The Charlie Hebdo conversation made it to Guyana

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Cartoon by Paul Harris in Stabroek News

This cartoon in the Stabroek News upset someone enough to send the following letter to the paper:

Sunday Stabroek cartoon should be condemned

Dear Editor,


With reference to the cartoon published in the Sunday Stabroek of January 11, the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) wishes to bring to your attention its observation regarding same. First and foremost, the IAC wishes to state, without any ambiguity, it forthrightly condemns the brutal onslaught in Paris, France, which began on January 7, 2015 and resulted in the deaths of seventeen people, including ten staff’ members of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. Such actions by extremists, regardless of their religious adherence, must be rejected and have no place in a civilised world.

The IAC remains mindful that such actions by extremists, regardless of th eir religious persuasion, can result in the rupturing of harmonious relations in countries of diverse cohabitation, inadvertently precipitating, or in some instances, exacerbating related stigma. Such situations have the potential to engineer mistrust among cohabitants, which, unfortunately, would be difficult to be confined to one geographical area.

The IAC believes that despite the untold grief as a result of such diabolical extremist actions, profound caution must be foremost in the depiction and analysis of such situations given the complexity and sensitivity that engulf them. It is in this context that the IAC feels a sense of compulsion to register its concern regarding the cartoon referenced above.

The IAC, which has adherents of Islam in its leadership and membership, is shocked and outraged at and condemns what it believes to be a highly offensive and egregious cartoon, drawn by cartoonist Paul Harris, published on the day in question.

The IAC considers the said cartoon to be a blatant, insensitive, discriminatory and insulting attack on the entire Islamic community of Guyana and, by extension, on all those who profess to be adherents of Islam on the face of the planet.

The IAC, therefore, calls on the Stabroek News, which, inadvertently through its action, possibly has senselessly endangered the lives of its employees, to immediately apologise to all the citizens of Guyana, especially those who are adherents of Islam, for publishing this offensive and disgraceful cartoon, which can promote divisiveness in our society and hate towards Muslims.

The IAC feels strongly that the depiction of a four-person band of robed, bearded, turbanned. sandalled, scimitar-wielding, wild-eyed, angry and violent Jihadists, attacking from behind a visibly unarmed, pen-holding, bespectacled cartoonist, who had drawn an image of the world-famous heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (formerly known as Cassius Clay), is highly offensive for the following reasons:

(1) The publication of this cartoon, by Sunday Stabroek, just a few days after the shocking and unacceptable murders and wounding of a number of employees of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, by two gunmen, was not aimed at reducing animosity and tensions, but rather promoting and increasing them, by publicly ridiculing the followers of Islam.

(2) The cartoonist, Paul Harris, in an unprofessional manner, has unethically and immorally misled the readers of Sunday Stabroek and by extension, the citizens of Guyana by his improper and biased usage of the Arabic word ‘jihad’ which means ‘good struggle’ in the context of the fight by Muslims for a better world at both the ideological (Greater Jihad) and military (Lesser Jihad) levels. His portrayal, in contradiction to the proper meaning of ‘jihad’, conveys a sense of evil and mindless violence.

(3) In this cartoon, four robed, bearded, turbanned, sandalled, wild-eyed, angry and violent assailants have been drawn and described collectively as ‘Jihadists.’ Mr Harris’s portrayal by his use of the term ‘Jihadists’ identifies them, unambiguously, as persons who subscribe to the beliefs that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad, on whom be peace, is the prophet of Allah, ie, they are Muslims and, more particularly, extremely violent or even murderous Muslims.

(4) In this cartoon in the Sunday Stabroek the cartoonist is significantly portrayed to be looking at the four Muslim assailants over his left or sinistral shoulder while calling them “Idiots.” The portrayal gives the subtle but distinct impression that the four Muslim assailants are both sinister and ignorant.

(5) In this cartoon, the cartoonist is portrayed as being attacked from behind by the four Muslim assailants. His portrayal depicts these Muslims as devious persons who attack unfairly and brutally when one is unaware of them.

(6) In this cartoon, the cartoonist is portrayed, significantly, as being attacked viciously by four Muslim assailants, rather than just by one Muslim.

This portrayal gives the distinct impression that the sinister, ignorant, devious Muslim assailants are collectively prone to launch brutal, murderous attacks on unsuspecting persons.

