Why Muslims Are Right To Be
The publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper was a calculated racist provocation in a country where Muslim immigrants are increasingly under attack. The outrage expressed in demonstrations across the Muslim world is entirely justified.
The U.S. media took a “can’t they take a joke” line, and Washington politicians sanctimoniously denounced the violence at Danish embassies in Lebanon and Syria. But they ignored the fact that Muslims’ anger is fueled by the deaths of well over 100,000 Iraqis since George Bush’s invasion; the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; and Washington’s support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, as well as authoritarian and corrupt Arab regimes.
Unlike other mostly right-wing papers in Europe, the major U.S. news outlets haven’t republished the offensive cartoons. Nevertheless, assorted corporate media hacks used the protests in Muslim countries as an excuse to bash Islam some more.
“You wonder whether we can have a world ... where the Muslim minorities can coexist in these open secular and democratic societies,” intoned George Stephanopoulos, liberal host of ABC News’ This Week program. Right-wing commentator George Will answered that “they” -- apparently a reference to all of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims -- “murdered Theo Van Gough, the Dutch filmmaker who made a film they didn’t like.”
Speaking for the U.S. government, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick admitted that the cartoons were “undoubtedly offensive” to Muslims, but proceeded to play up the image of an inherently violent Islam by adding, “I hope that some who raise their voice about the cartoons will also raise other issues, including beheadings, bombings and attacking other faiths.”
Of course, the U.S. government has already attacked the Islamic faith by desecrating the Koran in its prisons, and humiliating Muslim detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan with pornographic material -- not to mention torturing and sometimes murdering them. The U.S. has also backed Israel’s repression of Palestinians -- joining most recently in the threats against Hamas after the Islamist party won the Palestinian legislative elections.
At home, the U.S. government used the September 11 attacks to launch a witch-hunt, complete with FBI “interviews” of thousands of Arab and Muslim men, secret detentions, deportations and systematic racial profiling.
Then there was federal prosecution of people like Sami Al-Arian, whose fundraising for a Palestinian Muslim charity was portrayed as the hub of an international terrorist network -- until a Florida jury rejected the government’s trumped-up allegations.
Washington’s campaign of war, occupation and repression set the stage for the fury over the publication of images of Muhammad, which are seen as idolatrous in Islam.
Lost in all the rhetoric about free speech is the fact that the Danish newspaper that originally published the racist cartoons, Jyllands-Posten, just two years ago rejected cartoons of Jesus that editors felt would offend Christian readers. But Jyllands-Posten had no problem publishing the anti-Islam cartoons.
Among the 12, one was a portrait of Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, featuring the Muslim proclamation of faith, the kalma -- with a lit fuse attached. Another showed Muhammad in heaven telling Islamist jihadists, “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins!" -- a reference to the racist claim that Islamists carry out suicide attacks for the promise of multiple brides in the afterlife.
These drawings weren’t innocent attempts at satire, but entries in a contest sponsored by Jyllands-Posten to see if Danish “tolerance” had given way to Islamist “extremism.”
But “tolerance” is hardly the word to describe the anti-Muslim, immigrant-bashing climate in Denmark -- and across Western Europe -- today.
For example, the French newspaper France Soir republished the 12 cartoons alongside its own, picturing a Christian, Buddhist and Jewish gods telling the prophet, “Don't grumble Muhammad ... we have all been caricatured here.” This was supposed to be justification for publishing a racist anti-Muslim image -- in a country where immigrant-bashing fueled the rise of Europe’s biggest far-right party, the National Front, and where the government imposed an iron-fisted “state of emergency” following last autumn’s uprising by immigrant youths.
Although Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen apologized for the cartoons after a Danish dairy was hit by a boycott in the Middle East, his government has pushed through a series of restrictions on immigration targeting Muslims that effectively denies the right to asylum.
These measures were pushed by the government’s ally, the far-right Danish People’s Party, which won 13.3 percent of the vote in the 2005 parliamentary elections, making it the third biggest in the country.
None other than Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II has endorsed Islam-bashing. “We have to show our opposition to Islam,” the queen said, “and we have to, at times, run the risk of having unflattering labels placed on us because there are some things for which we should display no tolerance.”
The cartoons must be seen as part of the effort to justify anti-Islamism -- not only in Denmark, but throughout the West. Far from examples of the value of “freedom of expression,” they should be filed alongside the anti-Semitic caricatures of Nazi-era Europe and the hateful stereotypes of African Americans in the segregation-era U.S. South.
They are reminders of the urgency of the fight against anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism today.
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