Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cartoon Controversy

It's ironic that the media in Europe that heaped scorn on Prince Harry for wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party and demanded he apologize for the offence caused now prints cartoons making fun of Prophet Muhammad, in the name of defending freedom of expression. Apparently, this freedom of expression is only useful when making fun of Muslims. In a supreme piece of hypocrisy, Die Welt, a German paper that published the cartoons, wrote in its editorial, "The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical." [BBC]

Bill Clinton, in a speech recently stated that Muslims are now the new Jews, and deplored the replacing of anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice.

It was a surprise to see a boycott effort in the Middle East that actually worked [BBC]. Let's face it, if the Danish newspaper had the right to publish the papers, the Middle Easterners were free to boycott Danish products - whether it was right to do so is another matter - some Muslims disagree [Safiyyah's blog]. The loss of business forced these companies to complain to the government, which complained to the newspaper, which apologized. The boycott worked.

But what now that other countries of Europe has published the cartoons?

I believe this is a fantastic opportunity for the Arab world. Cancel the boycott. Announce that any European visiting an Arab country will get a free tourist visa, and can live with an Arab family. Start with the Danes. The Arabs are famous for their hospitality, and many locals will line up to have an European family stay with them. Dubai and other places are already hot tourist spots, this will be a perfect chance for people to people contact, for Europeans to see that Arabs and Muslims are not so different or scary after all.

UPDATE: My respect for the BBC has continued to grow. They did show some of the cartoons, but in the context of a news story, and shaded. The cartoons were not published to provoke Muslims or to make a point. They also hosted an interview with Dr James Zogby of the Arab American Institute in US. The questions asked by the news anchor were tough but fair and balanced, and they gave equal play to all sides in the dispute. This is journalism at its best, not sensational, tabloid journalism we have become used to from other sources.

  • The Danish ambassador to Indonesia agreed to publish an apology in the local media.
  • 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.
  • Editors of Jordanian and French newspapers who chose to republish the cartoons were dismissed.
  • Jyllands-Posten has apologised for causing offence to Muslims.

  • Vatican cardinal Achille Silvestrini condemned the cartoons, saying Western culture had to know its limits. Maybe I have to tone down my criticism of this Pope now.

    The khatib at our Jummah place said Muslims should demonstrate their love of the Prophet Muhammad by not burning flags but rather following his examples - of generosity, of tolerance, of good behaviour.


    Anonymous said...

    I was really interested in knowing your reaction to this case.

    Anyways,i agree we have to protest however, i find it hypocritical that we are conveniently ignoring similar depictions made in American, and other european media. Denmark seems to be an easy scapegoat because they dont really export much to the Arab world.

    Also, how does an editor or cartoonist represent an entire nation?

    C said...

    how can you call Germany hypocritical when there are *so* many anti-semitic characatures and cartoons disseminated in Islamic countries? depictions of Jews born from apes and so on and so forth---when have Islamists ever apologized for this? not only have Islamists never, but Islamists never would.

    if you seek respect, start first by giving it and then living it. Islam and its followers surely have no room whatsoever to cry foul now.

    mezba said...


    I think the Arabs/Muslims around the world are blaming the Danish government, when they really have no (official) control over the newspapers and what they publish. Maybe the proper strategy would be to see if any companies advertise in that said paper, and boycott their products. But again, no one can argue the boycott of Arla and others was not effective in forcing an apology from the paper. I do think burning flags, strikes, rioting are way out of line, a sign more of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance in some countries than anger.

    To C, show me a single cartoon in the Muslim world that makes fun of Moses, Joshua, the Ark of Covenant, Jesus, or other important religious figures of the Jewish and Christian faith. You will find none. The cartoons you speak of (and embelish - I may add) are political cartoons making fun of politicians or state policies.

    Go to Abu Sinan's post to see examples of common racist and anti-Muslim cartoons in mainstream media.

    Second, what is an Islamist? Are you painting everyone with the same brush when opinions, cultures and policies are different across the 1 billion plus Muslim world?

    Third, in the Christian world they make fun of their own religion. That's ok, but they should respect other religions, as bbcdesi says

    C said...

    i don't emebellish in the least, and for you to somehow imply that Islamists ( are not far more guilty in their characterizatios of others than the cartoons in this Danish paper is patently absurd.

    it's also why no one on the free-press side of this issue takes the Islamist howls of protest seriously, other than, of course, the all-too-typical death threats so predictably accompanying the hypocritical cries of "injustice".

    that is what freedom is, sir. it allows me to say what i will whether you like it or not, and allows you to do the same.

    it's a wonderful notion: explore it.

