Last year, a Spanish court found two cartoonists guilty of offending the royal family by drawing a caricature of the Spanish crown prince having sex with his wife. They were fined €3,000 each.
“I don’t see the world up in arms defending freedom of expression,” my editor told me after listening to the news on the radio.
Throughout this year, nothing substantial happened to defend this cartoonist, condemn the Spanish royal family for trying to muffle the press, or any reprints of the caricature in defense of the paper’s courageous decision to run it. And no Muslim demonstrations were held to condemn double standards.
A year later, the world is actually up in arms to defend another cartoonist, this time in France. Before you hold your breath in anticipation, it isn’t another cartoon attacking Islam; it’s a satirical editorial about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son, which espoused what critics called “anti-Semitic” sentiments.
French daily Le Monde ran a letter condemning the editorial, in which 20 writers and politicians said that Maurice Sinet, known as Sine (who was convicted for racism in 1985) “crossed the line between humorous insult and hateful caricature,” in his column in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine’s editor Philippe Val said Sine was sacked for remarks that “could be interpreted as drawing a link between conversion to Judaism and social success” relaying the old stereotype linking Jews and money, the Agence France-Presse said in its report.
Val is the very same editor who decided to reprint the infamous Danish cartoons — described by politicians as “unnecessary provocation” — and who later won a case against French Muslims who had accused him of inciting hatred against Muslims.
Val, who was backed by a group of international writers and politicians in defense of freedom of expression, had said at the time that it would be racist to “imagine that they [Muslims] can’t understand a joke.”
Even for someone like me, who believes that the Danish cartoon saga is a product of ignorance and lack of communication rather than a deliberate campaign against Islam, the comparison between the two cases imposes itself, triggering debate, not about conspiracy theories, but about double standards.
Muslims, particularly those living in Europe, are accustomed to court rulings convicting historians for Holocaust denial — a crime in 13 countries which is often confused with historical revisionism. And if it weren’t for the ongoing sensitivity of the issue, these crimes/historical papers would have been confined to the realm of scientific debate, rather than court rooms.
This is but one of many anti-Semitic “criminal violations” that stand in contrast to Muslims’ futile attempts to stop the negative representation of Islamic symbols which reinforces the notion that Islam is synonymous to violence — a notion propagated by a vocal minority of extremists.
And Muslim communities are bound to compare themselves to their Jewish counterparts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the hallmark of our era, the preoccupation of both our generation and that of our parents’. It’s at the core of every discussion and debate that remotely relates to both communities and faiths.
An Indian Hindu friend, who explained to me that his initial hatred towards Muslims was a result of the Indian-Pakistani conflict, was surprised to learn that this conflict doesn’t receive much attention in the Arab World; people here are too consumed by the Israeli-Palestinian issue to take notice of other international conflicts involving Muslims.
These comparisons can be found in both the literature and cultural products of the Arab World and of the West. In one Dutch film about multicultural societies, a teenager asks why Jewish youngsters who go to Israel to join the army are considered heroes, while their Muslim counterparts who consider going to Iraq or Palestine are automatically branded as terrorists.
“Why should it be possible to criticize Islam but not Judaism?”
It wasn’t anyone in the Muslim community who said this, but Sine’s own supporters in an online petition against firing the writer for refusing to apologize for the article.
It is ironic that the editor who was once lauded for winning one of the most important court cases about freedom of expression — publishing cartoons depicting Prophet Mohamed wearing a bomb-shaped turban among others — has fired one of his own veteran writers for making indirect links between Judaism and upward social mobility.
Jean Sarkozy “has just said he intends to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, who is Jewish, and the heiress to the founders of Darty [a French retail giant]. … He’ll go far, that lad,” was what Sine had written to get into all that trouble.
It is these double standards — especially within such short time frames — that fuel social unrest and feelings of frustration and injustice among citizens of any community, not to mention the international community.
It’s no surprise that “conspiracy theories” come up in many conversations.
Sarah El-Sirgany is the Deputy Editor of Daily News Egypt.