I don’t get offended easily. I have always thought of witty irreverence as pretty cool. I appreciate Dave Chappelle’s shocking brand of humor that cracks racial issues right along their fault lines. I firmly believe that humor can unshackle a society from its taboos. That said, I have been thinking a lot about the Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. I am beating a dead horse here with this mish mash gup shup Zapiro cartoon that rattled the South African Muslim Community.
I have reason to believe this debate is a bit of a sham. For those of you who may have been asked to make this choice, as Muslims, “progressive” or “moderate” Muslims, former Muslims, those with some knowledge of Islam, or conscientious thinkers at large, let me explain what I mean. You may not realize the power of your “progressive” words to the debate.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was also active as a diplomat, merchant, philosopher, orator, legislator, reformer, military general, and, according to Muslim belief, an agent of divine action. Honestly speaking if I was as busy as he was I would need therapy. Now taking Mr Zapiro’s cartoon into introspection.
Could we forget, for a moment, the rush to judgment? What if we put aside the quickly made link between terrorist violence and the Muslim world, what if we resist the idea of Islamic fundamentalism and its adjacent terms–9/11, Hindu-Muslim conflict, jihad, al-Qaeda?
Then you would be giggling at the cartoon. I loved it. It was mildly entertaining. Just some of you extremist Muslims just took offense and never bothered to look at it lightheartedly.
As we all know the Prophet was orphaned at an early age and brought up under the care of his uncle Abu Talib. He later worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd, and was first married by age 25. Discontented with life in Mecca, he retreated to a cave in the surrounding mountains for meditation and reflection (Now wouldn’t you call that therapy).
By putting aside the question of religion, we might begin to make sense of this carnage that exploded on the faces of the 786’ers. in a way that unites rather than divides, in a way that looks beyond ideologies towards a common set of complaints and constraints on life that affect people across the subcontinent.
Those that had blinkers of binary thinking on retreated behind the all-too-easily drawn in bullsh1t that Imam’s sometimes indulge in vomiting out on Juma’ and ‘Muslims’, or even between ‘radical’ and ‘peaceful’ Islam sit there and listen to that constant whining of the abuse of the Muslim nation all over the world….Mr Imam I get your point people are suffering. Instead of filling the minds of those who come to the Musjid for a spiritual upliftment, you stand there and hog the mic and at the end of your sweaty session of non-relevant speech and how it ties back to the Holy Quran – you actually leave those with more of a negated mode of thinking and yes you can call yourself a terrorist too. That is why I choose to not step into a Musjid.
I did a lot of soul-searching for this piece. What is the point of being offended? Is it the product of hypersensitivity? Should Muslims just get over it? Should I just get over it? This debate has continued to come up among friends and colleagues and I’ve grown increasingly aware of my place in it. I have come to realize that I don’t want to confirm the stereotypes that are at the heart of this debate for others, namely that Muslims are innately programmed to self-destruct in Allah’s name, like robots, nor are all Muslim societies in need of the Western world’s liberation armies. Nor should we buy into the idea that Islam is an enemy to the Western world. I will not unwittingly support these stereotypes or the agendas of those who would like to see the Muslim world toppled in the way of Communism. The importance of being offended is picking up on the pathogenic stereotypes and prejudices that still persist below the idyllic shores of diversity, democracy and freedom.
The Muslim community has grasped a fundamental connection between cartoon and then attacked in their call for a noisemaking. Yes! You have every right to. But don’t you dare use this cartoon analogy to attack other religious faiths. That is wrong. It definitely feels like a time for change in thinking from the Muslim community before you chain mail a war on email.
It was irresponsible activism and an enormous setback to building understanding for the offense that Muslims felt. Most of all, I think it was inexcusable that many of you who took offense in the Muslim world retaliated with anti-Semitic cartoons, responses etc. However, that does not excuse us from continuing to propagate the idea that Islam and terrorism equate somehow or to dress up our biases in the other clothing.