/ 27 May 2010

Muslims are not humourless, they are in fact very funny

Muslims are upset with Zapiro for many reasons. So let's unpack what irks them, says <b>Mahomed Faizal Dawjee</b>.

Muslims are upset with Zapiro for many reasons. So let’s unpack what irks them.

“He should not have made a drawing of the prophet.” Let’s accept that as the position of many people based on the opinion of certain jurists. The drawing of the central character was not a caricature in that it did not exaggerate any aspect to project a negative image — hooked nose, fearsome eyes or a bomb in the turban. There was just a simple cartoon drawing of an Arab in the appropriate clothes and a beard.

“He should not be on a psychiatrist’s couch. This implies that he is mad.” You don’t have to be mad to visit a psychiatrist or psychologist. In these times of high-pressure living there is no stigma attached to visiting a psychologist to deal with any anxieties or tensions. It is as acceptable, and some might even consider it as vital as having a regular check up at your family dentist. There is nothing degrading or demeaning in that.

“He should not have said that Muslims are humourless?” So what if he did? Muslims have been called far worse things than that. Actually, many Muslims are ready to use the F-word and worse at the slightest provocation by a fellow Muslim. “Humourless” is such a big insult? It is funny that nobody picked up the point that since Muslims are followers of the previous prophets it therefore follows from Zapiro’s logic that we do have a sense of humour.

So this is what we have left: the cartoon itself is not insulting but Zapiro should not have drawn an image of the Prophet. Is this really a compelling reason for everyone to froth at the mouth and form all manner of committees and delegations and take interdicts and scream death threats and wallow in endless radio talk-shows and burn up internet bandwidth and churn out millions of SMSes calling for a Cartoon Jihad?

Then Dr Shuaib Manjra entered the debate saying two things: that Muslim response is disproportionate and that Zapiro is a good guy.

Then all hell broke loose. The guns turned from Zapiro to him. What was needed was a moment for pause. What’s it with Muslims that when we disagree we become totally disagreeable. The vilest insults are hurled at Dr Manjra from all quarters and even his belief is called into question. Can we not debate issues — no matter how contentious — without stooping to name-calling and emotional rantings? No, we cannot. Unfortunately, the track-record is very clear on this.

Consider this: when the cartoons were published in Denmark some Muslim priests (ulema) there objected and tried to get the government to step in and take some form of action. It was a pretty low-key affair and died down after a while. Six months later there was an Islamic conference in Cairo and there were priests from all over. Many issues were discussed and almost in passing the Danish priests spoke of their concerns about the cartoons. The Saudi priests said: “What? This is a huge crime against Islam and Muslims. We need to deal with this matter immediately.” At last these court priests found something to run with.

Corrupt despots in the Middle East, fighting the Zionists, condemning their king for allowing over-flights by US planes on their way to drop bombs on Iraq, rolling out the red-carpet for Cheney and the other Washington thugs are not subjects worthy of their attention. They could lose their heads. So the cartoon hit the proverbial fan and went viral.

When the cartoons were first published in Denmark what should have been the Muslim’s concern? The first one is that more people must not see them. The second is that more people must not draw similar cartoons. In the six months before the Saudis blew it up perhaps a few thousand people saw them. After the Saudis took charge and it went global, millions of people around the world saw it. In that six months only the nine Danish cartoonists had drawn the images. After the Saudis took over hundreds gleefully came out of the woodwork to draw even worse cartoons. They suddenly discovered that Muslims can be offended by cartoons. We handed them a stick to beat us with.

In similar vein, the Mail & Guardian is read by a relatively small number of people who are generally liberal in their outlook. They would have chuckled at the cartoon’s dry humour and that would have been the end of that. But no, thanks to the sterling work of our defenders of the faith, thousands have now seen the cartoon. More damaging is them thinking, “What are these Muslims so riled up about.”

Incidentally, the call for Muslims to boycott the M&G is quite funny.

Seventy-three Muslims readers will not bring the paper to its knees.

Dr Manjra said that our response is disproportionate. We have to answer the question: exactly what damage was the cartoon going to do to Islam and Muslims? How much did it impact on non-Muslims so as to create a negative image of Islam and Muslims? Was it extremely demeaning of Muslims? Or mildly so? Or is your answer: I don’t know? Yet a whole lot of time, effort and energy was used in challenging this great attack on Islam. Don’t we have any more serious issues to tackle? Anyone for boycott, divestment and a sanctions campaign? Hands up all those who would like to join Greenpeace. The answer is always in the negative. That would entail too much of work, organising, coordinating, mobilising, educating, etc. Calling a radio station is so easy or punching out a fiery SMS with the footnote “If u luv your Prophet send this to millions.” And let’s not forget that those who lead the cartoon jihad gain many Brownie points for “standing up for Islam”. They are far less vocal on things that need really serious attention.

Manjra said that Zapiro is a good guy. Predictably, the conspiracy theories quickly surfaced. “He is part of the international Zionist campaign to demonise Muslims”, or “He chose this time so that Muslims will be incensed and some will attack the World Cup and then all Muslims here will be seen as terrorists.” Claptrap cannot get worse than that. Zapiro is his own man. He is an independent operator and a brave one. Yes, brave. It takes a brave man to put a shower on Zuma.

Among other things, Zapiro’s cartoons viciously attack corruption and human rights violations. Muslims in many lands are subjected to occupation and oppression and therefore they applauded Zapiro when he showed Sharon as a Nazi or exposed the hypocrisy of Jewish history of suffering to what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians today. We passed around Zapiro’s cartoons of George Bush, the WMD liar. Zapiro’s message is always spot-on and incisive. His cartoons say things more clearly than we could articulate on issues that matter to us. He was on our side, we said. Yet when we disagree with him on a single issue we are ready to crucify him. If we are not regularly shooting ourselves in the foot then we are busy throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But knowing Zapiro is to know that he is big enough not to be cheesed-off by Muslims who are driven by blind emotion.

It’s time to wake up and smell the masala tea or simply continue to reinforce the prevailing perception of what we are — cartoon characters.