Here is an article written by Rahul Mahajan (He is not Muslim, just in case you wondered):
Weekly Commentary -- The Danish Cartoons
Last September, a Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, ran twelve cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad; today, everyone is talking about it.
The cartoons range from unclear or neutral to increasingly scurrilous. The worst depicts the prophet with a bomb in his turban, and the Muslim creed, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Allahu akbar,Ã¢â‚¬? Ã¢â‚¬Å“God is great,Ã¢â‚¬? written on it.
Muslims responded with outrage and calls for a boycott of Danish goods, for the Danish government to apologize or to act against the newspaper, for the U.N. to sanction Denmark in some way.
Supposedly as a lesson to Muslims about freedom of speech, papers in Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and other European countries reprinted the cartoons Ã¢â‚¬â€œ as has the Philadelphia Inquirer in the United States. Papers in Jordan ran them as well.
The Muslim response has escalated, with calls from some groups for violence, the burning of embassy buildings in Syria, and finally the burning of the Danish consulate in Beirut.
Everyone is talking about it, but some key things are being left unsaid.
First, the cartoons are not just blasphemous. Blasphemy, to me, is an internal matter for any religion and not the business of the state or the polity as a whole. Here, however, the portrayal of the prophet as a terrorist was not primarily a statement about him and his life but a claim that Muslims are essentially terrorists.
As such, it is deeply racist. Except that racist is not the right term, because Muslim arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a race. We need new categories.
In theory, attacking members of a religion is different from attacking members of a race because you can choose your religious beliefs but not your race. In practice, there is often little difference. The vast majority of people are born to their religion; they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t choose it. And in the context of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“war for civilizationÃ¢â‚¬? where Muslims are being essentialized, uniformized, and criticized on a constant basis, the distinction blurs almost into nothingness.
It is not simply a matter of the cartoonsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ being offensive to Muslims. They are offensive to everyone who is anti-racist, and we all have an interest in opposing them. This does not mean keeping criticism of Islam and even of the prophet out of the public sphere, but this depiction crosses the line into a universally discredited discrimination. A newspaper has the right to publish even this, just as it has the right to publish offensive depictions of African-Americans, but it should be opposed when it does.
Also left unsaid in the various pious finger-wagging lectures about free speech so graciously delivered to Muslims by newspapers in Christian countries is an extreme double standard. It is true that Christian countries have seen art works like Andres SerranoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s depiction of a crucifix in urine without erupting into violent conflagrations (although there was a great deal of protest by Christians), but those were works by individual artists. Please, show me the American or European mainstream daily newspaper that would publish something so defamatory about Jesus. Has the Inquirer or any other paper run a cartoon depicting Jesus sodomizing stacked naked inmates at Abu Ghraib or even Jesus yelling Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yee-hahÃ¢â‚¬? as he drops a bomb on Fallujah (much as George Bush might be doing today had he stuck it out with the Texas Air National Guard)? Until they do, all this talk about free speech is the sheerest hypocrisy.
The response from the Muslim world has been excessive. Of course, boycotting Danish goods is their right Ã¢â‚¬â€œ our wonderful economic system is based on freedom of transaction Ã¢â‚¬â€œ although it makes little sense to target all of Denmark instead of the paper in question. Calls for a government apology or for government action against the newspaper betray an unhealthy lack of appreciation for independence of the press. And, of course, burning down buildings and calls to kill people are unacceptable, as numerous Muslim leaders, including one of the key organizers of the march in Beirut that led to the burning of the consulate, have stated quite clearly.
But letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get a grip here. One person may have died in Beirut; reports conflict. But so far nobody else has been killed in this campaign that has aroused so much opprobrium. All of the Sturm und Drang doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t compare to one day in occupied Palestine, let alone to the violent invasion and occupation of two countries, killing tens of thousands directly and leading, in Iraq, to the death, direct and iof over 150,000 people.
It is a little too much to see the perpetrators or supporters of those atrocities lecturing the victims about overreaction.
The great crusade and culture war the Bush administration has set in motion since 9/11 has had many unfortunate effects. One of the worst for the Middle East, other than direct occupation and destruction like in Iraq, may be the hardening of increasingly strict religious interpretations. That will harm the people there far more than those in Europe or the United States, but it also increases an already extreme polarization that is harmful for everyone. Bombing Muslims while simultaneously lecturing them is not the way to defuse this dynamic. That really ought to be obvious.
He put it very well by explaining the canotation of such cartoons. They were not simply expressing some artistic form of free expression but they were intended to paint all Muslim with a wide brush that they are terrorists.
For the ones who are comparing this to Jesus being put up in cartoons prior to this, again, these were never drawn by Muslims as they revere Jesus as well. As matter of fact real Islamic art avoids drawing people and when you think about it, that is why they excelled in caligraphy because it was the only permissible form of artistic expression next to architecture.