Muslim-Bashing and the Power of Cartoons
Back in the late 19th century, the political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in NYC's "Harper's Weekly," viciously attacked Catholics, the Irish and the Vatican. He crossed the line with those caricatures. The same can be said about the Danish authors of the 12 cartoons vilifying the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the revered founder of Islam. The demonizing was, in effect, an attack on all of the Muslim faithful. The parties responsible should offer an apology.
Shame on the European newspapers for publishing grossly disrespectful cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the founder of Islam. One of the original 12 cartoons, which were all first published in a Danish tabloid, in Sept., 2005, showed him wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse. Some of the offensive cartoons were then reprinted in other newspapers in European countries. (1) How would Christians like it, if someone showed Jesus, the "Prince of Peace," with an H-bomb in one of his hands? Or, how about a cartoon with the Jewish G-d, Yahweh, depicted with Uzi machine guns coming out of his yarmulke? Or, what about the Buddha being displayed in a drawing as sitting on park bench puffing away on a cigar made of anthrax? I don't think those kinds of insulting images would ever see the light of day in any establishment-owned publication in the U.S. - even one controlled by the Evil Media Empire of Rupert Murdock!
Did the Danish and other European newspapers have a "right" to publish/reprint the provocative cartoons in question? Yes, they did. But, it was in the worst kind of taste for them to do so. And, by doing it, they abused their right of free expression. The parties responsible should offer sincere apologies to those, whose feelings they have so cavalierly offended.
What was the point of these galling Muslim-bashing images anyway? I think it was an attempt to demonize all Muslims-to dehumanize them. It was a political statement by the creators/editors of the disputed cartoons. They wanted their viewers to believe that "all" Muslims are violent and that all Muslims are violence prone. The cartoons were an invitation for their readers to hate Muslims! Is that what the owners of those newspapers really wanted? I hope not! It is one thing for a political cartoon to demonize the still missing-in-action Osama bin Laden. (2) He's fair game as are the other al-Qaeda firebrands. It is quite another thing, however, to hold up to ridicule the revered founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The public distortion of his image brings a whole people, one billion faithful followers, into disrepute.
Now, having said all of the above, I also think it's wrong for anyone insulted by the cartoons in controversy, to take revenge, especially on any innocent third party. This would be like a Canadian getting back at an American for something crass that was written by that repulsive Neocon, Jonah Goldberg. It was Goldberg who suggested, in 2002, that the U.S. should "bomb Canada," because it wasn't blood thirsty enough to suit his need for mayhem. Also, in 2003, he called the French "liars." Goldberg's stupid comments were protected by the First Amendment. That didn't mean they were the right things for him to write; nor, did it signal that Americans should be blamed for his ignorance.
I think it's unfair for a cartoonist, or a political pundit, to demonize an entire class, or group, of people. This is going on today with respect to how elements of the U.S. media are negatively portraying the Hamas organization in Israeli-Occupied Palestine. If you don't believe me, just read any of the recent scurrilous editorials from the Murdock-owned NY Post. I can't forget, too, how another Neocon ranter, Mona Charen, viciously labeled those who protested in Washington, D.C., against any war with Iraq as supporting "Islamo fascist and their enablers." (3) As far as I know, Charen has never heard a shot fired in Iraq, nor has she bothered to visit the U.S. wounded at Walter Reed Hospital.
Political cartooning in the U.S. can trace its lineage to colonial days. Rarely, if ever, did a cartoonist dare to go after an organized religion. There were exceptions. One of the favorite targets of the lampooners back then was, naturally, the British tyrant, George III, head of both the Church of England and the State. He took a beating from the patriots of old. The Sons of Liberty had a field day pulverizing the image/icon of the British monarch. On July 6, 1776, they destroyed his statue in NYC. (4)
The man in the U.S., however, who put his name on the craft of political cartooning, as we know it today, was the legendary Thomas Nast-a German by birth. (5) His repeated attacks, in the late 19th century, on NYC's "Boss" William Marcy Tweed, and his Tammany Hall-related rackets, led to the downfall of the once mighty politico. Nast, however, had a darker side. He despised Roman Catholics, particularly the Irish, many of whom were recent immigrants to America. He regularly depicted them as brutal, Simian-like creatures, (6) controlled by their local priests, who in turn were nothing more than puppets for Nast's arch villain - the Rome, Italy-based Vatican. (7) Nast was very good at what he did, but his anti-Catholic, anti-Irish legacy, is hard to overlook or to forgive. He was a demonizer of an entire class of people and that kind of cartooning, thankfully, wouldn't pass muster in today's America. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for what's going on in Denmark, et al.
All of this brings me to the late Herb Block. He was a very talented cartoonist for the "Washington Post" for many years. He took a mostly liberal position on domestic issues, but he had a Global Cop point of view about America in the world. Block's cartoons reveal that he was a crafty warmonger at heart, even before Pearl Harbor. He did everything that he could in the '30s to get the U.S. involved in a European conflict. Americans who wanted to stay out of any such conflict were tagged, "isolationists," by Block in his demeaning cartoons. When the horrific war finally did start on Dec. 7, 1941, he failed to join the military, but waited until 1943, to be drafted in the U.S. Army. Even then, he didn't rush to serve on the front lines against the Fascists in Europe. Instead, he was content to leave the fighting to others, while he produced and edited a "clip sheet" for the Army's newspapers. (8) From time to time, after WWII, Block also used his caustic pen to reduce to a caricature entire ethnic groups, like the Arabs.
Another thing I think is interesting about the body of Block's work, is this: Who he didn't satirize! Where were his cartoons on the excesses of the Zionists? In the Middle East, the late Palestinian chief, Yassar Arafat was one of his favorite targets for abuse, but never an Israeli leader! Block was an expert at his craft, but he was also very selective about whom he lampooned. And, anytime somebody is around in that kind of influential editorializing field for over 50 years, like he was, it means that he or she was sucking up to the wire pullers behind the scene. (9)
For a wider perspective on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), it is worth knowing that, in the Holy Qur'an, this mystical-oriented man, who was also a teacher, statesman, poet, judge and warrior, honored both Jesus and the Jews, too, because they were a prophetic people. According to the noted scholar, Adolf Von Harnack, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), may have been influenced earlier in his mission by the teachings of Gnostic Judaeo-Christian sects that had flourished in Arabia a century before his birth. In any event, may the day come, when all the great religions of the world, wake up to the deeper meanings that are found in their creeds and to the oneness in spirit of Humankind. Hopefully, that needed awakening will unite us all, before we rip ourselves apart and destroy our planet. (10)
2. Osama bin Laden is the mystery man of our times. The CIA operatives knew him intimately. The idea that he is now living in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan and directing a worldwide terrorist network, using the mother of all cell phones, may be part of the growing fake history of recent years, like, e.g., our fearless leader George W. Bush's search for the fanciful WMD in Iraq! Who really knows the truth? (See, "Ghost Wars," by Steve Coll, for more details on the shadowy bin Laden, the CIA, and those foreign spooks, too.)
3. "Baltimore Sun," Feb. 24, 2003.
4. "Liberty and Freedom," by David Hackett Fischer.
9. This is sort of ironic. It was Ken Adelman, another "Washington Post" genius, who insisted, on 02/13/02, that any U.S. war in Iraq was going to be "a cakewalk." Naturally, like his fellow Chickenhawks, Goldberg and Charen, he has declined to volunteer to serve in the U.S. military, in Iraq. (See, link to www.washingtonpost.com).
10. Karen Armstrong's "Islam: A Short History."
© William Hughes 2006.
William Hughes is the author of "Saying ''No' to the War Party" (IUniverse, Inc.). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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