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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

How Muslims are Caricaturing Ourselves

 

Irshad Manji • 4 February 2006

At the World Economic Forum in January, I observed something revealing. In a session about the U.S. religious right, a cartoonist satirized one of America’s most influential Christian ministers, Pat Robertson. In the audience, chuckling with the rest of us, was a prominent British Muslim. But his smile disappeared the moment we were shown a cartoon that ridiculed Muslim clerics.

Since then, a fierce fight has erupted between the European Union and the Muslim world over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Months ago, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons that showed Islam’s messenger wearing, among other things, a turban-turned-time bomb. Although the paper has apologized, the controversy has metastasized: A Norwegian magazine and French paper recently re-printed the drawings, as have other broadcasters and publications while covering this story.

In response, Muslim rioters torched Scandinavian missions in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Bomb threats have hit the offices of more than one European newspaper. Various Arab countries have recalled their ambassadors from Copenhagen. Chechnya has banned Danish humanitarian workers from its borders. Boycotts of Danish products have swept across supermarkets in the Arab world, and Muslims as far away as India and Indonesia are pouring into the streets to burn Danish flags – which feature the cross, among the holiest of Christian symbols. Early in the furor, thousands of Palestinians shouted “Death to Denmark!” Copenhagen evacuated Danish citizens from the Gaza Strip and sternly warned nationals in the West Bank to get out as well. Muslims themselves are getting pummeled in the riots: four died in Afghanistan alone on February 7. More will perish now that some Scandinavian NGOs are suspending tsunami relief efforts thanks to security problems.

To judge the root problem here, let us first determine how the cartoons became an international incident. Last September, these comics ran beside a story about the hurdles encountered by a Danish author in finding someone – anyone – to illustrate his children’s book about the Prophet. Every artist he approached declined the job out of fear of having to contend with Islamist extremists.

As if on cue, two of the people who produced these drawings received death threats in October 2005. We Muslims love to lecture about the need to assess touchy matters -- such as offensive Koranic verses -- “in context.” The context in which the Muhammad cartoons first appeared suggests that frustration, not malice, was the motive

Regardless, the cartoons met with howls of protest from Danish Muslims. Ten ambassadors of Muslim countries issued a letter demanding that Denmark’s prime minister punish Jyllands-Posten. Apparently, it didn’t occur to them that in a free society, media are generally independent of government. The paper continued to operate. Thus, the controversy continued to simmer.

Then a group of Danish imams took the cartoons to the Middle East. Complaining of press bias, they distributed the drawings – and fabricated a few of their own to ensure that unrest would be sown. One of the extra sketches, for example, portrays the Prophet with a pig’s snout.

All hell soon broke loose. From missionary manipulation, the imams achieved in the Arab world what they couldn’t accomplish from exercising their democratic freedoms in Denmark.

But it’s not just the Danish imams who choreographed this passion play. Arab elites also got in on the game. Why wouldn’t they? Such controversies provide convenient opportunities to channel anger away from daily crimes. No wonder President Lahoud of Lebanon insisted that his country “cannot accept any insult to any religion.” That’s rich. Since the late 1970s, the Lebanese government has licensed Hezbollah-run satellite television station al-Manar, among the most viciously anti-Semitic broadcasters on earth.

Similarly, the Justice Minister of the United Arab Emirates has said that the Danish cartoons represent “cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression.” This from a country that promotes its capital as the “Las Vegas of the Gulf,” yet blocks my website – muslim-refusenik.com -- for being “inconsistent with the moral values” of the UAE. Presumably, my site should be an online casino.

Muslims have little integrity demanding respect for our faith if don’t show it for others. When have we demonstrated against Saudi Arabia’s policy to prevent Christians and Jews from stepping on the soil of Mecca? They may come for rare business trips, but nothing more. As long as Rome welcomes non-Christians and Jerusalem embraces non-Jews, we Muslims have more to protest than these cartoons.

