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Norman SolomonREAD MORE
Sep 15, 03:47 PM
The Prophet and the Cartoonist
Lewis Lapham, succinct as always, wrote a preface for a collection of caricatures for a fellow-cartoonist Steve Brodner three years ago. He wrote, “Satire is humor sent on a moral errand. Any ventures on the darker shores of satire presupposes readers well enough aware of their own hypocrisies to see the stone of truth hidden behind the back of a not-so-genial smile.”
With embassies and passions burning, what this Danish cartoon ignominy has done is to expose hypocrisies on all sides – both Western and Muslim. This was not done through any clever use of satire but by sheer ignorance. This was a bad cartoon published in the worst of times. The Danish cartoon was a faulty pin, straining on the lid of a simmering pressure-cooker.
The cartoons in question are awful examples of what is usually a sophisticated form of editorial humor. These cartoons, which were first published in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, are both vacuous and ignorant. Any editor would know that to directly link the founder of one of the world's leading monotheistic religions with terrorist violence - the clear implication of these cartoons - is erroneous.
The reason editors give for publishing these cartoons was to guarantee the “Freedom of Expression”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many Western editors throw up a wall-of-condoning-silence when it comes to challenging Israeli or American military transgressions. Speaking from personal experiences, I have been called a Holocaust denier for depicting the heavy-handedness of Israel and have had my political-leanings questioned for being too critical of the US lead Operation-Enduring-Freedom. The media have never been a true bastion of free speech; in fact the media has historically always been an association of incongruities. But this is a known fact. There is nothing new here, nor should it come as a surprise to anyone.
Islamic extremism has hijacked a religion. There is an apathy and fear shown by the Muslim masses in the face of this radicalism. Personally, I have been threatened and my work censored by fearful Arab and Pakistani editors when I editorialize extremists. Many Muslim editors hide behind euphemisms and do not risk critical thought. On the global stage, a case in point was the wanton desecration of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001. There were no moderate demonstrations against Islamic fundamentalism when these statues were demolished. On the other-hand, there was no bloodshed or coercion by any Buddhist from anywhere in the world in response to these acts. Muslims need to actively contribute to peace and moderation. While right-wing groups stir-up Islamophobia in Europe the Muslim populations are stumbling in denial over the escalating role of their own extremists. Muslims need to be more at ease and informed about their faith. Nowhere in the Koran does it say to kill sacrilegious-cartoonists.
Arguably, a simplistic reason for all this fervor is the depiction of the Prophet’s face. So, what is a face to a caricaturist? For me drawing of a face is not necessarily about representing features. A caricature does not have to be facially accurate. It is not the real portrayal of a person; it is more of an impression of the subject. A caricaturist draws an unreal image, which convinces the viewer that this is how a person really looks however improbable. And here lays the problem - the cartoonist from Denmark and an Arab arsonist can only reflect on what they know. And what do they know? The Dane equates the Prophet with violence while the Arab has been inculcated to kill the Dane for depicting the Prophet. The world lies in a tenuous balance between secularism and faith; wealth and disparity; knowledge and ignorance; and last but not least between a Prophet and a cartoonist.