Cartoon Controversy : Both parties won at the cost of tolerance
After the event is a passe to most of the world, let me try to recapitulate the whole sequence of incidents and the effect it may have on the world. I guess, by today, everyone is quite familiar with the cartoon controversy, how it originated and how the violence spread.
Brief Description of the event
The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy began after editorial cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005. As the controversy has grown, some or all of the cartoons have been reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries, leading to violent protests involving hundreds of deaths, particularly in Muslim countries. Critics say that the cartoons are culturally insulting, blasphemous, and intended to humiliate a marginalized minority. However, supporters of the cartoons say their publication exercises the right of free speech and that counter to the idea that Islam and its followers have been targeted in a discriminatory way, similar cartoons are made relative to other religions and their followers.
The detail timeline of all the events can be found on the BBC site. There is some Q & A as well in the site.
What is freedom of speech – the Danish Definition
Section 77 of the Constitutional Act of Denmark (1953) reads: “Any person shall be at liberty to publish his ideas in print, in writing, and in speech, subject to his being held responsible in a court of law. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced.”
Under international law, freedom of expression in Denmark is also protected by among others the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Danish freedom of expression is quite far-reaching, even for Western standards. Despite official German protests, Denmark has for long been a safe heaven for printing of neo-nazi propaganda. The organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Denmark on the top of the list of freedom of speech. The article of The Economist analyses why the freedom of speech is more powerful than religion. A list of incidents came out of this blasphemy vs. free speech can be found here.
Was it a racist attempt against Islam?
Probably, YES. The fact that the same newspaper refused to print cartoons those might be offensive to Christians.
The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny. In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten. Zieler received an email back from the paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.”
The protests were almost everywhere in the world. Some of the protests saw some deaths, others were limited to property damages. A brief list of human and economic cost of the cartoon controversy is posted here. The updates can also be found here.
In the subcontinent, Pakistan was in forefront of the protest. The protesters burnt Norwegian, Danish and American company outlets, burnt some flags and went rampant. Five people got killed when the police opened fire at them. In India, almost a riot broke out when 10,000 people gathered at Old Hyderabad and battled it with police.
Out in the Middle East, a priest was burnt in Turkey. In Syria, the Norwegian and Danish embassies were set on fire. In Libya, at least 10 people died in a clash with the Police. As of February 22, 2006 at least 139 people have been killed in the protests, mainly in Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The worst form of the protest was in Nigeria, which alone claimed almost 200 lives after it turned into a Communal riot between Christians of South and Muslims of North. The incident of Maiduguri started it all, and retaliations followed.
The Analysis of The Cartoon Incident
First let me analyze the cartoon issue. In my view, it was a racial attempt by all measures. The free speech definitely should come with responsibility. One should not pinch other taking the advantage of it. India, where there are multi-ethnic and multi-religious society co-exists peacefully, can be a good lesson for all those preaching for “Free Speech”.
Saying so, I must reiterate that, even if this particular attempt was a racial one in my view, Europe has completely different idea. Voltaire and many other western stalwarts of Renascence and French-revolution already directed Europe against religious fanaticism. There has been many Movies, Articles and Books those defy Christianity. They have seen a lot of blasphemy cases and know the ill-effect of religious fanaticism. They have seen Galileo and later the Protestant reforms. The Europe has accepted them as well. But, it is regrettable, that Europe still has a significant double-standard (Holocaust_denial) when it comes to religion. Europe should move forward to remove those double standards, so that their grounds get strong enough.
So, there’s a significant gap between the thoughts of an Indian and a European. The world must recognize the difference. Indians should practice the free speech on Indian contents, and Europeans should concentrate on their own. In a globalized world, they may not always be confined, but one should handle other’s sentiments with care.
Analysis of the protests
The next part is the protests. In my view, the incident deserves protest, but not in the way it has taken place. It could have been debates, inter-country meeting, peaceful rallies and UN involvement.
