I have been talking and more importantly, thinking about the Danish cartoon row incessantly since the last two days, while participating in a workshop on journalism, being conducted by Ursula Owen and Judith Vidal-Hall, editors of the London-based journal ‘Index on Censorship’. Here are some things which I still havn’t been able to understand about the debate-
- why were the cartoons printed in about 20 newspapers, atleast four months after being published for the first time, in a Danish newspaper on the 30th of September,2005?
- they were printed, as the Danish newspaper said, to test the limits of freedom of expression. Would the paper have published similar insulting lampoons on blacks, gays and feminists or would it choose to become ‘politically correct’ then?
- why did the Danish Prime Minister refuse to meet or talk to the Danish muslims who had protested against the original publication and wanted to discuss it with him? He has repeatedly referred to the problem as one between ‘one paper and some muslims’. Is it because he just couldn’t imagine that the controversy could snowball into something so huge? Or is it because he thought that Palestinian suicide bombers (which I’m sure are all the people he identifies as ‘muslims’) were too busy strapping bombs onto themselves to read and understand a cartoon published in an alien tongue in a foreign land?
- The protests against the cartoons have been violent. Personally speaking, I wish it hadn’t been so. And yet , I wonder why we did not get to know about the cartoons and the peaceful protests, as soon as they happened . Is it because peaceful protests aren’t ‘newsworthy’? Why did we get to know of them as soon as they turned violent? Is violence ‘newsworthy’? And is violence the only way then, for protestors to make their presence felt?
- Isn’t the West’s proclamation of ‘multiculturalism’ only a sham if they can’t take the religious sentiments of other communities seriously?
- And lastly, I recognize the fact that a democracy supports the right to criticize but is criticism against something one doesn’t understand justified? What did the cartoonist know about Prophet Muhammad or about Islam to make such a comment? Did he have adequate knowledge and authority to take a moral call on a man, who has changed the way a significant portion of the world think and live?
These are only some of the questions posed by a controversy which will probably have significant political ramifications in the years to come. Answers to them are admittedly, not very easy to find. But it’s important for us, nevertheless, to ask such questions.
Because only the right questions………….. can lead us to the right answer.