Friday, February 03, 2006
This is not a Pipe. This is a Cartoon of Mohammed
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If I draw a tree and call it Mohammed is it a picture of Mohammed? If I put the name "Mohammed" (or better: "this picture of a tree is a picture of Mohammed") under the picture, is it a picture of Mohammed? If, having done so, I erase the name "Mohammed," is it a picture of Mohammed or a picture of a tree? I would argue that there is no difference between the tree and the picture of some human-like person with the name "Mohammed" or interpretive surrogate phrase under it.
I put these interesting conundums in order to isolate the utter arbitrariness of the notion of "picturing Mohammed." How much of the "idolatry" involved is the consequence of something intrinsic to the picture, and how much of it is a matter of someone drawing a (potentially rather complicated set of semiotic) conclusion that it is a picture of Mohammed and therefore "idolatrous"?
From another perspective: Does anyone know what Mohammed looked like? If you don't know what Mohammed looked like, how can you be sure that a picture of "Mohammed" is a picture of Mohammed, and therefore idolatrous?
This is worth thinking about, because it isolates the functioning political point in this whole silly business: something will make you mad if you decide that that something is something that will make you mad. It it wasn't the picture of "Mohammed" or a Koran down the toilet, it would always be something else. Muslims are angry because anger is what they do with with their lives, and of course anger is like one end of an electrical cord: it must be connected to another terminus for the anger joice to flow.