Mar 9, 2008

Afghans protest at Danish cartoons

by Sanjar
Over a thousand protesters gathered in Mazar Shariff to protest against the republic
ation of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers, they also demanded the withdrawal of Danish and Dutch troops from Afghanistan. I don’t believe there is going to be any repercussion negatively affecting NATO troops in Afghanistan. If there was any it could have happened in the first round of print. But I do think it will negatively affect the image of the west in Afghanistan, while they are trying so hard to win the hearts and minds of Afghans in unwinnable battle against insurgency. The protesters, mostly religious clerics in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, also condemned plans by a right-wing Dutch politician to broadcast a film on the Koran.

I think the publication of cartoon shows how reconcilable Islam is with western secular values. In the west its seen as gesture to reemphasize western commitment to freedom of expression. In the muslim world its not about freedom of expression. It’s about the way of life. Afghanistan's Religious Affairs Ministry has called the reprinting of the cartoon as an attack against Islam. Several other Islamic countries have demanded that the film by the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders must not be released.

I believe Afghans and muslims in general didn’t get the issue right. I don’t believe the publisher benefits from the muslim reaction but I do think there are circles which do. thus influencing public opinion in the West in aid of various political projects, for example to support further military intervention in the Middle East. In the west and specially in Europe the dispute is as one between Islam and freedom of expression.

The controversy was used to highlight a supposedly irreconcilable rift between Europeans and Islam. If the muslim world publishes insulting cartoons to Europe would Europe react like this. I don’t think so. as the journalist Andrew Mueller put it "I am concerned that the ridiculous, disproportionate reaction to some unfunny sketches in an obscure Scandanavian newspaper may confirm that ... Islam and the West are fundamentally irreconcilable"

The cartoon was republished in 130 newspapers in 49 other countries, not to humiliate muslims but as an act of support of free speech. Not only muslim nations saw it humiliating but countries with murky record of freedom like Belarus, Russia and south Africa also prohibited the cartoons or punished the publishers. What is bugging me is the reaction of moderate muslims protesting peacefully against conditional freedom of speech, requesting punishments and press control.

Afghan clerics and the government not only got the crisis wrong, as they usually do with crisis but they are also full of hypocrisy. The government budget and effectively Afghanistan is funded by countries that have published the cartoon. Why do you receive their charity while strongly oppose their values. Cartoon is another pretext for mullahs, as its for the right wing in the west, to strengthen their grip on society. Protests like today is solely the initiative of few mullahs and its primarily aimed at suppressing moderate elements of Afghan society, if such a thing exist:-)