February 7, 2006

Cartoons Depiction of Prophet Muhammad

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006   No comments

Muslims condemn cartoon-sparked violence


February 7, 2006
Offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad tempt outrage, Iowa Muslims said Monday, but the religious leaders condemned the violence that continued Monday in protests around the world... Read full story on Des Moines Register


Transcripts of the Question and answer session:

1) You think this [violent rioting] is an appropriate response to the cartoons?

A. Personally, I don’t think that this is an appropriate response to the cartoons; but that is the opinion of person like myself aware and informed of the values that make democracy works especially freedom of speech and freedom of expression. So my judgment hardly reflects the way the issue is perceived in the Muslim world.

The more important question is whether Muslims in the Muslim world see this response as appropriate. In order to understand that, one must know what Muslims see in the message communicated by those drawings.

The second important question is if these cartoons and methods are a case of free speech that ought to be protected; then what will be the reaction if negative and hate-inciting drawing depicting the West, Christians, and Jews start to emerge in the Muslim world? Would not that be a race for filthy dialogue and counter productive to understanding and mutual respect?

2) Why it's so offensive?

A. First, for Sunni Muslims, any rendition of the Prophets in image forms is highly undesired and for some it is prohibited for theological reasons. But I don’t think that is the real reason behind this situation because not all Muslims are against the depiction of the Prophet in the form of paintings or other forms of images. In fact Shi`ite Muslims are known to have produced images of him on paper and on coins for centuries. Although the media has been saying that this is the reason for the “outrage”, I personally doubt that this is the case.

What is at issue here is that the cartoons communicated the idea that Muslims are violent because the Prophet Muhammad himself was one (consider the message of the depiction of Prophet Muhammad wearing a Bomb for a turban). In other words, the message is that Islam is inherently violent since its founder is someone who taught violence. Such a message does not distinguish between the various facets of Islam, a religion that is so diverse to be stereotyped by reductionist cartoons like the ones published.

3) You think this whole situation is just creating more "bad press" for Muslims, or whether the violence is justified?

A. I am more concerned with its impact on radicalizing many new Muslims. “Radical Islam”, to use the words of President Bush, aims at portraying the current conflict as a “clash of civilization” and as “Western assault” on Islam. The portrayal of the founder of Islam the way he was portrayed by these cartoons is reinforcing that line of thinking and giving force to the project of dividing the world along religious fault lines. In other words, I see the whole situation as a real test for Westerners' commitment to diversity and Muslims' commitment to civility.

4) Whether you think it's right that the majority of American news outlets are not showing or printing these cartoons.

A. That is a very interesting question that you, as a news outlet, need to answer for us. What stopped the US and some European media from re-printing the cartoons? If freedom of press and freedom of speech are inviolable rights in civil and democratic societies; then why did the US media cower in the face of what may happen? Interestingly enough, the same question was addressed yesterday by an influential Muslim scholar from Lebanon (see news report on the Arabic al-Jazeera on the statements by S. H. Fadlallah) who suggested that the US government broke national and international laws and blocked certain news outlets from covering war stories. Muslims are aware that the US administration pressured the NY Times to withhold the publication of news stories (like the NSA spying program) for over a year, and asked al-Jazeera to stop showing pictures that are “not helpful to the coalition’s efforts.” In other words, the Muslim street sees that there are at least limits to freedom of the press in these instances, and in their view, they see the depiction of their Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist as one of these off-limit stories.

If there are limits to freedom of expression and freedom of press, then the issue should be framed like so: the publishing of the cartoons is stereotyping Muslims and Islam and encourages hate and bigotry. Be as it may, should such discourse be allowed? On the other hand, if the freedom of the press has no limits, then the press is still under the obligation to explain why they withhold certain information from the public. This situation is reminding everyone of the values that ought to be protected. The press is reminded of their duties and responsibilities and Muslims are reminded of their need to respect freedom of expression and work towards establishing the rule of law.

5) Why haven't there been open, public demonstrations among Muslims in the
U.S., and how might this situation play out in the coming weeks?

A. Only recently have the US media and the world media for that matter began to cover the story although it has been simmering in the Muslim world since September of last year (2005). Then, about 11 government representatives of Muslim countries wanted to meet with the Danish PM to discuss the issue. The Arab media reported that he refused to meet with them. Then when the cartoons were published again, the story came to the forefront again. The demonstrations were limited because it was seen as a matter between the Danish and some Muslim countries only (mainly Saudi Arabia and Denmark). With the republishing of the cartoons, the situation took a different course. American Muslims did not demonstrate because until now they do not see it as global divisive issue and the reluctance of the US media to re-print helped keep this issue in perspective. They do not see it as “a clash of civilization”; rather a “clash of ignorance” to quote the late Edward Said of Columbia University.


About Prof. SOUAIAIA

Islamic Societies Review Editors

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