Danish Cartoons: What would Prophet Mohammed have done?
- February 3, 2006
What would Prophet Mohammed have done?
By TAREK FATAH
The Globe and Mail
Keep to forgiveness (O Mohammed), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from
- The Koran, Chapter 7, Verse 199
During his lifetime, Prophet Mohammed endured insults and ridicule on a
daily basis. His opponents mocked his message and used physical violence to
stop him from challenging the status quo.
At no stage during this ordeal did the Prophet lose his temper or react to
these provocations. Tradition has it that he would, instead, offer a prayer
of forgiveness to those who showed contempt for him.
Today, however, many followers of Prophet Mohammed are acting the exact
opposite. Reacting to the provocative Danish cartoons about the Prophet,
they are burning newspapers, threatening journalists, issuing bomb threats,
yet claiming they are standing up for the Prophet himself.
I have seen the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
There is no question they are meant to hurt the feelings of Muslims. As I
saw them, I had to restrain my anger. Once more, Muslims were being depicted
as a violent people. (One particularly derisive cartoon showed the Prophet
wearing a turban with a bomb inside it.)
No one in the Muslim community is willing to buy into the notion that these
cartoons were not meant to promote racism against Muslims. The editors may
say otherwise, but the community knows better when it is depicted as the
"other," to be scorned and sidelined.
Caricaturing racial minorities has been a tradition in Europe and North
America since long before it became acceptable to deride Muslims. In the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't uncommon to see Jews and
blacks depicted negatively. Today, thanks to the great work of many civil
rights and anti-racism activists, no newspaper would invoke press freedom to
depict Jews and blacks or their leaders the way the Danish paper depicted
Having said that, the way some Muslims have reacted to the provocation
leaves a lot to be desired. Provoked, they walked blindfolded into a trap
set for them, and came out worse than what they started with.
In Canada, we had a similar case, if not of the same magnitude. In the
mid-90s, a Toronto man distributed highly inflammatory literature against
Islam and the Prophet. Unlike our European colleagues and some fanatics of
the Middle East, Canadian Muslims took up the case with the police and the
gentleman was charged under Ontario hate laws and convicted. End of story.
In the Danish case, the Arab world's reaction, led by the Egyptian
government, suggests there is more to it than meets the eye. Thousands in
the Arab world have protested against the publication of the cartoons. The
Danish paper has received bomb threats. Two armed groups threatened
yesterday to target Frenchmen and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories,
as well as Danes, after the caricatures were published in their countries.
Many believe that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government is acting
not for the love for Islam, but for love of the power it has usurped for
Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, a regular columnist for the
London newspaper Sharq AlAwsat, wrote in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Dastour:
"Perhaps the Muslim governments who spearheaded the campaign -- led by Egypt
-- felt this was an easy way to burnish their Islamic credentials at a time
when domestic Islamists are stronger than they have been in many years."
For the Arab League to demand that the Danish government shut down the
newspaper Jyllands-Posten shows how deeply entrenched dictatorial practices
are in many Muslim countries. They are so accustomed to closing down their
own newspapers, they could not understand why the Danish government could
not issue a decree closing the Jyllands-Posten.
This posturing by Arab governments and Islamist movements is not in the
tradition of Islam. These zealots should ask the question: What would
Prophet Mohammed have done when faced with this insult?
He would, I suggest, have said a prayer for the cartoonist and "turned away
from the ignorant," as Allah commanded him to do in the Koran.
Tarek Fatah is host of a weekly TV show on CTS-TV, The Muslim Chronicle, and
is the communication director of the Muslim Canadian Congress