Monday, May 7, 2007

Art Spiegelman on Muslims

Harper’s Magazine
666 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

To the Editor, June 3, 2006

While I admire Art Spiegelman as a cartoonist and a defender of free speech, it is a shame he puts himself in the company of George W. Bush and other evangelists of American power when he asserts that the anger propelling movements of political Islam is essentially religious in origin. He agrees with cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s absurd declaration that “The fuel behind the terrorist’s action is supplied by interpretations of Islam.” All one need do to dispel this Orientalist canard is to ask whether the “fuel” behind violent acts committed in Northern Ireland were a particular reading of the Bible. The “fuel” was firstly and lastly political. Can one imagine terrorist violence in Belfast had there not been a colonial occupation dating from the time of Cromwell? Would either Spiegelman, or Westergaard, really assert that Catholics in Bible study groups simply got so pissed off one day by theological matters they decided to start killing?
I enjoin any and all readers who found Spiegelman’s specious argument (a spiel of secularist self-congratulation) convincing to pick up a copy of Columbia University anthropology professor Mahmood Mamdani’s recent book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. Mamdani’s main argument regards the Cold War roots of modern terrorism, but in his discussion of political religion in general, he points out that history and politics trump theology and culture every time. Not one person, he points out, has ever followed Osama Bin Laden for theological reasons.

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