Monday, February 27, 2006
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Coffee & Danish
The last week I have had several visits to the dentist. And my brother in law was visiting. Lest you think I am equating the two, I must hasten to add that I thought of him only because it just occurred to me that he would probably have told me to go to his NLP guru, breathe deeply through one nostril and exhale violently from the other, practice Transcendental Meditation, and all would be well with my teeth. I chose the more practical aspect of subjecting myself to Transient Dental Medication and a few good yanks. [Contrary to what Southerners in the US believe, these exist ... but I digress.] ... Here, let me unashamedly plug my dentist, Dr Umaira Anees, who is the person to go to if you're as scared of the possible pain as I am. She is amazingly gentle and caring. Of course it helps if you've known her since her birth and have dangled her on your knees when she didn't have teeth!
The joy was that I got placed on a diet of Ice Cream and Cold Coffee for the first day, soft food and liquid diet for the another. It means my coffee intake is tripled and nobody objects. There is always a good side to all bad stuff. The proverbial silver lining in dark clouds. Although I would not go as far as the Dawn columnist (see image on left) who, though probably not responsible for the mis-spellings had something to be happy about in the post-quake scenario. Reminded me of a colleague in the Merchant Navy who, having just watched a screening of Uncle Tom's Cabin, felt that the African Americans (then referred to by the 'N-word') should not complain so much about having been brought over as slaves, for, "after all they managed to to see America free!"
The other thing that's been happening in the world outside my mouth is the cartoons. Yikes, what a sad mess. The only words to describe the attitudes of the two 'sides' are Idiocy, Irresponsibility, and Insanity.
The Danish newspaper did act idiotically and with total irresponsibility, in planning and publishing the cartoons. The claim that he was not aware it could cause such a furore seems amazingly naive, especially for an Editor, in the wake of The Rushdie Affair (now being mentioned as a starting point) or of the more recent killing of Theo van Gogh. To put Danes and other (mainly white) foreigners in Muslim countries at risk ... and this is sure to happen and be exploited by the right-wingers ... is irresponsible beyond understanding. A fight for the Freedom of Speech and Expression is noble and needs to be fought, without doubt. But those who wish to do so have to lay their own lives on the line, not those of others.
In any case, the 'Freedoms excuse' rings hollow when the denial of the Holocaust is a crime in the same parts of the world now claiming this right. As one horrified by remarks, such as those uttered by Iran's President recently, I'd agree to having the deniers' mental conditions examined, but calling them criminal would be stretching it!
In a more interesting twist, and a form of relatively acceptable protest (and equally in poor taste), Iran's best-selling newspaper -Hamshari- announced it would retaliate by running images satirising the Holocaust. Farid Mortazavi, the paper's graphics editor, said "The western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons." Once again, sadly, the cartoons will hurt the sentiments of the Holocaust victims and their families, not those of the insensitive editors of a handful of newspapers. But, then, that's the reaction of Muslims who view everything bad, including Cancer, as a Jewish plot. (Read Zionist-Hindu Plot, implemented by NGOs, if you live in Pakistan.)
And what about the freedom of Cindy Sheehan to wear a T-shirt that only displayed a fact: The number of US Soldiers killed in Iraq. So why aren't the same noisepapers screaming about her arrest, albeit temporary? And what about the other (very Western) idea of Political Correctness? Or even politeness? One can no longer even call a Spade a Spade. Or a meal 'exotic'. It's not so clear-cut, mates!
None of this, however, justifies the insanity of the Muslim protestors, by which I am saddened but not surprised. To burn effigies, ask for expulsions of Ambassadors, or to demand breaking off ties (political or economic) with countries, on the basis of the stupidity of a group of its citizens, is ridiculous but not dangerous. But to riot in the streets, destroying property, causing deaths of innocent bystanders, injuring many and depriving thousands of a means of earning is hardly likely to bring the Danish Editor and his supporters to their knees, if that is the intention. And to do so in Lahore, where co-religionists were the victims, can only be the epitome of chootiaapa.
