Dealing with the cartoon jihad

Dealing with the cartoon jihad

There are many reasons why the Jewish community needs to speak out on the "cartoon jihad" that has engulfed the Islamic world.

One reason is hypocrisy. Arab and Muslim leaders demand a sensitivity from the media in the democratic world that is conspicuously absent from the largely state-owned media in their countries. On any given day, you can pick up a newspaper in Saudi Arabia or Syria, turn on the television in Egypt, or log on to a host of Arab/Muslim Websites and see the most foul representations of Jews. All the anti-Semitic myths that have plagued us through history are on display: hooked noses, fangs dripping with blood, slaughtered children used to make matzoh, money-hoarding. If Julius Streicher, editor of the notorious Nazi paper Der Sturmer, were alive today, he’d be working in media in the Middle East.

These cartoons below from the ADL’s Website, come from the Muslim and Arab press. Some cartoons on the site appeared before and others during the current controversy. According to the ADL, the Website of the Arab-Euro-pean League published the cartoon showing Hitler in bed with Anne Frank  "supposedly … to show Europeans what can happen when the freedom of the press in their societies is taken too far."

Al-Ittihad, Jan. ‘4, ‘006 (United Arab Emirates). Top: The Robbery; Over Gun: The Holocaust

Al-Bayan, Dec. ”, ‘005 (United Arab Emirates)

Akhbar al-Khalij, Jan. ‘9, ‘006 (Bahrain). Translation: Flag in cheese — Danish Product Boycott It; on right — The Penetration of Zionism to Denmark

Tishrin, Apirl ‘1, ’00’ (Syria). The book in the left hand of the Jewish stereotype is the Torah.

Al-Watan, Feb. 3, ‘004 (Oman). Translation: On left — Feast of the Immolation; on right — The Islamic World’s Attitude?

Website of the Arab-European League (Feb. ‘, ‘006)

Al-Yawm, Dec. 1, ‘005 (Saudi Arabia)

Ar-Rai, Nov. 5, ‘005 (Jordan)

So the furor over the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed is a salutary reminder of the double standards that prevail in Arab countries and the wider Muslim world. Demonizing the enemy and accusing him of all sort of diabolic conspiracies has, in fact, been standard fare for years, especially when the enemy in question is Jewish. The demonization is matched by an aggressive intolerance of other opinions and religions. In Saudi Arabia, Islam is the only religion permitted. In Iraq and Pakistan, church services are regularly targeted by terrorists.

Thankfully, different standards apply in western countries. Precisely because of that, we need to be respectful of Muslim religious sensitivities, even as we condemn the violence.

Given our history, Jews can, on one level, empathize with those Muslims who feel insulted by the cartoons. It goes without saying that crude stereotypical caricatures of our most sacred religious beliefs would lead us to react, albeit without resorting to intimidation and violence.

That is why Jews both value and insist upon multicultural societies where the rule of law prevails, where distinctive identities can flourish, and where tolerance and respect are values equally applicable to all citizens. We benefit from such an arrangement and so do other religious, racial, and ethnic groups. For that reason, the basic tenets of the Muslim faith should be respected by the media and governments.

This has nothing to do with censorship. The beauty of free speech is that it compels us to use our intelligence. Sometimes it is right and prudent to draw back, in order to avoid offending the precious beliefs of the various communities that compose our societies. To recognize, in other words, the boundary between legitimate critique and gratuitous slurs — like the ludicrous accusation that Mohammed was a terrorist.

In societies like ours, where we are accustomed to provocative images and language, we can sometimes forget that these have an inherent power. The events of the last week have reminded us that words and pictures can hurt. Editors and writers need to start examining where the red lines are and why these should not be crossed. Equally, those Muslims who are protesting — whether in Europe or in the Middle East — must recognize that violence is never an acceptable tactic.

This was the case in 1989, when Muslims around the world burned copies of Salman Rushdie’s novel "The Satanic Verses." It was the case in ‘004, when the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered by an Islamist activist. And it remains the case now. We must not be intimidated by Islamist clerics like Sheik Yusuf al Qaradawi when they issue calls for a "day of anger." Anger is not the answer: Reason and persuasion are. Indeed, they are our only hope.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of "Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism." He lives in Bergen County.