"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Freedom and Racism

The 'cartoon controversy' has been dubbed the fight of the century, freedom of speech versus Islam. While the reaction emanating from some quarters, a handful of the 1.2 billion Muslims, has been unnecessarily violent the purpose has little to do with freedom of expression, just as the publication could not be considered such.

The cartoons are racist. They portray all Muslims as terrorists. In 2003 the same Danish newspaper rejected freedom of expression and turned down cartoons 'lampooning' Jesus on the grounds that they were offensive. What followed recently was not a show of solidarity by fellow newspapers, it was a provocation. If one truly wanted to test the medias solidarity with each other's right to freedom of expression then the same newspapers will presumably print the winning entry from Hamshahri's, Iran's leading daily, Holocaust competition. Something, no doubt, we can all find offensive.

In understanding, to an extent, why the violent outbursts have occurred it is first necessary to put the cartoons publication in context. Since 9/11 war has been waged against a vague entity 'Terror', the targets of which are predominantly Muslim. Now it is deemed by the self styled shapers of opinion, the media, to be acceptable to label all Muslims terrorists, in the interests of free speech. While the predominant views of ordinary Muslims are marginalised by extremist groups gaining support as a result of a 'misunderstanding' of Western intervention.

Whether we consider the violence reprehensible is unimportant, because extremist groups search for provocation, the serious question asked by this experiment is, is racism acceptable?

Without a significant change in attitude towards Islam we are destined to forever explain violent incidents committed by Muslims as proof of barbarity. And our use of torture, carpet bombing and targeted assassinations as accidents, incidents and necessities.