Who Gained from the Cartoons?
By Paolo Pontoniere

An Italian priest in Turkey, murdered. Some of "Old Europe's" embassies burned. A great deal of mass protests even in Europe's old squares. Twelve caricatures of the prophet Mohammed appeared to coalesce the Muslim world in a way that not even the invasion of Iraq had achieved. In fact, not one of America's or the UK's embassies were ever torched on that account.
As a European transplant in America, I can't help but wonder why, of all times, is the Muslim world ablaze with outrage now, over 12 cartoons? I can't help but think it has more to do with political opportunism by some political quarters than with religious zeal.
I don't mean to dismiss or underestimate the revulsion that my Muslim brothers and sisters rightly feel. As a Catholic who has had to endure on many occasions exposure to lampooned images of a pregnant Virgin Mary, the constant defacing of the image of Jesus or hearing the Holy Pope dubbed an "old fart" by members of other religions, I truly understand their anguish and rage. I wish I had words good enough to soothe their wounds. That said, we must try to make sense of what is happening, because history teaches us that in instances of political, social and religious disturbances, someone always gains and someone who loses. So, who are the winners and losers in the cartoon controversy?
Certainly, the United States and the United Kingdom can now divert the attention from their violations of human and religious rights and refocus world attention on the records of governments that stand in the way of their efforts to win over Muslim masses around the world. Forget the US record on torture of Muslim detainees, or the UK's complicity with America in preparing the ground for the Iraq invasion, or the latter's checkered treatment of Muslims and immigrants at home. Now, both can be holier than the opponents of the invasion -- Scandinavians, Germans, French -- by taking the side of the aggrieved Muslims.
Al Qaeda must also be included in the winners' column. Having been recently marginalized by the electoral processes in Egypt and Palestine, Al Qaeda is again in the middle of the game and able to stir the fire of extremism among the masses for whom it has done very little.
Al-Fatah is also a winner. It is no mystery why the principal attackers of the European Union's diplomatic legation on the Gaza Strip were Fatah's militants, and not those of Hamas. Al Fatah is trying to recover its recent loss in the polls by trying to out-militant Hamas; so are all the forces who saw in the Hamas electoral victory a sign that the Bush administration plans for the region were finally working and that even the most extreme elements of the Palestinian Intifada were becoming a central part of the Middle-Eastern political process.
Also Iran, which has it own issues with the EU on nuclear proliferation and has been recently referred to the UN Security Council, has found fit to call people to the streets to denounce European "evildoers."
Needless to say, the assassination of a Catholic priest in Turkey, the attacks on EU's buildings in Beirut and the Palestinian territories and the destruction of the Danish and the Norwegian embassies in Syria will play into the hands of anti-immigration, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi European forces. They were already clamoring across Europe for the expulsion of immigrants. They want to strongly curtail immigrants' right to live according to their religious beliefs inside the EU; now they've been "proved right" by the Muslim outrage. Right-wing politicians in Italy, France and Denmark are now framing the whole issue as a clash of cultures and warning that Muslims are attempting to take over Europe. The manifestations in London, where a little group of fanatics promised a new July 7 (train and bus bombings), have been broadcast globally. Anti-Muslim zealots don't need to speak anymore. Muslim fanatics are now speaking for Islam's believers across the world.
Among the losers, of course, are Europeans, who have been lumped together as anti-Muslim. Forget that up to now, the Europeans have been the major contributors to the Palestinian Authority's budget, that it was Europeans who provided refuge to Ayatollah Khomeini when he had to seek asylum abroad. Forget that it was the European extreme left that supported Iran's mujahedeens in their fight to free Iran, and the Palestinians in their quest to free their land. It is Europe that now looks anti-Arab, even though Europe voiced the strongest opposition to the US-UK military action in Iraq.
European Muslims unfortunately now risk suffering Europeans' potential wrath for the actions taken by their counterparts in the Middle East, Asia and even some European capitals.
It's a pity that all of this should take place while, according to the Helsinki Federation For Human Rights, public awareness against Islamophobia is on the rise on the European continent. Let's only hope that the voices of reason and wisdom on both sides, such as that of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who has reaffirmed the primacy of justice, love and brotherhood, can overpower the forces of doom and despair and those who seek a needless revenge. – New America Media


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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