I've been watching the cartoon tamasha for several days now, and not blogging about it because I was afraid to.
I was tempted to say a lot of things - to say that this was just the sort of reaction that would confirm the stereotype about the 'Islamic world'... that muslims were already isolated enough as a group - and just look at that term 'Islamic world'! As if muslims occupied another planet. As if this earth, this society wasn't theirs.
To say that, for God's sake, don't be reactionary. Don't stamp around and get worked up so much that your kids go blowing themselves up. Don't go burning embassies, or next thing you know, another country will get invaded. Spare your fellow-muslims the 'fundamentalist' tag.
I was also tempted to not say anything and pretend it had nothing to do with me. Because I do not subscribe to the view that Mohammad, or any other prophet (or God or Goddess, even if they are depicted nude - should not be drawn or painted or sculted or whatever. In fact, if anyone did a brilliant nude sketch of Mohammad, I'd buy it... that my personal faith tells me, even Mohammad would buy it!)
But then, I am not of the view that religion is a given.
Rules can and should change. Books - even if they come fluttering down from the heavens, page after sacred page - can and should change. Islam is not given to me. OR to you. It is ours to keep, to change, to mould, to metaphorose into and out of, to make it personal, to reject what we think is false, as strongly and as unhesitatingly as we reject 'false gods' (whatever they be).
So, I took two long weeks to take a look at the offending cartoons.
I found them... tasteless. Not offensive, no... after all, something can only be offensive if you allow yourself to get offended. But something can be in poor taste.
And I'm not just refering to the moral/social aspect of taste. After all, a cartoon is meant to be funny. A cartoon is meant to raise laughs. What, I ask, is funny, in this? Or this?
A cartoon in a newspaper is meant to be something else too - apart from humour, it is supposed to say something about our world, our times. It can take a dig at the rich, famous, powerful, popular, or anybody who's in the news for the wrong reasons.
I am just very curious about why this editors of the Danish newspaper thought it important to test 'free speech/expression' through Mohammad. He is one religious figure - one of many. But it very very rare for any publication anywhere to depict religious figures as terrorists, even in a mock-serious vein.
I am not about to say idiotic things like 'why didn't they try Jesus or Moses cartoons and we'd see how many people laughed.' ... It makes no sense to say such things, because what's done is done, and it would be disastrous to publish more tasteless - and possibly incendiary - cartoons, just to make things equal.
But I would like to know why the newspapers editors picked Mohammad. What was going on in their heads? Were they trying to prove a point? To whom? To the 'Islamic world'? What did they expect - roses on Valentine's Day?
And if the intent was merely to shake things up a little, shake people up, generate some debate around freedom of speech and expression, why didn't they do a little research and find out how free speech had been throttled in various countries - both east and west, developed and developing? They'd have had many other figures to lampoon, and could at least have saved themselves the ugly tag of 'racist' or 'communal', which is a term the Indian subcontinent is only too familiar with.
To those who're protesting themselves hoarse around the world, I'd like to tell them a little story my mom told me when I was little:
Mohammad was not universally loved when he was alive; not even by the Arabs. Where he lived, he was often abused and threatened. There was one woman, in particular, who hated him and took great joy in insulting him on a daily basis. Whenever he walked past, she would bring the garbage can to the balcony and would empty the contents on Mohammad's head.
Mohammad would say nothing. No shouting. No abuse in kind. AND he continued to take the same route everyday.
One day, the woman did not show up to thrown garbage. Nor the next day. Nor the next.
Mohammad began to worry.
So one day, he climbed the stairs and knocked on the door of the house. Then he asked, 'You didn't throw garbage on my head today, so I thought I'd come and ask if everything was alright... is your health fine?'
As it turned out, the lady had indeed been sick. And as it turned out, again, the lady was won over in a way that no amount of screaming and shouting would have achieved. Needless to add, the garbage-assaults stopped.
I don't know if the story is true. I don't particularly want to know. For me, what is important is that I have been shown a way - an example has been set. You can either do as the prophets did, live as they lived, or you can scream and burn and beat your breasts because somebody else is being stupid.
[This is an interesting article citing the position some journalists in muslim-dominated nations have taken.]