Cartoon Awakening

Category: World Affairs Topics: Western Media

Much has been said and done in response to the deliberately offensive anti-Muslim cartoons published late last year by a conservative Danish newspaper, and profusely printed in many Europeans and non-European media, including South Africa, Jordan and Malaysia.

While the prevalent narrative in the mainstream Western media has treacherously defended the essentially Western emphasis on freedom of speech and expression, an equally forceful reading of the event also took hold; one that incessantly wishes to differentiate between hate speech and freedom of the press, using legally enforced anti-Semitism laws and doctrines as a model.

In Arab and Muslim media, few condoned the aggressive protests, embassy burnings and threats of violence awakened by the global cartoon campaign. Except of a few holier-than-thou Arab and Muslim journalists, however, there seemed to be consensus among most commentators that both appreciate the enormity - and harm - of the inherent anti-Muslim bias in Western societies and acknowledged the need to respond to such vilification of Muslims and Arabs on a collective level, even if it includes modes of pressure and muscle flexing. Even prominent Egyptian Arab novelist and Literature Nobel Prize recipient Najib Mahfouz was of the opinion that economic boycott must be utilized on a large scale, for the West only understands the language of power, of which economy is a major factor.

Consequently, there were some attempts, however minor, to channel one's resentment of racism and bias into positive energy to pressure the increasingly polarized Western media into a more objective reading of Muslim discourse, culture and belief. Malaysia fired a call for dialogue through an international conference; Indonesia held their own conference and a few genuine and levelheaded Arab and Muslim voices were allowed to trickle in through Western media itself. Nonetheless, few dared to wander far from this equilibrium that identified with Muslim fury on one hand and condemned the use of violence and intimidation on the other.

But what is effectively lacking in the Arab and Muslim debate is the most fundamental issue of all: how can they respond as a collective to growing anti-Muslim sentiment, touted through the media and further inflamed through belligerent right-wing political forces in the West, and, dare I say, belligerent and self-defeating Arab and Muslim voices whose obnoxious and inconsistent response is playing well into the hands of their adversaries?

Unfortunately, Arabs and Muslims have proven incapable of departing from their decade-long posture of simply recognizing Western media bias and, at best, offering their version of counter bias, which is equally distasteful and counter productive. For example, since Jesus is considered one of Islam's greatest prophets, an Iranian newspaper chose to offset the Western media demonizing of prophet Mohammad, by announcing a Holocaust drawing contest, aimed at mocking and doubting the catastrophe. Not only repugnant, but strategically flawed as well.

And as the countdown to the cartoons protests is drawing to an end, reprehensible video footage of British soldiers abusing Iraqi teenagers - in what seems like a routine practice by the British army - amid the nauseating cheers of the cameraman, emerges. While these chilling images served as a reminder which - once again - underlines the obscene lie that Brits - and Americans - stretched their armies thin for the sole purpose of 'liberating' the Iraqi people, it is likely to underscore a major flaw in Arab and Muslim inconsistency in the face of such formidable tragedies.

Chances are the latest tragedy in Iraq will be whitewashed just as abruptly as it materialized. We know so because hundreds of similar tragedies have befallen Muslims, from Iraq, to Palestine, to Chechnya, to Bosnia, to Afghanistan without any meaningful and durable popular retort. The devastating mid-January CIA bombing of a Pakistani village in the northwestern tribal region of Bajur, which killed and wounded scores of innocent people, didn't inspire one major rally of protest in any other Muslim country, save Pakistan itself. It goes without saying that violations of human rights committed by Muslim governments themselves are equally and just as swiftly brushed off, as bearable facts of life.

It's tempting to declare that the Prophet Mohammad cartoon travesty 'exposed' the bias of the mainstream Western media, but I will refrain, for only a nave would doubt such a fact in the first place. Late intellectual Edward Said's "Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World," is a sufficient testimony to that claim. 

