29.10.07

Caricaturing Islam

Riding the Danish Pastime Wave

Caricaturing Islam
By Farzana Versey

October 29, 2007,
Counterpunch

Don’t they really fancy Islam? The Danes show their love for the Prophet again. On October 25, the rightwing Danish People’s Party used a hand-drawn picture of Prophet Mohammed under the slogan “Freedom of expression is Danish, censorship is not” in an ad for its election campaign.

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Danish-Muslim politician of the leftwing Red-Green Alliance, said, “People won’t react to it because they have decided not to. Nobody wants to talk about (the Muhammad cartoons crisis). It is no longer an issue.”

However, she herself has responded with a poster showing a sketch of the DPP leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, with the caption, “Freedom of expression is Danish, stupidity is not”.

She has fallen for the bait. Islam is the pin-up religion of the world now – pin-ups can be hugely threatening because they get your hormones all jiggling, they give you an opportunity to air your moth-eaten morality, they make you titter because their in-your-face attitude overwhelms you and makes you blabber and try to reduce the object of your derision because you cannot do a damn thing to either aspire to or control it.

Last year, after the cartoon series of the prophet, someone decided to shoot a video footage of members of the anti-immigrant DPP taking part in a competition for drawing the best such cartoon. A report had stated, “The faces of the young people were blurred in most of the footage. One cartoon appeared to depict the Prophet Mohammad as a camel, urinating and drinking beer.”

This is not even pathetic. It isn’t something to get worried about. These people do not have the courage, forget conviction, to show who they are.

Think about it. A group of drunken wasters has a problem with immigrants for taking their space and their jobs. Instead of just sounding like jealous dimwits, they caricature the prophet; they believe that hitting out at Islam will get them attention. They probably don’t know much about the religion. I’d cut them a lot of slack because they are desperate.

The only aspect of this amateurish one-upmanship was that state TV aired it. Should not the Danish government have a clear-cut programme on its immigrant policy instead of getting punks to do its dirty work?

The idea of the punk as political pontificator has found voice, and a rather demonic-looking tongue, in the persona of ‘Rage Boy’, who has been in the forefront of the Danish and other protests, his photograph with wide open mouth all over the media. His peripheral ideology being given cult status was commented upon by British writer Christopher Hitchens, who said, “And the cameras have been there for him every time. Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion.”

I got a flavour of a lack of such Islamic fervour during the time when the Quran was flushed down the loo. I was in an Islamic country, Dubai, and with some amount of vicariousness was looking forward to the real McCoy. No protests. Nothing. Arab families on a Friday afternoon, presumably after the prayers, were heading towards the KFC, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks sections in shopping malls. Where was their hatred for the West, their concern about the desecration? Chances are that if you told a wealthy Arab about Guantanamo Bay, he might look skyward and say, “Inshallah, next month I will take my family there for a holiday.”

For me this was a revelation more potent than the reams written about ‘insult to the religion’. The Danish cartoons, then and now, fall in the same category. The Prophet is no doubt the symbol and the messenger of the Quran. But Islamists, as opposed to Muslims, use religion as a political entity. Quranic injunctions are fabulist in their probity; it is the Shariah that lays down the rules of law.

Most Muslims have a more fable-like relationship with the Book and the Prophet – there are passages they like and repeat. It is that simple.

Matters get complicated when demonstrators get into the act. The last time during the cartoon controversy, they were screaming, “USA watch your back, Osama is coming back”, “Desecrate today and see another 9/11 tomorrow”. This is more Speakers’ Corner than evangelist.

It is not about piety, but about superficial assertion. The West has created the bugbear about, and thrown the bait of, pan-Islamism. The Islamic world spotting this mirage in the desert goes for it. They call out the name not of Allah, but of Osama. What has Bin Laden got to do with the Quran? They have been trapped, and they do not even realise it. The strategy has worked beautifully – get the Muslim world to talk about Islam and Osama in one breath and then declare a general war on terror.

How many Islamic nations put their wealth and manpower to fight the Western forces against their aggression towards their own? Where is the Islamic revivalism one hears about? With the exception of token gestures like people fighting for the right to wear the hijaab or say their prayers in public places, where is the unified, self-respecting, self-sufficient Islam?

If Islamic societies want to worry about insults, they should start looking at how they treat their own people. Sunnis and Shias routinely violate each other’s existence and they follow the same Prophet and Book.

Then they should, if they must, consolidate into a progressive conglomerate with diverse schools of thought adding dimensions to their ideology. It is time to give up the pretence that there is one Islamic whole. Amazingly, this imaginary bloc has resulted in the West trying to ape it. The West uses religion during elections today; it uses morality; it uses terrorist tactics to purify society. It is an interesting turn of mores, but not desirable.

The Muslim world could with its wealth and heritage easily take on the West in one fell swoop: reject it.

Values are what people practise, what they believe in. Values do not come packaged as symbols. The problem is that we do not as yet have the capacity to make that fine distinction between decency and morality. Everything decent is moral. All that is moral is not necessarily decent.

5 comments:

  1. FV:

    Well said. But is the Muslim world (if it exists in an amorphous form) really ready for some endogenous cogitation rather than waste its energy on exogenous factors?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Farzana!
    This is just to let you know that I enjoy reading your articles. I like the manner in which you capture the confused sides of most issues - no frills, no fuss, no nonsense, no pandering.
    Your piece today brought to my mind another article that I came across this morning which, although only peripherally related to yours, makes for a pretty surreal read. As it may interest you (and in case you haven't already seen it), I am pasting the URL below:
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,514197,00.html
    Cheers,
    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  3. Pune S:

    If the exogenous
    Intrudes into the endogenous
    And adds to its taste
    Then it isn't a waste
    Just makes it interestingly indigenous

    Poor limerick-ing aside, I do not believe there is any homogeneity in the Muslim world; each society has a distinctive and distinct flavour, from the tribalistic to the urbane, the latter more diasporic from religious roots but making full use of the extraneous. Societies like Iraq have of course gone backwards (backward?) due to the colonisation of the west.
    - - -
    Hi Anna:

    Thanks...those are kind words...your link does not seem to work and all I can see is something in German telling me in no uncertain terms to "gefunden"!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Farzana,

    Hmmm ... the link works for me. In any case, you can get to it the slow way as well. Go to:
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/

    And scroll down the page to find the article "Germany Battles Terror in the Classrooms" or "Fighting Jihad with Comics".

    Cheers,
    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Anna:

    Am known to be slow...and like it too!

    ReplyDelete

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