Images That Come Unbidden
The 2005 Danish cartoon controversy remains much discussed. In this paper I shift the focus of discussion from the question of speech, as to whether the cartoons constitute free, hate or even blasphemous speech, to the aspect of them as images. Substituting ‘cartoons as images’ for ‘cartoons as speech’, I interrogate an underlying assumption in the discussion that Muslim everyday life and religiosity does not provide a conscious address to images. The central effort in this paper is to show that religious texts and manuals oriented to guiding everyday life evince sensitivity to the appearance of images and their possible effects upon piety. There is recognition that images that come unbidden require attention in terms of ascertaining provenance, the correct interpretive framework and the rightful course of action. Furthermore, these texts even proffer images of their own to be consciously worked upon by believers in order to produce proper attachments to subjects of veneration. I end on the speculation that rather than see these modalities of relating to images as a minor tendency within the Islamic tradition, they may be thought of as the practice of imagination that has as strong a claim upon Muslim pursuits of religiosity as sense perceptions, intellectual cognition, even ardent faith.
Some thoughts on the Danish cartoons controversy
Johns Hopkins University
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