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Arab Bloggers Take on Danish Cartoons

As the debate rages on over the publication of controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Arab bloggers are reacting with their own take on the events that have unfolded over the past few days.

Early on Jyllands-Posten stated that the cartoons were a test of whether Muslim fundamentalists had begun affecting freedom of speech. Haitham Sabbah was one of the first to question this argument, saying: “It’s ‘freedom of expression’, and they express that the way they see fit. But if you do the same, you will be called all names. So, don’t dare call them racist!!”

In an enquiry on the rise of Islamophobia, Tololy asks “How far can one go with one's right of Free Speech? Are there no red lines that one ought to respect such as, say, the Holocaust, or Prophet Mohammad wearing a bomb-turban?”

While Eman articulates the Arab point of view in a heated exchange with a company client at work, Khalidah attempted to investigate the other side of the argument by taking a journey around the blogosphere. Concluding: “Isn't the way we deliver the message is as important as the message itself? Sometimes delivering the right message using the wrong method defeats the purpose and kills the initiative.”

While international media has focused primarily on the violent voices of a few Arab and Muslim mobs around the world, many Arab bloggers are indeed angry with the reactions of their countrymen and particularly the economic boycotts. Some are questioning their purpose while others support them. Farah from Saudi Arabia isn’t “crazy about how Saudi Arabia jumped at the chance to play the Muslim hero”, while the Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey isn’t too happy about the boycotts either. Silly Bahraini Girl wonders: “Why the Fuss?”


The Big Pharoh swims against the current and is even promoting Arla Foods, the Danish company most affected by the boycotts. “Some people might ask me why I am doing this? I consider this boycott one of the most childish things I've ever seen.”

Naseem Tarawnah of The Black Iris notes “What does some food company in Denmark have to do with cartoons published by a newspaper in its country?”

However Tunasian blogger, Subzero Blue claims “I'm against any violent reactions or death threats, but I'm totally for peaceful protest and political or economic boycott if necessary.” He goes on to say: “Isn't it normal for us too to express ourselves and say that we're unhappy about these cartoons and act upon it in peaceful ways like demonstration or boycott?”

Highlander says: “I have always been under the impression that boycott is a civilized way to express disagreement.”

As bloggers receieved numerous cellphone messages and leaflets urging them to spread the word about boycotts, a few Arab bloggers have banded together to start a campaign urging readers to instead: “Buy Denmark”. In a similar campaign, a website has been launched as a “small attempt to show the world that the images shown of Arab and Muslim anger around the world are not representative of the opinions of all Arabs”.

Some bloggers have focused on the political moves made by their governments.
Mahmood calls the parliamentary decision in Bahrain to boycott “childish and ridiculous”, while Natasha shows some concern with the parliament in Jordan calling for the punishment of the Danish cartoonists involved. “Moving from a body that gives voice to the people's concerns to a congress bent on holy revenge is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.”

More reactions have emerged lately since Jordanian authorities arrested two editors of local newspapers, Al-Mehwar and Al-Shihan, who were the only ones in the Arab world to publish the cartoons. Naseem Tarawnah wonders if the intentions of the editors must be taken into account. While Batir Wardam sympathises with the Shihan’s editor, feeling it has given way to a degree of sudden self-righteousness amongst some people and organizations.

In Syria, while the only reports and images seen on the news revolves around the burning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies, many Syrian bloggers are condemning the violence. “Not in Our Name” says Ayman Haykal, who lists several Syrian bloggers that share his outrage. “They had no right. Islamically this is seriously NOT acceptable”, says Sara.

Omar offers a perspective as a Syrian living in Canada, while Ihsan Attar, who is also furious at the chaos says he is “100% convinced that the “Syrian Regime” had a hand in what happened”. Omar Faleh shares similar sentiments about the government.

Violent protests and the burning of embassies also took place in Lebanon and Lebanese bloggers have spoken out in anger against the mob mentality as well as their government. Kais for example thinks the entire Lebanese cabnit should resign, especially those that sanctioned these protests. Rampurple says: “I could care less where the demonstrators are from. It is the Lebanese government who is supposed to ensure the security of all civilians”

Ahmad Humeid wonder’s how the Prophet Mohammad would have responded to these cartoons; recalling stories from his religious classes as a child he offers 5 ways the Muslim world can respond. In the same spirit Naseem Tarawnah sees this as an opportunity for engaging in dialogue between the eastern and western worlds. While Haitham Sabbah is hoping that the sanity of the bloggers can help and is soliciting suggestions on what would bring this situation to a peaceful conclusion from his readers.

Last, but not least, Samir from Morocco asks: It is truly sad, though not unpredictable, the way this entire sorry mess has spiraled out of control. Some of the language being used in the world press and in the blogosphere is almost as damaging as the original publication of the cartoons. “A clash of civilisations.” Not very civilised, in my mind to publish cartoons that will inflame already tense Islamic sensibilities. “A war of ideologies” – possibly true, but a “war”?

