There is no passage in the Holy Qu'Ran (Koran) that explicitly prohibits portraits or artistic representations of the Prophet Muhammad. However, it is a widely respected and traditional custom in certain sects of the Muslim world based on interpretation. As the attached link shows, there are numerous portraits representing the Prophet from the Muslim world (you'll find linkages to such art on the website for Bilkent University's History Department in Ankara, Turkey) You will find many fundamentalist Sunni Muslims intolerant of these representations, but there is more tolerance amongst more liberal sects. The offense, we agree, is what the BBC reports as: " ... the satirical intent of the cartoonists, and the association of the Prophet with terrorism, that is so offensive to the vast majority of Muslims." That could be understandably considered an eggregious and tasteless offense in judgment. But - is it acceptable to respond with violence? And, is it acceptable to confirm such ignorance by burning embassies and creating havoc that leads to the reported deaths of dozens.?
This blog might get a little heat from a variety of activists in the African American community who will jump at this as an opportunity to underscore the injustice and irresponsibility of the Bush Administration's war on ... well, just about everything and everybody (we stopped keeping tally). The predictable thing for us to say, since we are all oppressed "people of color" bound by the history of Western supremacy over the southern half of the world, is that we are shocked and appalled that the cartoons were ever printed in the first place. But, as outraged as Muslims in locations throughout the Middle East and Europe are over the "defacing" and "violation" of the Prophet, we never see this sort of outrage or expression of angst over the genocide committed by the Janjaweeds of Sudan against Black Muslims. Should the African Diaspora be expected to support worldwide jihadism or protest over cartoons when the Arab/Muslim world makes little sound over the atrocities in Darfur? Black people throughout the world are routinely used as the butt of ugly stereotypical jokes, art and pop culture caricatures - from Blackface & Sambo to degrading stamps issued by the Mexican postal service and cannibalistic Africans in Spanish cartoons. Do you see us ripping the world apart in a nuclear blast of extreme anger? Recently, Rev. Al Sharpton condemned Cartoon Network for airing episodes of Aaron McGruder's "The Boondocks," particularly one "what-if" episode where the late Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the dreaded "N" word in reference to his disappointment with African Americans now. Did you see Sharpton or his entourage storm the CN offices, burning furniture and breaking windows in a fit of ghetto-inspired rage? Of course not. We could watch a few hours worth of television and easily discover more than several questionable representations or stereotypical references to Black people on any given day. We could make a sport out of it - but, do we throw molotov cocktails at and batter-ram the front doors of major networks? Of course not.
And where is the outrage against militant Islamists killing innocent civilians - Muslims and non-Muslims - in the name of a religion that stands for peace? Where is the violent rage against despotic governments in the Middle East who continue to repress Muslim men, women and children through tyrannical police-state activities, economic oppression, political corruption and religious dogma?
And, yes, we can argue that these depictions of Muhammad serve as a flashpoint for a general frustration over the war in Iraq, the continuing perception of a war on terrorism really being a war on Islam and the hopeless economic outlook of millions of Muslims. We can talk for days, months and have engaging civil discussions about the intersection of the media's freedoms and the use of that freedom in a responsible manner. But, that's the point: civil discourse and persuasion.
Creating public expressions of apocalypse over cartoons is like a scene out of the Brit horror/sci-fi film "28 Days" (you know you get a kick out of our occassional references to film, TV and pop culture). And it makes many who don't or refuse to understand Islam continue to linger in the abyss of their ignorance. For those of us in the non-Muslim world who have a basic understanding and respect for the "Religion of Peace," we can't help but curl in confusion over why some Muslims (even though they perhaps represent one percent of the fastest growing religion in the world) would pick this as the breaking point, the straw breaking the - no pun intended - camel's back. It also shows how rumor, innuendo and political manipulation can truly create a disastrous situation, particularly if sauced with a heavy dose of fanatic religiosity and intolerance. How can can you claim intolerance against you by perpetrating acts of violent intolerance? The lengths some will go just to get an audience and a press conference. It doesn't compute.