When a cartoon is an opinion
Lampooning of Mohammad is an attack -- at worst -- on sensibilities and faith, not color or race
February 15, 2006
I remember all those years ago when I was at my Alma Mater and one day one of my very silly tutors inquired if I could sell him a carpet. This strange request was predicated on the view that being an Iranian I have a natural calling to sell carpets!!! Earlier that day when he had found out that I was Iranian he had ranted that I should behave myself while staying in the UK 'or else'.
When one is confronted by this sheer act of ignorant and hurtful rudeness one may follow one's instincts and either retort in kind or land a killer blow on the interlocutors chin. Tempting as it was in the heat of the moment I did neither; I knew that this was his problem and not mine, I rose above it all. Neither did I allow this and other pathetic statements embitter me so much as to land me with a chip on my shoulder.
In this cruel equation where the variables are irreconcilably stacked against you; you can not win in this situation. On the one hand you are a fugitive from the mindless religious fascism that has robbed you of your most basic human rights; on the other hand you have taken sanctuary in another country which -- though benign and compassionate -- nevertheless is oblivious to your plight.
You remind yourself of the relatively better fortune visited on your house than your hapless compatriots whose lives and limb have been broken by this cruel turn of fate. You are here by the grace of your host country, and warts and all; you have to accept the natives the way they are. He is none the wiser about the fact that the person he pillories is himself a victim of the vile regime his stereotypes have been formed by. It is this tragedy of exile and hazard of existence that one can not win against. In the end you lick your wounds and move on. Have we not made equally risible statements about our own ethnic minorities in Iran?
It is with this formative experience in mind that I was reading the Politically Correct diatribe of Dr Ghamari [See: When a cartoon is not a cartoon] the other day on the Danish Cartoons debacle. Layer after layer of Third-Worldist clichés dressed up in a pseudo-intellectual deliberation with some iffy recourse to precedence which was not appropriate to support any argument what so ever.
The good Doctor expresses skepticism on the obvious concerns regarding threats to freedom of speech when he says:
'While most pundits have tried to sell the case as a high-minded defense of free expression, I don't buy it! At what point does an expression transgress the boundaries of decency and become hate-speech, and therefore not protected by laws or basic principles of freedom? '
To support his arguments further he furnishes us with apparent analogies with the case of the Jews who protested against the lampooning of their race by hateful journalists. They were able to prove the anti-Semitic nature of the reproduction of the short-sighted paper and secure an apology from them, he says and I quote:
'I have no doubt that no one would think twice about suppressing reprints of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda in American or European papers. Indeed, in June 2003, responding to pressures from several prominent Jewish groups, the Chicago Tribune issued an official apology for printing an offensive cartoon by Dick Locher'.
He also reminds us of the equally foolish actions of Ted Danson when he:
'appeared in black face at a Friars Club roast of the actress Whoppi Goldberg, there was an outcry in the black community about his insensitivity to the history of black oppression and how minstrel acts intended to dehumanize blacks. The Friars Club apologized and Danson suffered career setbacks for his poor judgment'.
The university don reassures us that:
'Western societies typically uphold the belief that expressions which incite violence and are generally regarded as demagogic, should not enjoy legal and political protection'.
There is absolutely no point telling this doctor that you may see a parallel between the Mohammad cartoons and racial stereotyping of Blacks and Jews but these parallels are at best superficial and at worst misguided. The act of black Minstrels are an expression of generalization based upon skin color, literally. The hooked nose Sharon who is enticed to make peace with Arafat by financial sweeteners from Bush is the invocation of an old typecasting of Jews not so much as a fate (the word Jew here is misleading) but as a race of people with a peculiar form of behavior. Lampooning of Mohammad is an attack -- at worst -- on sensibilities and faith not color or race.
Nazi inspired depictions hark back to an époque when a mindless act of genocide against an innocent race of people was conducted. You bet it is hate filled and must prompt an apology by the short-sighted paper in question who unwittingly published it. It is not a faith, a value-based system of thinking or opinion that is being criticized but the propagation of a message of hate by an insidious ideology designed to propagate that bigotry.
Would the doctor agree that equally hurtful depictions of Jesus and Moses have happened before in the media? Would the doctor agree that potentially hurtful depictions of Buddha have also happened on the same forums? Why is there not an equal cry from our high minded professor to acknowledge the debatable dissemination that can 'transgress the boundaries of decency', in these cases?
We are urged by the good Doctor to act responsibly and with caution in face of this generalization:
'Those in Europe who think that they need to fight a battle for free speech and freedom of religion need to think harder and more reflexively about whose war they are fighting and who their enemies are. A bomb-turbaned Prophet turns all Muslims into terrorists. One must be free to satirize suicide bombers or terrorists of any persuasion. But lampooning Islam as inherently intolerant and Muslims as terrorist is neither wise nor commendable'.
Is the doctor absolutely sure that irreverent depictions of the Prophet Muhammad is a territory only ventured upon by intolerant Europeans living in a 'postcolonial world that has not yet come to terms with its own past'? To some acute recollection Salman Rushdie was one of those British Muslims of Indian ethnicity who was a stern critic of what he saw as an inherently racist British society. His depiction of the Prophet raised the ire of the Muslim fundamentalists and 'moderate' Muslims alike. Surely the good Doctor must also see that the prophet has been the subject of lampooning by people who have been just as opposed to colonialism as they have been for the securing of minority rights.
