Here at SM headquarters we have quite an intricate system for vetting which stories make it to our website. Most of our stories are unearthed by the army of ex test-monkeys (retired from military, space, and medical research) that we house in our basement. They are the ones who scour the internet all day and feed important stories to our bloggers, while we spend most of our time at our full-time jobs. We also have the tipline, by which dedicated readers send in tips. Later, in our conference room, we ask ourselves three main questions about a prospective post:
- Can I do this story justice/am I knowledgeable and interested enough to write about it without sounding ignorant?
- Does the story have an angle highlighting South Asians?
- Does the story have an angle of interest to North Americans?
The reason you haven’t seen us post on this topic before is because not all of us were convinced that we could answer yes to all three questions. After attending the SAAN Conference this past weekend (which will be summarized in my next post), I have become convinced that we have missed the relevance this issue has to our community, and that the answer to all three questions is yes. I am speaking of course of the controversy surrounding a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish a picture of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb as his turban.
Arab foreign ministers have condemned the Danish government for failing to act against a newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
At the Arab League conference in Cairo, they said they were “surprised and discontented at the response”.
Islam forbids any depiction of Muhammad or of Allah.
The Jyllands-Posten newspaper published a series of 12 cartoons showing Muhammad, in one of which he appeared to have a bomb in his turban. [Link]
p>I see great irony in this situation that doesn’t seem to have registered in the press (as far as I know). Muslims around the world are protesting this cartoon (often violently) because it is forbidden in Islam to depict the Prophet, especially in such a vulgar manner as this. Muhammad, in his boundless wisdom, wanted to make sure that his image would never be used or treated as an idol, and that men would never worship him as one. In Christianity for example,
many most sects now worship Christ as God, instead of seeing him as only a mortal prophet. It was the message of Islam, and not Muhammad the man, that was to better the world. By violently protesting this cartoon, it could be argued that Muslims around the world are acting as if an idol has been desecrated. Using violence to protest this “desecration” legitimizes that which the Prophet cautioned against in the first place. He has become an idol to be defended and avenged in the eyes of many.
Part of the reason that we haven’t already written about this issue is that it hasn’t had nearly as much impact in the U.S. as it has had in Europe and the rest of the world. Do Americans even care or understand what this is all about? Why am I not hearing more about this from the desi community? Before I go on, I want you to take a careful look at some pictures. Don’t read text that follows the pictures until you guess which country each was taken in:
Muslims offended by the [Philadelphia] Inquirer’s decision to reprint a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad that has inflamed the sensibilities of their co-religionists across the world picketed the newspaper this morning…
Most American newspapers have decided not to reprint the cartoon. Newspapers in Europe have, as a gesture of free press solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, run the caricature as well as 11 others pillorying the prophet. One image depicts Muhammad halting a line of suicide bombers at the gates of heaven with the cry, “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins…”
One demonstrator, 54-year old Aneesha Uqdah of Philadelphia, argued that precedent exists for newspapers to withhold some information to prevent harm: “If a woman was a rape victim, you wouldn’t publish her name,” she said…
The demonstrators carried signs that read, “Freedom of Speech, Not Irresponsible Speech,” “No to Hate” and “Islam = Nonviolence…” [Link]
Speaking outside his home in Bedford, Mr Khayam, 22, said: “I found the pictures deeply offensive as a Muslim and I felt the Danish newspaper had been provocative and controversial, deeply offensive and insensitive.
“But by me dressing the way I did, I did just that, exactly the same as the Danish newspaper, if not worse. My method of protest has offended many people, especially the families of the victims of the July bombings. This was not my intention.”
Downing Street today described the behaviour of some Muslim demonstrators in London over the last few days as “completely unacceptable”. Some demonstrators carried placards calling for people who insult Islam to be killed. [Link]
There is a tension in the Islamic world between the desire for democracy and a respect for liberty. (It is a tension that once raged in the West and still exists in pockets today.) This is most apparent in the ongoing fury over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a small Danish newspaper. The cartoons were offensive and needlessly provocative. Had the paper published racist caricatures of other peoples or religions, it would also have been roundly condemned and perhaps boycotted. But the cartoonist and editors would not have feared for their lives. It is the violence of the response in some parts of the Muslim world that suggests a rejection of the ideas of tolerance and freedom of expression that are at the heart of modern Western societies. [Link]