Discussion Europe

They’re Just Cartoons of Muhammad, Right?

Written by Shoaib

Last month we saw horrific scenes in Paris where workers at the magazine Charlie Hebdo were gunned down in what the Police said appeared to be the work of Muslim extremists. This was an awful and heinous crime which was cowardly, abhorrent and unislamic. Although no trial has yet convicted those involved, it was reported that this was done because Charlie Hebdo printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).

This sparked a discussion on free speech; a right most civilised people defend. While the use of violence against the people who drew the cartoons was wrong, their killing does not automatically make their stance correct.

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For example if a person was killed by a masked man after claiming that shapeshifting reptiles are running the world, would that mean we accept that shapeshifting reptiles are running the world? Similarly a person who is killed by a masked man after claiming cartoons of Muhammad (ﷺ) are freedom of expression, does not mean we must accept it is freedom of expression. Both crimes would be condemnable and horrific but it does not need to lead to mass conversion to the victim’s ideology.

Language

The manipulation of language plays a key role in demonizing a people. Talk in the media of cartoons of Muhammad (ﷺ) sounded like Dora the Explorer had featured a cartoon and all of a sudden Muslims across the globe had started protesting. What many didn’t bother checking was that these cartoons were insulting, racist, islamophobic and stepped way over the line of freedom of expression.

We saw words like “waterboarding” and “extraordinary rendition” thrown around by the US government and CIA to serve as part of their propaganda in the treatment of prisoners of war. Waterboarding is one of the most vile torture methods where the body is tricked into drowning without death, but the word “waterboarding” sounds like something out of Baywatch. Extraordinary rendition isn’t extraordinary music the way your high school music teacher described your good work, rather, it is kidnap and false imprisonment.

Why Are Only Muslims Angry?

So let’s call the cartoons what they are: prejudiced images designed to provoke which are distasteful, intolerant and racist. It’s completely understandable and correct that anti-Semitic or racist cartoons are banned but did you know that cartoons against Israel or cartoons about President Obama or former President Bush are also banned?

One must question if France is on a high horse to preach about freedom of speech. A country where the veil is banned, pro-Palestinian protests are banned and the man who compared himself to the killers of the Charlie Hebdo shooting victims was arrested.

Below are 11 examples of cartoons which were banned or lead to apologies for being offensive to a religion, its adherents, a race or even for criticising Israel. Note the lack of any cartoons banned for racism to Arabs or inciting hatred against Muslims.

DISCLAIMER: Racist and Anti-Semitic cartoons will only be described and not reproduced or linked to.

  1. A cartoon joking that you join the US army to fight for Israel
  2. A cartoon depicting the devil as an Israeli
  3. A cartoon showing Israeli PM Netanyahu building a wall from Palestinian blood
  4. Sydney Morning Herald’s cartoon showing an Israeli watching the Gaza conflict like TV
  5. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon mocking French President’s son
  6. A cartoon saying the media is controlled by Jews
  7. A cartoon showing a Jewish person stopping someone from speaking
  8. A cartoon showing a Jewish person holding puppets of Obama and McCain
  9. A cartoon showing the Judicial system is Jewish biased
  10. A cartoon showing Obama as a monkey
  11. A cartoon showing George Bush as lacking the intelligence to play a video

These are some cartoons which were banned for the same reasons Muslims around the globe asked for the offensive and disgusting depictions of their Prophet to be banned. It is no wonder that the western media was seen as hypocritical and biased.

Are You Angry Just Because Muhammad (ﷺ) was Depicted?

The mainstream media was quick to point out that it is forbidden in Islam to depict Muhammad (ﷺ). Poor journalism lead them to link this to the outcry over the insulting cartoons.

  • Did you know that there is a statue of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) at Capitol Hill? No one seems to be protesting over this
  • Did you know Muslim Sufis of the past have made drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) ? This was under Muslim rule and they were not prosecuted or banned
  • Did you know Muslim Shi’ite of the past have made drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)? This was under Muslim rule and they were not prosecuted or banned

Although depiction of the Prophet is forbidden in Islam, many have depicted him without any outcry.

This leads us to the conclusion that this had nothing to do with depiction but rather the nature of depiction. The cartoons were insulting, disgusting, provocative and racist. This is why the Muslim World took offence.

Is Freedom of Speech and Expression equal to Freedom to Insult and Incite?

Often times the argument has been used that cartoons have been a great way to tell the truth in another way, which is why most newspapers have a cartoon section. The general idea is this being a means for the common man to poke fun at the powerful.

Is this equal to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon showing Boko Haram’s sex slaves as welfare queens or Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon mocking Egyptian protesters who got shot?

After the recent wars in the Muslim World, is it freedom of expression to mock the Prophet of the people whose land, in the eyes of many in the Muslim World, the west occupies?

Rather it would be freedom of expression to poke fun at Boko Haram or the Egyptian Police/Army or NATO forces or even the Taliban or Saddam’s army. But how does this transform into a free ticket to mock the Prophet of the people who were victims of the war?

Why don’t Muslims Just Draw Back?

Muslims are forbidden from insulting any other faith or people, so there would be equal condemnation to anyone who drew anything in retaliation. This coupled with the fact that Muslims respect all faiths enough to not insult them and believe in biblical Prophets leads to an unfair playing field. Many Muslims have felt that they should be returned this courtesy.

Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to who Muhammad (ﷺ) is for Muslims. Muslims hold Muhammad (ﷺ) at a higher place of respect than anything in their lives, this is what it means to accept him as a Prophet. So he is loved more than parents, children, your partner or anything else you hold dear.

So Pope Francis was right when he likened drawing insulting cartoons of Muhammad (ﷺ) to insulting your mother.

