This post is dedicated to all those who say:
“I believe in freedom of speech, but drawing Muhammed is a provocation, Islamophobia and hate speech!”
Or something along those lines.
And I answer you that nothing could be further from the truth!!!
When the original Danish Cartoon controversy erupted into worldwide violence, my son had a classmate, Abdulahee, whom he was very good friends with. Abdi’s dad used to be a Math teacher before immigrating to Canada from Africa and their mutual love of Math led them into a great friendship.
As parents dropping off and picking up kids in the lower grades of school often get to know each other and chat together, I got to know Abdi’s parents: his mom was shy, and would only return greetings and a smile, but his dad was more open and the two of us would often chat about the weather and such.
As an immigrant myself a few decades earlier, I was curious how the ‘new immigrant’ experience had changed since my days and so I would ask him and our conversation taught me some interesting things. At times, we even discussed politics…
It was at the time that the violent reaction against the cartoons was at its highest that, while offering Abdi’s dad a ride home after we had dropped off our little ones at school, I asked him what he thought…
Yes, my dear readers, many have pointed out to me that asking a newly arrived Muslim immigrant his opinion on the cartoons and the violent reaction to them in the Muslim world was not politically correct and that I might have been ‘putting him on the spot’, so to speak. Rest assured, I asked as politely as my little Aspie self was capable of and assured him he did not have to comment if he were uncomfortable.
Which he was not.
He thought the cartoons were totally horrible and should not have been published and that death was an appropriate punishment for the cartoonists and the publishers.
OK, I asked – and was told.
By this point, we had arrived near his house, but he seemed very reluctant to leave the conversation at this. So, we sat in a parked car in front of his house and, for the next half-hour to an hour, we talked. And talked. And talked…about the cartoons, the reaction, and all that…
Because I knew this was an intelligent and educated man and I was truly interested in learning why he thought political cartoons were sufficient justification for killing someone, and he was open to explaining his reasoning to me, I sat, and listened, learned and, at times, asked questions.
This issue was front and centre in the Muslim community he was a part of and they discussed it a lot among themselves. And the anger and bitterness were not faked: they were truly felt.
Because their religious leaders explained to them that this action was a direct attack on the Muslim family, an act of intolerance and racism. Islamophobia!
“You guys would not do this with an image of Jesus, so why do you think that you can do it to our prophet and get away with it? If they did this about the Christian God, they’d be in jail or dead!” he explained animatedly to me…
Well, you can see where this is heading, my dear readers. With a smile of surprise on my face I asked why ever would he think this?
It seems that he was assured by his religious and community leaders that this is absolutely so!
At this point, I took the opportunity to tell Abdi’s dad about ‘Piss Christ’ and ‘Elephant Dung Madonna’.
He was incredulous.
So, I walked him through (in my limited manner) some of the reasons behind the reformation and enlightenment and how criticizing -nay, ridiculing, parodizing and blaspheming – political and religious figures in our society is the cornerstone of our culture and the root of our tolerance.
Because if nothing is so sacred that it cannot be lampooned and parodied, then nothing can be so powerful enough in our society as to force everyone to officially respect it, even if it is contrary to their own belief system.
If everyone can make fun of Christ, then nobody can force a non-Christian to bow to him as a God.
If everyone can make fun of a Guru, then nobody but his followers need to act as if he’s more than any other man and bow to him in respect.
If everyone can make fun of our politicians and famous people, then nobody gets pun in jail for telling political jokes – but, more importantly, nobody gets put in jail for pointing out when said politician brakes the laws. It keeps them ‘human’ and not above the rest of us.
It is not a perfect mechanism, but it is the best one we have!
After his first incredulity, Abdi’s father started thinking.
And then he asked: “So, when they make fun of Muhammed, it means he has become an important figure in your culture?”
It is precisely because Islam has become a part of our cultural tapestry that Muhammed has become an influential political figure in our culture, along side of Jesus and others.
And yes – apart from being a religious figure, Jesus Christ is also a political figure. And now, since Islam has become a part of our cultural tapestry, so is Muhammed!
In a very real sense, criticism of Islam in general and Muhammed in particular, and drawing cartoons/caricatures of him, is far from ‘rejection of Islam’ or ‘Islamophobia’: rather, it is the tacit acknowledgement that Islam is now part of our culture and that its leading figures – religious, political or cultural – are being treated equally to leading religious, political and cultural figures in the rest of our society.
Even at the height of the violent times, a reasonable Muslim grasped that drawing Muhammed was a symbol of acceptance, not rejection, of Muslims into our midst. I just hope others can be as open minded!