To unbelievers in the secular west, Muhammad exists on the same plane as Santa Claus, Don Quixote, or Ronald McDonald: a logo or emblem of an idea. The mockery of the cartoonists was aimed not at Muhammad the Prophet, who was already unreal to them, but rather Muhammad the logo, the emblem of Islam as a religion.
The believing Muslims who took offense at the cartoons were often motivated by their conviction that Muhammad isn’t a logo but a real person, as much an actuality as any member of their family. But even on the Islamic side of the controversy, there was certainly a tendency to treat Muhammad as an abstraction. Given how calculated and strategic the violence directed against Charlie Hebdo was, with its clever intent to polarize European opinion, Al Qaeda was treating Muhammad as a flag who has been captured by the enemy and needs to be regained. But to use the Prophet as a tribal avatar is really no different than making him into a cartoon. On both sides of the cultural divide, Muhammad exists more as a marker to quarrel over than a person or messenger.
The battles over cartoons of Muhammad is really a struggle between competing abstractions. Unfortunately, the blood that is shed is real.So as I understand this rarified and rather precious analysis, this is a tribal conflict that's "abstract" and that involves "avatars."
Funny, and here I've been thinking it's about the desire on the part of some true-believing Muslims--Muslims who believe in the sanctity and the literal truth of Mo's message--to install a global caliphate at the head of humanity, and to do so via the non-abstract--the, in fact, quite tangible and concrete--vehicles of jihad and sharia.
Silly moi, obviously.