22 May 2010

The imams aren't laughing

When the now infamous Danish cartoons created a raging response among certain elements in the Muslim community, I admit to siding entirely with the cartoonists. Partly because I believe in free speech; partly because religions deserve at least as much criticism as other institutions, being the influential and troublesome institutions they are; partly because I have done a fair amount of cartooning myself in my time; and partly because some of the cartoons were pretty damn good.

Now another cartoon featuring Mohammad has caused a bit of a scandal. This time in South Africa. And once again I support it for the same reasons. The Mail and Guardian, a leading South African tabloid, critic of Apartheid and the first colour-blind newspaper in the country, published "a gentle and irreverent poke" at the furor over the hysteria generated by Facebook's "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." The cartoon, drawn by the award-winning Zapiro, aka Jonathan Shapiro, has created a certain amount of hysteria itself, with the Council of Muslim Theologians taking the newspaper to court to prevent it publishing the cartoon. They failed, but added ominously that while they wouldn't advocate violence, they couldn't guarantee there wouldn't be any.

The Mail and Guardian's editor-in-chief, Nic Dawes, responded, "My view is no cartoon is as insulting to Islam as the assumption Muslims will react with violence." Touché. Nicely said.

With their ridiculous overreaction, the Council of Muslim Theologians not only confirmed the cartoon's point about a lack of humour among Muslims, they insulted the humour and tolerance of Muslims generally. Ironically, the  editor-in-chief of the newspaper shows more respect for ordinary Muslims than they do.

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