February 20, 2006 - The protest over the Danish cartoons has become increasingly violent:
In Nigeria thousands of rioters wielding sticks and machetes burned 15 churches and attacked Christians, killing at least 15 people. Some of the mob threw a tire around a man's neck, poured gasoline on him and set him on fire. Christian shops were attacked and looted. Among the dead were three children and a priest.
In eastern Pakistan rioters tried to burn down shops and were fired on by police. A senior leader of a religious party called for the cartoonists to be hanged.
In India a Muslim politician, Haji Yaqoob Quereshi, offered a reward of 11 million dollars for the deaths of any of the cartoonists.
In Pakistan a cleric proclaimed a reward of one million dollars for the killing of "the cartoonist."
These are only the latest in a series of violent incidents sweeping the world. Can all this be explained as a reaction to cartoons published in a Danish newspaper? Not according to Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, a Palestinian imam living in Denmark and a prime instigator of the controversy. He organized a delegation to tour the Middle East and call attention not only to the original Danish newspaper cartoons, but to some even more offensive ones included for their incendiary potential. These additional cartoons, notably Muhammad with a pig snout and another of Muhammad having intercourse with a dog, were never published in Denmark. But why care about such trifles when the goal is inflaming religious passion?
Here is how Abu Laban explains the uproar:
This protest is not about the cartoons, offensive as they are. The cartoons are merely the final drop that caused the cup to overflow. We have heard Western politicians relate our faith to terrorism, over and over again, and it is too much. This was the response.
What a keen sense of irony. How dare Westerners relate our faith to terrorism? We'll show them! We'll burn their embassies and churches!
So just what is this controversy really all about?
It is about religious passion, its irrational and destructive nature. And it is about the right of others to criticize the tendency toward faith-inspired violence.
The cartoon uproar is not unique. Peter Goodspeed of the National Post summarizes several similar incidents:
There have been several instances in recent years in which Muslims have denounced publications or artworks as blasphemous. Some examples:
1989 Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called on all Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy against Islam in his book The Satanic Verses.
1994 Taslima Nasreen fled Bangladesh for Sweden after a court charged her with "maliciously hurting Muslim religious sentiments." Some Muslims demanded she be killed for her book Lajja (Shame), banned for blasphemy and suggesting free sex.
1995 An Egyptian court branded academic Nasr Hamed Abu Zaid an apostate because of his writings on Islam and annulled his marriage on grounds that a Muslim may not be married to an apostate. Mr. Abu Zaid and his wife moved to the Netherlands.
2002 Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incensed Muslims by writing in ThisDay newspaper that the Prophet Mohammad would have approved of the Miss World contest and might have wed a beauty queen. Muslim-Christian riots in the northern city of Kaduna killed 200. Ms. Daniel fled Nigeria after a fatwa urged Muslims to kill her.
2004 Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, right, was murdered after release of his film Submission about violence against women in Islamic societies. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of the Dutch parliament who wrote the script, plans another film about Islam's attitude to gays. She has received death threats.
2005 London's Tate Britain museum removed the sculpture God is Great by John Latham from an exhibition for fear of offending Muslims, citing the "sensitive climate" after the July 7 suicide bombings in the capital. The piece consists of three sacred religious texts -- the Koran, the Bible, and the Talmud -- embedded in a sheet of glass.
2005-06 Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper published several cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Since late January, Muslims in the Middle East, Asia and Africa have protested sometimes violently over their publication. Newspapers in more than 20 countries have now published the cartoons.
The message is that those who dare to criticize Islam publicly risk not only their own lives but also the lives of any innocent bystanders who happen to get in the way.
But, many object, weren't the cartoons insensitive? A gratuitous insult to the Muslim community?
Some of the cartoons actually seem quite bland. A few could be considered provocative. Much has been made of the picture of Muhammad with a lit fuse in his turban. Are these cartoons offensive? The real question is, What is more offensive, the cartoons themselves or what these cartoons are protesting?
Jyllands-Posten Editor-in-chief Carsten Juste put it this way:
"The cartoon in which Mohammed has a bomb in his turban has been singled out for particular criticism. But for me, the association is obvious. It's a way of portraying the problem of fanatical, Islam terrorists, who themselves make the connection - between their attacks and the religion itself and its content. That's what our cartoonist wanted to show. It's a common topic of discussion: 'To what extent does Islam in and of itself contribute to the creation of terrorists? Does Islam create its own terrorists?' I think it's a fair question."
And this from Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned the cartoons:
"I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out."
