DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM sees a connection between Afghanistan, Iraq, Danish (other European) toons and the coming onslaught on Iran

At the turn of the century, we are living in a moment of “virtual reality” an interface between reality and its image. They are so close and so much alike outwardly (yet so unlike in their innate nature) that any moment the image can become the substance. In fact, elbow the substance out. The image has already done so: it has become the substance. The media has become the message.

Those who understand the pivotal role of imagery in human life are having a great time in films, advertising, TV, newspapers, radio. And what better way to demonstrate the power of image than to lampoon and caricature the person of the Prophet Muhammad Sahab whom 1200 million Muslims hold dearer than their lives. We don’t live by bread alone; values, too, nourish us. And Islamic values are against lampooning not only the Prophet Muhammad Sahab but all other prophets and avtars, including Moses, Christ, David, Solomon, Buddha, Rama, Krishna. Every one.

These values demand that these names are not mentioned without an honorific like “Hazrat” or “Ji”. There is an interesting anecdote from the 70s of the last century which exemplifies the Muslim sensitivities to the treatment of prophets and avatars. It was the time when Jesus Christ Superstar was being warmly appreciated by the Western cognoscenti as a great work of cinematic art. Some Muslims in London saw it, and were so much enraged by the irreverent treatment of Jesus (Hazrat Isa Masih) that they staged a big demonstration. That stunned the Cockney, who failed to understand why on earth were the “Heathens” perturbed over the perceived slight of a person who did not “belong” to them.

Gradually, the British knew. And understood. Muslim response to Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons are not all that difficult to understand either for the Brits or Danes. Or the French, for that matter. It is not the case that “toons” are randomly made and printed. No newspaper cartoon is made outside the current political context. And, if you believe Michael Foucault or Edward Said (we have every reason to believe them), no piece of information, no sustained generation of knowledge is independent of power politics. Foucault is sure all such activities are subservient to the larger power agenda. In this case, we all know whose power against whom is at the centre of the political discourse (and its reflection in the media, including toons).

We know that the hyper power of our times has made mincemeat of Afghanistan. Iraq for lunch, Iran for dinner. That is the menu. And we also know the English adage: “Give the dog a bad name, and hand it.” The bad name has already been given (and, sadly, received). Now, folks, “Let’s go see the fun”. The fun of “dakt mad hangling from the pole,” a la Mussolini. We Indians have been invited to the show to give it some legitimacy. Nah, Nothing doing. Whaddaya think? Are we Burkina Faso?

We have to tell them we are not going to work as a Subcontinental extension of the State Department. We can’t become the willing instrument of someone else’s foreign policy objectives. Whether it is the Left, Right or Centre – the entire Indian political spectrum is against – abdication of mental sovereignty.

Now, coming back to the toons. The same fellas – the Iranians, of course – published a few cartoons questioning the Holocaust and the entire West was outraged. How dare they do that? Freedom of expression, Sir. When the editor of the Danish newspaper who had published the Prophet’s cartoons tried to publish the Holocaust cartoons he was sent on a long leave. So much for the famed Danish freedom of expression.

There is a clear law in Denmark against making a racial slur or hurting someone’s religious feelings through speech, publication or other communication. That law has been applied forcefully in case of the Jews to stop the media from questioning Holocaust. In a breathtaking display of duplicity Denmark has been trying not to use it in the case of Muslims. It turns out that it is not the mullahs of Iran alone who are mad. Danes too are not immune as madness does not recognise skin colour or national frontiers. Many of their fellow Europeans and Americans are also at a grave risk of getting infected with this madness. g

(The author is Chairman of Institute of Objective Studies)

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