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(en) Ireland, WSM* Workers Solidarity #91 - Cartoons and Caricatures by Jack White

Date Thu, 13 Apr 2006 10:04:11 +0300

By now we are all familiar with the cartoons commissioned and published
by the Danish magazine Jllands ­ Posten which aroused such anger in the Muslim
world and in Muslim communities worldwide.
Published at a time when Denmark is in the process of a debate over immigration the
reaction to the cartoons seemed to exemplify the so called `clash of
Civilisations' between Islam and the West. In the red corner: a European
magazine standing in the tradition of the Enlightenment and defending
the right to free speech. And in the blue corner: backward superstitious
Muslims, the beheaders of hostages and the oppressors of women. As
the debate spread things seemed to become even more polarised.
Dick Cheney took the opportunity
to remind us of the dangers of
Islamo-fascism, European consulates
and embassies were attacked in the
Middle East and radical Islamists took to the
streets of London calling for non believers to
be executed.
However just as the cartoons simplified and
obscured the reality of Muslim attitudes, the
media coverage caricatured and simplified
the debate. The real world was much less
black and white then the media portrayal.
Jllands-Posten was eventually revealed not to
be a brave defier of censorship but a source
of anti immigrant rhetoric, whose owner
had campaigned for Muslims to be expelled
from Denmark and who had, in 2003, refused
to publish cartoons depicting Christ on
the grounds that they were offensive! The
`defenders of free speech' in Ireland ­ people
like Kevin Myers and a collection of hacks from
the Sunday Independent turned out to have
no sense of either irony, history or their own
hypocrisy. These same people were often the
loudest and most strident supporters of the anti
republican Section 31 censorship when it was
in force in Ireland. They are also the most vocal
cheerleaders of the various wars in Afghanistan,
Iraq and potentially Iran... curious eh?
On the other side it emerged that hardline
Danish imams had toured the cartoons around
the Muslim world for months, and even added
their own! They were welcomed by the religious
right and Muslim governments. Undemocratic
states in the Middle East used and encouraged
the protests in an attempt to legitimise their
dictatorial power. Questions began to be asked
about how demonstrators managed to set fire
to embassies in countries like Syria where anti
government protestors are regularly arrested,
tortured and `disappeared'. In a move which
reminded us of `freedom fries' the Iranian
president declared that `Danish pastries'
were to be renamed `flowers of Mohammad'.
Possibly he hoped that this shallow populist
gesture would distract from the fact that his
government was at that time engaged in a
ferocious crackdown on striking bus drivers in
Teheran. Setting up an illegal independent trade
union and defying the paramilitary police
oppression the struggle by the bus workers
of Teheran shows that the Muslim world
is not some homogenous block but that it
does in fact contain a diversity of views.
Not all the protests were orchestrated
or whipped up by the religious right or
state tyrants. The cartoons were racist
and offensive ­ they stereotyped Muslims
(and especially Arabs) as suicide bombers
and lunatics. In the context of the `war
on terror' and the debates in Europe over
Islam and immigration it's not surprising
that a community under attack took
offence to something which would have
been better ignored.
However we should also be clear that religious
ideas, like any others, are fair game for critique,
criticism and attack. In Ireland we have fought
and are still fighting against the religious right
for basic freedoms such as divorce, birth
control, the acceptance of homosexuality and
the provision of abortion. These are things we
demand, and it doesn't matter whether or not
they conflict with anyone's religious beliefs.

From Workers Solidarity 91, March/April 2006
PDF file online at http://www.struggle.ws/pdfs/ws/
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