Danish Cartoons and National Flags at UC Irvine
By Dr Shakil Akhtar Rai

A sane message

Irvine, 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, and uninhibited.
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 students.
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...


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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