(7) In this cartoon, Paul Harris portrays the bespectacled, pen-holding cartoonist, as standing in front of a large and representative drawing of the world-famous African-American heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medallist, Muhammad Ali, and saying to the four Muslim assailants attacking him from behind “…This is Muhammad… Muhammad Ali. Idiots!!” in reply to the question, “Who?” from the Muslims. His portrayal gives the distinct impression that the Muslim assailants are all ignorant, uneducated fools who are unable to recognize the famous face of the arguably, most globally identifiable Black Muslim from the USA; one who converted from Christianity to Islam, one who is universally respected by all people, and one whose image should never be used in a divisive cartoon like this.

(8) In this cartoon Paul Harris portrays the bespectacled, pen-holding cartoonist, who is being attacked by four Muslims as wearing a T-shirt with the word “Cartoonists” emblazoned on the front of the T-shirt. This portrayal gives the distinct impression that cartoonists are the enemies of Muslims and therefore must be subjected to brutal and murderous surprise attacks.

(9) This cartoon, taken as a whole, gives the distinct impression that freedom of expression is absolute and unchallengeable and, therefore, is anathema to Islam and Muslims.

The IAC, therefore, considers the cartoonist, Paul Harris, and the Sunday Stabroek, the publisher of the cartoon, to be grossly insensitive and irresponsible; to have exercised poor judgment in allowing this cartoon to be published; to possibly have senselessly endangered the lives of the employees of Stabroek News; to have insulted the intelligence of the citizens of Guyana; to have unfairly depicted Muslims in a monolithic manner, and to have intentionally and deliberately provoked the peaceful, progressive, law-abiding Islamic Community of Guyana.

The IAC therefore urges the Stabroek News to apologise for publishing the said cartoon and to remain cognisant of the sensitivities in this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, given the influence the Stabroek News has. The IAC hopes that a profound sense of responsibility would be demonstrated.

 

Yours faithfully,
Yvette Ramharack
Secretary
Indian Arrival Committee

Editor’s note

  1. The arguments set forth in the letter from the Indian Arrival Committee are hinged exclusively on the altogether spurious assumption that the four “Jihadists” depicted in the Sunday Stabroek cartoon of January 11, are representative of all Muslims. This is patently absurd.
  2. In order to establish this generalization, the IAC has seized on the “proper meaning” of the Arabic word ‘Jihad’, linking it to the use of the term ‘Jihadist’ in the Stabroek cartoon, and following on from this maintaining that the four black-robed men with their scimitars are conventional Muslims.

In the first place, if the IAC took some time to watch the international news, it would find that the term ‘jihadist’ is routinely used by the global media to apply not just to those who were responsible for the killings in Paris, but also to members of Islamic State, al Qaeda and any organization which, while claiming adherence to Islam, espouses violence and similar extremist views. To the best of our knowledge, only the IAC has ever suggested that the word ‘Jihadist’ as used in its now standard English sense applies to all Muslims.

In the second place, eminent Islamic scholars and religious figures, as well as leaders of mosques and ordinary Muslims everywhere have condemned the ‘Jihadists’ such as those who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo murders, and denounced their beliefs as not reflective of true Islam.

  1. Since clearly there is no nexus between the “Jihadists” shown in the Sunday Stabroek cartoon and Muslims in Guyana or anywhere else, for that matter, this newspaper could hardly be accused of “depict[ing] Muslims in a monolithic manner, and to have intentionally and deliberately provoked the peaceful, progressive, law-abiding Islamic Community of Guyana.” As such, therefore, there is nothing to apologise for. (We are presuming that the IAC does not think we have maligned ‘Jihadists’ in the standard English sense.)
  2. Finally, since the Islamic Community of Guyana, as the IAC rightly says, is peaceful, progressive and law-abiding, we are at a loss to divine how our staff could be in danger.

 

 

Having seen the cartoon, I’d have to say I agree with SN that the author of the letter is being a bit absurd in conflating jihadists and the general Muslim population. I think some people are honestly just too eager to jump on the “offended” train.

Thoughts?

 

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2 thoughts on “The Charlie Hebdo conversation made it to Guyana

  1. Mr. Lam, aren’t you a proponent of responsible satirical content? I can recall your plea online for respect towards religious beliefs. Now SN is praiseworthy for their satirical content? If the so-called “Jihadists” of ISIS, for instance, profess a religious political ideology (because that’s what their movement is based on), then it would be disrespectful to mock this religious minority.
    Religion has received far too much respect that to criticise, much less mock its beliefs, has become taboo, giving rise to and an endorsement of, blasphemy laws, which inhibits the notion of free expression (Guyana has a blasphemy law in its constitution). There are many things about free expression we can universally agree upon that requires screening, but to mock belief, ideas or thoughts is not the same as mocking, ridiculing or mentally tormenting a person. Separating criticism of ideas from the individual becomes ever more important in our time. The grasp of this notion has failed to be acknowledged by the liberal mass.

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