Saturday, 4 February 2006

Drawn Into The Cartoons Crisis

Bismillah - In the name of God

It apparently all start on 30th September, last year, when, after the author of a book on the prophet Mohammad had complained that he could not find illustrators, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of twelve cartoons representing the prophet. During the next six months, a controversy around these cartoons steadily gained momentum until newspapers in several European countries reproduced the cartoons on 1st February.

This is when I first heard about that story, like most people, I would imagine. In my case, I was chatting on MSN with one of my contact who is of Asian origin when he suddenly angrily mentioned something about the French government allowing the publication of discriminatory cartoons. This sparked a discussion on the differences between the British and French outlook on ethnicity.

The story so far:
30 Sept: Danish paper publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors complain to Danish PM
10 Jan: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office demanding apology
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
01 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons
03 Feb: protesters storm the Danish embassy in Indonesia

Although there is apparently “no specific, or explicit ban on images of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad - be they carved, painted or drawn” in the Koran, the Islamic tradition seems to forbid these representations in the belief that they could “give rise to idolatry”. This is apparently the sole reason why embassies and other official buildings have been stormed by gunmen, why death threats have been issued and why the “Islamic world” is generally in an uproar.

Like the Today Programme this morning, I couldn’t help but make the comparison with protests spurred by Christian fundamentalist against the depiction of Jesus in the Jerry Springer the Opera show last year. It would be interesting (to a very limited extend) to hear what Stephen Green, from Christian Voice, has to say about the situation, as the man who claims that only Christian values are attacked in the media and as someone continually demonstrating his belief in the importance of the religious discourse in public life.

Religion?The obvious parallele with the Jerry Springer controversy and the level of violence in the reactions as well as the fact that the situation has taken so long to develop make me think that the protests are being orchestrated by fundamentalist groups whose purpose is to keep the apparent divide between the western world and the Muslim world gaping.

Another piece of evidence towards this is that the protestors are confusing the newspapers that published the cartoons with the governments of the country they are published in, ignoring at the same time the fact that the original Danish paper has apologised.

I have to admit that I am not aware of the context in which the publication of the cartoons by other papers took place. But, from what I know of the story, I am not sure prompted their decision to do that. If it was only to make a point about freedom of expression, I think it was probably a bad move. The calls for the use of good judgment heard from many quarters are probably justified but I think those called should be extended to the protestors as well.

Of Course, Muslim people have the right to voice their disapproval of the publication of those cartoons. This is a perfect legitimate thing to and perfectly consistant with the principles of freedom of expression, which seems to be what is at stake here. However, a violent, irrational reactions like the ones we have witnessed is by no means the right answer and will only allienate the western world and the Muslim world further from each other.

Iraq's top Shia Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, condemned the publication, but said militant Islamists were partly to blame for distorting the image of Islam. A Jordanian editor, who published the cartoons asking whether they had more influence on the image of Islam than suicide bombers and Jihadists, got sacked.

It is interesting to note that moderate Muslims while condemning the cartoons also condemn the violent response to them. My suspicion is that the groups of violent protesters are only quite small in numbers if obviously quite vocal. It is again the one shouting the loudest that gets heard. However, if one has to resort to violence to prove himself strong, isn't that an indication of insecurity and weakness?

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate...Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

The protestors should perhaps sit down for a second take a deep breath and try to correct their intellectual myopia by remembering that the ban on representations of the prophet is strictly a Muslim religous dogma and can therefore not apply to, or be expected to be followed by non-Muslim. It would be like asking Muslim people to swear on the Bible or the Torah in tribunals.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a recent interview on BBC Radio4, said:
"The transition from, let's say, pre-modern to modern, is something that Judaism and Christianity have gone through and that transition is something that Islam is experiencing right now. I have come to the conclusion that Islam can and should be reformed if Muslims want to live at peace..."

I think she might have point there.

Making a farce of what you protectI am afraid this is the sort of situation where I get terribly French and where my lay, republican upbringing comes to the fore. While anglo-saxon countries tend to encourage multiculturalism (divers communities living together, next to each other, retaining their identity with the risk of creating ghetto and a lack of cohesion within society), the French model (which, arguably showed its weaknesses recently and where discriminations can remain hidden more easily) is about integration (to put it simply: "when in Rome, do like the Romans"). This means that people will not shove their differences and little idiosyncracies into each other's faces, theoretically ensuring greater freedom for everyone. This, I think, should be particularly true of religious beliefs which should have nothing whatsoever to do in the public sphere but should remain a private matter for each individual.

This is all the more important in situations like this when members of a religious group forget the principles of love and peace, fundamental to all major monotheist religions, to let anger and rightuousness distort and make of farce of the very thing they want to protect.

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  1. In the 1980's, right after the Iranian hostage crisis and the civil war in Lebanon, it was fairly common to find articles and cartoons that were not merely defamatory to Islam, but virulently racist. These seldom aroused significant reaction.

    Today, a cluster of cartoons in a Danish periodical (a language with no more than ten million speakers worldwide) sparks a series of riots in Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, Egypt, and elsewhere. The riots only escalate, lacking any objective correlative.

    This is how people have always reacted when they are humilated en masse. From the POV of each individual rioter, the present events only serve as an occasion for avenging his own personal humiliation and hurt. These things come in part from squalor and domestic oppression, of course; they also come from the humiliation of their own government having over the years been entirely subservient to any voice but theirs.

    The average Western has no idea, and is in no haste to get any idea, of how totally and abjectly the North African and South Asian governments have capitulated to the demands of Western powers. For example, in Pakistan, US and W. European agents move freely through the country, making arrests and notifying the authorities much later, bombing villages and slaughtering random (YES! RANDOM!) villagers with not so much as a frown. These conditions obtain in numerous cases.

    For the rioters of today, these riots are the equivalent of a "Boston Tea Party." Observe the deaths have been accidents caused either as a consequence of arson (people jumping from an upstairs window to escape a fire), or else, shot dead by police. In other words, these weren't lynchings; the riots have been a spree of vandalism against the tangible evidence of alien occupation

  2. You a missed a few things from your time line.

    In October, the Danish police began an investigation as to whether the cartoons broke Danish law.

    In Novemeber a delegation of Danish muslims went on a tour of the Middle East to internationalise the issue.

    On Jan 4th, the police announced that no law had been broken.

    In the weeks leading up to 30th January, various government controlled newspapers ran a campaign to boycott Danish products, and cartoons stating that the cartoons were the result of zionist infiltration of Denmark.

    And that on 1st February BBC World braodcast one of the 'fake cartoons which somehow got into the dossier carried by the muslim delegation, claiming that it was one of the origianl 12 cartoons.

    The 3 fake cartoons can be seen here:

    and are far more crude and obviously offensive than any of the 12 that actually appeared.

    It was followed this broadcast on the BBC that the curent, more serious, rioting began.


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