However, what the cartoons truly exposed - among many other realizations - is the frightening extent of vulnerability among Arab and Muslim nations and the lack of any meaningful and effective Muslim and Arab media strategy that forcefully attempts to alter the misconstrued Western discourse that endlessly denigrates their culture, disparages their religion and positively questions their humanity.

By a strategy, I am neither referring to political conferences with no specific objectives, nor to an occasional appearance of an Arab or Muslim dignitary on European or American television to market his country's 'moderate' positions, contrasting them with the misguided and unrepresentative 'extremists' elsewhere. I am specifically referring to an investment in a potent, unremitting, unapologetic, yet eloquent and collective media strategy that makes use of squandered Muslim and Arab talents all over the globe and empowers the unforgivably neglected voices of justice and reason throughout the West. Neither counter bias nor Holocaust contests will restore the widening gulf between the West and the Muslim world. Of that I am sure.

It's of no use to deny the importance of cultural dialogue in this critical juncture where opponents of civilization clash theories have recently received an unequaled boost. This leaves Arab and Muslims - who are vilified as one group - with a formidable challenge, or an awesome opportunity, to respond with reason as a collective using their immense resources and hidden talents, or to carry on with fiery Friday sermons and futile flag burnings.

 

Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology and is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle. (Forthcoming. Pluto Press, London) He is also the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com. He can be reached at [email protected]

He is also the editor of the anthology: "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion."

To buy "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion" CLICK HERE


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  13 Comments   Comment

  1. Doin Phine

    Hudd, the only mistake Mike made was using the word race instead of Culture.

  2. Hudd from Canada

    Mike, ..you just present yourself to us as one of the most radical Fascists and rabid Islamophobes that ever walked the great lands of the Americas? Your comment translates into the greatest rasism and dire fascism since Hitler's monologues:

    "The Muslim world is now the most vicious, irrational and psychotic race on the face of the planet. When they can't kill one of us - they kill each other."

    So, Fuehrer Mike, what do you propose? Let me guess: is it mass nuking the Muslim World? Is it phosphor burning them alive? Is it the traditional fuehrer style gasing them? And you stupid white Americans called Saddam Hussein a Middle East Hitler?

    You see Fuehrer Mike, I am a Canadian Muslim, how are you planning to exterminate me and my rather large family? Thanks God, ..(people) like yourself are not prying open their mouths in my country where we have hate-laws installed in order to prevent human garbage to foul our well balanced society! However, I am very curious, and do please answer to my challenge:"How would you get rid of the Islamic world which is in a quite tremendous number, 1.6 billion people worldwide. You realised by now, Muslims are not going to convert to Christianity. They didn't convert under the conditions of GITMO, they will never do it. Nay, more and more white Americans are embracing Islam as well as Canadian whites and believe me they are more fundamental and 'fanatic' than the grass-roots Muslims. So, Fuehrer, what do you propose? How shall it be done? Come on, make your papa Hitler proud!

    Having said these, I bid you Peace!

  3. Mike from usa

    The cartoon issue is so ridiculous that it is funny. Every day muslin newspapers write the most unbelieveable lies about the west to stir up their own people and aviod their own govt/society's downfalls.

    Everyday a muslim burns a US or Israeli flag and calls us the devils of the earth that must be destroyed. When the WTC went down killing thou=sands of innconevt people of every race, Muslims all over the world danced with joy.

    But draw a picture of Mohammed and all hell breaks loose. The Muslim world is now the most vicious, irrational and psychotic race on the face of the planet. When they can't kill one of us - they kill each other.

    That's the real joke.

  4. hmed from UK

    Gia, who are you to critisize a few Muslims being violent(the cast majority of the protests were peacefull)? Americans and Europeans are the MOST violent group of people on the face of the earth. Its a historical fact. WHo in their right mind can compare the burning of a pair of empty buildings with the mass murder in Iraq and Afghanistan?! What a sick world we live in.

  5. Paul from Britain

    Yes the British media was free to re-publish the offending 'cartoons'. But they did not re-publish them.

    Yes the "News of the World" is a British tabloid newspaper which exposed the brutality of a small minority of the British troops.