    Anonymous said...

    This just in
    "PARIS - The managing editor of a French newspaper was fired after it republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked fresh anger among Muslims, employees at the paper said Thursday..."


    C said...

    i didn't mean to stir up controversy in your blog. it just seems to me if more people took responsibility for their actions the world would be a better place. people are so angry all the time they forget to see clearly and deal fairly. we are all humans, that is what counts.

    i'll leave it at that.


    mezba said...


    If I have the right to do something, that does not make it the right thing to do. Can you ever imagine a Toronto paper (for example) publishing a cartoon showing a Chinese man licking his lips while looking at dogs under the banner 'Year Of The Dog'? No, because it is offensive and wrong. One single man being rude and obnoxious is something, but here major mainstream publications show no remorse in publishing offensive cartoons! While I agree that the reaction seems to be overblown in some quarters, there is a double standard here towards Muslims, and 'freedom of expression' is just a convenient excuse to bash Islam.


    Aisha said...

    Thanks for the link to Clinton's speech. Very good to know someone up there knows what's going on.

    Anonymous said...

    Non-Muslims have been making fun of Islam for centuries. When people made fun of Islam in front of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), he calmly explained to them what the true meaning of Islam was.
    Just ask yourselves, will our prophet(s) applaud our ban on Danish products because a single newspaper not representating the people of Denmark made fun of our religion?
    I can give you a whole list of websites that are anti-Islamic and are based in the US. Are you guys going to ban US products because of what is posted on American made websites?

    The point is, we are hurting people that didn't have anything to do with this ban. We Muslims would be taken much more seriously if we decided to raise our voice on other issues like racism, poverty, drugs, war, etc. yet we don't (and yes those issues I listed DO concern the Muslim world!).

    mezba said...

    Hi Anon (3:07)

    This is one of the reasons why many Muslims do not agree with the boycott. As I was saying, the issue was almost over until the European newspapers (some of them quite mainstream) reignited it by republishing those cartoons (without permission of the original newspaper may I add).

    I don't know if I agree with the Danish boycott (even though it was affective - as I said, I was surprised to see a boycott effort in middle east actually work). One cannot hold a country responsible for what a newspaper publishes.

    What I do know is this - France should be censored by the Muslims for having a ridiculous anti-religion law that has targeted Muslims, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, etc. That is a far more important anti-Muslim act made directly by the government. I can understand banning niqab and hijabs in passport ids, but school law is ridiculous (it should be upto the individual girls to decide).

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Mezba,

    I am MM- Anon(3:07), i live in abu dhabi, I think u lived here before?

    Anyways, Arabs are very hyped up about it here. People are holding demonstrations and papers are full of the "evil Danes"

    Its extremely hypocritical given that:

    1) The only reason they are boycotting is because its just Lurpak butter and Emborg frozen goods that they regularly used. Lets see them try to boycott stuff from USA (where similar cartoons were shown on South Park) or India(they cant give up either Hollywood or Bollywood)

    2) I never recall any Arab or Imam speaking out against many other bad things in the Muslim world.

    I was astounded that people were applauding Carrefour, a French venture, for boycotting Danish goods. They seem to conveniently forgotten the Hijab issue.

    Right now Danes are public enemy number one and anyone insinuating the opposite is being met with "Shame on you, you dont care for the Prophet?"

    And I reply "I love him as much as you do, but why curse an entire country, specially when you dont curse the whole of India because of Salman Rushdie"

    The Response : "Denmark is cursed. And if you dont say the same, you dont love the Prophet".

    There u go, thats the thinking process of many Muslims, dangerously similar to Christian Evangelical supporters fo Bush


    Aisha said...

    I have now posted about this too. Couldn't help it. We all have an opinion on this. To answer the boycott questions though.... The people there are very destitute and hated upon.... I almost liken it to the US when the African Americans boycotted the bus systems in Alabama to protest their treatment. It's a peaceful sign of opposition.

    Hasan Mubarak said...

    First of all I really liked your point about Prince Harry's criticism compared to the current scenario.

    And to MM-Anon; Denmark as a country would not have been responsible only if thier own Prime Minister wouldn't have rejected to meet Ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries to discuss the matter.

    It's about a country that does not appologize or punish those whose act resulted in spiritual & religious hurt to a billion people.

    Shabina said...

    I was also touched to see that CNN and other news stations showed the cartoons, but that they were shaded.

