Archive for February, 2006

My Fatwa on Danish Cartoon Controversy

February 6, 2006

As Europe moves further away from the benign facade of multiculturalism to a more exclusivist position.  It seems to me that 21st century EU identity will be fashioned in opposition to the “muslim fanatic”, or more “objectively” those  who cant understand principles western civilization and ‘freedom of speech’.

What pisses me off in this game of secular righteousness (following the furor of Mohammad cartoons) is how the defense of free speech is being mobilized as a high moral principle when similar caricatures of other communities would be condemned for intolerance and/or even hate speech.  For example you will not find homophobic, anti-semitic, anti-black cartoons in mainstream newpapers in today’s Europe. Perhaps such caricatures might be prosecuted under hate speech laws in UK and Germany.

I am not interested in whether those who published these cartoons had the legal right to do so, of course they did… as they have the right to publish racist cartoons about other communities under freedom of speech. If these illustrators/ publishers are exercising free speech then why not the same rights for Holocaust revisionists, and conspiracy theorists. I am only using these examples to say that free speech is in fact not free but an exercise of power. It is largely a noble fiction, especially given how geo-political, corporate interests, and moral imperatives shape public discourse (…and good luck finding the figure of Iraqi casualties in American media or for that matter Pentagon Arm’s sales dictatorships throughout the world).

So why is the response to these blatantly racist cartoons so different in Europe? I think these images are acceptable because they fall within the legitimated face ‘cultural racism’ in today’s Europe. Nevermind, that these cartoons are also doing work for many other’s who are gaining from the already polarized situation among “civilizations”.

What do these hurtful images do when splashed all over Europe at a time when millions are seething with anger at the senseless war in Iraq, the stranglehold of dictators in their own countries, and very little hope of peace and stability in the long run. Of course these cartoons elicit outrage, anger, polarization, and further provocation.

This is where I find hallowed defense of high secular ideals repulsive, when they are done at the expense of history, in blindness to the contemporary brutality of an illegitimate war and peoples lived experiences. Aime Cesaire put it nicely when he remarked that the discourses of colonialism are always use the language of rights, of rights of man, equality and justice but its only when you look closer that you will see the trail of destruction, brutality and colonialism.