    Yes the British soldiers have been arrested and are waiting their trial.

    Yes the rest of the British media & public roundly condemned this shameful brutality.

    Peace for all.

  6. Abd'alllah from U.S.

    While I agree with Sr. Belquis' point of view from the perspective of our self-identity, we can't not be political, because that too is un-Islamic. We need to acquire the power of self-determination and that self-determination has to be in line with Islam. I agree we should stop trying to prove outselves to the West: we need to prove ourselves to ourselves first and view ourselves as one Ummah - forget the differences between Shia and Sunni for now. Every change has to happen in stages, and priorities have to be made. But, the cartoons are a symptom of our perceived lack of political power by the West, and that perception has led to torture and genocide of Muslims of all ethnic groups. Bombing and marching in the streets shows further lack of political power and makes matters worse for Muslims as it confirms the West's ideas about us. It is begging and pleading. We have to organize ourselves for change. While I would like to ignore what the West thinks about us, we can't afford to. I face job discrimination every day, and I can tell you that no matter how reasonable I am, a lot of non-Muslims, even ones who think they are "liberal," do not give me respect and have tried to get me fired by lying about me. I have learned, however, that over time as I've kept answering every "threat" with steadfast patience and explanation(mostly), I've had fewer problems. They may have finally learned that I'm not going to give up. hat doesn't mean they respect me, but they get tired.

  7. bashar saleh from Kol;kata, INDIA

    The whole episode is a conspiracy of the West by Yahhood and Nasara. Allah Rabbul Alamin has told our beloved prophet Muhammad (S A) in the Holy Quran that Yahood and Nasara and Sabians are not your friend. If the muslims seeks any help from Non-Muslim, they will not get any help from Allah. This is pure and simple. In to-days world, the Western nations are successful in dividing Muslim communities in various ways. No one can save them, unless they repent and seek Allah's help. May Allah pardon us all.

  8. Gia Gray from USA

    The fact that there are Muslims out there that do behave violently needs to be acknowledged by the Muslim community. Although the cartoon is in bad taste, it seems like a more rational approach to this situation would be to recognize that it is the Muslims who have given critics something to talk about by their actions.

    The dialogue that is needed to remedy this problem will not probably happen in our life time. However, is extremely important that Muslims set excellent examples as much as possible and be honest with one's self and each other about the problems that do exist within the community. I think Muslims should do a bit more self reflecting and less finger pointing. If Muslim's were as passionate about establishing their salaat, reading of the Quran and stories of the Prophet and his companions and staying away from the haram perhaps the community would stand stronger and respond better to these type of situations. The western media has a twist on everyone's history. Instead of actually getting information from members of a specific group, they simply observe and spread information based their observations as if it were the truth. Yes, some things that non Muslims do are deliberate but other things take place out of pure ignorance. Even the deliberate things could be viewed as ignorance. Try to show good character in everything that is done and offer to educate the non Muslims about Islam and they can either take it or leave it. At that point proper effort has been made. May Allah grant us all the hikma to only take action to situations in a way that is most pleasing to Him and let all the Muslims learn their religion so that they will be equipped to handle situations from the inside out. Ameen

  9. Abd'allah from U.S.

    The Muslim problem is lack of leadership and a plan. We need a global convention to form a task force to study a way to organize ourselves in cooperation and humility with each other, not vain competition. We are fighting corporations. We need to unite, strategize, and say "if this happens, we will do such-and-such," and then be able to rally Muslims to do it. Know your enemy and find it's weakness and invent ways to "disarm" it or make life difficult for it without firing a shot. That is the best way. It's also the most difficult way, but I think the only effective way. Allah will help us if we state this purpose and expect him to help us. He wants Muslims to be "on top." It doesn't mean we can abrogate any personal responsibility or God-given talent and intelligence though. Anyone who doesn't believe this is not about empowering Muslims, but only stopping bias against people from the Middle East. There's a difference. Let's start thinking like the intelligent people we are. I'm sorry if this sounds smarmy, but it really is the truth. While I am against Osama bin Ladin's actions, he is one hell of an organizer. Maybe we should take a few tips from how he organizes, strategizes, and communicates. I don't know. I'm grabbing at straws too.

