Are we becoming Mzansistan?

2010-05-29 10:49

I am talking about last week’s cartoon in the Mail & Guardian

of Islam’s last prophet. The Muslim community got its (prayer hats) in a twist over the

­image, drawn as part of a Facebook ­campaign.

Do we know what the fuss is about? And more importantly, do we


With the soccer and the strikes to worry about, why should the

whining of less than one percent of the population even feature on the news


Luckily we have been spared being stabbed with steak knives in the

town square/felled by rat poison/blown to kingdom come – or any of the other

calling cards of Muslims with hurt feelings.

The Mail & Guardian and its famous ­cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro

have, ­predictably, since apologised and promised to broadly consult with Muslim

leaders ­before trying such a stunt again.

Censorship has prevailed. And so, the word (or in this case the

image) has, as ­Nadine Gordimer once put it, been ­harnessed to the ­tyrant’s


Not that it would be entirely fair to ­describe the veiled threats

from offended Muslims as tyranny. Many would claim to be quite ­rational,

humorous even.

For instance, this week reams of ­column space were devoted to one

or ­another ­Muslim representative. It was apparently all very ­amicable.

But beyond the ­pacifist Kumbaya ­rhetoric is a clear ­message:

there are lines that can’t be crossed. In this Muslims are not unique, given

that this drawing of lines is a ­speciality of organised religion.

Whether it’s putting on The Three Little Pigs at English

­kindergartens or making films that ­suggest Muslim women in Holland get a raw

deal – the world is ­learning the hard way that there are ­consequences to

offending ­Muslims.

A friend was not sympathetic when he told me that, like Salman

Rushdie, if Zapiro ­deliberately antagonised local Muslims,

he should have to deal with “the consequences” – a sinister suggestion.

This disturbing mindset finds favour with many more than would care

to admit it. And in the process, we, living in a secular ­democracy comprising

mainly black ­Christians – are buttonholed into debates far more relevant to the

sand dunes of Arabia.

One of the aggrieved Muslim ­organisations, which has a reputation

for bigotry, ­noted that the local Muslim ­community has a rich and proud

­tradition of interfaith solidarity ­under apartheid.

But today, its ­so-called leading lights ­cannot hold a candle to

the Asmals, Dadoos, Jeenahs, Kathradas, Cachalias, Esacks and Harons whose names

are written indelibly on the parchment of this country’s history.

These were people who saw the bigger ­picture, people whose

struggles for the ­freedom of this country were not limited to narrow class,

religious and racial interests.

It is to be ­expected that minorities will campaign energetically

for their own issues. Were they Tamils, Bulgarians or Zionist Jews, they would

probably do the same for “their ­people”.

And yet Islam is no minority, it has more than a billion followers

across the globe. And, as we are reminded, an insult to one is an insult to all.

To play the minority card is ­cynical and leaves a bitter taste.

If this saga proves anything, it’s that Muslims here are far from

being an ­oppressed minority. Which is of course the excuse used by ­fanatics

the world over who run riot in the name of their religious rights. This

­embattled and vulnerable minority has been particularly adroit at getting gag

orders from the South African courts.

Representatives succeeded in getting The Satanic Verses banned in

1988, in ­scuppering a visit by Salman Rushdie to a PEN conference a year later

and in 2008, in between gagging the Sunday Times, and quietly getting the Film

and Publications Board to ban a book about Muhammad’s wife.

One ­wonders if we shouldn’t be concerned about the seemingly

disproportionate voice of a religious but vocal minority in ­prescribing our

reading material.

When the cartoon furore first surfaced in Denmark in 2006, Nobel

Literature ­Laureate Wole Soyinka decried what he rightly saw as the

“manipulation of rage” by Muslim leaders.

Most of this country’s people, like those of Soyinka’s native

Nigeria, don’t care about a cartoon and have never tasted Danish ­butter.


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