“If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
– Pope Francis

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About the author

Shoaib

Writing is my passion. Pharmacy is my career. The truth is my resolve. My kids are my life. You can catch me on Facebook and Twitter!

12 Comments

  • Although I am against insulting anyone’s beliefs, radical cartoons have been used in France for centuries. It’s in their culture and has been used againsts kings and queens, popes and politicians. The cold blooded murders would not have happened without a particularly Islamic belief that one who dies as a martyr in a holy war will be given a place in paradise.

    • Yet they banned cartoons which mocked Sarkozy’s son when he was in power. Mocking a minority in France is not the same as mocking Kings and Queens, mocking Sarkozy’s son would have been that.

      They also banned cartoons mocking Israel on the basis of them being possibly interpreted as anti-Semitic.

      France has now banned protests over the cartoons of Muhammad. They have also banned pro Palestinian protests. They have arrested a comedian for mocking the Charlie Hebdo victims. This was all after banning the veil and denial of the holocaust (not denying the holocaust myself but in France you can’t make that choice)

  • Also. Using your arguement… just because someone dies for a cause does not make the cause correct – I agree. Therefore are you saying that dying as a martyr in a holy war does not make that holy cause true.

    • That is exactly what I’m saying. A “martyr” of any religion is not right by his death but by the strength of the evidence of his belief.

  • Thank you for writing this piece. It is well written and well argued. If you do edit it at some point, I would suggest clarifying what government, agency or entity banned the cartoons about other subjects you have listed. Aside from the ones linked to articles, it is unclear if the cartoons listed are banned in France, the US, Israel etc?

  • So you believe all this very strongly and therefore your reaction is justified. Sorry. I spent a year in a war zone a long time ago and I learned one thing very well. Belief kills more people than ignorance. So I eschew belief and I do not accept it as an excuse, either personally or from someone else.

    I am ignorant about Islam. I have no interest in it. It is a large part of your life. I get that. However. You say on the one hand that the killing of the cartoonists in France was horrific and un-Islamic and on the other hand that the cartoonists provoked that response. This sounds a lot like the folks who stand on the street corner downtown in the town where I live and harangue passers by telling them that they are damned to hell, as is everyone else in our town if we do not start believing and acting as we are told. That, to me is a terroristic threat. And my response to them is the same as my response to the terrorists in France; “Fuck you and fuck your god!”

    Now you won’t like that. That’s fine; I don’t expect anyone to like it. But as far as I am concerned, killing people for drawing insulting pictures is no different than killing people for the color of their skin, or their politics or their RELIGION. Or the oil or mineral resources under their position, which is much more common. And I do not accept excuses for any of that, either.

    You are in a bad position, which has been made somewhat worse by the actions of people like these or like ISIS who act very badly while claiming the mantle of Islam, while leaving people like yourself as targets for the reaction that will follow. And that reaction will recruit more followers to their cause.

    If you do not wish to be part of that equation, willy nilly, then I would suggest that this opinion piece was an error. It is just something that can be used by any who wish to use you, while appealing to those who already agree with you. If you want to do something that might make a positive change, however small, I would suggest finding a way or a reason to work with some of those who do not agree with you.

    • I will start with your last assumption about me and that is that I do not do anything to work with those who do not agree with you. At my mosque and in my local community, we tackle the extremist and unislamic beliefs you have mentioned. We have excellent relations with the local non-Muslim community and have built bridges – this is outside my personal friendship circle which is not limited to Muslims.

      Secondly I think you misunderstood. I didn’t say anywhere that the cartoonists provoked their own killings. This is something the former editor of Charlie Hebdo said, not me. I said they were provocative in the sense that they provoked racism. The cartoons were racist and if cartoons against Israel can be banned then why not cartoons which really upset the people who are victims of France’s wars?

      Thirdly I agree, if anyone kills because of racism or because someone disagrees with their religion or for oil – fuck all of them. But don’t just stop there and let the problem continue, you must try to change what you can. This is, as I mentioned before, what we do in our local community. We challenge, debate and discuss all extreme beliefs.

      Finally, this opinion piece was not an error. The Muslim narrative is never portrayed in the media. Do you know how frustrating it is that every time the media want an opinion on Islam they call a guy named Anjem Chaudry – an exreme fanatic with around 30 followers in the UK. This is needed for people like yourself who, as you said, are ignorant about Islam. We do not draw cartoons, we are forbidden from insulting anyone’s beliefs, we welcome criticism; so we expect the same courtesy returned to us. Isn’t that simple?

  • This is a well written article and I agree that people should treat each other with more respect. Fundamentalism is the real danger here, regardless of whether it comes from Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. I would argue that the real reason moderate Muslims like yourself get very little voice in the Western world is because you’re not (yet) louder than the spectacular violence hitting mainstream media. Even Al Jazeera drowns you out.

    So when you argue ‘the use of violence against the people who drew the cartoons was wrong’ then follow up with an entire article which implies that Muslims have apparently no other option, it really makes me question your logic. I disagree with Pope Francis also. The SMH article you cited evoked plenty of anger, but there was no puch in the face. Let alone a hail of bullets from Mossad.

    Freedom of speech means you are free to say things without fear of violence. In the USA you can see KKK members marching in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, with an angry mob of holocaust survivors on the other side. Police are in the middle to protect the Klansman. Not because they agree with the KKK, but to ensure their right to free speech.

    ps- The 11 articles you cited…. none of their journalists/authors/etc got shot in the face.

  • I’ve been searching around the internet the past few days trying to find a good response with regard to having the freedom to insult our Prophet (SAW) and have finally found a well written article!

    I also found this short youtube video response which I think brings the point home quickly:

    https://youtu.be/IfAXT7JXxs4

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