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Lest we become caricatures of ourselves

In South Africa we’re swathing our cars in the national flag, wearing football jerseys to work, trying our damndest to look for some unique way to show off our patriotism. I am a Muslim. I am a South African. I have been blessed to never feel that these identities are irreconcilable. My Muslimness is entrenched in my South Africaness. My South Africaness is connected to my Muslimness. While the rest of the world squabbles over a woman’s right to wear the nikaab, in my neck of the woods, women in nikaab drive cars, work in banks, serve you in stores. And it’s never been anything to write home about.

I have honestly never been made to think twice about wearing a hijab, or an abaya, for that matter for fear of social recrimination.  I blend in, I’ve never walked into a mall, or an interview , or a meeting having to worry about how I am going to be perceived.  I don’t doubt that my dress inspires curiosity but even when this curiosity is pronounced I’ve never been made to feel as though I was under a searchlight.  The reaction to the publication of the Zapiro cartoon by the Mail and Guardian this morning however has made me feel as though my Muslim identity and South African identity are being mercilessly wrenched apart.

In the words of former Mail and Guardian journalist, Qudsiya Karim, ‘As a Muslim, I’m not at all impressed with Zapiro’s cartoon. As a journalist, I understand that press freedom is important.’ I too champion the right to a free press, just some weeks ago I joined bloggers around the country to protest the intimidation of the media by the ANC Youth League. It is apt then that City Press editor Ferial Haffejee says, ‘Draw Mohamad day is as much about free expression as the Youth League is about advancing young people.’ I had been able to merrily ignore the calls to boycott Facebook yesterday in protest of ‘Draw Mohamed Day’. I reacted with some bewilderment that Pakistan has cut off its nation from their social media diet. To be honest it was easy to ignore until it concerned us.

Waking up to news that an interdict against the Mail and Guardian publishing a Zapiro cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him)had failed left me a little unsettled. I only believed it once I saw it. And when I did see it, it was disappointment I felt most acutely. While I looked at the cartoon pensively, a text message from an acquaintance interrupted me:

‘ Alert: Now on Radio Islam the government wants see how Muslim South African youth react to the Zapiro drawing of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). They are waiting for any violent action from the youth to clamp down and persecute Muslims in South Africa. Even though this may hurt us, please try to remain calm and not resort to any violence!’

That message plays into the victim mentality so many in this community are handicapped by and it is disappointing that most Muslims, myself included, don’t batter an eyelash when other religions are made the butt of the cartoonist’s pencil. There certainly is a duplicity of values that needs to be addressed.

It is interesting too that on the two occasions publishing cartoons of the Prophet has been made an issue in South Africa, both times the judges deciding the matter were Muslims. A clear indication of how much more integrated Muslims in South Africa are. In the first case of the infamous Danish cartoon, the late Judge Mohamed Jajbhay decided that publishing it would amounted to hate speech. A reminder that even the most liberal constitution recognises limits to free speech but the ruling came under great scrutiny as it was felt the judge was ill qualified to hold an objective perspective in matters pertaining to his namesake.  This time the Judge was a Judge Mayet who insisted that her Muslim identity would not interfere with her ability to judge the matter.

I’m not sure if Zapiro’s cartoon can be judged a victory for free speech. As I conclude this a couple of friends are coyly tweeting admission they find the cartoon funny, that’s all. And that doesn’t make them any less Muslim. Nor does my disappointment in the cartoon make me any less South African.

Also read Hamish Pillay’s thoughts on the matter here.

18 replies on “Lest we become caricatures of ourselves”

Thank you all for reading, commenting, sharing and linking.

I don’t think I can say any more than what has already been said on other blogs, in the media and dining rooms across the country. As a nation, it certainly has been valuable to have this debate. It was a welcome touch of reality amid all photo-shopped hysteria about being a happy, clappy rainbow nation.

Shak, I thought I was judged to have won the South African vs Indian dinner debate.

I think it’s not so much that our cohesion is fragile as much as it is misleading. Just because we’re part of the furniture doesn’t mean there’s enough love to go around.

Our bubbles, I think are more socio-economically induced than entirely religious.

The fact that M&G knew they going to offend and were willing to offend is particularly unsettling. They came across too much like cowboys.

Thanks for the Khalid Baig link, his stuff’s always worth a read.

The issue of “Freedom of expression” – as it’s touted publically – is rather deceptive when you think about it.

Please read Khalid Baig’s thoughts on it here:
http://albalagh.net/food_for_thought/0096.shtml

With every freedom comes a responsibility; and those who want to be so staunch about a “right” to do something should remember that there’s a corresponding responsibility with every right.

It’s just IRRESPONSIBLE to publically put out that cartoon when you KNOW it will offend people – especially when it’s such so sensitive and an issue that’s been a massive not very long ago.

