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The Cartoons And The Carnage
Depending on whom you ask and how you ask it, the publication of Cartoons depicting Prophet Mohamed (SCW) in one of Denmark's biggest Newspapers meant different things to different people. For some, it shows the rampant and rising Islamaphopia in Europe and the western world, while for others, it demonstrates the inability of Muslims to accept and adapt to the modern world and basic democratic values. In my view, the issue of the Danish Cartoons and the following protests and demonstration in some Muslim countries and Communities has brought on a much-needed debate about freedom of speech and Islam/West relations.
The Danish editor of the paper that has published these images, along with many other European editors and governments, has defended the publication of these cartoons on the grounds of freedom of speech, saying that there cannot and shall not be any taboos in a democracy, including religion, be it Islam or Christianity. They cite the portrait of Jesus in the Jerry Springer, the Musical, to which many Christian groups objected on grounds of decency but was shown across many European capitals. On the other hand the Muslims who opposed its publication argue that in Islam the depiction of the prophet in any way, shape or form is wrong and not permissible, let along as a terrorist in a Cartoon.
Before I go any further and look at the raison d'etre or rather the excuse used to justify the publication of these cartoons, namely, freedom of speech let us briefly study the Cartoons themselves and try to understand why there is so much fuzz. Was it merely a case of depicting the Prophet or was there more to it? Or, was it as offensive as some people claim they were?
There were twelve images altogether. One of the images shows Prophet Mohamed with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic Creed written on the bomb. This drawing is considered to be the most controversial of the twelve. Another one shows a schematic stick drawing of five almost identical figures, each of them resembles a headscarf seen from the side and has a Star David and a crescent where the face should be. To this a poem on oppression of women is attached to the cartoon: "Profet! Med kuk og knald i låget som holder kvinder under åget!", which could be translated as: "Prophet, you crazy bloke! Keeping women under yoke!" A third one shows Prophet Muhammad (SCW) standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with "Stop Stop vi er løbet tør for Jomfruer!" Translated in English: "Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!", an allusion to the promised reward to Islam martyrs.
Now, at the very least these images are insulting and insensitive, and at worse, outright dangerous and incitement to hatred against Muslims. Let me explain how and why. In the current climate of the war against terrorism and the rising Islamaphopia in the West following events in the states (9/11); to play to the fears and prejudices of Europeans and claim the freedom to express oneself as justification is malicious and dangerous.
Freedom of Speech:
If, indeed, the European papers that published these images want to defend their decision and cite freedom of speech, let us ask them if they can or will be able to publish Cartoons depicting the Star of David covered by a Swastika? Or, to go one step further, if they can publish Cartoons depicting Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, as one Arab Institute in Belgium did in response to the Danish cartoons to make a point. I very much doubt it, but if Europeans and the Western world so much cherish the freedom to publish, do or say as they please, why is it that in some of the very European countries that printed the cartoons in solidarity with the Danish paper and in defense of freedom of speech, as they state, the mere denial of the existence of the Holocaust is a crime, punishable by a lengthy prison term. Currently, a certain David Irving, a world famous and respected historian, has a warrant for his arrest waiting in Germany, simply for saying the unsayable; namely that the number of Jews killed by Hitler was far less then the six million claimed by Jews and history books.
Why is Mr. Irving denied the right and freedom to express his views and state, if he so wishes, that the holocaust was a hoax. Is it because of the anger and hurt it causes to Jewish survivors and friends and, as a mark of respect to Jewish sensitivities? Presumably yes, but what about freedom of speech? Ok, I understand, there are limitations to freedom of speech and it is not, after all, about saying what you want. But if that is the case, what about the hurt and anger the publication of these Cartoons causes Muslim citizens and communities. Are these not worth considering and are Muslim feelings and sensitivities as important as those of other communities.
There are those that have pointed the finger at Arab media, during the course of this debate, and accused it of hypocrisy citing its anti-Semitic literature and writings. While deploring the culture of dehumanization of Jews in much of the Arab and Muslim world, one should be careful not to draw any parallels between the current issue and Arab media in relation to Israeli matters. The Jewish state, Israel, with the help of the west (USA) has humiliated and defeated the entire Arab world. Put it differently, a tiny country implanted in the middle of Arab land with a population of no more then, if not less, that of Jordan has subjected the biggest Arab powers, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, to humiliation and defeat for so long. Naturally, therefore, there is resentment, anger and hatred towards Israel in many of the Arab world. This does not excuse the anti-Semitism in the Arab press but it explains it. And to my knowledge, there is no explanation for the rising Islamaphopia in the West except for the fear of the unknown and recent reactionary terrorist attacks.
The Muslims world’s reaction to the Cartoons varied. The Saudi response was well measured and balanced in the sense that it recalled its ambassador in Denmark and encouraged a boycott of Danish goods. However, the actions of those that have protested and burnt down European embassies in Iran and Lebanon and those that have marched through the streets of London and called for another 9/11, have done a great damage to the good name of Islam and was uncalled for. Whatever point they were trying to make and whatever message they were trying to convey was not heard and they have only played right into the hands of the bigots they were protesting against, in the first place.
It must be said, Muslims cannot forever continue to blame and criticize the west for undermining or insulting their religion, when in fact its their fellow Muslims who at times do more damage or insults to Islam then Westerners ever do or can do. The likes of Abu Hamza who calls for the looting, murdering and killing of British people while enjoying the comforts of British life is a case in point and a liability for Muslims. Similarly, the demonstrators that have marched through the streets of London in the first week of February and who have called for a repeat of 9/11 and for the murder and death of the Danish editors is another case in point. Muslims must speak out and let the world know that these individuals do not represent them or speak for them.
To conclude, let me say the aim of the Danish editor who printed these offensive Cartoons was not to test ‘Muslim patience’ as he claimed, but to offend and insult one billion Muslims worldwide. On the other hand, the aim of those that have protested on the streets of London and called for the death and destruction of European leaders and capitals was not to defend the Prophet (SCW) but to insult and smear the good name of Islam. Be it as it may, the world faces two choices, in my view. To let the extremists on both sides steer and lead the debate, as they are presently, or, to isolate extremists on both sides and lead the way. When speaking about freedom of speech, we must recognize there are limitations to it, and saying this, is not an attack on western values! It is common sense and rational thinking. Respect and consideration of others feelings and sensitivities must be considered as the first condition for a peaceful and prosperous world.