Why Canadian republication of Danish cartoons is wrong

Any publication which incites hate, or which spreads negative stereotypes about a Canadian minority is morally wrong because it compromises the well-being of all members of that minority. The issue here goes beyond the boundaries of free expression; it is about the power of so-called "free speech" to dehumanize fellow citizens and depict them as "not like us." Unfortunately, that consideration did not deter the Western Standard or the Jewish Free Press, so perhaps some remedial education is in order.

In modern Germany, there are museum exhibits covering the period leading up to the Holocaust. Among those displays one can see "cartoons" depicting Jews as thieves, cheats, fools, etc. All of these were caricatures that grossly exaggerated the physical features and perceived mannerisms of a targeted group or ethnic community. The message was abundantly clear: "Jews are not like us — they are therefore not worthy to live with the rights and respect that we have."

I believe it was this sort of "free speech" that led to increasingly violent acts against Jews, which culminated in events like Kristallnacht and ultimately the horrors of the Holocaust. It was a gradual intensification of hate, with deceptively "harmless" things like cartoons helping pave the way for the evil that happened under the Nazis.

Today, a Danish newspaper’s offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bomb-wearing terrorist, or a ridiculous fanatic, fall into the same divisive and dangerous stereotypical category as slogans like, "Jews are Christ-killers," "Christians are savage anti-Semitic Crusaders," "Blacks are drug-dealers," "Aboriginals are lazy drunks," etc.

Ever since the news media broke the story from Europe, numerous Muslim and non-Muslim Canadians have objected to the publication of these cartoons, especially in papers and magazines originating from within our own country. One does not have to be a Muslim to feel the pain and betrayal these drawings convey. It is the same kind of pain felt by descendants of Holocaust survivors when confronted with the illogical ranting of those who deny it ever happened; or the pain of Black citizens faced with the spectacle of white supremacists marching down the main street of their town.

The editors of Canada’s largest-circulation newspapers including this one made the right ethical and professional decision not to republish the Danish cartoons and the government of Canada expressed regrets that the cartoons were published in Denmark.

They realized that those cartoons are not about a so-called "clash of civilizations," or the collision of the Islamic and Western worlds. The real issue is about a Western Muslim minority, struggling in a hostile post 9/11 environment to live as normally as any other group in our multicultural society. It is about a minority at a crossroads in their relationship with the Muslim world of their former home countries; as such a community, Western Muslims have much to learn from Jewish history in both Europe and North America. Canadian Muslims know they must not stand apart from their fellow citizens, but must actively move into the concept of smart integration as the ideal model for social unity and cultural coherence.

One of the Danish cartoons, which depicts Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, suggests by inference that all Muslims are terrorists. This is not merely offensive or insulting — it is an enticing hate, pure and simple. And those rogue Canadian publications that insisted on reprinting are therefore knowingly promoting hatred against Muslims. To condone such an explicit depiction of the Prophet of Islam as a terrorist, one has to be at the very least willful in not acknowledging that such a depiction vilifies and discredits all Muslims, creating a dangerous climate for Muslims in Canada and everywhere else.

Canadian Muslims are a minority, often a highly visible one, and the vast majority of non-Muslim Canadians have grown up with stereotypical views of Muslims, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. The republication of the anti-Islam cartoons has served only to further stereotype Muslims as dangerous and threatening.

Canadian Muslims do accept and acknowledge that extremists exist and must be dealt with. But when the ideologies and actions of a very few are used as the basis to judge an entire people, distortion and unfairness are the inevitable result. Extremism is not in any way, shape or form, the essence of Muslim life. Extremism, in fact, is no more a monopoly of Islam than it is of any other faith group, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Sikhism.

The vast majority of Muslims, though conservative, are moderate in their political views. Islam has long been regarded among its adherents as "the religion of the middle way." The Prophet himself, so misconstrued in the infamous Danish cartoons, repeatedly denounced extremism.

We Canadian Muslims share the same common values: a deep respect for knowledge; a passion for justice; compassion toward the sick, elderly, needy and underprivileged; devotion to the values of family life, including respect for parents and elders; and acceptance of the "other," the strangers and travelers in our midst.

We live today in one world, a global village continually connected via instant communication. Our world economy is an interdependent entity, where a ripple on one continent can cause a tidal wave on another. Consequently, the selfish and irresponsible publication of hate literature, even if some consider it "funny," damages the world we live in. We need to stop, think, and care — after all, it’s the only world we’ve got.