    The sensitivity was duly noted and appreciated, for sure. (grasping at straws...?)

    Reza said...

    I liked your post and came by your blog via Aisha's. Gonna add you to my blogroll as well and drop by sometime and add me up if you like mine.

    On the issue at hand, it is sad when the world gives muslims something to kill themselves over the head with. The issue has been blown out of proportion. Anti West sentiments mixed with this new bold dash by the european media has resulted in it aggravating to a more higher extent for the muslims. But like I said on Aisha's blog and I will say it here, there needs to be a proper and mature way of showing and making the world know your angry. Hooliganism, vandalism and hypocrisy are not some of the mature and decent ways.

    mezba said...

    Hi MM-Anon,

    Yes, unfortunately when people are illiterate or ignorant, group thinking prevails, whether its south Texas or south Asia. I am in two minds about the boycott, but atleast it's peaceful. I mean it's way better than taking over EU offices. My impression is that Gaza and many other places are just like Africa, lawless and anyone with a gun is boss. It's just because its the Holy Land and Israel that they get more TV time.

    As for your point 2), I was making the same point in a couple of posts previously, that Imams should talk about modern stuff and problems, and let ancient bygones be bygones.

    I think in this situation, even modern and moderate muslims are angry because they perceive a clear double standard here, where one sect cannot be made fun of or criticised ever, while its free-for-all for another group of minorities.


    mezba said...

    Hasan: yes, the double standards is what riles me most. While we may deplore the over-reaction, the double standard speaks volumes.

    I also think the Danish PM messed up. Instead of defusing the situation (that's why you have diplomats) he went to the European trade union (after suffering from the boycott) to inflame the situation. And now he is making more grandoise statements about this becoming a clash of values. Methinks the PM has been spending a little too much time with the Danish Queen.

    I don't know the local political situation in Denmark but this could be good for him politically.

    mezba said...

    @Shabina: Yes, I saw the CNN pixelated graphics too (learnt a new word - pixelated - hopefully spelling it right).

    Yes, discretion is the part of valour. Did they lose anything by showing shaded cartoons? Did they not cover the story?

    @Reza: Welcome. I think in poor Muslim countries people are very passionate. The problem is their passion is always vented in a wrong manner.

    Also, this is how the western media will work - "Oh Look, muslims insulted, go to Pakistan - Lahore city center outside mosque on Friday- get footage of crowd burning flags, Go Go Go!" The muslims over there should master that game and not rise to the bait.

    Look at how the educated muslims in middle east responded - peaceful boycott. How the Canadian and other western muslims responded - peaceful discussion and protests.

    Aisha said...

    thanks for the updates.

    Anonymous said...

    I fully agree about the double standards bit.

    Many European "seculars" intentionally ignore that Muslims respect Muhammad(pbuh) more than most Europeans respect Jesus.

    Dont let my disapproval for "how" the protests are carried out make you think i am not against European double standards and disregard for our Prophet(pbuh)


    Anonymous said...

    “I agree that France, Germany and even Jordan have reprinted those cartoons, but how can we blame them? They were only telling their readers what this controversy was all about. That is what newspapers do. They didn’t mean it as an insult to Islam,” he pointed out."

    This is what many Muslims are saying. I feel it just exposes further hypocrisy.
    The French and German editors clearly challenged Muslims saying they will print it even if it riles us, and yet muslims arent blaming them because they cant live without their goods.

    I love our Prophet as much as any Muslims, but maybe our cowardly and hypocritical responses are why the West doesnt take us seriously


    Anonymous said...

    If we muslims were to give TIT-FOR-TAT blow on christianity (religion running in majority in the western world), we cant do that because of two reasons:
    1. JESUS (who we call EE'SA) is a prophet for muslims and no muslim would ever condemn a pious person.
    2. Good thing about Muslims is that they dont stoop down to the level of immaturity and ignorance as perhaps people of other religious beliefs (WHO ACT AND TALK AS IF THEY KNOW EVERYTHING INSIDE OUT ABOUT ISLAM).

    - Behbood

    John C. said...

    Hypocracy is the key word here. In Afganistan, ancient Buddihist icons were destroyed by the Taliban showing no regard for origins of that belief which pre-dates Islam or the popular Egyptian bumper sticker which shows a shark about to eat the Christian "fish" symbol. Both of these incidents show intolerance, insecurity, immaturity and ignorance. The western world has the good sense to at least understand that beliefs and moral definitions are ever changing and all ideas must be challenged to be fully appreciated and understood.