What Does That Mean?

Wait – what does that mean?

Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits any depiction of Allah and the Prophet.

That doesn’t make any sense. In fact it makes non-sense. How can ‘tradition’ ‘explicitly’ prohibit anything? It can’t: that’s why it’s called tradition to distinguish it from law. Law can, obviously, explicitly prohibit things, but tradition can’t, it can only implicitly prohibit them. Tradition isn’t written down or codified; it’s fuzzy; it’s implicit; it has blurry edges. It’s the very opposite of explicit.

We can probably figure out what happend with that goofy sentence. I think when the Motoon fuss started a lot of media reports claimed that the Koran explicitly prohibited any depiction of A and the P, but then a lot of other people pointed out that actually the Koran doesn’t, that it’s a tradition rather than a Koranic law. So the reporter decided to split the difference – don’t say it’s the Koran, lest people write in and say ‘can’t you get it right?’ – but still say it ‘explicitly prohibits’ because that sounds so much sterner and more binding and holy and thus more of an outrage and provocation and offense for people to do, and there is (it appears) a journalistic impulse to do that – to emphasize the bindingness and the outrage – so as to – to – to distance oneself from those naughty people at Jyllands-Posten, I guess. That’s all interpretation; I don’t know that that’s why that silly sentence is there; but if that’s not why, then why? Would the BBC say for instance ‘Christian tradition explicitly prohibits gay marriage’? I wonder. I seriously wonder. I have to doubt it. (Do search for such a thing if you’re so inspired; do let me know if I’m wrong.) Because the BBC probably doesn’t approve or even sympathize much with fundamentalist Christian urges to push gay people around, but it may sympathize just a little bit with the putative horror of depictions of the Prophet on the part of Muslims. So it phrases the matter just…ever…so…slightly oddly.

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