Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, February 06, 2006

The cartoon show
This weekend's events surrounding the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad show both the dichotomy of freedom of speech and the need for cultural sensitivities. The cartoons, which can be viewed here have sparked a firestorm of hatred in the Islamic world, culminating in the torching of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Beirut.

Freedom of speech is a valued right in the Western world, markedly less so in the Islamic. What many in the West do not understand is that, unlike Christianity or other major world religions, the Islamic faith forbids depictions of the prophet Muhammad, and thus the Danish newspaper cartoons are to them one of the greatest public affronts of Islam by the West.

There has always been a tension between the right to freedom of speech on the one hand and what some societies would define as hate speech on the other. There lies a natural responsibility in freedom of speech to avoid crossing the line of human dignity and hate speech. Therein lies the need for cultural sensitivities.

This being said, whilst I think the Danish newspaper was foolish to publish cartoons of this nature in the current global environment, the reaction of the Muslim world has been ridiculous. Various groups, religious or otherwise, daily face attacks on their belief systems or perceptions, without resorting to senseless violence and incitement. The banners used even in the London march calling for "massacre" do nothing to steer public perception away from the very position some of the Danish cartoons were taking of the Islamic faith as a terrorism-inclined faith. It becomes a reinforcement of the exact statement that the cartoons depicted. It seems like another cause hijacked by extremist elements of the Muslim faith to further entrench the internal position that the West is oppressing Muslims, which in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact that these cartoons were first published in Denmark in September 2005 infers that these latest riots have been part of a well-orchestrated campaign by those in whose interest it is to further radicalise the Islamic faith.

It's excrutiatingly ironic that the cartoons that have caused all the problems accompanied an article on free speech, isn't it?