Satanic Verses – Jihad Cartoons & Freedom of Expression for Comedian Nathasha in Sri Lanka
Those currently wailing over freedom of expression and attempting to portray an image that people were over-reacting, have conveniently forgotten the Dutch newspaper cartoons that resulted in a religious jihad for disrespecting Prophet Mohammed. The cartoons resulted in calls for death, led to riots & arson. All that Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority seeks is relevant authorities to take legal action & prevent similar mockery. Comedy & comedians in Sri Lanka should not feel they have to sustain themselves by only tarnishing the Buddha!
Let’s first return to the cartoons which came after a series of terror attacks in London & Madrid, riots in France by African Muslim immigrants & the murder of Theo van Gogh in Netherlands for criticiising Muslim mistreatment of women. It was a time that saw fatwas against Salman Rushdie and threats against artists, editors & publishers – anyone making caricatures of Islam’s founder. This was in Europe, an epicenter of freedom of expression (so you can be pretty sure that Comedy Central will steer clear of this topic).
A series of 12 cartoons were published in a Danish paper (Jyllands-Posten) in September 2005.
The Danish government chose to ignore complaints by Muslims who took their grievance to the Muslim-majority countries who exerted diplomatic pressure on Denmark. Mass protests over Danish cartoons erupted across Europe. In London – more than 500 people marched to the Danish embassy calling Muslims to “massacre” those who insult Islam.
Pakistan even passed a resolution criticizing the Danish newspaper. Turkish President Erdogan declared “Caricatures of prophet Muhammad are an attack against our spiritual values. There should be a limit of freedom of press.” UK’s Foreign Secretary agreed that press freedom was obligated not “to be gratuitously inflammatory”. UK did not publish the cartoons but Germany did & so did New Zealand. US described the cartoons as “offensive to the beliefs of Muslims” (incidentally Nathasha is working for the US)
Is the unwritten “freedom” meant that ridiculing Buddha is not offensive but ridiculing Islam, is?
The protests escalated into violence resulting in more than 200 reported deaths, attacks on Danish & European diplomatic missions, attacks on churches & Christians.
Then in 2015, Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices were attacked killing 12 persons to take revenge on cartoons of Prophet Mohammed. A 27 year old police officer was also killed alongside 4 Jewish men.
In 2012 a film titled “Innocence of Muslims” resulted in Al Qaeda urging Muslims to wage a holy war against US & Israel claiming the film insulted Islam’s Prophet. The US embassy in Cairo was breached while the US embassy in Benghazi was stormed. Al Qaeda accused US of allowing the films production under pretext of freedom of expression.
How many remember the name Salman Rushdie?
In 1989, his novel Satanic Verses was declared blasphemous & a fatwa was issued ordering the execution of Rushdie. He ended up living in exile away from public domain. In August 2022, Rushdie was stabbed before he was about to deliver a lecture in New York. Rushdie lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand.
Then, there is Bengali writer Taslima Nazreen. She has been living in exile since 1994 after the publication of her book “Lajja”.
What did the protests by Muslims in US, UK and parts of Europe convey & eventually result in? Would the Western world dare mock the reactions of the Muslims as they do in Sri Lanka? Is it because the West are scared of Muslim reaction but are not about Sri Lanka? What hypocrisies?
What makes the above to be considered as violating free expression, intolerant & insensitive but makes Nathasha & the Comedy Central hate jokes not?
The Muslims reacted thus. But did the Sinhala Buddhists react similarly? All that they demanded was legal action against the pattern of well-funded, well-scripted anti-Sinhala Buddhist agenda taking place at regular intervals. These were not spontaneous ‘freedom of expressions’. These were funded & paid for.
Why didn’t US react when an art gallery photo of a crucifix in a jar of urine (“Piss Christ” photograph by Andres Serrano) & a portrait of the Virgin Mary made in elephant dung? In fact the US funded National Endowment even gave an award paid by US taxpayers.
Who decides who should react & how they should react? Who decides the type of action & against whom? Who decides how the reaction is to be? One man’s trash becomes another man’s work of ‘art’ just like terrorists are freedom fighters to some.
The problem arises as a result of giving a wrong notion of “freedom” & when those that give the wrong notion come to defend those who violate that freedom primarily because they actually funded the violation.
While freedoms & rights are not exclusive, opinions are not equal either. Thus, how one would value an opinion also differs. In this context where does blasphemy fit in? Those that dictate how a free society should function, decides what is blasphemy and what is not, what people can tolerate and what people cant. It is these invisible “controllers” who dictate how we should act or react and they have a well-trained media entity prepared to drill people’s psychology towards their goals. They expect blasphemy to be accepted while burning of the American flag is enough to sanction or even bomb a country to the cave age. Such is the hypocrisy in the manner “freedoms” are practiced.
Freedoms & rights must also consider moral limits & “sensitivity”. Those who have no morals will not understand its importance. Those hired to be insensitive will not care about morals. Their function is to stir emotional reactions and they are backed by people who are hired to defend those who stir people’s emotions. It’s a dirty business.
Were the cartoons of Mohammed intended to stir Muslim sentiment? Did they have to take up caricature of a different faith to express their “creativity”? Could they not find other themes to draw their cartoons? These are the same questions being put to this comedy central gang who have been recruited with the sole intent of drafting scripts that are mocking Buddhists? There is nothing creative? A bunch of people are hired, paid, spend time drafting the script, memorize it, practice it & present it to an audience who are equally anti-Buddhist and thus the clapping & guffawing at every word coming out of the comedian. There are plenty of world famous standup comedians, the manner they entertain the audience is something these fools in paradise should take time to study.
Shenali D Waduge