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.Like MWJ on Facebook Follow MWJ on Twitter
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.
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.
- A cartoon joking that you join the US army to fight for Israel
- A cartoon depicting the devil as an Israeli
- A cartoon showing Israeli PM Netanyahu building a wall from Palestinian blood
- Sydney Morning Herald’s cartoon showing an Israeli watching the Gaza conflict like TV
- Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon mocking French President’s son
- A cartoon saying the media is controlled by Jews
- A cartoon showing a Jewish person stopping someone from speaking
- A cartoon showing a Jewish person holding puppets of Obama and McCain
- A cartoon showing the Judicial system is Jewish biased
- A cartoon showing Obama as a monkey
- 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