The cartoons of Muhammad are only racist Islamophobia

By Rahaf Kalaaji

It’s not about cartoons. It’s not about freedom of speech, expression, or the press. It’s not about a “clash of civilizations.”

The controversy over the Danish cartoons that negatively portrayed the Prophet Muhammad is about racism, equality, and whether we as Muslims are welcome as citizens in the West.

As the protests worldwide have escalated in scope and descended into chaos, the facts and context in which the cartoons were published have been obscured. The cartoons were originally published in September 2005, amid rising anti-Muslim xenophobia in Europe, particularly in Denmark, where about three million Muslims form four percent of the population.

Denmark’s far-right politicians and their political party openly condemn Muslim beliefs, practices, and people. Those who despise and detest Muslims found a willing outlet for their hatred in Jyllands-Posten, which “solicited” the offensive cartoons, including one that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

Danish Muslims complained about the cartoon and compiled a lengthy report detailing the institutionalized racism they experience. Several ambassadors of Muslim countries in Denmark requested a meeting with Danish officials to discuss the issue and were spurned. Nearly four months later, the situation seems out of control.

Like most Muslims, I wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has been part of the protests. But I am not opposed to protests or boycotts because of these cartoons.

No matter what anybody says, the press’s freedom does not justify publishing cartoons meant only to offend. Only by thinking that Muslims are inherently and genetically inferior could someone believe that such an assault against the character of the Prophet Muhammad would be ignored.

The cartoons deeply offended Muslims of all denominations all over the world because they attacked something that forms the very core of our being, the core of our identity: Islam. The Prophet Muhammad holds a significant place in the hearts of all Muslims, regardless of how religiously observant they are.

We do not worship him, but we love and revere him very deeply. He is the best human being who ever walked the face of the Earth. From the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we close our eyes at night, we strive to emulate him and be worthy of carrying on his message. Thus, an attack on him is directly an attack on all Muslims.

That’s what the cartoons were meant to convey: It isn’t just the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, it’s by implication every single Muslim. The message is that we are all terrorists and we are a threat to all that is Western.

This is not only inaccurate, but also irresponsible and dangerous. Browse through cartoons in Europe and the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s and see how Jewish and Japanese people were portrayed.

It’s increasingly becoming clear that Islamophobia is the last acceptable racism, and Muslims are marginalized and vulnerable in Western societies.

If you don’t think that’s true, then imagine the reaction of a cartoon portraying Jesus or Moses or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr. with a bomb. That’s flat out wrong, and people of conscience would stand against it. After what we’ve been through, Muslims would be the first.