By Alan Thomas
At the present time, Muslim populations across Europe are under-privileged and oppressed. Within the UK as well, Muslim populations suffer all the usual social indicators of racism, as well as being at the sharp end of the recent “antiterror” laws, as well as a wider post-9/11 backlash. The image of Muslim as savage, terrorist “other” is thus at the fore in a way that it has not been in many years.
It is within this context that the Jyllands-Posten cartoons exist. I simply cannot see how (on any basic understanding of racism as a social, political and economic phenomenon) that a media stunt which serves to further alienate such an already-oppressed minority, can be seen as anything other than racist.
The arguments about whether this or that aspect of this or that cartoon renders it “too racist” to be published, are at best subordinate to this.
Much of the pro-publication case relies on an opposition to “blasphemy”. However, this is a blind alley.
For decades now, but in far greater numbers since 9/11, many people within minority, Muslim-origin South Asian and Arab communities who might previously have chosen primarily to identify by ethnicity or nation, have been moving towards “Muslim” as a primary choice of ethnic/cultural identity.
This may not be a fact that comrades find palatable, but it is nevertheless true, and therefore moves the question rather away from whether if it’s OK to tell jokes about the Pope, then it should be OK to do the same with Muslim religious figures. The above correlation would be fine if religion were the primary concern in the Jyllands-Posten affair, but it isn’t.
I would suspect that people attended, for instance, the 11 February demonstration [against the cartoons, called by the Muslim Association of Britain and others] by and large not because they support blasphemy laws, but rather because they feel persecuted and wanted to protest against their situation. The MAB may have organised the demo, but it was, I suspect, largely used as a means to funnel a wider sense of injustice, of which the cartoons were merely one symptom.