17 comments

  • […] Also Read: Global Voices Roundup – Arab Bloggers Take on Danish Cartoons […]

  • http://www.hiahmad.net/blog/2006/01/30/alf_makal_wa_makal/

    this post collects arab bloggers posts that fall under “bloggers with the prophet” campaign

    the post has some banners with strong language for example, the bloggers have waged war, I hate denmark and all danes etc.

    I’m surprised that this kind of thing which is very common in the tiny arab blogosphere is not properly represented in this post.

    an aside note, the egyptian weekly Al Fagr published the cartoons a few days after they where published in JP

  • Alaa,

    The tiny Arab blogsphere is now in thousands. I don’t think anyone will be able to cover everything in one post. Not even a country blogsphere if you look at one like Egypt, which you belong to.

    Moreover, the blog you are referring to was covered in my previous post, which I guess you missed:
    http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/globalvoices/2006/02/05/burning-butter/

  • Haitham, oops

    true I did miss it, very balanced post, but doesn’t speak of attempts to organize a campaign within blogger with such strong messages.

    oh the blogosphere is still tiny when compared to some other countries and to it’s true potential wait till we get 1% of arab internet population and then let’s see how it will look like.

    so far I have actually been able to read every single post on the egblogs aggregator (but hardly ever read comments). but it’s a loosing battle.

  • […] My friend Selmin, being from Turkey and now in the US for her PhD took up my invitation and shared her perspective on the issue (she is not Muslim, btw). My classmate Susan sent me a website that gives an insight on how political cartoonists themselves think about it. And finally, Global Voices has done a wonderful job translating and bringing us a wide diversity of voices from the Arabic blogosphere that brings a much richer voice to this issue than how the Western media is portraying them: e.g. people have a wider range of reactions than just burning the Danish embassy, or saying ‘nah nah’ and being totally childish back. […]

  • Damned Books

    they cartoons that were shown to the muslims were faked by muslims!! they were never posted in jyllands post!

  • V. Campbell

    I am sickened at the fear the US President expressed by the threats of Muslim terrorists. Christians have had to take every kind of cartoon and much worse for centurys and the press doesn’t get blasted for that.
    Are violent Arabs trying to take away our right to free speech. President Bush expected the free world to stand with him in his attack against Iraq where he supposed their were weapons of mass destruction. Please…..now he sneaks away when Denmark needs support against mass hysteria. There weapon of trying to take away freedom of the Press is much more dangerous. We should not permit these rioting idiots to continue there dangerous pursuits.

  • Peacekeeper

    Like many others, I have read through various web-logs and seen the eloquently stated views and opinions from a variety

    of intellects, academics and ordinary-sounding people.

    As I have read angry and hateful comments, insulting statements and staunch dogma which precludes all other views, I

    became disturbed and sad. The more I read, however, the more relieved I became at the vast amount of moderated and

    sensible discussion that was possible with such emotive subjects and such a wide spectrum of beliefs from all sides.

    I began to capture a general overview of why web-logs provide such a valuable platform for people to say what they think

    – and for people like me to understand more about the souls who inhabit this fragile planet with me.

    I have always thought that good can come out of everything. I believe the Danish journalists who published the cartoons

    were probably ill-advised, no matter what reasons they have subsequently given. It was insensitive and poorly-timed, and

    led to loss of life, which is always very sad. However, there is some good which has come out of this whole affair, and

    that is the discussion itself which has enabled a greater understanding of different points of view and deeply-held

    beliefs. We all know a little bit more about each other now, and surely that is a good thing.

    Along the way, I saw that a few points were probably worth making, since they have not featured in any of the postings I

    have read as yet.

    First though, I should say that I found it very useful to see where each writer was “coming from”. For that reason, I can

    say that I am an ordinary English grandfather and a Catholic, although I don’t go to church as much as my conscience says

    I should!

    The first point is this:-

    Saudi Arabia prohibits displays of Christianity and other non-Muslim religions, but I don’t think it is fair to blame

    Muslims for that. Instead, perhaps we should hold the Saudi rulers to account, along with their interpretation of Islam

    and the adoption of that interpretation as a basis for their constitution.

    Think of it like this – Britain is a secular country with a monarch that is responsible for defending Britain’s version

    of Catholicism from the 16th Century which is called the “Church of England” (which is why English Catholics are called

    “Roman Catholics”). It would, however, be unfair to blame Catholics round the world for the actions of the British

    Government which has the Queen as it’s titular head.

