Sunday, February 12, 2006

Violence with Caricatures

Reading, watching, hearing world news lately? I don't think there's ever been so much talk about the right to free expression vs. the sadness of anti-religious sentiment. Cartoons re-interpreting the life of Prophet Muhammad printed last September in a Danish publication sparks vehement protests all over the world among Muslim communities two months later. The Caricature controversy has spun on every news channel in the world. What gives?

Drawings aren't a big deal unless they're in the middle of one of the most intense eras of our socio-political-religious history. I'm sure I do not need to introduce the history of the controversy here. But I do want to revisit a cultural question that echoes with the common man and provides a living for the common journalist.

What is the role of a journalist. Reports the boss and advises common folk on the state of our world that is so devoid of common sense. Ok seriously. Their duty is to provide information on current affairs locally and globally so that the public can be made aware, be informed, and be served with a comprehensive picture.. no pun intended. The audience can then form opinions that shape their mind, and make decisions that shape their lives. Journalists indeed possess the most powerful weapon known to mankind. The pen.

I believe in the human right to free expression. I once again find myself divided on a cultural wall. One side reads "We are free to express our opinions, interpretations, and attitudes regarding contemporary issues. People are free to dissent and the rest of the world may react as they like." The other side reads "We have a religious duty to stand up against the desecration of our Holy Prophet and portraying him in such a manner is unjustified no matter what your personal beliefs are". I honestly feel like I want to be on both sides of this wall.

I am not a religious person, but I have been a student of religion. I do not know the holy scriptures at the back of my hand, but I do have faith in a higher power which ultimately guides my life. Despite common belief, for me, religion is no more than an extremely personal and individualistic culture. How could religious practice and culture be definitively separated? I'm afraid the world just ain't so black and white. People may be following the same religious text, but show me two people who have the exact same interpretation of these texts. Show me two people who have the exact amount of knowledge and feel identical sentiments during worship of the Almighty. There are no two people who's religions are the same.

Back to the cartoons. If I were a journalist, which I think I am in my own way, I would NEVER ever allow those caricatures printed in mass publication. But the devil inside me still wants to defend the caricaturist. In all genuinity, the cartoons opened my eyes to how this individual views the Prophet. These views are representative of a large section of western society. I want to say that there is a difference between political cartoons and anti-religious depictions, but the Prophet Muhammad was also known as a great political leader, apart from being a religious teacher. The rapid growth of Islam can be much attributed to the Prophet's skills in negotiation and diplomacy, not to mention as 'Chief of the Armed Forces' (which is what the President of the United States is titled today).

My personal convictions seem to be winning this battle though. Faith is a step higher than freedom in the hierarchy of my conviction tree. Again however, if I were called to protest against a bunch of drawings that have no chance to come to life, I would decline with no equivocations. I wish I could alter the reactions of Muslim protestors from one of rage to one of nonchalant indifference.

Even though I remain divided on the freedom to express, I have made it clear that I personally couldn't allow those cartoons to get printed for the masses. It has hurt too many people at an already troubled time in their history. But what I do remain undivided on is my sheer belief that if you react to something, it will come back at you.. and if you decide to leave it alone and go about your path, it will disappear and not hurt as much.


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