Anger mounts over Zapiro cartoon

A Zapiro cartoon published in the Mail & Guardian has angered Muslims countrywide and the SA Muslim Judicial Council on Saturday called on its followers to express their condemnation and disapproval of it.

“The Muslim community takes this opportunity to express the deep hurt it feels at the caricaturing of the Prophet Muhammad in the M&G,” the council’s website said.

“The Muslim leadership appeals to all Muslims to express their condemnation and disapproval of this latest insult on the Muslim community in a responsible and dignified manner.”

The cartoon depicts Muhammad lying on a couch and complaining to a psychologist that “other prophets have followers with a sense of humour”.

“Muslims in South Africa have struggled and sacrificed side by side with its fellow citizens to work for a free and democratic society based on the values of human dignity and honour to its entire people,” the website said.

“It is therefore extremely disappointing that the Mail & Guardian adopts this deplorable policy of complete disregard for the religious sensibilities of Muslims, a significant faith community of our country and likely a sizeable segment of the readership of the paper.”

On Saturday, Muslims expressed their anger and outrage on Facebook and Twitter.

A comment posted on Facebook by Zainub Milan-Ming said: “Zapiro stick to politics and leave religion alone. Do you even have one?”

Interdict
The Council of Muslim Theologians on Thursday evening tried to stop this newspaper from publishing the cartoon.

An interdict was not granted, but on Friday morning M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes and other staff were fielding a flood of angry callers, and even death threats hit the newspaper’s office.

“You’ve got to watch your back” and “This will cost him his life” were some of the remarks made.

The cartoon followed the furore surrounding the Facebook page, “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”, which was sparked by threats by a radical Muslim group against the creators of US TV series South Park for depicting the prophet in a bear suit.

But Zapiro’s cartoon, published in Friday’s M&G, was far gentler in its satire, depicting the prophet reclining on a psychiatrist’s couch and bemoaning his followers’ lack of humour.

When Dawes first saw the cartoon he said he thought it “a gentle and irreverent poke” at the hysteria that had greeted the Facebook page. This week Pakistan ordered all internet service providers to block Facebook, as well as YouTube for carrying “un-Islamic content”.

Dawes recounted how he received a call from an attorney from the council at about 8.30pm on Thursday night — after the distribution process of the paper had begun. “He asked for an undertaking that we would stop distribution of the paper and remove the cartoon.”

Dawes pointed out that this was impossible, and that in any event the M&G would not do so.

By 11.30pm the newspaper’s advocate had been pulled out of a dinner party and Dawes, along with the paper’s investigation unit, found himself in the South Gauteng High Court ready to defend the M&G‘s right to freedom of speech.

However, the council, or Jamiatul Ulama as it is also known, failed to provide the necessary papers for the M&G to answer. It presented verbal evidence, but the judge ruled the interdict failed in terms of urgency, as the newspaper was already available in some outlets and the cartoon had already been published on the M&G‘s website.

It was a case of trying to close the stable doors after the horse had bolted, the newspaper’s counsel pointed out.

Furthermore, the judge found that the newspaper’s rights had been compromised by not being provided with founding papers advising what the case against it was.

While the council pleaded with the judge not to throw the case out on technical grounds, she answered that “as a judge and as a Muslim I am bound by our Constitution and the rules of our courts”.

Earlier, the judge made a decision to not recuse herself, saying her own religious background wouldn’t influence her.

Violent backlash
The Council of Muslim Theologians is the same organisation that succeeded in preventing the Sunday Times in 2006 from republishing the controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet.

During Thursday’s application the council repeatedly raised the spectre of a violent backlash, saying that the timing of the cartoon was bad because of a possible threat to the Soccer World Cup.

It added that while it wouldn’t advocate violence, it couldn’t necessarily guarantee that there wouldn’t be any.

“We very much saw that as a threat, and our counsel vigorously objected,” said Dawes. The judge upheld the objection.

While the council was unhappy with the court’s decision, it agreed to meet Dawes to take the discussion forward.

“The M&G is a platform for debate,” Dawes emphasised, adding that everyone was welcome to engage in debate and discussion with the paper. “My view is no cartoon is as insulting to Islam as the assumption Muslims will react with violence.” – Sapa and M&G reporter

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