None of this is to dismiss the need to take my religion seriously. Hell, Muslims even take seriously the need to be serious: Islam has a teaching against “excessive laughter.” I’m not joking. But does this mean that we should cry “blasphemy” over less-than-flattering depictions of the Prophet Muhammad? God, no.

For one thing, the Koran itself points out that there will always be non-believers, and that it's for Allah, not Muslims, to deal with them. More than that, the Koran says there is "no compulsion in religion." Which suggests that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as sacred.

Fine, many Muslims will retort, but we’re talking about the Prophet Muhammad – Allah’s final and therefore perfect messenger. However, Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was a human being who made mistakes. It’s precisely because he wasn’t perfect that we know about the so-called Satanic Verses; a collection of passages that the Prophet reportedly included in the Koran. Only later did he realize that those verses glorified heathen idols rather than God. According to Islamic legend, he retracted the idolatrous passages, blaming them on a trick played by Satan.

When Muslims put the Prophet on a pedestal, we’re engaging in idolatry of our own. The point of monotheism is to worship one God, not one of God's emissaries. Which is why humility requires people of faith to mock themselves -- and each other -- every once in a while.

Here’s my attempt: A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah meet at a conference about religion, and afterwards are sitting around discussing their different faiths. The conversation turns to the topic of taboos.

The priest says to the rabbi and the mullah, "You guys can't tell me that you've never eaten pork."

"Never!" intones the rabbi.

"Absolutely not!" insists the mullah.

But the priest is skeptical. "Come on, not even once? Maybe in a fit of rebellion when you were younger?"

"Okay," confesses the rabbi. "When I was young, I once nibbled on bacon."

"I admit it," the mullah laughs (not excessively). "In a fit of youthful arrogance, I sampled a pork chop."

Then the conversation turns to the priest's religious observances. "You can't tell me you've never had sex," says the mullah.

"Of course not!" the priest protests. "I took a vow of chastity."

The mullah and the rabbi roll their eyes. "Maybe after a few drinks?" the rabbi teases.

"Perhaps, in a moment of temptation, your faith waned?" the mullah wonders.

"Okay," the priest confesses. "Once, when I was drunk in seminary school, I had sexual relations with a woman."

"Beats pork, huh?" say the rabbi and the mullah.

Clearly, I’m as impure a feminist as I am a Muslim. The difference is, offended feminists won’t threaten to kill me. The same can’t be said for many of my fellow Muslims.

What part of "no compulsion" don't they understand?

 

 

First published in The Wall Street Journal and Muslim-Refusenik

Republished with permission from the author.


 

 

 


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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

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Index: Current Articles



19 March 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Profile: Irshad Manji
Anthony McIntyre

How Muslims are Caricaturing Ourselves
Irshad Manji

The Clash of the Uncivilized
Imam Zaid Shakir

Misunderstandings Abound
Mick Hall

A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Malachi O'Doherty

Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Liam Clarke

Gerry Peacemaker
John Kennedy

Surrendered
John Kennedy

Closer to Home
Anthony McIntyre

Drawing a Line Under the Past
David Adams

It's Our Easter, Too, You Know
Dr John Coulter

'The Way Ireland Ought to Be'
Michael Gilliespie

Former Hunger Striker leads 1981 Commemoration March in St. Pat's Day Parade
Deirdre Fennessy

Corn Beef & Lunatics
Fred A. Wilcox

The Letters page has been updated:

New Convert

Cartoons

About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons

Well Done

A Muslim's Response

Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

Freedom of Speech index


12 March 2006

Profile: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Anthony McIntyre

The Right to Offend
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Spool of Threads
Marc Kerr

Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
Mick Hall

Anti-Racism Network Urges Website Not to Publish Racist-Cartoons
ARN Press Release

Fires of Hate
Anthony McIntyre

All is Far From Lost After Riots
David Adams

Who's A Nazi?
Dr John Coulter

'Screamingly Funny in its Absurdity'
Liam O Ruairc

The Letters page has been updated:

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet

Christ Collage

An Eye for An Eye

Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid

There Are No Sides to Peace

Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

 

 

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