Now, this is something I'm proud of. Written less than a year ago, this post holds on:
In September of 2005, the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons making fun of Prophet Mohammed and Islam in general. They are available here. I find it hard to dismiss the publication of these cartoons as freedom of expression and I think the editors knew that the cartoons are very well capable of offending the sensibilities of Muslims. Later, when Muslim organizations in Denmark demanded an apology from the Ministry of Culture, their request was turned down. Danish Imams took the task of spreading the word across the globe and the cartoon row is now a high-decibel news item.
I personally feel that the cartoons are blasphemous and provocative. I have regards for Islam and thier culture. My dad has served in Iraq and he has told me numerous stories of their top class hospitality. When I was a student in the US a few years back, I had a friend from Pakistan who was as cordial as anybody can be. I have spoken to US soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who have good words about the tradition and values in an Islamic world.
I will quote three prominent personalities in the wake of the cartoon issue:
a) Mahmoud Zahar, Leader, Hamas: "We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet, and here we are demonstrating peaceably."
Other than the Danish flag being burnt along with the American and Israeli flags, numerous churches in many Islamic nations were burnt down. Christians have become target in Nigeria, Indonesia and a few other countries. Anything belonging to the western world is an object to be torched down in NW Pakistan, Syria and Lebanon. At least 30 people have died so far in relation with the cartoon crisis. If this is what Zahar addresses as 'peaceably', I don't know what he would mean by violence.
b) Yaqoob Qureishi, Welfare Minister, UP: "Rs 51-crore reward for Danish cartoonist’s head."
It is one thing for radical fundamentalists calling for the beheading of an anti-Islam in a country like, say Afghanistan or Iran. But, in a pluralistic society like India, a minister elected through democratic means putting a price tag on a cartoonist's head is an unequivocal incitement to murder. And there have been no stern warnings from either the state's chief minister or from anyone in the centre.
c) Farid Mortazavi, Editor of an Iranian newspaper: "The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons."
Some of the Egyptian and Gulf newspapers have this hobby: satirize holocaust, christianity and western civilization. This happens regularly and nobody raises a finger about it. (There was a cartoon which showed Hitler in bed with Anne Frank in retaliation). Mortazavi calling for a dozen cartoons making fun of the holocaust is a tit-for-tat act, to say the least and it is exhibits the shameless immaturity of an editor who is responsible for educating his country's citizens through information.
These are just three isolated incidents in the sea of outrageusly exagerrated reactions by Muslim extremists all over the world. Does anybody remember M.F.Hussain's nude portrait of the Hindu godess Saraswati? How many were killed in response to that painting? Zero. Remember Piss Christ, Serrano's crucifix immersed in urine? How violently did the devout Christians react? It probably didn't make it to the Indian media, huh.
I don't mean to say that religious fanatics are the sole property of Islam. There are the RSS and Bajrang Dal for Hinduism. Probably there are low profile agitation groups operating clandestinely for protecting the sanctity of Zionism and Christiantiy. But they are such a minority that they don't dictate terms to the government. But in an Islamic world, it's different: the iron-hand police force of Syria was not able to stop the burning of it's Danish embassy. The hardened military man Musharraf of Pakistan cannot control his country's college students who literally brought all foreign (read Western) businesses to standstill. The Indonesian president is walking a tightrope.
In a manner of speaking, these protesters have justified the cartoons which portrayed prophet Mohamed as a bomb about to go off. The best response would have been a peaceful, non-violent march. If that ever happened anywhere, it's all lost in the extensive fodder thrown to the media by the frenzied mob. If at all they perceive the cartoons as an offense to Islam, I think the sectaraian violence between Sunnis and Shias is a great insult to their Prophet. Why aren't there any demonstrations in Indonesia when Sunnis bomb Shias or viceversa in Iraq or Pakistan?
A peaceful protest is the best means of registering their anger and telling the world that you're willing for a meaningful dialogue for an amicable resolution of the problem. This sort of reaction exhibited so far is a clear signal that they're not ready to take offense and imply that Islam is not a tolerant religion. I believe that only around 10% of the Islamic population are on the streets causing mayhem listening to their senseless radical/extremist leaders like Zahar. And by getting on the streets and burning a McDonald's they're not only alienating themselves from the Western civilization, but more importantly they denigrate the remaining 90% of moderate Muslims who would have magnanimously forgiven the cartoonists and conveyed that the whole episode was in bad taste.
Doyle wrote: "Religion is a vital living thing, still growing and working, capable of endless extension and development, like all other fields of thought." Religion is not a prescription for the mankind through the Gita or the Koran or the Bible. Religion is an ever-evolving guideline for a peaceful life in our short stay. To constrain that guideline to a text written centuries before and insisting on mindlessly obeying it verbatim is not common sense in my opinion. As times change, the universal truths presented in those timeless scriptures take a modified interpretation. And I know very well that a modified interpretation of a scripture in Koran says "treat people belonging to other religions as your brothers and sisters."
-- Originally written on February 21, 2006 for CP.