Poking fun at political figures is one thing; but satirising religions – no matter what religion – is just plain disrespectful.
.-= Dreamlife´s last blog ..Cartoons and Freedom of Expression =-.

I seen the cartoon via e mail yesterday and immediately felt sick to my stomach that such a thing has been allowed to happen. The fact that international incidents occured in Europe with the printing of cartoons there and repercussions that came in the afterwaves, is shocking that such an incident has been allowed here. Our prophet saw is the greatest man of all time and Allah’s most beloved. His entire life was spent in goodness and honesty, paving the perfect way of life for us to follow. One of the greatest miracles of the prophet saw was that he lived his life exactly the way the quraan has ordered. The quraan is Allah’s words to mankind, any humour or disrespect to the prophet saw is disrespect to Allah. Any muslims who find the cartoon funny should be disgusted with themselves. Remember, Allah is the most wrathful, but his mercy exceeds his punishment, so let us not bring Allah’s wrath to ourselves by accepting this ,any drawing of the prophet saw in any form, good or bad is a taboo, us muslims in sa should not be violent in any part, but we should stand together and let our voice be heard that we find it extremely hurtful and that measures be put in place that this never happens again.

I dont think any Muslim with an iota of belief can find ridicule against the prophet one bit funny..

Maybe its my “opinion” and i may seem old fashioned, but there is a fine line between humour and what Zapiro has published. I found it demeaning and totally sinful..

If im not mistaken, the Danish cartoonist is inflicted by an illness, doctors are struggling to even diagnose. I stand to be corrected..

We as Muslims, should be disgusted when other religions come under scrutiny as well and because of our human nature we dont.

I think, it was very unnecessary for this to be allowed to be published, esp in a country where freedom of religion is practised.. We should make shukr for the building of Masaajid, loud Azaans, wearing of hijaab and niqaab in public all being allowed by the government.. By they in turn should respect the Muslims, by not allowing an idiot cartoonist to vent his thoughts..

Judge Mayet.. rofl (next alipor meeting, this should be raised)

Where do we draw the line between free speech and tolerance? And by (in)tolerance Im referring to the Danish cartoon depicting Muhammed SAW with a bomb on his turban. That was the trigger point to this current status quo- which the mainstream media tend to forget. I dont condone the calling for the deaths of the ‘artists’, after all how do we then claim the high ground? But they cannot expect Muslims to be docile while their most revered/respected/loved prophet is made into cannon-fodder for free speech by a right-wing cartoonist(the Danish toss).

I personally feel let down by M&G for going ahead publish the cartoon, because this isn’t about humour. There is nothing funny when a religious icon becomes a pop sensation.

Only you can decide whether you’re Muslim, South Africa, African, Indian, or whatever. Nobody else can decide for you; it comes from within. Once you’ve decided you’re X, simply don’t let anyone tell you differently. Be proud of whatever you want to claim as part of your identity.

I find it very easy to be South Africa, gay, and muslim… because I choose to define myself, not allow others to define me.

Well-written post, agree with you re feeling “unsettled” by the cartoon, but I greatly admire Zapiro and know he didn’t draw this cartoon lightly, but in defence of freedom of ideas. Though I do think some ideas can be harmful (Nazism), this drawing harms nobody, and Zapiro has tried to be respectful in his (as usual) very clever way.

@Shak. Just for clarity Im not indian 🙂 Im the token coloured (saffa term not derogatory term in UK) or mixed race. but yes, there’s a lot more “real” intergration that needs to happen

From the reading of the ruling it seems the judge ruled in favour of Mg cos the cartoon was already public domain and banning it would serve no purpose. The question she didn’t answer was what she would have done if it was before. I don’t know all the facts so it would be inappropriate of me to comment on her ruling and the case brought forward.

Don’t forget, you’re Indian too 🙂

As an outsider I was curious to experience the much vaunted integration and tolerance of “others” that South Africa was said to have. And while I was impressed by how accessible and easy it was for one to “do their thing”, I did also notice that “doing their thing” was very dependant on factors like geography and context. As such, it seemed a bit more fragile and possibly shallow than the intergration you’d find here in the UK or France, they type that is challenged and is causing issue for some.

And quite interestingly of all the new people I met, not one of them was white. I’m not sure how relevant that is, but I feel it’s all to do with the various “bubbles” that the locals kept referring to.

I don’t think its a victory for free speech either, but try to be optimistic that it gives me an opportunity to practice tolerance. I am unsettled, that as you say, I don’t feel like I can be both muslim and South African today. But what do I do with the squirmy feeling inside.
.-= Aasia´s last blog ..Twitter song lyrics =-.

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