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Outrage over a cartoon... and yet no one died

The blood libel cartoons and the Mohammed cartoons, even if equally offensive, show the difference in the reactions of two peoples at loggerheads

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Protests against offence... with offence
On 29 January 2013 10:50

Only on a BBC radio call-in show in Britain could you have heard listeners phoning in to express how the West would get what it has coming to it for a peasant-like film being uploaded to YouTube by some anonymous character in the United States. 

But that is precisely what I heard, when as a guest on the BBC Asian Network last year, I was asked to take part in a phone-in discussion with listeners about the "Innocence of Muslims" film. 

At the time, protests in Pakistan, Libya and other Muslim countries terrified pusillanimous Western leaders into apologising for the freedom of expression, or freedom to offend. The fallout was the death of an American ambassador and diplomatic staff, although the links to the protests in this case are spurious.

The same of course can be reflected upon of the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in 2011, and of the response on the streets of Britain when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. Hundreds died. Property was burned. Unknown numbers of people were injured.

Against this backdrop, I have been assessing the implications of the Benjamin Netanyahu cartoon over the past 48 hours. 

The Commentator, as you know, first reported the extraordinarily offensive cartoon on Sunday morning, noting the invocation of the long-standing blood libel against the Jewish people. Many have argued, that the cartoon depicting a big-nosed, blood-loving Netanyahu is nowhere near as offensive as depicting Prophet Muhammed as a terrorist, or similar.

I would argue that actually, the Netanyahu cartoon was worse. Not for 'criticising' the Israeli leader, but rather, for invoking the Der Stumer-esque view that the Jews have big noses and dabble in the blood of Arabs or Muslims. This is outright racism. The Mohammed cartoons, were (distasteful) parodies against a singular religious figure, not the demonisation of an entire people.

But even if you don't buy that - and really, I understand if you don't because it's quite a fine line - then upon taking the two incidents as equal, and asserting that the freedom to offend should remain paramount, I would tend to agree with you

The fact is, the Sunday Times exercised its right to offend this past Sunday, on Holocaust Memorial Day, thus making its blood libel doubly, trebly, quadruply more offensive. And indeed, the appropriate levels of offence were taken.

But you didn't see rioting in the streets, or the calls for the beheading of the perpetrators of the cartoon. You may have heard moans of the decline of Western civilisation, but you never heard encouragement towards it. In fact, the response to the Sunday Times cartoon was quite the opposite of what we've seen in recent years when religions take offence.

There were articles, quotes, comments, letters, political interventions and more. But never did the outcry overspill, and only ever was there a call towards more civility, not less.

Now, to be clear, we know full well that Muslim communities around the world, by and large, were not rioting and inciting violence after Mohammed was depicted in a provocative fashion - but it is these 'moderate Muslims' who must work to bring their house in order, casting out the crazies, expunging the extremists, declaring vehemently and repeatedly, "Not in my name." 

it is these demons that Muslims in West still have to overcome - and until they do, they can claim no moral high ground over offences they feel are perpetrated towards them. 

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and tweets at @RaheemJKassam

Read more on: Islamist extremism, extremism, charlie hebdo, prophet mohammed, prophet muhammed, Danish cartoons, jyllands-posten cartoons, cartoons, Benjamin Netanyahu, sunday times, The Sunday Times, and blood libel
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