon not depict Muhammad (pbuh) that way. We were upset and with reason, a testament to our reverence. At the same time, I was pissed off that Jesus (pbuh) was being depicted in a very degrading manner, and saddened that not more Christians (or Muslims) protested the depiction. Instead, I saw comments on youtube saying “jeesh it’s a freaking joke, blah blah.” Okay, well, Idk about “you” folks on YT but when did joking about your supposed GOD become acceptable? Not to mention, I was already seething at the prospect of another prophet (Jesus pbuh) being ridiculed. There is just a totally different attitude in the two religions that make them hard to compare. I wish Christians would be more vocal in advocating for respectable things, like… not defaming their holy figures like Jesus. I’m not sure what you think about Muslims, but I can say that, while I don’t advocate for legal censorship, I think social censorship (the result of institutional and social pressure) is perfectly fine. That is the outlet of a free discourse. You say whatever you want (generally), I can criticize you, and then you have the option to retract, re-frame or reiterate your point. But if there isn’t enough anger or backlash, then you give the haters their time of day with no resistance, in the name of “free speech.” Yeah, free speech is subject to the same speech that criticizes it. Anyway, glad you wrote this article since it is a topic only brushed upon on our campus.

  • Josh

    One of the best articles I have read in the Daily ever. Thank you Andrew.

  • Sam King

    I posted some thoughts regarding your article at http://samking.org/winter-2013/musings/the-liberal-media if you’re interested.

  • Anonymous

    I think you are mistaking those of us who advocate same-sex marriage for “tolerant.” No, we are not tolerant, we are accepting. I do not “tolerate” gay people, I simply accept their sexuality as part of who they are. I do not, however, accept people putting each other down. While it is sad that you do not wish for everyone to have the ability to marry who they love, I can accept your dissent of it. I do not accept your wish to impose your beliefs on others. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t have one. It’s like vegetarianism – I find eating animals horribly sad and unnecessary (and environmentally unsound), but I tolerate others’ right to it and wouldn’t dream of outlawing it. Your reasons for disliking gay marriage, “religious, semantic, personal, biological and so on,” are largely personal and some (religious, personal) are legally unsound. I really can’t understand your want to impose your personal beliefs on others in a way that is so incredibly hurtful, not to mention has such tangible costs (legal expenses, inheritance taxes, veterans’ benefits, etc.).

  • If you’re not willing to fight racism wherever it is, then you’re ok with it existing. It’s really that simple.