I strongly suspect that the motive for the rather sudden turn of events in yesterday's Lahore march had more to do with the tabling of the Hudoood Ordinance Repeal Bill than appears at first glance, for the mood in Pakistan was, initially, the usual: Chest-thumping (in between Muharrami chest-beatings) and bellowing nutcases on the street in response to bearded hippos yelling and deriving political mileage. To be fair, the crowds weren't too big. Friday Prayers and Muharram Sermons are fertile grounds to focus on Cartoons, rather than preaching to raise the level of morality or ethics. Everyone --- including the GIAs (Gucci Islamist Aunties) who can't tell Hadees from Hades, and think that Zakir Naik is "hae, so-o-o cuuute! Iss ko Noble Prize milna thha, but they stopped it." --- has a rightist point of view on this. Oh, and Mainstream Men, too. Which is fair. Everyone's invited to the party. But I do wish that the Muslim Machos didn't express it with a holier-than-thou attitude while gulping Whiskey-Soda among friends and admiring the buxom GIA across the room.
As for the cartoons, themselves, there are many aspects. The Wikipedia is place to visit, if you are really interested in the whole cartoon story for academic reasons.
First, representing the Prophet through images has been a self-imposed ban - mainly amongst Sunni Muslims - even if the images were to show him in a glorious light. In fact, such a ban was primarily imposed because of the likelyhood that such holy images could lead to their 'worship' (a psychological need of many icon-worshipping converts that has, since, been partially fulfilled by displaying images of the Kaaba and the Masjidé Nabvi, often with garlands around them). Shia countries, noticeably Iran, print and display images of the Prophet and his family or companions as a matter of routine. Symbolic images of Hazrat Ali, depicted as Shayré Khuda (The Lion of God), abound, including in Pakistan. And, many images of the Prophet, specially those depicting the Me'raaj, are available in museums around the world.
Of course, there have been famous writers and artists who have also mocked the Prophet. Dante's Inferno, and the illustrations of artists - including Salvadore Dali - depicting scenes from it, are well-known. Even without such images, works that have hurled abuses at the Prophet, have surfaced frequently. But hate-literature has no lasting value and is best ignored. The publication of an extremely negative biography of the Prophet, by a US writer, distributed through Amazon, ended up the way all hate-literature does: Purchased by a few bigots. The author has finally (in a bid "to educate the world about the evils of Islam") decided to make it a free pdf download. The cartoons are merely the same kind of stupid examples of hate speech (isn't there a law against that, as well?). Ignoring them, better still writing about them and debating the concept of whether freedom of speech covers such aspects, would have been welcome. And, yes, an emotional - but non-violent - show of disgust would have laid greater emphasis and, possibly, garnered some sympathy.
Finally, irreverence has always been part of humour. Muslims and Hindus, Christians and Jews, Sunnis and Shias, have mocked each other through years. Sunnis and Shias, before de-Muslimising Ahmadis, mocked them in numerous ways, through jokes and publications. Sadly, since that ruling, the mocking has turne to vicious acts. Often the mocking has gone beyond making fun of the concept and hit at the central personality. That's when tempers flare most. Monty Python's Life of Brian and, in part, Alan Sherman's Rape of the A.P.E. make irreverent and satirical remarks aimed at the growth of religion, itself, and not at the personalities revered by millions. Arguably, even The Freethinker's cartoon strip, that depicts the Christian God and the Muslim Prophet, does so in order to strike at the roots of Belief - something that the rest of the publication does through its aricles. None have led to riots in the USA and the UK. (Is that because Denmark is a a safer and easier target?)
In irreverent humour, as in risqué jokes, the line between funny and coarse is difficult to draw too clearly. In these sets of cartoons, being funny was obviously not an objective, for even the couple that could pass muster as funny were made much worse by the text or depiction style. Many are hopeful that the tragedy this has precipitated will be a stepping stone to a more tolerant world.
Whether tolerance, itself, is desired by all (or even desirable, in itself) is another matter. I shall brood over that with my next cup of coffee. Without Danish, of course ... but only because I am diabetic.