Sympathy for those who draw Anne Frank in bed with Hitler?
By Tom Gross
Veteran Middle East correspondent on what passes for "good taste" in Arab papers
There is a strong case for saying that the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, which have caused so much uproar, are fair comment. Certainly those who haven't seen them can rest assured that they are relatively tame in comparison with many cartoons on other subjects which regularly appear in the European press.
Even so, non-Muslims might have more sympathy with Muslims who find them offensive, if it weren't for the astonishing double standards and hypocrisy of the Muslim world when it comes to accepting and applauding truly vicious slanders against Jews, and to a lesser extent Christians.
The arguments from Muslims - though not the fanatical, violent manner of many of their protests - would no doubt be taken more seriously if they had also objected to the depiction on Syrian television of rabbis as cannibals. Or if last Saturday, Britain's Muslim Weekly had not published a caricature of a hooked-nose Ehud Olmert.
Or if last Friday, "Valley of the Wolves," the most expensive movie ever made in Turkey, had not opened to great local acclaim. In the film, American soldiers in Iraq crash a wedding and pump a little boy full of lead in front of his mother. They kill dozens of innocent people with random machine gun-fire, shoot the groom in the head, and drag those left alive to prison, where a Jewish doctor cuts out their organs, and sells them to rich people in New York, London and Tel Aviv. Or if a Belgian and Dutch Muslim group hadn't last week posted on its website pictures of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler. Or if the mere display of a cross or a Star of David in Saudi Arabia wasn't illegal.
And when it comes to newspaper cartoons - the subject of the present unrest - Muslim countries are world leaders in stirring up hate, without a peep of protest elsewhere, let alone the torching of buildings, threats to behead European tourists, and the burning of the Danish flag (which incidentally bears a Christian symbol, the cross). So much for religious respect.
The cartoons published last September in Jyllands Posten, a paper that hardly anyone outside Denmark, one of Europe's smallest countries, had ever heard of, are mild when compared to cartoons routinely produced about Jews in the countries where some of the worst anti-Danish protests are now being staged. Arabic Jew-baiting is not - as Israel's enemies in the West often try to argue - limited to political attacks on Zionism. They are directed against Jews in general, and are as loathsome and dehumanizing as those produced under the Nazis.
We might expect such demonic images from a country led by a Holocaust-denier like Iran, or a rogue regime like Syria. But these vile images are to be found in the media of supposedly moderate, pro-Western states like Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Egypt. Al-Watan (Oman) has run Nazi-type caricatures of Jews with hooked noses and hunched backs, not wearing shoes, and sweating profusely.
Akhbar Al-Khalij (Bahrain) has shown anti-Semitic caricatures of black-hatted Jews spitting and sweating as they manipulate America to do their bidding. Al Ahram, one of Egypt's leading dailies, has published cartoons of Jews laughing while they drink blood. (The U.S. senate has approved a $1.84 billion aid package for Egypt for 2006, the second highest in the world.)
The official cartoonist of the Palestinian Authority has portrayed Jews in the form of snakes, a historic motif of medieval European anti-Semitism. The PA website has posted cartoons repeating the ancient blood libel that Jews murder non-Jewish children.
Some of the cartoons don't just resemble those published by the Nazis. They are literally copied from Nazi originals. For instance, a cartoon from Arab News (an English-language Saudi daily regarded as one of the more moderate publications in the Arab world), depicts rats wearing Stars of David and skullcaps, scurrying backwards and forwards through holes in the wall of a building called "Palestine House." The imagery used is almost identical to a well-known scene from the Nazi film "Jew Suess" - a scene in which Jews are depicted as vermin to be eradicated by mass extermination. At other times the Jews are the Nazis. The Jordanian newspaper, Ad-Dustur, for example, ran a cartoon showing the railroad to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau - but with Israeli flags replacing the Nazi ones, and a sign which read "The Israeli Annihilation Camp." Jordan is supposedly a moderate country at peace with Israel. To mark the UN designation of January 27 as Holocaust memorial day, the cartoonist for Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia) superimposed the Nazi swastika on the Star of David.
Nor is Judaism spared. The Daily Star in Beirut ran a cartoon showing a large Talmud with a bayonet sticking out of it shooting an elderly man in Arab headdress who then has red blood gushing out of him. Other Arab cartoons have shown Jews with money bags, spreading death, terror and disease.
The relatively mild Danish cartoons have been republished in several European papers so readers can discover what all the fuss is about. (It is hard for readers to judge the story without seeing them.) But not in papers in Britain or in any major publications in the US, countries that are now apparently too intimidated to run the risks that might go with reproducing them.
At the same time, whereas editors from both the Guardian and Independent in London, for example, have appeared on the BBC saying they wouldn't dream of publishing cartoons that Muslims find offensive, these papers have not hesitated to publish cartoons offensive to Jews (Arab blood being smeared on the Western Wall in The Guardian, the flesh of Palestinian babies being eaten by Ariel Sharon in The Independent, and so on.)
The New York Times rushed to praise a frivolous Broadway play showing Jesus having gay sex with Judas, yet hasn't dared to reproduce a Danish cartoon making a serious point about the misuse of the teachings of the prophet Mohamed by Islamist terrorists. With demonstrators on the streets of London last Friday chanting in unison "Europe you will pay, your 9/11 is on its way" and holding signs reading "Behead those who insult Islam," and "Prepare for the REAL Holocaust," it is perhaps not surprising that weak spirits in the West are cowed.
Yet this is an issue that goes far beyond cartoons, and if they want Western freedoms to survive, moderate Muslims and non-Muslims alike have to stop caving into threats. Yesterday, JWR's Mark Steyn reminded us of the best-known words of a famous fictional Dane: "To be or not to be, that is the question." Exactly.
Feb. 7, 2006
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