    My second point:-

    I am not an expert on Islam, but I am picking up knowledge of the religion little by little. When the words of the

    Prophet were written down, it was many years ago, and there seems to have been no change in their interpretation as

    society has evolved. In quotes from the Q’ran in this web-log, I sometimes find it difficult to understand what is being

    said.
    Consequently, strict Muslims are being accused of living in the seventh century rather than the twenty-first and I

    believe there is a danger this will evolve into a violent schism between, on one side, fundamentalists who believe and

    quote the actual words of the Q’ran, and, on the other side, a “protestant” section who develop a form of Islam that

    moves forward with society and repudiates all violence. This would mirror the reformation of the 15th/16th century that

    split Catholics from Protestants. I believe Imams should bear the responsibility for shaping minds in a non-violent and

    progressive Islam that is more compatible with the modern world – people of lesser academic skills then those teachers

    rely on them for an accurate interpretation of the faith. This is the only way I see for Islam to settle.

    My third point:-

    It is clear to me that the God of my faith is the same God of Islam – we even share enlightened individuals from the past

    (Jesus, Mary etc) We could worship in the same building, pray to the same deity and enjoy spiritual comfort as one. This

    won’t happen, I know, but it does illustrate how close we are in our beliefs.

    My fourth point:-

    People in general should accept what the word “belief” really means. It is the absolute and undeniable truth in that

    person’s mind and anything that contradicts that view is considered by the person to be wrong. Two believers in different

    views will clash with each other, both in absolute confidence that their truth is the only truth. How do we help those

    two move to a tolerant understanding of each other? Only time, patience and good will can do that. I respect all

    non-violent beliefs and I want to understand them.

    My final point:-

    I don’t judge anyone by what they were, only by what they are – and then only if I feel qualified to judge. I have seen

    references to ancient history and past sins of all religions. I hardly think it is fair to blame Islam for wars and

    atrocities committed hundreds of years ago in it’s name. It wouldn’t be fair to blame the Americans for the decimation of

    the native American Indian by their forefathers – so much has been done by modern America to make recompense for that. It

    would be unfair to blame the Pope for the inquisitions of the middle ages. Similarly, and crucially, it is completely

    wrong to quote “The Crusades” as having any context whatsoever to today’s world. All right minded Europeans are equally

    as ashamed of our heritage in that respect.

    If anyone has read this far, thank you for your patience.
    May your God bless you and give you peace, and may we all learn to live in tolerance and understanding of each other.

    An ordinary Englishman

  • danielet

    The relationship between ethnicity and speciation has
    come up recently in an anthropological suggestion that
    the brain may treat ethnic features as it does species
    features and thus restricting broad breeding. Thus,
    the same social neural mechanisms that serve
    species-specific identification for breeding and
    grouping seen in lower primates may be operating as
    ethnic distinctions in higher ones, suggesting that
    ethnicity may be as “natural” as speciation factor
    (the latter crucial to perpetuation of the species
    maintenance). But what if we were to go one step
    further?

    AH Bittle in CLINICAL GENETICS
    60:89,2001–“Consanguinity and its relevance to
    clinical genetics,” reviews first and second cousin
    consanguinity. Though Islam seems to frown upon first
    cousin marriage, Bittle points out that in the Islamic
    world it occurs at the highest frequency (>50%). And,
    though Chaleby K. et al in their study “Cousins
    marriages and schizophrenia in Saudi Arabia,” Br. J.
    Psychiat 150:570, 1987, claims that such consanguinity
    does not raise the frequency of this disorder, Bittle
    was rather critical of the data’s reliability.

    In fact, an entire literature looks at the genetics of
    psychosis with some progress made to suggest a
    frequency greater than manifested by other medical
    disorders where consanguinity is concerned. Here a
    question must be asked in light of intense American
    intervention in the life of Arabs: are there
    incompletely penetrating psychiatric traits
    characteristic of Arabs because of the frequency of
    consanguinity to which Arab cultures adapted in order
    to impose social order?

    Admittedly, the hard data are not available for any
    reliable conclusions that are less flawed than the
    negative results of Chaleby et al. But in light of
    President Bush’s determination to change the Mideast
    so that it politically mirrors American democracy
    (where such consanguinity is illegal), one may
    legitimately ask if the absence of democracy in an
    intellectually so vibrant a culture may not reflect an
    adaptation to genetic traits acquired through the
    practice of consanguinity? In other words, is the
    Koran prescribed Sharia more appropriate for social
    order in the Arab world?

    No racist notions nor any value judgments are
    intended. Rather, I seek to emphasize that the
    assumptions on which Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the
    Mideast is based may be by far more maladaptive to
    circumstances acquired over centuries that the clergy
    run Sharia and he should have given this consideration
    before adamantly assuming that parliamentary
    government is superior in all cases to the regime the
    region developed over the centuries.

    Daniel E. Teodoru

  • Thank you so much for linking to my post about this

    I have moved my blog and this post on the new location is found here:

    http://www.anolitasmind.com/?p=305

    Please fix the old link and thank you again

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