Monday, February 06, 2006

Amar Akbar Anthony and the Danish Cartoon Controversy

Amar: Attack of the Cartoons

Like Akbar and Anthony, I am also troubled by the outburst in the muslim world to the infamous Danish cartoons. We are all offended (though clearly some more easily so), and thus we must rise to defend what's precious to us. Some rise to protect their prophet and religion from a cartoon, I side with those who defend the freedom of speech from violence and censorhip.

Of the cartoons themselves, there are twelve, each by a different cartoonist. Most of them depict Muhammad, including one showing him wearing a bomb as a turban. So, they are in bad taste. So what? People don't have to see the cartoons, those who do not like them do not have them impinge on their lives in any way. Yet we are witnessing a mass outbreak of childish hysteria across the muslim world, screaming from the rooftops, boycotting danish goods, committing arson, violence and threatening more to come, demanding that the rest of the world's freedoms be constrained.

There is something bizzare about these protests. People are screaming that the depiction of the prophet is prohibited in Islam, the reason being that people will start to worship these depictions instead of God. But noone is going to worship these cartoons! There is no danger of idolatry resulting from some cartoons of dubious taste, so what rationale for finding offense in mere drawing?

I can understand better the idea that mocking the prophet is offensive. Not that I care. I find most religious books and their language towards non-adherents highly deplorable and condemnable - but I don't threaten the books or their believers with violence, demand their repudiation or censorship. I choose instead not to take the stuff seriously, and not be bothered about it. It works brilliantly. Imagine, just turn the page and the cartoons won't be there. Why is this so difficult?

Akbar: Troubled Hearts, Conflicted Minds

The blood boils. Some hearts weep. Some minds go blank. Eventually property was damaged. Threats were made…Lives nearly lost.

It was only a cartoon, some would say. Others interject ‘it was our Prophet Muhammad ...not your version of golden haired playboy Jesus you were making a mockery of…after all Jesus is our Prophet as well!’

Words are exchanged back and forth.

‘After all Freedom of Speech is more important than respect for your Prophet…you are like of any other religion, not vaccinated against criticism’.

It is freedom of insult you speak of, not speech. For you have no idea or respect for speech and eloquence. What concern you have with a dead Prophet, who you depict as a terrorist’.

Does one man’s cartoon make Muhammad a terrorist? Even Muhammad would have forgiven him, had he been alive today.

It is forbidden to depict our beloved Prophet!’

You ignorant! Have you no idea that it is forbidden to depict the Prophet or companion so our kind may not idolize him or start worshipping him, which is an even bigger blasphemy. After all he was but a man’ the wiser of us says.

We will not use your products. We will destroy you financially. We boycott all that you sell in our lands.’ shouts an agitated one.

You only destroy your country people, their jobs, and their families in this process.

They are to blame for their own fate. They chose to work for a Danish company. They chose to be part of this blasphemy.

Not all of our people support the cartoons. It was only one cartoonist.

But your people continue to support his right to publish and distribute the cartoons?!!

We cannot control every man’s will or mind, for we are a free country. Does not your Quran also teach you importance of freedom? Surely you deny not what is in the Quran?

We have progressed for we have applied what the Quran teaches you. We cannot control human beings. Live and let live. We have dialogue, not violence to solve our issues. Yet you destroy out embassies and property. Does your Islam not teach you mercy, compassion and non violence?


The cartoon saga has boiled to the point of being stupid and unfunny. A stupid cartoon got a stupid reaction. One of Newton bhai’s many laws.

May Allah have mercy on the cartoonist’s soul. (I assume his near death is very certain).

[Dear Reader: This issue resulted in me doing a lot of soul searching as a Muslim and
spending much time discussing the issue of Freedom of Speech with my friends Amar
and Anthony. Both of them are much wiser in this field and have enlightened me greatly
in this topic.

However, I could not avoid noticing one major contradiction within western society on the topic of freedom of Speech. It is the fact that any comments questioning certain facts of Holocaust Revisionism on six Million Jews is treated as criminal offence in certain European countries and most of the western world while making fun of Prophet Muhammad which affects One Billion muslims, is treated as a case of free speech. This contradiction does not go down too well with me, however my friends may disagree].

Anthony: Opium of the Masses

I am sure everyone is aware of the cartoons, and have seen the anti-cartoon protests and mob violence. And I’m sure most people have their views: those of us with a libertarian bent say that it is stupid of the Muslims to get worked up about this when the solution is to turn the page; those of us with a utilitarian mindset on the other hand ask why make all this trouble when you know it’s going to rile a lot of Muslims; some say that the freedom of speech is biased when certain issues in European history are taboo to talk about; others argue that two wrongs don’t make a right.

I don’t wish to get into the debate because these positions have been stated by Amar and Akbar. Let me raise another question: how is it that a bunch of Danish cartoons have caused so much anger? Muslims being offended because their prophet was insulted, you say. Sure Muslims were offended, well some of them any how. And now the issue has taken a life of its own, with a crowd of hundred denouncing the cartoons in faraway New Zealand. But would you have even heard of these cartoons unless there were mob violence in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine?

So how is it that such huge crowds turned out in these countries? A protest requires lot of organising and resources. Well typically it does, but maybe Syrians are much more religious than people in Sylhet and Palestinians care more about the prophet than do the Punjabis, and it all happened spontaneously.

But that’s not the case. You can google and see for yourself that the protests in Lebanon were organised by Hezbollah, those in Palestine by Hamas, and in Syria — a good old fashioned police state — the protests could not possibly have had taken place without official blessings.
Don’t Hezbollah or Hamas have anything better to do? Hezbollah is now part of the Lebanese government, and Lebanon is hardly the paradise on earth! And have Hamas forgotten that their people are still living under a foreign occupation? Surely the freedom for their people is more important than these cartoons?

Or maybe now that they have been given the responsibility to govern, Hezbollah and Hamas find the task too hard. Maybe the leaders of Hizbollah saw the cartoons and said to themselves: a-ha, we got these cartoons, and we’ll waive these around, and people will forget that we’re not (or might not be) performing that well in government. Maybe Hamas decided that this was a good distraction for them before they do a Sadat and recognise Israel. Syria, with its Ministry of Truth, probably actually hatched the plan!

And I guess it worked like a treat. Boy oh boy those Muslims are dumb to have fallen for this trick, you might say. Sure, like those Christians in Ohio who voted for Bush because he would defend the sanctity of marriage, or those Hindus who voted for BJP because of that old ruin in Ayodhya. I guess that old fellow was right after all when he said that religion is the opium of the masses.