Danish cartoons: Muslims are right to be angry
By P. Radhakrishnan
Milli Gazette Online
11 February 2006
The article “Danish
cartoons: enough is enough” by Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan is well
thought out and sobering.
I agree with Dr. Khan that
the protests should end, and I believe, they have ended. Nonetheless, I am
inclined to believe that the publication of the cartoons should be seen as
part of a larger insidious imperialist agenda of making the Muslim
countries capitulate; and I would like all the discerning citizens of the
world irrespective of religious persuasions ponder over this issue.
As cartoons necessarily
belong to the genre of culture in the normal course they are stuff for
entertainment and political education. But the cartoonist is expected to
be highly conscious of the interface of the terrains of culture and
religion, and in which religions such terrains are freehold. As Islam is
not an iconic religion it does not have any such terrains.
The other genre of culture
having a bearing on religion is literature. That explains how Salman
Rushdie became famous overnight in the imperialist countries and became
richer by the day with his publication of The Satanic Verses, and the
imperialist countries, particularly Britain spent millions of hard
currency for his personal security.
While religions are
certainly stuff of cultural literature, or say, religious literature, such
literature can flourish only in a liberal and friendly ambience, in an
ambience of camaraderie. One has to weigh and measure different shades of
such ambience before rushing into them.
volatility of religious ambience probably explains the attempts to burn
down the Deccan Herald press in Bangalore a couple of decades ago when the
daily published a short story on The Prophet, and the editor K.N. Hari
Kumar, literally ran for his life. That when the same story published
earlier in Malayalam hardly evoked any protest and was read in real
literary spirit is partly because of the relatively better communal
harmony in Kerala, and partly because of the belief that religious texts
are amenable to interpretation and reconstruction. But certainly no
magazine or daily even in Kerala could have published a cartoon of The
Prophet without causing widespread damage to the social relations in the
state, and no editor worth his name would have ever thought of doing so.
Popular publications such as
newspapers and magazines emanating from imperialist countries are a
different kettle of fish. In their madness for boosting circulation
editors are ever willing to be sleazy, when caught publish that ever ready
apologia, and when compelled make compensation pay outs. A recent case is
of the porn-magazine Maxim, carrying a morphed Khushboo on the cover page
of its Indian edition, and when caught, the editor trying to get away with
the usual apology.
While the Maxim in some
sense stands for a maxim of the moribund ethical and moral state of the
journalism and entertainment media in the West and the US, in the context
of religion, notably Islam, it may be highly improper to treat any act of
the media as merely commercial or as of indiscretion.
In the larger imperialist
power play of which the media should be seen as only one of the
instruments, anything that can insult and injure Islam, anything that can
provoke the Muslims is useful. Here the issue is not one of perspective,
as Dr. Khan seems to convey, but of politics and purpose.
This should be only too
evident from the familiar pattern of neo-imperialist vandalism of
different types – cultural, material, geo-political, and religious –
of Islam, Islamic countries, and Islamic resources.
In this context, I am more
inclined to agree with the article “Why Muslims are right to be angry”
in the Socialist Worker Online of February 10, which is unequivocal in its
observation that the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet
Muhammad in a Danish newspaper was a calculated racist provocation in a
country where Muslim immigrants are increasingly under attack, the outrage
expressed in demonstrations across the Muslim world is entirely justified,
and the Danish cartoons are latest in a campaign of racist abuse.
Though the cartoons did not
emanate from the US, the article rightly sees the US as the villain, and
argues that Washington’s campaign of war, occupation and repression set
the stage for the fury over the publication of images of Muhammad, which
are seen as idolatrous in Islam; Muslims’ anger following the
publication of the cartoons is fuelled by the deaths of well over 100,000
Iraqis since George Bush’s invasion, the ongoing US occupation of Iraq
and Afghanistan, and Washington’s support for Israeli occupation of
Palestinian lands, as well as authoritarian and corrupt Arab regimes.
The article recalls that the
US government has already attacked the Islamic faith by desecrating the
Koran in its prisons, and humiliating Muslim detainees in Iraq and
Afghanistan with pornographic material - not to mention torturing and
sometimes murdering them; that the US has backed Israel’s repression of
Palestinians - joining most recently in the threats against Hamas after
the Islamist party won the Palestinian legislative elections; and that at
home, the US government used the September 11 attacks to launch a
witch-hunt, complete with FBI “interviews” of thousands of Arab and
Muslim men, secret detentions, deportations and systematic racial
profiling, followed by federal prosecution of people like Sami Al-Arian,
whose fundraising for a Palestinian Muslim charity was portrayed as the
hub of an international terrorist network - until a Florida jury rejected
the government’s trumped-up allegations.
One issue which many
including Dr. Khan seem to have overlooked is highlighted by the article:
“Lost in all the rhetoric about free speech is the fact that the Danish
newspaper that originally published the racist cartoons, Jyllands-Posten,
just two years ago rejected cartoons of Jesus that editors felt would
offend Christian readers. But Jyllands-Posten had no problem publishing
the anti-Islam cartoons.” So, the publication was a conscious,
deliberate act, and not an act of indiscretion.
The article concludes with
the inevitable conclusion: The cartoons must be seen as part of the effort
to justify anti-Islamism -- not only in Denmark, but throughout the West.
Far from examples of the value of “freedom of expression,” they should
be filed alongside the anti-Semitic caricatures of Nazi-era Europe and the
hateful stereotypes of African Americans in the segregation-era U.S.
South. They are reminders of the urgency of the fight against anti-Arab
and anti-Muslim racism today.
The author is a social
critic and Professor of Sociology at the Madras Institute of Development
Studies. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.