Friday, February 17, 2006

Danish Cartoons: the Real Outrage, by Tariq Ali.

This is the real outrage

Amid the cartoon furore, Danish imams ignore the
tragedies suffered by Muslims across the world

Tariq Ali Monday February 13, 2006 The Guardian,,1708259,00.html

The latest round of culture wars does neither side any
good. The western civilisational fundamentalists
insist on seeing Muslims as the other - different,
alien and morally evil. Jyllands-Posten published the
cartoons in bad faith. Their aim was not to engage in
debate but to provoke, and they succeeded. The same
newspaper declined to print caricatures of Jesus. I am
an atheist and do not know the meaning of the
"religious pain" that is felt by believers of every
cast when what they believe in is insulted. I am not
insulted by billions of Christians, Muslims and Jews
believing there is a God and praying to this
nonexistent deity on a regular basis.

But the cartoon depicting Muhammad as a terrorist is a
crude racist stereotype. The implication is that every
Muslim is a potential terrorist. This is the sort of
nonsense that leads to Islamophobia.

Muslims have every right to protest, but the
overreaction was unnecessary. In reality, the number
of original demonstrators was tiny: 300 in Pakistan,
400 in Indonesia, 200 in Tripoli, a few hundred in
Britain (before Saturday's bigger reconciliation
march), and government-organised hoodlums in Damascus
burning an embassy. Beirut was a bit larger. Why blow
this up and pretend that the protests had entered the
subsoil of spontaneous mass anger? They certainly
haven't anywhere in the Muslim world, though the
European media has been busy fertilising the
widespread ignorance that exists in this continent.

How many citizens have any real idea of what the
Enlightenment really was? French philosophers did take
humanity forward by recognising no external authority
of any kind, but there was a darker side. Voltaire:
"Blacks are inferior to Europeans, but superior to
apes." Hume: "The black might develop certain
attributes of human beings, the way the parrot manages
to speak a few words." There is much more in a similar
vein from their colleagues. It is this aspect of the
Enlightenment that appears to be more in tune with
some of the generalised anti-Muslim ravings in the

What I find interesting is that these demonstrations
and embassy-burnings are a response to a tasteless
cartoon. Did the Danish imam who travelled round the
Muslim world pleading for this show the same anger at
Danish troops being sent to Iraq? The occupation of
Iraq has costs tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Where
is the response to that or the tortures in Abu Ghraib?
Or the rapes of Iraqi women by occupying soldiers?
Where is the response to the daily deaths of
Palestinians? These are the issues that anger me. Last
year Afghans protested after a US marine in Guantanamo
had urinated on the Qur'an. It was a vile act and
there was an official inquiry. The marine in question
explained that he had been urinating on a prisoner and
a few drops had fallen accidentally on the Qur'an - as
if pissing on a prisoner (an old imperial habit) was
somehow more acceptable.

Yesterday, footage of British soldiers brutalising and
abusing civilians in Iraq - beating teenagers with
batons until they pass out, posing for the camera as
they kick corpses - was made public. No one can
seriously imagine these are the isolated incidents the
Ministry of Defence claims; they are of course the
norm under colonial occupations. Who will protest now
- the media pundits defending the Enlightenment or
Muslim clerics frothing over the cartoons?

It's strange that the Danish imams and their friends
abroad ignore the real tragedy and instead ensure that
the cartoons are now being reprinted everywhere. How
will it end? Like all these things do, with no gains
on either side and a last tango in Copenhagen around a
mountain of unused butter. Meanwhile, in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Palestine the occupations continue.

. Tariq Ali is the author of Clash of Fundamentalisms:
Crusades, Jihads and Modernity.


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