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  • Cartooning as a Capital Crime?

    • Posted on May 17, 2015
    Here's today's Courier column, 5-17.  Needless to say, the winning cartoon was not published with it, nor in any other newspaper that I know of.  Shocking, really, that we've been intimidated into suppressing freedom of expression.  

    If we travel to a country where Islam is the dominant political force, whether Islamic or not, we obey their laws.  That’s the right thing to do.   

    So we have a right to expect the same of Muslims when they travel or live here.  A country’s borders and culture define citizens’ and visitors’ behavior worldwide.  
    We have no laws against blasphemy, or apostasy, or intermarrying among faiths,
    or joining or not joining any church. 

    These activities are all “illegal” in areas of the world ruled by radical Muslims, with harsh punishments, including death.   Granted, radical Islamists do not rule a  single country, but rather fairly large regions of Syria and Iraq they call the “Caliphate” or “Islamic State.” 

     Radical Islam has been explained in detail by writers such as Ayan Hirsi Ali in her book “Heretic,” among others.   

    This brings us to Garland, Texas.  Recently a group led by Pam Geller, a vocal anti-radical Islamic American citizen, held a contest in that city with a $10,000 reward for the winning cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.  There was a winner, and it’s in the best
    tradition of political satire.  Here it is. 

    So why didn’t anyone but Geller and the winning cartoonist’s web site publish it?  All major American newspapers and television networks carried the story, but didn’t feature any images.  The winner won’t discuss it without images, which hasn’t happened yet.  

    Yet there’s nothing in the Koran about forbidding creating images of Mohammed.  There are dozens of such images available everywhere, including in our own Supreme Court chamber, showing him in a marble frieze as one of the world’s lawgivers.  Only in the last decades has it become blasphemy punishable by death, thanks to violent killers who have frightened us into visual silence. 

     American editorial writers, including the New York Times and Kathleen Parker.  followed a formula: 

    1. Yes, we believe in freedom of speech wholeheartedly, from the very depths of our souls. 

    2. But . . .

    3. When freedom of speech offends someone, we blame the offenders more than the offended, even when the offended attempt to kill them. 

     They did not state that third point openly, yet they blame Pam Geller and her contest as much as the two gunmen who showed up to commit mass murder. 

     They also blamed the Charlie Hebdo writers and cartoonists as much as they blamed the murderers who slaughtered them in their Paris office.  Bad taste magazine, they tut-tutted.   

     What gives here?  Aren’t we supposed to be guardians of the right of all citizens to say whatever they like, short of causing harm, as in shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater?  

    No one causes harm in these situations but the killers, who willfully murder out of their radical religious ideology.   

     Well yes, but . . . The “But” seems to arise from fear.   I can’t find any other principle other than “bad taste” of those people who break radical Sharia anti-blasphemy “law” with over the top depictions. 

     So only satire in good taste is protected?  Or pre-approved satire?  That makes no sense.  Much satire works because it’s in poor taste, making fun through hyperbole and ridicule.  And what butt of a satirical joke would approve it, if they had a choice?  

    You could make a frightening case that Sharia law already has come to America. Radical Muslims stifle our speech when it comes in the form of cartoons, and we let them, shifting blame to the victims.  

     Our media’s all but unanimous refusal to publish those images amounts to appeasement at best, capitulation at worst. 

     Where are our brave artists, writers, and publishers willing to take a stand against censorship based on fear?    

    Go comment!
  • Tribute to an Old Friend

    • Posted on May 03, 2015
    Here is this morning's Courier column on Lynn Nielsen, who died Monday, April 20.  He is widely and deeply missed.  I took this photo on Easter Sunday, fifteen days before he died.  

    My old lunch buddy, fellow bar musician, church organist, UNI colleague, Danish chef, spiritual seeker, neighborhood activist, world traveler, and creative spirit left us for good on April 20th. 

     Lynn Nielsen left a large and sad band of mourners who will grieve his absence while feeling grateful for all he gave.   

     Over the last decade or so, Lynn and I had become close friends. I loved his passion for improving his neighborhood, his deep engagement with UNI as a professor and mentor, his musicianship as a jazz pianist and church organist, his quest for travel, especially to Paris, where he arranged to play massive cathedral pipe organs, and his openness to discussing religion and spirituality no matter where it led.    

     During our many lunches, we toasted friendship and discussed the state of everything. I treasured our conversations.     

     Otherworldly matters came up over worldly lunches with wine—the French touch.  We explored spiritual issues after a column I wrote on “Promise Keepers,” a Christian men’s movement that I had pointedly criticized, and which he supported. 

     He wanted to discuss his commitment to the group.  I readily agreed to meet, since he was articulate and funny.  Humor goes a long ways toward dissolving differences. 

     Soon we enjoyed common ground.  Our mutual passions—music, books, and teaching—gave us plenty to hash over.  We also realized that we shared questions about not just our own beliefs, but all beliefs.  

     “We all want the same things,” he’d say, wondering why people sink into pointless and endless squabbles.   

     I had been a born-again Christian as a teenager, gave it up, and gradually discovered Buddhism through years of meditation and workshops.  Lynn had been a lifelong Lutheran who discovered it wasn’t the only religion that made sense.  He knew history, and how many religions were based on legend and myth, widely believed through sheer repetition.   

     He held his beliefs dear, and I respected him for that.   

     As we agreed, the opposite of faith is certainty, not doubt.  Humility is a central trait of all genuine spiritual seekers, and involves degrees of questioning and doubt.  

     Lynn never insisted that his was the one and only truth. Nor did I.  Along with music, that kept us friends.  He always, and I mean always, sent extended comments on my columns, and I learned from his observations and criticisms.  He humbled me more than once.  

     Lynn struggled with people who excluded and judged others based on their beliefs—that was not what Christ stood for.  

     He believed that Christianity should stand for compassion, generosity, and gratitude, as do all world religions at their core. 

     However, as Gandhi put it, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  I used that quote as a bumper sticker, and he loved that.   

     Of course Gandhi didn’t mean all Christians, and certainly not Lynn Nielsen.  
    Lynn walked the walk, being more like Christ—without a trace of religiosity or pride—than many Christians I’ve known. 

     He was a Pope Francis Christian, not a Jerry Falwell Christian.    

     Though he never preached, he often mentored, and several men from a Bible study group he led testified at a friends gathering that his insights and challenges led them to deeper understandings of Christianity.  They expressed profound thanks for his guidance and leadership. 

     Besides, he threw great parties, or “lovefests,” as he called them.  He created tables full of Danish dishes, pastries, desserts, all accompanied by plenty of well-chosen wines. He loved diversity, and invited friends, neighbors, colleagues, students—anyone who would enjoy lovefesting.    
    And before dinner, we always sang  “Amazing Grace.”  
    How sweet was that sound.  

     We’re all bereft.   


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    • Religiosity
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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