The Cartoonist and the Pastor

“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 there is mention of the phoenix and its timeless cycle of life, fiery death, and rebirth. The book insinuates the phoenix has something in common with our humanity, which consistently repeats mistakes only to resurrect itself from the ashes. A central character in the novel ponders the construction of a “factory of mirrors” so that all of humanity can take a good look at itself. As citizens we all play our individual roles in the rebirth of “thought” that must prevail if the world is to go on. The political motives behind the German Chancellor Angela Merkel presenting a Press Freedom award to Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist whose drawing of the Prophet Mohammed ignited violence around the world are confusing. The graphic depiction of the Prophet in Westergaard’s cartoon has never bothered me – I shrug simply because it is a bad drawing. The global coverage this cartoon received was blown grossly out of proportion given the actual value of the news story. It was, however, enough of an accelerant giving Islamists the necessary fire for their jihadi-mindsets.

Before it was vogue, I drew a cartoon of a Muslim-cleric as an ape attempting to read an upside-down Koran. I never landed an interview with CNN nor did I win any international accolades for the cartoon. I did however receive the requisite threats from numerous jihadists promising earthly retribution for drawing a hairy simian turning the pages of the Koran. The message in my cartoon is unequivocal — there is nothing wrong with individual faith, but there is a problem with clerics who aggrandize themselves as Islam’s gatekeepers.

In the land-of-confusion the devil is king. The media, inadvertently, has helped the Islamist cause. Islamists, historically, have used out-of-context Koranic verses to their advantage. In our present information-age, Islamists have adapted, wielding news-bytes like a salafi sword. They have managed to channel a flood of disparate and confusing stories into a narrative of hate and violence. For instance, in a speech given in Potsdam by the German Chancellor, Merkel says, “It is irrelevant whether Westergaard’s caricatures are tasteless or not, whether he thinks they are necessary or helpful, or not. Is he allowed to do that? Yes, he can.” She also criticizes pastor Terry Jones’ plans, marking the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks by burning Korans, as “abhorrent”.

This prompted a response, thousands of kilometers away, by a professor at the Al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo. The Egyptian professor tells a newspaper daily that Merkel reflects a “two-faced” European approach to Muslims — condemning the burning of Korans on one hand, but praising the cartoonist with the other.

A day later, Reuters announces that Danish police have arrested a Somalian man in connection to an accidental explosion at a Copenhagen hotel. The perpetrator, allegedly, was preparing an attack on the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which had originally published the controversial Prophet cartoons.

Finally, just days ago, Muhammad Mukhtar, a candidate for the Afghan parliament, rants, “It is the duty of Muslims to react…I think the first and foremost reaction should be that wherever Americans are seen, they be killed. No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed.”

Muslims must not forget that the same constitutional rights that allow a mosque to be built steps from ground zero in Manhattan also allow Westergaard to draw his cartoons and pastor Terry Jones to burn copies of the Koran. The U.S. Supreme Court is unmistakable when it says that the government cannot suppress speech deemed offensive even to a majority of the people.

The silent Muslim majority wants peace but it is incumbent on them to confront the hijackers of their faith. This silent majority needs to marginalize and eradicate Islamists who propagate hate. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said last week, “It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distrustful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention.” She may well be speaking to the silent Muslim majority — switching the words “pastor” to imam, and “church” with mosque.

What will it take to motivate Islam’s deeply disconnected masses to take on the Islamists? Perhaps a “Factory of Mirrors” — ensuring that all Muslims take a good, long look at themselves? Only then will the doodles of a third-rate Danish cartoonist and the antics of a pistol-toting pastor be made irrelevant. Picture the day when none of this makes the news merely because it warrants no reaction from the greater Muslim community.

SHAHID MAHMOOD grew up in Pakistan. He was the editorial cartoonist for the national newspaper in Pakistan, Dawn. His work has appeared in numerous International publications including the Guardian, Huffington Post and Courrier International. Shahid’s work was viewed by world leaders at the 1997 APEC Conference, enjoyed by John F. Kennedy Jr., and managed to continuously enrage Benazir Bhutto. Shahid is internationally syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate; has work archived at the Museum of Contemporary History in Paris; and has been “Designated High-Profile” on the US government’s No-fly List.

Shahid Mahmood is an urban planner and editorial cartoonist. He worked on the historic revitalization of Bucharest and the comprehensive master plans for Makkah and Madinah. Shahid’s cartoons have appeared in numerous International publications including the Guardian and Courrier International.  Shahid is internationally syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate; has work archived at the Museum of Contemporary History in Paris; and was placed on the US Government’s No-fly List for his critical insight.