Danish Cartoons and
National Flags at UC Irvine
By Dr Shakil Akhtar Rai
CA: Denmark has been known for small sweet delicacies like
cookies and cheese. Now suddenly 'something is rotten' in
that state for the second time since the Elizabethan era.
This time it's not one prince Hamlet who is loathe to the
'incestuous beds of Denmark' it's the entire Muslim Ummah
that finds the publication of a string of caricatures of
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) an offensive and distasteful provocation.
The University of California in Irvine (UCI) witnessed a
similar reversal of image when on February 28 it was the
center of media attention for stoking a controversy over
the display of Danish cartoons, and a protest by a group
of Muslim students against this 'hate speech' paraded in
the name of 'free speech'.
On this occasion a group of counter-protesters raised US
and Israeli flags, shouted "USA! USA!" and sang
"God bless America."
By raising American flag the counter-demonstrators were
not only displaying their patriotism, but also by implication
casting doubt upon the patriotism of the Muslim- American
community. It's typical of confrontationists to draw lines
and build walls of segregation to keep the target community
(blacks till the 1960s and the Muslims since 9/11) out,
away, and on the defensive. They are required to prove their
patriotism at every turn to the satisfaction of those who
hold the levers of power. Since the Muslim students did
not carry the American flag it was easy to 'prove' their
lack of patriotism or at least cast doubt upon their sense
of belonging to America.
The display of the flag of Israel along with the American
flag to taunt Muslim protesters adds a twist to the turbulent
cartoon ride. The Muslim students were not protesting against
Israel. Israeli media or Jewish community is not responsible
for this provocation. Why Israeli flag was being thumbed
at the protestors? Were the Israeli flag bearers trying
to make a common cause against a common enemy? Portraying
Muslims and their religion as the enemy of 'free speech'
and democracy? Were they displaying their extra-territorial
patriotism, and demonstrating their subscription to American
values and by implication alienation of Muslim protestors?
One wonders how the media and proprietors of patriotism
would have reacted if Muslim protestors had decided to carry
the American flag along with say the Pakistani, Saudi, or
Indonesian flag? Would it not have led to all sorts of innuendos:
foreign sponsorship of the protest; an attempt at imposing
their values upon ours; and, of course they would have seen
in that flag a clear sign of sponsorship of terrorism in
America? The display of the Israeli flag in America to jeer
Muslim protestors is the reflection of a mind set that views
two flags as representative of one; making the two flags
interchangeable at some psychological level.
The Jewish people who suffered the Inquisitions along with
Muslims in Spain, endured many forms of anti-Semitism in
Europe, and underwent the horror of holocaust know it better
than others as to what is the difference between free speech
and hate speech. They sure know that the freedom of speech
ends where anti-Semitism and holocaust denial begin. A British
historian David Irving was sent to prison in Austrian last
month on the charges of denial of holocaust. His plea that
in expressing his views he was exercising his right of freedom
of speech was dismissed. Roger Grudy was sentenced by a
French court a few years ago for the same 'crime'.
At the same time we hear that those who commissioned, published,
and republished the caricatures of the Prophet of Islam
could not be influenced, dissuaded, censured, or sentenced
as their act was part of the freedom of speech, and those
protesting the caricatures were trying to censor a free
press in a society where freedom of expression is unlimited,
Freedom of speech is not just a legal question; it's as
much a social, moral, and political question; decency, taste,
mutual-respect, and public interest are also taken into
account. For example no law in this country stops anyone
from glorifying Hitler or Osama bin Laden, denying the holocaust
or lampooning its victims, or ridiculing those who perished
in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and yet no one dare do
that to prove that freedom of speech has no limit. No media
outlet of any significance in United States has reproduced
the caricatures of the prophet of Islam which have made
their way into several European publications. Does this
mean that free speech somehow is less sacred in America
than in Europe?
The attempts by the confrontationists of Al-Qaeda brand,
or those made in the West are trying to prove that Islam
and Muslims are alien to Western culture, the two are incompatible,
and one can exist only at the expense of the other. This
xenophobic view is historically incorrect and sociologically
misleading. "Islam," as HRH Prince Charles, The
Prince of Wales, said some years ago, "is part of our
past and present, in all fields of human endeavor. It has
helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance,
not a thing apart"
Reporting on the display of the cartoons at the University
of Irvine, the Orange County Register had this to say: Three
cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad drew about 300 peaceful
protesters to UC Irvine on Tuesday night outside a forum
that at times sparked free-wheeling shouting matches and
audience ejections by police.
The free public forum, co-sponsored by a Republican student
group at UCI and a self-described conservative student group
in Burbank, featured the unveiling of images that for weeks
have sparked rioting and deaths in Afghanistan and other
Muslim countries. The images originally were published by
a Danish newspaper.
The Muhammad cartoons were displayed over the objections
of UCI's Muslim student community and the Council of American-Islamic
Relations, which boycotted the event.
Campus officials increased security for the event, which
went off trouble-free, with no arrests reported...
The cartoons were a late addition to Tuesday's long-planned
discussion on domestic organizations that support terrorism
and on radical Islamic movements on American college campuses,
said Kristen Lucero, president of the College Republicans
at UCI, a co-sponsor of the program...
The four panel members – none of whom were students
– condemned the bloody response to the cartoons, three
of them calling for a stronger response against terrorism
from mainstream American Muslims...
Protesters included members of UCI student groups like MEChA
and the African Student Union, as well as individuals from
the community who stood in solidarity with UCI's Muslim
Some protesters car-pooled from as far away as UC Davis,
said Osman Umarji, a spokesman for the 150-member Muslim
Student Union at UCI...