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Posted Online on Saturday 11, February 2006 22:45 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsDanish cartoons: Muslims are right to be angry 

By P. Radhakrishnan

The 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.

This context-specific 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



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