Since the Danish "cartoon controversy" erupted at the beginning of February 2006 four months after the first publication of the offending images in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten there have been many claims that "Islamophobia is the new anti-semitism". But sadly the now global controversy has prompted some Muslims not always the extremists among them to give new voice to classic, old-style anti-semitism.
Jews are not, on the face of it, really involved in the whole cartoon controversy. But this does not stop Muslims from London to Tehran bringing them in and abusing them.
As far as I know, those responsible for the publication of the cartoons and the reprinting of them throughout Europe happen to be Christians or declared secularists. But many in Muslim-majority countries who decided to respond in kind have directed their response at Jews. Why? Is it just an opportunity to air some underlying anti-semitic feelings? Or is it a case of needing someone to kick and finding that Jews are a much easier target than Christians or secularists?
For that matter, it might be thought that Britain isn't a direct party to the affair either: no newspaper or magazine has republished the cartoons (and the only publication that sought to publish just one of the twelve, a Welsh student magazine, had its entire print-run retrieved and pulped). But the restraint, or timorousness, of the British media has not spared the country from angry reactions to their publication.
The first of a series of demonstrations on successive weekends, on Friday 3 February, witnessed the flourishing of placards and slogans which were clearly except, it seems, in the eyes of the police an incitement to violence. It was the Muslim community itself, to its leaders' credit, that demanded police action.
The second weekend demo, on 11 February, saw moderate Muslims showing that they are just as unhappy with the cartoons but are able to express their view in a civilised way. The third time round, on 18 February, several organisations marching under the rubric of the newly-formed Muslim Action Committee assembled and marched from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park.
The accumulating impact of the demonstrations makes it clear that some of those same Muslims, moderates or not, who demand respect for their religion and beliefs, do not see any need to offer the same to other religions and cultures. On the contrary, they seem to find it perfectly legitimate to use any insult to them as an excuse to hit at another minority the Jews.
Also in openDemocracy on the "cartoon war" in Europe and the Muslim world:
Neal Ascherson, "A carnival of stupidity" (February 2006)
"Muslims and Europe: a cartoon confrontation" (February 2006) a compendium of writers' views, including Fauzia Ahmad, Zaid Al-Ali, Patrice de Beer, KA Dilday, Sajjad Khan, Shaida Nabi, Roger Scruton, and Adam Szostkiewicz
Doug Ireland, "The right to caricature God
and his prophets"
Tariq Modood, "The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification? "
Ehsan Masood, "A post-Satanic journey" (February 2006)
Sarah Lindon, "Words on images: the cartoon controversy"
Fred Halliday, "Blasphemy and power" (February 2006)
S Sayyid, "Old Europe, New World"
Sakia Sassen, "Free speech in the frontier-zone"
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A question of consistency
How come that none of the British Muslim intellectuals who have been writing about the Danish cartoons controversy have (as far as I am aware) seen the need to distance themselves from those other cartoons, with more than a hint of anti-semitism, published in Muslim publications in Europe as well as Iran? It's probably not that they support this kind of cartoon any more than they support those that insulted Islam, but that they couldn't be bothered to express objections.
For years people like Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Muhammad preached their hate and incitement to terrorism, towards the west and especially towards Jews. I cannot remember the demonstrations of ordinary, moderate Muslims against them. The most one could hear was dismissal or disavowal, and even that not too loudly.
Meanwhile, the London-based Muslim Weekly made its own contribution to the debate by allowing an anti-semitic cartoon to be published on its pages. The Independent on Sunday reprinted it on its front page. Again, not much criticism could be heard from the Muslim communities. Similar silence has followed the publication of another cartoon on the website of the Antwerp-based Arab European League, headed by Dyab Abou Jahjah. That one had Anne Frank in bed with Hitler.
The editor explained that he wanted to show that there are other cartoons which will hurt other groups. But he saw that unlike cartoons insulting Muslims, when targeting Jews the Muslim community has no strong objection (and, it seems, when targeting women the Iranian journalist Nazenin Ansari pointed out the insulting sexism of the image in a BBC Newsnight discussion on the affair).
Another example of Muslims seeing Jews as fair game is an Observer interview with the father of Omar Khayam, the young Muslim from Bedford who dressed as a suicide-bomber during the 3 February demonstration against the cartoons in London. He finds in some sick twisted way a connection between the Danish cartoons and the Jewish lobby. He's quoted as saying: "Muslims are bridging the gap with the West. But because the Jewish lobby did not like that, they may have backed this. This may have been their conspiracy."
Riffat Khayam does not even claim to know anything about the Jewish lobby's backing it is just a case of looking for someone to blame and the Jews are an easy target. If Muslims are so sensitive to their image, how can they be so insensitive to that of others, and how can they be so quick to taint another group's image with no basis whatsoever?
Further away, the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tells us that his planned conference questioning the historical reality of the holocaust is no more than a scientific exercise. Would he, or Muslims who don't object to his plans feel the same about, say, a conference questioning whether the Prophet Mohammed ever existed at all?
After 9/11 and 7/7 we were told not to vent anger over those atrocities at the general Muslim community, and that was right. But why do Muslims have no problem at venting their anger over the Danish cartoons at Jews who in fact had nothing whatsoever to do with them?
Tariq Modood, a Muslim intellectual who is especially attuned to issues of multiculturalism and diversity in modern Britain, wrote in openDemocracy that since the Salman Rushdie affair British society has moved some way towards understanding and accepting Muslim sensitivities (see "The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification?" (February 2006). But shouldn't non-Muslims expect Muslim society to move some way towards understanding and accepting the sensitivities of other religions or cultures?
I do not want to see Muslim leaders censor their community's publications any more than I want to see censorship of any other publication. But if Muslims want respect to their beliefs shouldn't they start by showing similar respect to those of others? Shouldn't at least a few of them stand up and say out loud that they do not feel comfortable with the anti-semitism in their midst?
Many Muslim intellectuals and community leaders have written in openDemocracy and elsewhere - about what British and European societies should do to integrate Muslims. Sadly they do not talk about what the Muslim communities need to do on their part. Rejecting expressions of anti-semitism would be a step in the right direction.