You might want to laugh if you see another cartoon of the Prophet in standard beard and white turban on the cover of a magazine with a comic bubble saying, “A hundred lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” In a world where ROTFL is the language of the elite, this might not surprise anyone. It should, for beneath the guise of satire what you are encountering is the cultural standardisation that the western powers expect from all countries.
It is ironical, for they are often protesting against the uniform Arab identity. The cartoon in question was to be on the cover of the French ‘Charlie Hebdo’ that has been described as “a fiercely secular weekly”. It makes one wonder, then, why such fierce secularism has resulted in a brand willing to change its name for one week into ‘Charia Hebdo’ (charia is the French way of spelling Sharia) supposedly “to protest against the rise of Islamist political forces in Tunisia and Libya”.
No, the West did not want the nations fighting for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa to become westernised clones of itself. That would defeat the purpose. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran would hardly qualify as strongholds of Islam. In fact, they were modern societies, in that they did not live in the dark ages and had progressed on many fronts. Attempts to liberate them, or intervene in backdoor freedom struggles, have not been successful. There are no tribal factions to drone here on an ongoing basis. The Western powers were aware that nations have strong cultures would not buy their idea of liberty. When the rebel forces were done with their photo-ops, they knew that it was time to reclaim their heritage. Part of that heritage is moored in Islam. It is not the only aspect, but it is most certainly one of them.
There are reasons to debate several aspects of Sharia laws and their relevance to contemporary times. It is the job of the nations involved to do so, not outsiders. The manner in which the fallen leaders were treated by the freedom forces did not reveal any concern for human dignity. Why, even the US put their most-wanted man Osama bin Laden to sea because they wanted to give him a quick Muslim burial.
The major problem is not the cartoons themselves – although many Muslims do respond rather strongly to them – but the motive behind such provocation. Charlie Hebdo planned to have the Prophet as a guest editor (since when have guest editors been on the covers of magazines?). They have, in apparently the best tradition of parody, got an editorial signed by ‘Mahomet’ that states: “There is no god except God, otherwise all hell will be let loose.” Another cartoon shows Mohammed with a red nose and the caption: “Yes Islam and humour are compatible.”
They probably are, because unless there is inherent humour you cannot satirise something. However, the level of satire is juvenile. Indeed, there is “no god except God” for the believers and even those who like their dose of tautology. This might include the likes of Pat Robertson and the tele-evangelists; perhaps we could smuggle in the guy whose claim to fame was creating a bonfire of the Quran and is now planning to contest the Presidential elections.
Yes, many Islamic countries use the Sharia as the basis for their broad jurisprudence, but when was the last time you came upon any secular law that did not use ‘moral’ values as its theme song? Do the leaders in the West not take their oath of office in god’s name? What is the predominant religion of the nations of the West, and the major capitalist powers? Mammon lags way behind their own faith, and it is not Islam. Are the festivals they celebrate almost all not paying obeisance to the saints? Is Israel a secular nation? Is India? Technically, some can claim to be secular but it is the majority or the powerful segments that will always have their say.
The revolts in the Arab world have been wrongly pushed as an agenda against conservatism. This is far from the truth. They were fighting certain powers and it is unclear as to whether they were truly independent or working on remote. Why were foreign aircrafts hovering overhead? Moreover, why are the French concerned about how these countries are run? A report quotes the guest editorial, titled “halal aperitif”, where ‘Mahomet’ says, “Ennahda promises (Tunisians) that their personal freedoms will remain and it will not introduce Sharia law. Ha, ha, no kidding? Why should a religious party take power except to impose its ideas.”
All political parties, religious or otherwise, impose their ideas. This is what ideology means, this is what the Congress does, or the Knesset or the Diet. This is why you have Tories and the Labour parties, Republicans and Democrats, and Communists of different kinds.
The real editor Charb was, of course, shocked at the pre-release hostility: “Why do people only get angry when we attack religion? We are just commenting on a news story. We are not presenting Mohammed as an extremist.”
An attack on anything, including religion, should be clean and sharp, not with a blunted knife. This is not a news story because Tunisians died fighting. They were not sitting in a hotel room with prostitutes planning to become leaders of their country with the backing of IMF. The Tunisians have chosen their form of government after the rebellion, the very same rebellion that was being glorified quite prematurely the world over. As regards how the Prophet is presented, perhaps it might help if the western powers realised their own attempts at extremism – whether it is exercising veto powers, managing nuclear deals, droning civilian populations, manufacturing fresh wars on terror, and even deciding what people should wear.
The magazine also decided on a supplement, ‘Charia Madame’. You really will not need to exercise your minds too much to discover what it is about: different styles of full-length veils.
When the news of this edition first made an appearance, Muslim organisations did not react. However, on Wednesday, November 2, the offices of the magazine were gutted in a petrol bomb attack. There will be the usual freedom of speech arguments. This will not be the first time such speech has been muzzled. It is when governments refuse to inform the people about important documents and details, when they keep an eye on the surfing habits of the citizens, when they bulldoze their views on the mainstream media. It is not a pretty picture and none of this can be justified. However, the editor’s chant that this attack has upset him and he is angry that “violence could be used to counter drawings” is disingenuous.
Was the drawing non-violent? Is pornography not sex?
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based, unveiled, non-practising Muslim-born writer who has no desire to score points with the Prophet. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/