Well, let me first brief that the people, who are marching on the streets and damaging property, are really damaging the image of the Islam. The protests are more racist than the actual cartoon. In an article, in context of Nigeria, a newspaper wrote :
“The barbarity in Maiduguri was wrong. The one in Bauchi was equally wrong. And the reprisal in Onitsha and Nnewi were wrong. All these wrongs can never make a right ….. why should the northern Muslim begin to kill the southern Christian because some reckless people drew an irresponsible cartoon all the way in Denmark? Why should a Nigerian pay for the sins of harebrained, negligent cartoonists thousands of miles away, if not that malice had been an underlying factor of the relationship?”
Besides, the Arabs routinely denigrate the Jews and Israel with cartoons. The Arabs also denies the Holocaust, that’s a crime in 10 European Nations. They should leave their practice first before demanding other’s apology.
A very good article on the protest has come into a Bangladeshi newspaper just a few hours ago. The article sums up the whole protest event and talks critically of what could have been done. I don’t know whether that newspaper will be torched or not(though Bangladesh does not record events of violence on this issue), but I can quote a few points out of that article on internet :
- “In many countries, extremist elements of the society are trying to create a law and order situation under the cover of religious fervour. In Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, the minority Christians have been attacked and killed and their churches have been burnt down. “
- “While we condemn in the strongest terms the demeaning act of publishing the cartoons, we shall have to remember that acts of violence only bolster the hands of those who want to prove that Islam, as a religion, is violent and dysfunctional in the 21st century.”
- “It is interesting to note that although the cartoons were printed in September 2005, there was hardly any reaction till January 2006. Just when people were accusing the Saudi and Egyptian governments for their gross failures in the Mina Stampede and the Red Sea Ferry disaster, respectively, the cartoon incident came as a respite for both.”
- “Take the case of Amina Lawal of northern Nigeria, who gave birth to a child outside marriage in 2002. Sharia court ordered her to be stoned to death for adultery and the punishment would be carried out only after the child has grown out of suckling. This verdict was turned down by the appeals court after a world-wide outrage on this issue. Surprisingly, there was neither a street protest in support of the victim nor a Muslim lawyer of international repute available to defend her. Recently a minor girl named Nazneen has been ordered to be hanged by the Islamic court in Iran for allegedly killing a male assailant. There is a world-wide campaign launched to save the little girl’s life. “
- “Over the last few years, a human tragedy, many times larger than Iraq or Palestine, has been going on in Western Sudan’s Dharfur region. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, thousands of women have been raped, and millions have been made homeless and facing starvation and death — all because the victims are black Muslims, former slaves of Arab masters. Sudanese militia of Arab descent were systematically carrying out an ethnic cleansing unknown to the outside world until BBC, CNN and others got the news and flashed it to the world. “
- “Today, the outlook for the Islamic world is bleaker than ever before….Of all the major religious communities of the world, the Muslims are the poorest, most backward, and least educated, and consequently least prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century. Among the emerging powers in the world, there is not a single Muslim majority state. Along with the US and EU, the destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by countries such as Russia, China, India, and Japan. Where will the Islamic world be?”
- “Who would be the beneficiaries if the Muslims remain backward? The beneficiaries would be the despotic rulers and the tradition-bound clergy. The two would rather keep the populace backward so that they would be easier to control, manipulate, and exploit.”
- “We need a liberal society that thinks rationally and interacts with the rest of the world peacefully. Peaceful protests are possible only where democratic culture is nurtured. Until that happens, violence will be the only language of protest in the Islamic world.”
The author was quite rightly pointed out the problems with the protests. Thank you Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury for your brave article.
At the end of the war, both parties are claiming victory. Europe is saying : “Look, how extremist these Muslims are”, and the Middle East is saying, “Look, how blasphemeous these Westerners are”. End of the day, both have double standards, both are victims of rightists and both are showing lack of tolerance. Only how they express, are different. Will our world be a better place to live on after this event? I am not so hopeful.