On Wednesday, Feb. 13, The Stanford Daily published a cartoon that, by virtually all definitions of the word, was “offensive.” The cartoon depicted an alarming caricature of recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI holding a scepter that read “conservatism” while a number of badges littered his cloak with slogans like “No Gays,” “No Condoms,” “No AIDS Prevention,” and so on.
To anyone who identifies as Catholic – or even as a non-denominational Christian – the cartoon was unquestionably disrespectful and, to many, downright crass.
However, my issue here is not to pronounce my outrage and demand some public spectacle of an apology from The Daily, but rather to make two observations:
First, The Daily would never even contemplate the publication of a similar portrayal of Mohammad or Allah (and for good reason), despite the fact that Islam and Christianity share the majority of the doctrine that the cartoon calls into question (same-sex unions, women clerics, etc.). Besides the fact that such a depiction is considered blasphemous in Islamic doctrine and would unquestionably have provoked immediate backlash and critical protest, such a depiction would be considered disrespectful and insensitive.
Sound familiar? The double standard that is applied when examining Christian versus Islamic doctrine is by no means a new phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth being reminded of from time to time. In the end, if The Daily wants to publish a cartoon that “offends” my constituency, they have every right to do so. I just wish the playing field were a little more even.
Second, rather than pronounce a call to arms due to the grave “offense” I have suffered at the hands of a small drawing, I think it’s worth reiterating that I do not actually have the “right” not to be offended by the world around me. That is not to suggest that I am defending hate speech (because I am absolutely not). Instead, I am simply suggesting that people around us have differing views about how the world operates, and invariably those views will rankle us from time to time; c’est la vie.
Take, for example, the recent case of Joel Brinkley and his unfortunate column on Vietnamese cuisine. Was his logic questionable? Certainly. Was his claim outlandish and frustrating to those of Vietnamese descent, or really anyone who thought about it for more than 30 seconds? Absolutely. Does that mean his opinion was “offensive” and should be silenced? I am no defender of Brinkley, but I can’t be the only one to find this response over the top.
Our idyllic campus has gone to great pains in recent years to create a “safe and open space,” and, while I think this initiative is an important and necessary step, it appears to have come at the expense of all critical dialogue on this campus. Any position or idea that is deemed “offensive” – whether as mundane as the idea that one could vote conservative or as radical as that marriage should be between a man and woman – is immediately stamped out in the name of tolerance and openness.
I understand where this reaction comes from, but that does not mean that students on both sides of the issues should not be able to recognize the irony involved. Next time you find yourself “offended” by something, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I upset because the comment or action was genuinely aimed at causing me physical or mental harm, or am I just mad because they don’t think like I do?”
Andrew Gay ‘12