A Prophet, Some Cartoons and an Outrage
By Chippla Vandu
When I first read that the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, had published some cartoons of the Prophet of Islam a few months back, I was more or less surprised by the reaction of the Islamic community in Denmark. Having gown up in a multi-faith society, I pretty much knew that Islam forbids the depiction of its founding Prophet, Mohammed. My expectation was that the Islamic community would put forward a complaint to the newspaper and let the issue die away. Such expectation was governed by the fact that I had no knowledge of what the cartoons looked like.
When Libya and Saudi Arabia decided to recall their ambassadors from Copenhagen, it became apparent that the issue was much deeper than I thought. The refusal of the Danish Prime Minister to apologize, coupled with Jyllands-Posten's insistence that it had done nothing wrong under Danish law did not in any way help matters. Demonstrations in predominantly Islamic countries (as well as in some countries with a Muslim minority), coupled with a boycott of Danish products in the Middle East and North Africa was what it took to get Jyllands-Posten to apologize.
In all sincerity, I do believe that Jyllands-Posten's intention was not to hurt or insult Muslims. However, given the current situation of things in the post-September 11, 2001 world, it was more or less careless and childish of them to have published such cartoons (for instance, depicting the Prophet of Islam as a terrorist). The rush by a number of European newspapers to republish the cartoons after demonstrations began also shows a high degree of insensitivity. People who live in the modern world (and especially in industrialized countries) have the luxury of free speech. But what exactly is free speech and how do we get to know when the line between free speech and insulting one's neighbor has been crossed?
A month ago, an article titled "Freedom of Speech" was featured on this weblog where it was stated:
"...absolute freedom of speech does not exist, and our individual liberties end where those of our neighbors begin".
While free speech is a treasure, which must be upheld, it does have its limits. Given Europe's history and especially that of the 20th century, no European mainstream media can today publish such cartoons about the Jewish people or Judaism. Everything needs to be put in context.
Free speech is important for opening up intellectual debates and helping society advance. But when you, as an individual, start to feel that you are absolutely right in upholding certain values, while the other person is absolutely wrong, then you are not too far from being a bigot.
It is my hope that the apology offered by Jyllands-Posten would quickly be accepted by all those who have been offended. The Danish flag, once a symbol of peaceful country has now become a symbol of intolerance and insult to what may be a significant number of the one billion Muslims on the planet.
The writer is an academic and citizen journalist. He blogs at http://chippla.blogspot.com/
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