In the cartoon controversy regarding the publication of Prophet Mohammed'scaricature by the Danish journal Jyllands-Posten, the charge against the cartoonist was that his drawing was a vulgar representation of the Prophet. This is a half-truth. The objection actually is not to vulgar representation, but any type of representation that is prohibited in Islam.
The bias against visual art form is an outcome of the opposition to idolatry, propounded by the Prophet. His tribe in Mecca had 360 deities whose statues had been installed around Kaaba. Mohammed wanted to unite his people under one God, Allah. Therefore, when he could gather enough followers to his new faith and defeat the idolaters in a war to influence the affairs of Mecca, he ordered the demolition of all the statues. Of course, it was a progressive step because the existence of hundreds of gods resulted in many divisions among the Arabs, which promoted factionalism and fratricidal war amongst various sects.
However, an idea formulated for a good cause and a progressive step at that time degenerated into intolerance and iconoclasm. It is all right for Muslims not to have images of their own God, Allah, and their own Prophet, Mohammed. But enforcing their religious dictum on the followers of other religions is unfair, if not atrocious. From the historical perspective, the Muslim invaders had demolished the places of worship of people of other faiths and had broken the idols of deities installed there. To list the incidents of Islamic iconoclasm is difficult because they are too many. The latest one was the destruction of the magnificent Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the fanatic Taliban.
Freedom of faith is a fundamental right in all modern countries, especially democracies. If Hindus believe in idol worship and Christians have statues and pictures of Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and saints for adoration in the churches, what right have the Muslims to object to their mode of worship? Don'tthink that such objections are expressed only by the mullah-inspired Taliban of Afghanistan and Islamic terrorist groups all over the world. Even a country that is a member of the United Nations Organisation and the best friend of USA to boot, Saudi Arabia, practices the most virulent form of religious intolerance. Hindus and Christians can'thave their place of worship in the Islamic Kingdom. Also they cannot carry any symbol of their respective religion on their person or have them at home for fear of imprisonment and worse. One would like to ask Americans who pride themselves as the custodians of human rights and place sanctions against Myanmar and North Korea for human rights violations: Why are your government turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia where the worst kind of human rights violations take place in the form of religious discrimination and persecution?
There were prophets before Mohammed whom Muslims recognise as such. But they are prophets of the Jews and the Christians as well. Should Muslims object to pictures and statues of, say, Moses, Abraham or Jesus Christ in the churches, whom they are supposed to revere? Leave alone the idol of Rama, Krishna or Buddha to whom Muslims owe no allegiance. What about Jesus Christ whom the Muslims are supposed to revere and whose statues and pictures find a place in churches for the Christians to pray to?
If the Danish cartoonist made a caricature of Prophet Mohammed and used it as a character of his cartoon, it is condemnable, not because he was breaking an Islamic tenet; as a non-Muslim, he is not bound by Muslim rules. His cartoons were condemnable because he was wounding the religious sentiment of Muslims by drawing the picture of their Prophet in a vulgar way. Jyllands-Posten published12 cartoons that showed Mohammed in a bad light; one even connected him to modern day terrorism showing a bomb in his turban, which was highly provocative. The complaint against artist Hussain'spainting of Saraswati was not that he, being a Muslim, drew the picture of a Hindu Goddess. The charge against him was that his painting of the Goddess was in the nude, which was derogatory. And the opposition to the painting would have been there even if the painter were a Hindu.
It is wrong to think that Muslims all over the world stuck to the dictum against idolatry and image worship. No foreign religion, howsoever strict, can wipe out national culture and traits. The whole Muslim world is not Talibanised. When Islam from the Arabian deserts reached the highly civilized Persia, the religion underwent much sophistication. So did it happen when the nomadic Mughals brought Islam into the Northern parts of India. The exquisite schools of Persian architecture, Mughal miniature painting and Hindustani music evolved during Muslim rule in India. Aren'tIndian Muslims proud of the great arts of which they are masters today?
Now coming back to the offending cartoons printed in the Danish paper, the Muslim world'sreaction against the cartoonist and his country, Denmark, which defended him in the name of freedom of expression, was counterproductive. The violent demonstrations in Islamic countries caused deaths and destruction of property; those who died were Muslims and the property destroyed was of Muslims. No Dane was killed. If Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut were burnt, these must have been heavily insured and Denmark would get compensation.
In India, the demonstration against the cartoons in the Danish paper blended with anti-Bush agitation on the eve of the US President'svisit to this country. Ironically, godless communists and the Muslims defending their God joined hands clutching red flags and green flags respectively while taking out processions against George Bush. The result was violence as in Lucknow where some people were killed or wounded. And the victims were neither Danes nor Americans.