By Bradley Burston, Monday, 6 February, Haaretz
One thing that all journalists know is how to hurt people.
The good ones know how to avoid it, and do, refraining from racism, steering clear of character assassinations of private individuals.
The bad ones hurt people inadvertently, through breaches of professional ethics.
The worst, a group which can include some of the best known, do it on purpose. And of these, no one can hurt so many people all at once, as a cartoonist.
In sheer destructive potential, few elements of journalism can hold a candle to the hateful cartoon. The fact that the virulently anti-Semitic caricatures of the Nazi Der Sturmer weekly still circulate on neo-Nazi Websites more than 70 years after they were drawn, testifies to their power and longevity.
Of late, a new breed of anti-Semitic caricature has begun to circulate through Europe, an indication, perhaps, of a new breed of anti-Semitism. But the Semites, in this case, are not Jews.
The message of a number of the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a variety of derogatory caricatures is roughly this: Most Muslims are Arabs, and most Arabs are potential suicide bombers.
The message is obscene. It is racist. It dishonors the bedrock spiritual beliefs of one of every six people on the entire planet. In that sense, it also profanes the right of freedom of speech, distorting it into the freedom to foster hatred.
Correctly, many rabbis have expressed their disgust at the cartoons. “I share the anger of Muslims following this publication,” French Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk said. “I understand the hostility in the Arab world. One does not achieve anything by humiliating religion. It’s a dishonest lack of respect.”
Said the chief rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sachs, “The only way to have freedom of speech and freedom from religious hatred is to exercise restraint. The question is: can we learn to respect what others hold holy?”
Still, when it came time to discuss a double standard in press freedoms, there were more than a few Muslim commentators who could not resist the opportunity to stick it to the Jews.
“In the West, one discovers there are different moral ceilings, and all moral parameters and measures are not equal,” the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat wrote.
“If the Danish cartoon had been about a Jewish rabbi, it would never have been published.”
As the case spiraled from outrage to arson this week, a surreal test case presented itself. The Arab European League, a Dutch-Belgian Islamic political group, posted a cartoon on its Website portraying Anne Frank, the best-known Dutch victim of the Nazi Holocaust, in bed with Adolf Hitler. A second cartoon questioned whether the Holocaust had actually taken place.
Dyab Abou Jahjah, the party’s founder and best-known figure, defended the
action on Dutch television, again arguing on the basis of a double standard.
“Europe has its sacred cows, even if they’re not religious sacred cows,” he said.
This might well be the time to point out that a double standard can cut two ways.
Everyone who lives in the Middle East knows that one reason for the longevity of the hideous Jew-baiting cartoons of Der Sturmer, is the popularity of hideous Jew-baiting cartoons in popular publications in places like Cairo, Damascus, and Gaza City. Some of the same places, that is, where outrage over the Danish cartoons boiled over into violence, torching embassies, and death threats.
True, everyone here teaches hatred. We do. Our Muslim cousins do. But there’s a serious lesson for all of us to learn in the cartoon affair. You don’t fight fire with arson. You don’t redress one newspaper’s insult to an entire religion by burning the flag, profaning the symbol, of an entire people. You do not restore honor to Islam and its prophet by demonstrating in Knightsbridge, London, dressed as a suicide bomber, or carrying a banner reading “Butcher those who mock Islam.”
It is right and proper to blame the people who are to blame. There is another name for blaming all members of a group for the actions of a few. It is racism. Surely the fact that you are the victim of racism, does not mean that you are immune from practicing it.
I believe that Berlin’s Die Welt was wrong and hurtful in re-printing one of the Danish cartoons. But I cannot but agree with the comment that accompanied it.
“We’d take Muslim protests more seriously if they weren’t so hypocritical,” Die Welt wrote.
“The imams were quiet when Syrian television showed Jewish rabbis as cannibals in a prime-time series.”