The Cartoon Wars
February 08, 2006
On 30 September 2005, a previously (internationally) unheard of Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten suddenly gained global publicity and became the subject of much controversy when it published 12 satirical cartoons which, as we have clearly seen, would provoke the fury and anger of an entire civilisation. The publication depicted Islam’s Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) as a “terrorist”, thereby constituting a blatant contradiction to Islamic Law, which strictly prohibits the personification of any prophet, let alone in a distorted and negative manner.
What added more volatility to an already explosive issue was the recent republication of these offensive cartoons, which first reappeared in January 2006 in a Norwegian weekly called Magnizet, and then in various European newspapers over the past week or so, including in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the Republic of Ireland.
While the sensitivities provoked by these publications in the Arab and Moslem world are unquestionably legitimate, the means and methods used by demonstrators to voice their protest have fallen short of any acceptable standard of political expression. On the contrary, they have escalated the situation into a diplomatic crisis, with religious, political, and cultural implications.
In addition to several peaceful demonstrations, the wave of protest across the Middle East and parts of Asia have included the torching of the Danish embassies in both Damascus and Beirut, the torching of the Norwegian embassy in Beirut, the brief abduction of one German national and one Polish national in the occupied Palestinian territories, the attacks against, and closure of, EU offices in Gaza city, and the repeated threats against foreign nationals across the region. Equally alarming is the recent loss of human life during these demonstrations; a total of nine people have been killed so far during anti-Danish clashes (8 in Afghanistan and 1 in Somalia).
On the other hand, the provocation caused by these publications must also be addressed and reversed; unfortunately, despite the formal apologies issued by the Danish newspaper and the Danish Prime Minister, hence the clear attempt by the concerned parties to restore calm, several media outlets have continued to reprint the infamous cartoons as a way of reasserting their right to “freedom of expression.” Such legitimate, yet needlessly provocative, measures can only lead to the further escalation of this conflict and will ultimately fuel the anger of the Arab and Moslem masses and take it to new levels.
Freedom of opinion and the right to free speech are deeply enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however these rights must be carried with reason, conscience, and shall be implemented in a spirit of brotherhood (the same set of standards which are widely applicable to any portrayal of the suffering of holocaust victims). Furthermore, the offensive nature of the cartoons and the ill informed messages they carry do not meet the minimal standards of journalistic integrity and professionalism.
Finally, a word of caution must be said: while the cartoons in themselves underlined the immediate causes of the current crisis (the spark that unleashed hell), its underlying causes are rooted deeper within much of the Arab and Moslem world.
The momentum and intensity of the protest reflect years, even decades, of frustration with western policies, particularly by the US, against the Arab and Moslem world. From brutal military assaults against innocent civilians, to unlawful collective punishment, to illegal imprisonment without trial, to double standards and short-sightedness in dealing with complex situations in the region (the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), major western powers have created grave hostilities within most of the region, particularly by the popular masses and the underprivileged. The so called “war on terrorism” has been lost; its architects have failed.
Would these mass protests have been as equally rogue and violent before the US carpet bombing of Afghan refugee camps following 9/11, before the deceptive US war against Iraq, under the false pretext of eradicating Saddam’s WMDs, or before the notorious horrors of Abu Ghreib prison in Baghdad, among other atrocities committed in the name of “democracy” during the past 4 or 5 years?