23 February 2008

Killing the Cartoonist!

Sometimes I might be at a loss for words but this is not one of those times!

Surabaya and Medan, Indonesia's second and third largest cities respectively, endured protests about the re-publication of 12 cartoons depicting the image of the Prophet Muhammad. The issue here is a prohibition against the publication of any depiction of the Prophet. Presumably this prohibition also extends to non-Muslims as protestors in both cities demanded that the cartoonist here be arrested and put to death. I would guess a trial would not be necessary because there is already an aknowledgement (admission or confession) from the cartoonist that he drew the 'offending' cartoons.

I guess we can just cut to the chase and be off with this poor fellows head!

Aside from the obvious freedom of speech and freedom of expression issues that permeate this debate there is the issue of whether the response is proportional and whether it does more harm or good to the perception of Islam being a tolerant faith.

The freedoms of speech and expression are not absolute and not without some restriction, but it does not appear on face value that these cartoons have breached this standard. Sure, they are offensive to some members of the community and by the world-wide response here this community is not just in Denmark! This has culminated in the recent arrest of some individuals plotting to bring the cartoonist to justice by murdering him for his alleged misdeeds in drawing cartoons of the Prophet.

The fact that these type of protests get off the ground and draw considerable numbers in Indonesia, which promotes itself as practicing a tolerant and moderate form of Islam, highlights and plays into the hands of those fear-mongerers suggesting that radical Islam and fundamentalists are taking over the religion debate and Indonesia is on the path to a much less tolerant demeanor towards those who are non-Muslim. This is even more of a concern when the debate is characterized as one of being either your with us or against us! Simply, the debate degenerates into one of the enemies of Islam doing whatever they can to undermine the true faith (Islam) including the publishing of cartoons.

In response at the time, and if I am not mistaken, my "favourite" Islamic hardliner, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, held a competition that allowed entrants to take the proverbial 'piss' by drawing cartoons intended to offend all Christians and Jews. By all accounts entries were few and the majority of those seemed to be directed at Jews and the holocaust. This would fit though with the Zionist conspiracy beliefs of Ahmadinejad and his continued statements regarding the fiction, as he sees it, of the holocaust...

It seems that engaging in rational debate and defending the positions that we adopt has been replaced by the idea of vigilante justice where one kills first and asks questions later. It is a fine line between freely expressing offensive ideas and crossing over into the less savoury territory of vilification. But perhaps this is not a decision that should be made by the court of public opinion but rather by learned judges if the sentence demanded is death.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind!"

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