The printing or reprinting of political cartoons that depict Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, have become an issue globally and may be inflaming a number of serious conflicts. Such cartoons violate prohibitions in Sunni Islam and are considered insulting by many Shia as well. Should such cartoons be considered hate speech by definition? Or have some other special status?
Most Sunni Muslim sects ban representations of the prophet for fear they could lead to idolatry. Shia Muslims do not ban such representations. "Some in Iran's provincial towns and villages even carry drawings said to be of Muhammad." - according to a 2006-02-12 news story.
A set of caricatures were first published in September and reprinted in January in other European publications that said it was an issue of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This led to extreme controversy in February 2006 including riots throughout the Muslim World and Europe and even some demonstrations in Canada. No such riots had occurred originally in September, but the deliberate reprinting was seen by many as a provocation. The newspaper caricatures were taken as being insulting to all Muslims by both Shia and Sunni leaders. One of them depicted Muhammad with a bomb in his turban as if he was intent on making a suicide attack.
Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, has according to the same story, "seized on the caricatures as a means of rallying its people behind a government that is increasingly under fire from the West over its nuclear program." See nuclear Iran. President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said:
- ''"Now in the West insulting the prophet is allowed, but questioning the Holocaust is considered a crime," he said, referring to the US and Europe as "hostages of Zionists", and analogizing the cartoons to hate speech.
Hamas had also recently won elections in Palestine and a Shia coalition had taken power in Iraq. Even in Lebanon there were protests where a fragile democracy had very recently taken hold - in Syria the Danish embassy was attacked.
Norway's ambassador to Saudi Arabia apologized for the "offense" caused when a Norwegian newspaper republished the caricatures. Denmark urged its citizens to leave Indonesia as soon as possible, saying they were facing "a significant and imminent danger" from an unnamed extremist group.
Several Arab governments, Muslim clerics and newspaper columnists called for calm and stated that the riots had only increased anti-Islamic sentiment in the West.
In Canada at least one student newspaper had reprinted the cartoons but the paper wasn't distributed - the UPEI administration intervened. In Halifax Dalhousie University professor Peter March posted the cartoons on his own office door and led debate on them in his class. This led to a protest march against him which the professor actually joined.
Table of contents
- depict Muhammad
- position: ban any insulting depictions
- position: ban any depictions whatsoever
- position: ban nothing, let judgement prevail
The position most common among Muslims is to ban insulting depictions regardless of their intent.
argument for: keep the peace
argument for: it's hate speech
argument against: violates freedom of expression and freedom of the press
argument against: impossible to objectively define, "insulting" is situational
For instance, the cartoons were not considered to be gravely insulting until they were reprinted "to make a point".
argument against: impossible to enforce
The Internet makes this an easy law to violate.