Has the Shahada really become fair game?

Where do we draw the line? Given that we live in increasingly mixed societies, with people of different faiths and backgrounds, should there be limits on free speech when it is offensive? For the sake of not disturbing the peace and building cohesive societies, leading publications have a job to set the tone and to challenge hate.

The 20th century saw some of the worst crimes inflicted on minority groups in the history of humanity, central to their committal was hate. Unchecked, racially charged discourse is a scourge of modern society that challenges the right of all to live in relative peace and security. The United Kingdom, the world’s oldest democracy and champion of the right to Free Speech enacted legislation to clamp down on “Racial and Religious Hatred” in 2006, recognizing there should be boundaries to what can and should be said.

Earlier this week The Times published a cartoon by Morten Morland in clear reference to the flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and ergo the Islamic Declaration of Faith, the Shahada. In associating this central message of Islam with a series of demonic ghouls and villainous figures, the cartoon draws a clear link between Islam and horror. This cannot be allowed to take place.

The Times is a paper of great pedigree, with a reputation of top tier journalism stretching three centuries. Therefore, given the history and standing of the publication, there is no doubt that it should be conscious of its role in adopting some societal trends and avoiding those as unsavory as religious hatred.

Political satire can surely be depicted without involving the Shahada. Such casual racism cannot be allowed to stand

Zaid M. Belbagi

Interestingly, satire, the great political device and source of good wit for many came to prominence during the same period as the first print of The Times. There are those that may argue Morland’s cartoon aimed to make a political point, whatever the means of course, after all the swathes of the British press treat Islam as fair game. However, such political satire can surely be depicted without involving the Shahada. Any person with a rudimentary knowledge of the Arabic language can clearly see (as most Muslims do) the words “Allah” and “Mohammed” depicted through drawings of ghouls. One could contend that such depictions were aimed directly at the Muslim community, or at least those with a knowledge of Arabic script. It seems disrespect was not only meant, but cleverly woven into the fabric of the supposed irony of this cartoon. Such casual racism cannot be allowed to stand.

Therein lies the problem. The global Muslim community is not a minority denomination but an expansive group of humanity with a voice. Had such a cartoon ridiculed the central maxim of another faith, The Times would be the subject of public scolding and in the receipt of letters of complaint. Respect is earned, not given. The only answer to halt such mockery is to put pen to paper and to make one’s voice heard.

I am afraid many in the Muslim world have forgotten how to write.

Zaid M. Belbagi is a government communications expert with experience in providing strategic advice in the Gulf. Belbagi is a graduate of the Oxford University Foreign Service Programme (OUFSP), having earned a Masters degree in diplomatic studies from St. Antony's College, Oxford. A commentator on Gulf affairs, he is a fellow at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and formerly a visiting scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS). He regularly appears on TV.


Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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