Cartoons offensive, but so is violence, Canadian Muslims say
By COLIN PERKEL
Thursday, February 2, 2006 Posted at 6:03 PM EST
Toronto — Cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist are deeply offensive, but so is the violent reaction to the drawings from Islamic extremists, Canadian Muslims said Thursday.
Outrage over the cartoons, first published in Denmark in September and reprinted in other European countries, has been spreading along with ominous threats throughout the Islamic world.
“The protests in the Middle East have proven that the cartoonist was right,” said Tarek Fatah, a director of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
“It's falling straight into that trap of being depicted as a violent people and proving the point that, yes, we are.”
The uproar has also sparked a fierce debate about the deliberately provocative nature of editorial cartooning and the limits of free speech in democratic countries.
While quick to defend freedom of expression, Canadian Muslims said the cartoons are reminiscent of the anti-Semitic depictions of Jews common in European periodicals before the horrors of the Second World War.
“Now, it is the Muslim community that has taken up their place,” said Mr. Fatah.
In Gaza on Thursday, armed militants surrounded European Union offices and threatened to kidnap nationals unless an apology was forthcoming.
In Paris, the daily newspaper France Soir fired its managing editor for republishing the caricatures Wednesday, while Pakistani protesters chanted “Death to France!”
Associated Press, the world's largest news agency, decided against transmitting the cartoons despite carrying detailed articles about the drawings and the ensuing uproar.
“Our practice is to not move material that is known to be offensive,” said Santiago Lyon, the New York-based director of photography.
The sensitivities involved were reflected in editorials in two of Canada's main daily newspapers on Thursday.
An editorial written by The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee argued that free-speech concerns had to take priority over fears of giving offence.
“For dialogue and debate to flourish, citizens must be allowed the maximum freedom to say what is on their minds, even if it is provocative, insulting, inflammatory, or, yes, blasphemous,” the editorial stated.
Still, the Globe decided against running the cartoons
“We have legitimate concerns that we not unnecessarily offend any group or community,” said Patrick Martin, comment editor at the Globe.
“We don't see the necessity of doing this in this case.”
Haroon Siddiqui, the Toronto Star's editorial page editor emeritus, said invoking free speech was a “disingenuous” attempt to disguise outright Muslim-baiting and anti-Islamic sentiments.
There is a “sacred secular principle” of promoting respect among various faiths,” Mr. Siddiqui wrote Thursday.
“Thinking people and responsible public institutions should err on the side of advancing mutual understanding, not fanning more conflicts.”
However, the satirical Internet publication eFrank, based in Ottawa, has posted 12 of the cartoons on its website as part of an article decrying censorship. A call to eFrank was not immediately returned.
Anne Kothawala, president of the 85-member Canadian Newspaper Association, said freedom of expression must include the right to offend but Canada's laws against inciting hatred provide “a balance.”
Raheel Raza, the Toronto author of a new book called Their Jihad Is Not My Jihad, said the cartoons, one of which shows Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse, served no political or social purpose.
“All that it's doing is inciting hatred,” said Ms. Raza.
Mr. Fatah said the Danish cartoonist missed the mark in making a point about terrorism carried out in the name of Islam.
What he should have done was depict Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden or the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Mr. Fatah.
They are the ones who are “spreading all this nonsense,” Mr. Fatah said.Category: Race, class, ethnicity, and stereotyping