And what about those nominal Muslims like myself who see themselves as Iranian -- or for that matter Bosnian, Turkish, Lebanese -- but do not see the Prophet Muhammad as representing us? I certainly do not see myself as being turned into a terrorist. In fact for an increasing number of Muslim born Iranians, given our distinct regret for having seen our country over run by Mohammedans, we are rather aggrieved to see the man's undeserved halo (now worn by Ahmadinejad) knocked off some what.
By way of a tangent: in our own country Iran, Dr Kasravi vehemently and courageously attacked the Shiite practices. This was something that at its time could and was regarded as offensive to ALL Shiites. If any thing spurned him on to write his polemic against Shiite regression it was Iran's inherent backwardness and subsequent vulnerability to colonial mischief. If Kasravi had listened to Dr. Ghamari he would have eschewed all criticisms of religious ignorance because so many sensibilities would have been assaulted.
Secondly when the good doctor insists: 'Western societies typically uphold the belief that expressions which incite violence ... should not enjoy legal and political protection' who is he accusing of inciting violence? Let us be clear what is happening, a second rate Danish paper with a second rate cartoon has lampooned the prophet and it has caused the anger of Fundamentalist Muslims who have not only burned the Danish flag but also threatened to export 7/7 to Denmark.
Though not quite apparent to our University genius, to the rest of the cowed population of Europe there is no doubt who the real thugs are!!! There is equally no doubt who the real demagogues are. Let us call a spade a spade, let us tell it like it is, let us not get confused and over-intellectual over some pretty stark and palpable realities. Let us not try to find some dodgy analogy and off load our own collective responsibilities towards societies we live in.
The good doctor must hold audience with his conscience and answer some pretty disturbing questions that will jolt him: is Muslim sensibility beyond all criticism? Why is it that former colonized countries in the Far East can emerge from the doldrums and catch up with the West in a historically short period of time but Muslims stagnate in an abject cycle of regression and reaction? Why is it that Israel turns into the convenient scapegoat of almost every single Muslim and particularly Arab -- and now regrettably with the Islamic Republic -- Iranian failing?
When are the Muslims going to rise above it all and stop the pathetic excuse after pathetic excuse for their constant failure and put their own house in order? When will they recognize that stoning women, honor killings, limb amputation, female circumcision, child marriage, flogging, revolving around the Ka'ba and throwing stones at the effigy of the devil are acts of dire stupidity and abject ritualistic ignorance?
Will the good doctor acknowledge that you do not contribute to a society by emigrating to it and use the rights to social welfare and protection and yet after living in those communities for some 30 years you should at least make an effort to learn the language of that country. This is something that many in this country do not do. These are the things that provoke demagogic stereotyping and prejudice on the part of the indigenous population and cause friction between communities.
To add insult to injury the politically correct lobby would jump at any politician's throat that dares voice these concerns as being racist and bigoted. The same lobby and contrary to our doctor's imaginings has widespread legal backing with some pretty powerful organizations like the committee for Racial Equality.
Make no mistakes our freedoms are not just under assault by the Muslim Fundamentalists but by the politically Correct lobby that has chosen to reduce all sensitive debate to the level of taboo and stifle our freedoms. Some one week before this article was written (today being 9th February 2006) the Blair government (a government run by PC and mindlessly guided by it) tried to introduce a religious Hatred bill banning the sort of thing that Dr Ghamarri wants to see banned. The bill was defeated in the House of Commons.
Ironically the people who stood against this bill were the government's own back benchers who are otherwise pretty right-on concerning matters related to minority rights. Outside the parliament there was widespread anger at this bill and again even more ironically by religious Afro-Carribeans (amongst a coalition of others) holding placards against this obvious intrusion into our Civil Rights. See: BBC: Protest over religious hate Bill, BBC: Ministers lose religious bill bid
Will the good doctor at least acknowledge that responsibility is something that Muslim are equally duty bound to exercise. How responsible is it that every time there is an act of carnage conducted by the Fundamentalists in the Western countries (such as 7/7 or 9/11 or Madrid) the silent majority in the Muslim community say nothing but they are ever so vocal when some injustice (real or imaginary) is committed against Muslims in Iraq or Israel? Why are 'moderate Muslim voices' drowned out? Will that not drive public opinion in the West against Muslim immigrants and help the hate mongering Nazi groups grow politically when mainstream politicians are cowed by PC?
The Muslim communities have a lot of soul searching to carry out; nothing is scared as our forum has reminded us. One ounce of self questioning and humility, one ounce of honesty with oneself and open-mindedness, one iota of self-appraisal. That is all that is being asked. Instead of always being on guard to snipe at any one or any thing that assaults our sensibilities; let us refine those sensibilities by some self-doubt and self-questioning. This would then put that sensibility above assault. After all doubt is a wholesome part of belief but mindless certitude in place of humane conviction is nothing short of ignorance justified through arrogance.
This is the distance that the Muslims have to traverse on their own, but one thing is certain that for the duration of the time that the Ghammaris of this world define this world from the Rubicon of PC no soul-searching is likely to be attempted.
Given that our good doctor has on previous occasions written and I quote:
'A great majority of Iranian electorate genuinely believes that the system rewards their democratic participation.'
Or that he writes:
'... the boycott camp fails to see the significance of political negotiation and the continuing possibility of top-down reform under the existing regime... '
Upon reading this diatribe one could be forgiven for thinking that the good Doctor is a few hooks short of an Abu (Hamza).
For the rest of us who are civilized what we ought and do find offensive is that a young girl is raped by her brother and she is summoned to the Islamic court and condemned to death in the Islamic Republic. This- to me at least- is even more offensive than ant thing my foolish tutor said some 20 years ago or what the Danes have done with their rather mediocre cartoon. Still not that Dr Hook will appreciate this in his la-la land of PC-mania.