Socialist Worker

Cartoon row: the issue is racism

Issue No. 1987

This is not about “freedom of speech”. It’s not about a “war of civilisations”. It’s about racism. Anyone who doubts that need look no further than the right wing Danish paper that commissioned the notorious anti-Muslim cartoons last September.

It would have us believe it was all for a noble principle of “freedom of speech”. Oh, really? This is the same paper, Jyllands-Posten, which:

  • Campaigned in 1984 to censor an artist who produced an erotic image of Jesus.
  • Refused three years ago to print a cartoon because the editors said it would provoke an outcry among Christians.

No brave commitment to freedom of speech there. That was only invoked, cynically, when the editors chose to target Muslims, not for debate about religious views, but with bigoted caricatures that imply every Muslim is a terrorist.

One rule for the majority, another for Arab, Asian and African immigrants. There’s a word for that – it’s called racism.

And the same scapegoating, masked by the same hypocrisy about freedom, is oozing from the other right wing papers in Europe that have leapt to give these racist images a wider circulation.

The French paper France-Soir claims it is committed to freedom of expression. But not, it seems, for Muslims.

The same paper supports the French government’s ban on young Muslim women wearing headscarves in school. What’s “tolerant” or “liberal” about that?

As for those who claim it is impossible to be racist against Muslims because Islam is a religion “not a race”, consider the followers of the Jewish faith.

If a paper reprinted a cartoon depicting a Jewish person in the manner of Nazi propaganda in the 1930s, every liberal paper and commentator would rightly slam the racism, rather than denouncing Jewish people and anti-­racists for being outraged.

None would say it was merely a question of debating religious views rather than being about spreading racism.

Yet in Britain, while no paper has republished the cartoons, we have not had furious editorials in the millionaire-owned press exposing the racist demonisation of Muslims.

Instead, the media is further demonising Muslims by suggesting that they don’t understand “Western democracy” and press freedom.

These well paid editors could do with learning a thing or two themselves about standing up to censorship.

The lot of them, with the exception of Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, have gone along with government censorship in refusing to name Nicholas Langman, an MI6 agent implicated in the illegal seizure of Pakistani immigrants in Greece.

What kind of fearless media is this that refuses to stand up to powerful secret government agencies, but berates some of the most powerless people in society?

And make no mistake, Muslim immigrants in Europe are among the most downtrodden across the continent.

In Britain they fall behind the average on every social indicator – housing, earnings, employment, education. The same is true in France, Germany, Demark and the rest of the European Union.

And since 11 September 2001 they have been systematically targeted. Anti-Muslim racism, Islamophobia, is the ideological cover for George Bush’s endless “war on terror”.

The US and British military refuse to even count the number of dead in Iraq. That would not be the case if they, their governments and the bulk of the media considered the lives of brown skinned Muslims in the Middle East every bit as valuable as those who have been killed in New York, Madrid and London.

They don’t. “Our” names honoured, “theirs” not even recorded – racism.

The British government cannot admit that the war on Iraq and decades of Western intervention in the Middle East are the reason why Britain and the US are so hated in the region and beyond.

Instead, we are told it is something to do with Muslims themselves. And in order to prove you are a “good Muslim”, not an “evil extremist”, you have to sign up to Bush and Blair’s campaign. Hence there are the endless loyalty tests.

Liberal

Supposedly liberal commentators feel no restriction, show no signs of “self censorship”, when they routinely abuse people who were born here (and who happen to be Muslim) of being insufficiently British – racism.

Government ministers sense no shame in telling one group of people what language they should speak in their own home, as if every British resident on the Costa del Sol spoke Spanish round the kitchen table.

This “respectable” Islamophobia fuels the violent racist attacks of the Nazi British National Party (BNP), which exploits the general anti-Muslim climate and whose leader, a Holocaust denier, walks away from a court case over incitement to racial hatred.

And when those on the receiving end of all this speak out and protest, they are demonised again.

Stereotypes

The cameras seek out those images that will confirm the provocative stereotypes that people are objecting to in the first place.

It’s like kicking someone repeatedly and then, when they hit back, saying, “Look, I told you they were violent.”

And the overall effect goes beyond Muslim people who are targeted. For if those responsible for wars, exploitation here and across the globe, and the destruction of our civil liberties succeed in scapegoating Muslims, we will all suffer – Muslim or not.

Racism has always meant divide and rule. It has always been undermined by unity of working people against the common enemy we all face.

Today, for everyone who was genuinely sickened by the sight of the BNP’s gloating last week, that starts with standing up against this anti-Muslim hatred.


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