Arab World's Cartoon Intifada

I’ve mused a lot about this issue, hence my delay in commenting.

Would you believe it? The British press have been priding themselves on not having stooped to the politics of gesture in reproducing the “offensive” cartoons that have upset the Islamic world, adding that they will not create further antagonism and protests witnessed elsewhere in Europe. Many have re-affirmed their belief in the freedom of expression but not the right to gratuitously offend. Fair dos, but what a shame many of these newspapers don’t take the same moral standpoint when it comes to Britain invading other countries, or in urging us to vote for their favourite pro-capitalist political party at election time Indeed, my local newspaper was all for the bloody invasion of Iraq, continually binning the letters I sent to the letters page protesting about that invasion and the lame excuses for it.

It took the Guardian’s editorial of Saturday, February 4th, to alert me to the fact that there are double standards here, that the Arab press regularly rips the piss out of Judaism via their cartoons. Indeed. On 7th February, the Guardian ran a front page story entitled “Iran paper to run Holocaust cartoons”. In a nutshell, Iran’s best selling paper, the right-wing Hamshahri daily announced it was running a competition to find the cartoons that best satirised the holocaust. They needn’t have gone to so much bother – they could simply have phoned up the headquarters of the holocaust-denying BNP.

In a similar vein, the Arab European League (link above) reported:

"Starting from today AEL will systematically publish daring cartoons produced by our own AEL cartoonist "Nabucho" and breaking many taboos in Europe.”After the lectures that Arabs and Muslims received from Europeans on Freedom of Speech and on Tolerance. And after that many European newspapers republished the Danish cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed. AEL decided to enter the cartoon business and to use our right to artistic expression.

“Just like the newspapers in Europe claim that they only want to defend the freedom of speech and do not desire to stigmatise Muslims, we also do stress that our cartoons are not meant as an offence to anybody and ought not to be taken as a statement against any group, community or historical fact.

“If it is the time to break Taboos and cross all the red lines, we certainly do not want to stay behind.”

And with that they produced cartoons that Jews would find offensive (inclusive of the one copied above).

Whoaaaaaa, hold on a second – it’s not Israel that is publishing the damned cartoons. It is the press in West European countries. So why the pop at Judaism? Maybe because it is widely accepted that westerners have little respect for Christianity and that the Monty Python team (who produced the brilliant Life of Brian) are a hard act to follow; that the average western newspaper reader would not have screamed blue murder upon seeing a Jesus cartoon, but rather fell of their chairs with laughter, Neither does the ‘Christian world’ afford its religious preachers as much respect as Moslem countries do their faith’s counterparts – I refer you to Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack Hackett. But Judaism has had a difficult recent past, its adherents have had a lot of real grief and many are still alive who survived the Nazi concentration camps. Moreover, Judaism has quite a small following – attracting a tiny fraction of the support Islam enjoys - so I guess Judaism, with its raw nerves, is fair game. And Israel is the only Middle Eastern US satellite, so this also cocks a snook at Bush.

Radical Muslims have argued that the Koran forbids images of the prophet Mohammed, which is in fact untrue. The real sticking point is that the offensive cartoons portray Mohammed as a terrorist and Islam as a violent religion, and this pisses a lot of Moslems off. The majority of Moslems lead peaceful lives and go to great lengths to avoid conflict. The more fundamentalist, radical followers of Islam play straight into the hands of their religion’s detractors by responding so violently to affronts to Islam, more or less vindicating cartoon depictions of Islam as a violent belief system. Who offends the Islamic faith the most, I wonder? - some crappy cartoonist, whose cartoon will be forgotten about in a few days, or a follower of Islam who blows himself up, along with another 20 Moslems (it happens every day in Iraq) and in the name of Allah? Who is guilty of the greatest affront to Islam – the newspaper editor who approves a competition to find the best Mohammed cartoon or the religious leader whom tells his followers that the mass murder of infidels gets you a one way ticket to paradise and the chance to bonk 72 virgins?

And is Islam so unstable, so weak and fragile that it is capable of being shattered into a million pieces by a dozen crap cartoons (and they are crap, but one for which is humorous, if not hackneyed)? No, it is a growing religion with over a billion followers. So I really don’t see what the palaver is about. And the argument that those cartoons demonise and ridicule Moslems is as silly as the view that they spread religious hatred. For one thing, the West lost its respect for religion around about the time of the Enlightenment. Maybe that is what Islam needs – its own version of the Enlightenment and philosophes prepared to write “man will not be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails o the last priest” (Diderot).

What I find ridiculous is the over reaction of Islam’s more fervent followers, demanding the editors and cartoonist are beheaded. If they were that fervent in their belief then they would be satisfied that these evil-doers would be getting their comeuppance in the afterlife. If they believed sincerely in the religion they would see it as being so strong, so unstoppable, so right as to withstand the sarcasm and bitter remarks of a billion infidel cartoonists.

I’m a Marxist, a revolutionary socialist and a lot of my time is given over to the “cause”. If some newspaper ran a series of cartoons about Marx and Engels, say one portraying Marx with a Kalashnikov and another with Engels with his dick in a chicken I’d probably have a bloody good chortle and send a letter to that newspaper logically debunking the suggestion Marx was a violent insurrectionary. I’d even photocopy those cartoons and give them to comrades so they too could have a good guffaw. The last thing I’d think about is looking for bloody revenge and demand a war be waged against those who take the pis out of Marx.

Christ, If only wars were fought with cartoons, instead of weapons and the only thing spilled was ink instead of blood? Now there’s a thought. I’d have Steve Bell on my side.

Harry's Place also reports on the cartoon above and has attracted a fair few comments (now that's what I call a popular blog).

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