An Indian newspaper columnist 'Gets' it' so why can't the West?
The right to laugh at gods
Last week newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, in a gesture of solidarity with Denmark, reprinted the Danish cartoons that have enraged the Islamic world because one of them depicts the Prophet Mohammad, and any depiction of him is considered blasphemy in Islam. In Paris, the newspaper France Soir added a cartoon of its own of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods seated on a cloud under a headline saying ‘Yes we Have the Right to Caricature God’.
In Europe, from where I write this piece, the controversy made headlines but could have been played down in politically correct Bharatvarsha. So, for those of you who may not have followed the story here is a precis. In September a small Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons in one of which the Prophet Mohammed was shown wearing a bomb-shaped turban. This caused a furore in the Islamic world and Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria have withdrawn their ambassadors to Denmark. Many Islamic countries demanded an apology from the Danish government, which has pointed out that in a free society a government cannot apologise on behalf of a newspaper or tell it what to print.
As someone often accused of targeting Muslims in this column, I have followed the Danish cartoon controversy with interest. I believe it strikes at the root of the difficulty us infidels face in dealing with Islam and Islamists. Irreverent infidels like me, and there are many of my kind in free societies, believe that religion and the gods must be kept within the realms of literature and even cartoons. I believe the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was an outrage and the murder of Theo Van Gogh an act of barbarism. The Dutch filmmaker was killed in 2004 because he made a film on violence against women in Islamic societies.
Is it not time we stood up against Islam’s repeated attempts to impose its will, values and ideas of blasphemy on the rest of us? Is it not time we demanded that Islam retreat to the private sphere it inhabited before the advent of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden? Is it not time that the Islamic world recognised that its ideas of blasphemy are different to ours? We infidels can laugh with and at religions and gods and we must stand up for the right to do so.
Increasingly, because of the rise of Islamic terrorism, we see Muslims perceive themselves as victims of an international conspiracy to malign them and their religion. At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, two weeks ago, I attended a session on Islam and the World and was surprised that nearly all the panelists expressed a deep sense of grievance. One gentleman of South Asian origin but living in New York said, ‘‘Just look at the way today’s terrorists are described in the international media—as Islamic terrorists. This has never happened before, the IRA were never called Christian terrorists.’’ Maybe not, but we do know of Tamil terrorists.
The other grievances expressed were, in my view, equally baseless. One complaint was that the Muslim world was unable to change its image because the Western media did not cooperate in this exercise. Excuse me? The Western media is under no obligation to cooperate but by and large has been so politically correct when it comes to Islam that the riots in the suburbs of Paris were never discussed as ethnic. Every commentator I read was at pains to point out the social and economic reasons why Muslim youths went on a rampage in which private cars and public property were targeted. After the London bombings every effort was made to assure the general public that this was the work of a handful of madmen and had nothing to do with Islam.
When Western reporters write about ethnic violence in India, Muslims are always portrayed as victims and efforts made to balance radical Islam with Hindu fundamentalism, an annoyingly unfair comparison.
Islam has its Prophet and its book and Muslims have every right to consider them sacred. The Islamic world has the right to ban other religions and their temples from existing on Islamic soil if it so wishes. That is their way. The problem only arises when Islam tries to impose its ideas on those of us who are not Muslim. The concerted attack on the Danish cartoons appropriately resulted in Europe closing ranks behind the Danish newspaper. We must stand up for the right to laugh at the gods, it is a right worth preserving and, besides, this is our way.