  10. Loay Ragheb from Canada

    While I might be entertained by this thoughtful reading, I must confess that it completely ignores the facts. One the west has absolutely no interest in any modification of the Arab & Moslem world except in the direction of no relegion mainstream and total productive benefit. The west is interested in money, power, influence, and complete control of the resources. I lived in the west for 20 years aside from there white based racist roots they have built a power house and an economy that needs to be fed constantly. The Arabs and the moslems fail over and over to understand that the average western human has been built by a strong media to look down at poeple of deep cultural roots and relegious ties. The west started by destroying any respectable imgae Jesus may have and now the turn turns on mohammad PBUH. The west does not care one bit what feelings are steped on nor what reactions the Arab and the Moslem world exercises. How far insulting is it to depict the profit this way on the hands of a racist group compared to the daily killings that take place all around the worl by the hands of the ZIONISTS (see the movie Munikh) or the thousands of innocents tortured and killed in Iraq. You want to convince me that the west has an interest in reaching out and through economic sanctions that will never be fully implemented in a society (middle east) that adores consumption. We dress the best clothe ride the best cars and look for all new gadgets from the west. We can let go of cheesebut not Georgio Armani, Boss, CK, JLO, and many more. Face the facts of the current times. The west has one economical focus and that is complete control, complete power, economical slavery, and to be honest they are even bothered when we complain. Relegion in there opinion has absolutely no place in the 21 century and the poeple of the world must submit. Current Arab rulers "pupets" and the new line of defense rented paid new Islamic speakers like karadawe and amro khaled proves we are nothing

  11. Fil from USA

    Mr. Baroud is right.

    Arab and Muslim countries from the west coast of Africa to Malaysia in the east. If all these countries can join hands with one voice and make a treaty similar to EU for example Economic, Trade, Finance etc.,then the west will stop pushing muslims around.

    But, they are going as far as attacking the Prophet Mohammad PBUH and in many instances the holy scripture Quran that they openly do because muslims are divided and the Arabs and Muslims are like the fizz that will subside like the ebb of the ocean.

    Like you have given the example of bombing on a small unprotected village on Pakistani soil. What Pakistani leaders have done so far.

    Many Arab and Muslim leaders critized the aggressive protests but has anyone said what are the route causes that have been going on degrading Muslims ?

    Are there forceful prominent Arab and Muslim leaders who can lead and start a new era for Arabs and Muslims in the 21st century.

    Hoping for the better.

  12. Sister Balquis from USA

    Muslims must stop trying to prove themselves to the non believers. If Arabs, Pakistanis and other national groups want to prove something, so be it. I'm reminded of the lesson that Allah taught to the Prophet(saw), in the Quranic ayats concerning the blind man who wanted the Prophet's(saw) attention as he talked to the well-to-do non believers. In essence, we learned from this lesson that Allah will give the truth(Islam) to whom He wills. We should not frown and turn away from those who want the message, while we distress ourselves over the arrogant non-believers.

    Maybe its time for Muslims to stop worrying and dialoguing with the lying western media, their leaders and readers. Their intentions are not good. Muslims world wide would do better to read muslim publications and listen to our imams who are not afraid to speak the truth-whether it is fiery or not. Those who live in western countries know that imams(especially foreigners) will be detained, ridiculed or deported for speaking the truth.

    It is time that we open our eyes and know that some Muslims love the west and its wealth, more than they love the Ummah. We should never talk about separating ourselves from other Muslims. That talk is unIslamic.

  13. khan from USA

    Cartoon awakening Invasions awakening

    Anti islam awakening Torture awakening

    Illegal detentions & arrests awakening

    Pre-Civil war awakening

    Media biased awakening

    Foreign dependency awakening

    and the list goes........

    How many of these we need - to unite,to follow Quran and Hadith, to become self independent,to understand their minds,to take away superiority,see all muslims as a ummah.