The publication of cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has caused such an outcry throughout the world that it is important to understand why Muslims feel so hurt by them.
Firstly, although the Prophet (peace be upon him) was only human, Muslims aspire to love and revere him even more than their close ones. Secondly, the negative depiction of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is not just a depiction of a single person but an outright disregard of Islam and more than a billion Muslims throughout the world. Thus many Muslims are feeling singled out.
We know from history how demonising a whole section of society can be the catalyst for discrimination, prejudice and even persecution. In the years leading up to (and including) the Second World War, damning images of the Jewish people were frequently published throughout Germany. These images helped to engineer a Jewish stereotype, sewing the seeds for a human catastrophe. Could a direct parallel be drawn here? We pray not, but many fear that the answer is yes.
What about freedom of expression? It would certainly not be acceptable to publish satirical images ridiculing the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, even under the banner of freedom of speech. As Jacques Chirac put it: “Anything that can hurt the convictions of another, particularly religious convictions, must be avoided… Freedom of expression must be exercised in a spirit of responsibility.”
In April 2003, Danish cartoonist Christoffer Zieler offered a set of cartoons depicting Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) to the Jyllands-Posten – the Danish paper which first published the infamous cartoons that caused the recent outcry. One of the paper’s editors told Zieler: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.” It seems that freedom of expression is used selectively; why else would the same paper refuse to publish cartoons of Jesus (peace be upon him)?
On Friday the 10th of February, Flemming Rose (the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten) was sent on indefinite leave just for saying that he would consider republishing cartoons of the Holocaust. It would be hard to avoid the conclusion that there are evident double standards when it comes to issues concerning Muslims.
At the York University Islamic Society, we see one of our main responsibilities as reflecting the feelings of Muslims on campus and encouraging dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus, we will be holding a series of events with the first talk taking place on Wednesday the 22nd of February at 6:30 pm in P/L/001.
For more information e-mail [email protected]
By Ogtay Huseyni