The Danish Cartoons
In the light of the latest row over the publications of the cartoons aimed at lampooning the Messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, I am writing to express the views of the Australian Muslim community in this issue.
Clearly, publishing these cartoons was not only uncalled for but was also extremely offensive and deeply hurtful to Muslims around the world. Muslims hold abundant love and great respect for all the Prophets and Messengers of God. This falls within the core of the creed of Muslims. Bearing this in mind, one should not consider the outrage of Muslims as an overreaction nor as a politically motivated reaction.
It was evident that some sections of the media as well as some politicians have played down the effects of depicting the Prophet of Islam, who God characterized as a “blessing to all creations”, as a terrorist. It was more disappointing to learn that these journalists and politicians have also shifted the focus of this dilemma form being religious to being political when they associated the outrage of Muslims to a hidden political agenda.
If we look back at the history of Europe, we see that it used to punish those who belittled religious icons. Until recently, all but two countries, France and Belgium, had laws to stop any attack on the Christian religious symbols. However, these laws are no longer implemented in these countries except in Greece because the Greeks are still more attached to their belief than the rest of the Europeans who are secular in their majority.
For instance, in 1986 West Germany tried to punish convicted atheist writers who attempted to lampoon Jesus, after the Catholic Church lodged a complaint against them, but did not carry out the sentence deciding that it was imposed according to an old legislation which applied to the Middle Ages and did not apply to the modern centuries. In 1838, England legislated a set of laws aimed at punishing those who ridicule the Christian icons in order to prevent the attack on the Anglican Church which was anticipated due to the industrial revolution and the widespread of philosophical ideas that lead to a rise in atheism in society.
In 1922, John William Got was convicted and sentenced to nine months hard labour for likening Jesus to a comedian and a clown. This proves that laws against attacking religious icons were effective in England even until the beginning of the 20th century. Nevertheless during previous centuries, such person would have been convicted and sentenced to death or to have his tongue cut out as was the case of the Philosopher Jordano Breno who was killed in 1600 for denying the virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Later such convictions were reduced to a prison sentence or monetary fines. Such sentences still apply nowadays as with the case of the British historian David Irving,..who was sentenced last week to three year imprisonment for denying the holocaust .
In 1988, the radical Catholics burnt a cinema in St. Michel Street in Paris after rallying in protest for showing a movie titled “The Last Temptations of Jesus”, directed by the American Martin Scorsizy. Only ten people sustained mild injuries, because only very few people were at the movies at that time. In addition, the hardliners were calling upon people to damage the chairs of the cinema and the right wing extremist lead by Jean Mari le pan threatened to destroy the reel where this film was stored on to stop it from being shown again.
One might ask why did those hardliners burn the cinema? The answer is because they were angered by the fact that the film raised serious doubts about the Christian belief by implying that Jesus was just another ordinary human being. This film was supposed to be shown in 17 cinemas but because of the threats they received, only two cinemas decided to show it and one of them was burnt down.
It is true that there were no massive rallies or attacks on any Embassies as there were in Beirut, Damascus and other places in the Middle East, but the threats that were made during those times were comparatively just as serious.
While we all denounce the violent reactions displayed by a few angry crowds, we are steadfast in informing the rest of the world that ridiculing the Messenger of God, Muhammad or any of the other Messengers and Prophets, is an intolerable act which only serves the purpose of widening the gap between Muslims and non Muslims.
The sequence of events that lead to the angry protests of the Muslims and that should have been prevented began with the initial publication of the cartoons by Jollands Posten newspaper. Consequently and understandably, the Danish Muslims approached the newspaper expressing their objections and explaining the offensive nature of the cartoons, because ridiculing their most loved Prophet is intolerable to Muslims. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears. They then took their grievances to the Arab Ambassadors who requested to meet the Danish Prime Minister to ask for his help. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister refused to meet with them. They then felt compelled to take their grievances internationally within the Arab world hoping for the intercession of its leaders in resolving this issue.
Meanwhile, hearing about the outrage in the Islamic world and being insensitive to the feeling of the Muslims, a Norwegian Evangelical newspaper Magazinet reprinted the hurtful cartoons. Later and in what was considered as an act of defiance, other Europeans Newspapers republished the same cartoons. This was widely rejected by Muslims and Non-Muslims around the world including the United Nations’s Secretary General Kofi Anan who regarded it as “….a deliberate provocation and insult to Muslims aimed at inciting hatred in the name of free speech.”
Depicting the Prophet of Islam as a terrorist implies that all Muslims are terrorists. This is of course, untrue, unfair, and unacceptable. Insulting over a billion Muslims should not be tolerated neither defended under the banner of free speech. In fact, free speech does not exist in media since the editor has the finale authority to choose what is to be or not to be printed. Therefore, one can deduce that free speech does have limitations in the media & in my opinion these limitations should apply in situations where the published material is insulting to an individual, a group of people or a whole community.
Finally, this is not about, what many may mistakenly think, Muslims are dictating the media in what it can or cannot print. Rather, this is about the right of Muslims to be treated fairly and respectfully as other groups are, in order to have a more fair and peaceful world.