Saturday, October 11, 2008

Satan's foot soldiers

When I was a kid growing up I watched a lot of Tom and Jerry cartoons. I didn’t like Jerry much. It wasn’t because he was a mouse but because he was so mean to Tom. I thought his attacks on the cat were unjustified.

So I perked up a little when I read that Sheikh Mohammed Al-Munajid told Al Majd TV recently that a mouse is “one of Satan’s soldiers.” Tom, I think, would sympathize.

Sheikh Al-Munajid went on to say, “How do you think children view mice today – after Tom and Jerry? Even creatures that are repulsive by nature, by logic, and according to Islamic law have become wonderful and are loved by children. Even mice. Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases.”
It’s not surprising that Sheikh Al-Munajid’s remarks gained worldwide attention and much criticism from the usual Saudi-bashers and Islamophobes. What better target than a sheikh who attacks the beloved Mickey Mouse, the symbol to Americans that humanity can be found in a rodent.

There are several problems with the criticisms heaped on Al-Munajid. For one, it was described as a fatwa by the Western press. These were remarks during a television appearance and at most he was expressing his own opinion and not issuing any formal religious edict.

For another, his comments were widely circulated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a pro-Israeli Arabic translation website. Western media routinely use MEMRI to obtain Arabic news. What are lost in these translations are attempts at dry humour and sarcasm. A look at the interview on YouTube one can detect that Al-Munajid was probably attempting to make a little joke about Mickey Mouse.

In their zeal to publish another story about crazy Arabs issuing crazy fatwas, journalists missed the nuance of the interview. Now we are put in the same position we often find ourselves, which is being the object of ridicule and contempt. This doesn’t bother me since I am comfortable in being a Saudi and with my relationship with God. I only answer to God, not to Western contempt.

But there is another aspect from the fallout of this television appearance that should be considered. It should be clear from the beginning of a televised appearance the distinction between opinion, discussion and a fatwa. Providing answers to an interviewer’s questions or questions from a television audience doesn’t necessarily mean that a fatwa has been issued. How can it be without the proper research and deliberation?

Perhaps a more fundamental issue is just who is entitled to issue a fatwa. Honestly, over the years I have heard from clerics I never heard of issue fatwas that were just plain ridiculous. Issuing fatwas should a job for the Council of Senior Ulama, which spends the time, research and deliberations to make proper judgments. This would go a long way towards eliminating confusion of what is a fatwa and what is merely discussion and opinion.

In the cold light of the transcript, Sheikh Al-Munajid’s comments, taken out of context, present an image of backwardness. But what many non-Muslims fail to appreciate is that televised discussions of our religion are very popular and instructional to Saudis. It doesn’t mean that we view cartoon mice as Satan’s foot soldiers. It just means we are enjoying and responding to religious dialogue and perhaps the occasional humour that comes with it.

I kind of view the Western media the same why I view Jerry. Jerry commits illogical violence and trickery apparently for the pleasure and delight of provoking Tom to react. Western cable pundits are not much different.


Anonymous said...

wow, every thing i have heard about this is always saying this a a fatwa.... it is nice to hear the background and to know that it was only him talking on tv, and possiblily with some dry humor that got misunderstood and lost in translation. Keep up with the good reporting of the truth behind the news... i really enjoy it.


I like your point of view. That is different than any other comments I've ever read regarding this Jerry's affair.