Moderate Muslims are not speaking out - at least not audibly. The passion of virtually the entire Muslim world seems concentrated in a fierce reaction that has already claimed innocent lives. If dissenters exist in significant numbers, they are very well hidden. What is wrong, then, with cartoons protesting the use of Islam to justify violence? Why accept a taboo against articulating one of the most critical issues of our time? The reaction to the cartoons completely validates the point that the cartoons were making.
So to those who say the cartoons never should have been published because they are offensive: Why do you take more offense at the cartoons than at the violence now being used to intimidate critics of Islam?
If criticism of religion is not permitted, how can there be any hope of reform?
Nobody likes to believe that Islam supports terrorism. So where did so many people get that idea? The world feels the passion of the Muslim community. This passion is not directed towards condemning terrorists who have "hijacked a great religion." This passion is directed into violence and threats of violence against anyone daring to criticize violence committed in Islam's name.
It has become fashionable to smear critics of Islam with the label "Islamophobia." But when "Islamophobes" ask to hear moderate Muslim voices, the plea echoes through a dark empty tunnel. Yet publish a critical cartoon, and one can feel the wrath of organized Islam worldwide.
Muslims all over the world are upset because they believe the cartoons link Islam with terrorism. To those who want to break this link: What is the best way to do it? Burning churches and beating people in the streets?
Muslims complain that their religious sensibilities have been offended, but many have no qualms about offending the religious sensibilities of others. In scripture and in sermon, Christians are called idolaters and Jews descendants of apes and pigs. There is no more intolerant religion on the face of the earth than Islam. As for cartoons, the Danish cartoons of Muhammad are mild indeed when compared to the anti-Jewish cartoons that routinely appear in the Muslim press. If Muslims are so concerned about offending religious sensibilities, why don't they demonstrate against those?
In a self-styled quest to test the limits of free speech, the Iranian daily Hamshahri has announced a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust. No doubt this campaign is approved by the state: Iranian President Ahmadinejad has already publicly questioned the historicity of the Holocaust.
This sort of free-speech ping pong is patently hypocritical. The publication of anti-Jewish cartoons in an Iranian newspaper is no great breakthrough for civil rights. Newspapers throughout the Muslim world already do this frequently. And nobody cares, because Jews will not start burning mosques or killing Muslims in the streets. The issue, rather, is that a prominent Muslim nation sees cartoons expressing racist lies as an appropriate response to cartoons it doesn't like but that make a fair political statement. The issue is that once again Muslims are attacking Jews for a perceived offense in which Jews have played no role. All of this spreads not glory but shame on Islam. Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei went so far as to state that the Danish cartoons are "a conspiracy by Zionists who were angry because of the Hamas victory" in the Palestinian elections. I'm sure the editors of Jyllands-Posten would be quite surprised to find they have Zionists on their staff. And clairvoyant Zionists too, protesting a January 2006 Hamas victory in September 2005 (the original publication date of the cartoons)!
These Muslim responses to the Danish cartoons are nothing less than psychotic. Our reaction should not be to fall over ourselves offering apologies for offending religious sensibilities that deserve to be questioned. Our reaction should be astonishment that the purveyors of such intense and venomous fanaticism are becoming more ambitious and aggressive and will likely soon acquire nuclear capability.
Now that should offend our sensibilities.
BBC News Staff. Iran Paper Seeks Cartoon Revenge." BBC News, February 7, 2006.
Fisher, Ian. Italian Quits Over Cartoons; 15 Die in Nigeria." New York Times, February 19, 2006.
Goodspeed, Peter. "Orchestrated 'clash of civilizations': Global protests were anything but spontaneous." National Post, February 9, 2006.
Hansen, John. The Editor and the 12 Cartoons." Jyllands-Posten, December 18, 2006.
Musa, Njadvara. At Least 15 Die in Nigeria Cartoon Protest." Associated Press, February 19, 2006.
Rose, Flemming. Why I Published Those Cartoons." Washington Post, February 19, 2006.
Vidino, Lorenzo. Creating Outrage." National Review, February 6, 2006.
Picture Sources (in order of appearance):
Anti-Semitic Incitement: Political Cartoons in the Arab Media." Anti-Defamation League, June-August 2002.
Bard, Mitchell G. The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries." Jewish Virtual Library.
Official PA Newspaper Prints Racist, Anti-Semitic Cartoons." Israel National News, May 25, 2005.
Offensive Cartoons: Media Apologize for Offending Muslims While Ignoring Anti-Semitic Cartoons." HonestReporting.com, February 5, 2006.
Anti-Semitic Incitement: Political Cartoons in the Arab Media." Anti-Defamation League, May 29 - July 24, 2002.
The Arab Media's Portrayal of Jews." Anti-Defamation League, February 7, 2006.
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