Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cartoon Protests Ignore Real Economic Needs

Protestors in Niger
Apparently, the abuse of minority people like the Berbers does not bother Muslims.  Neither does poverty among its citizens or the huge disparity between wealthy and poor.  They don’t get upset over the lack of free speech or the constant battles between sects of the faith, such as Sunni and Shiite. 

In fact, the only things apparently that get them really angry are cartoons.   

Yesterday, Palestinians in Gaza gathered outside a French cultural center, chanting "Leave Gaza, you French, or we will slaughter you by cutting your throats” because of cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, a now-famous French satirical magazine.

In Niger, the Associated Press reported:

173 people have been injured; at least 45 churches have been "set ablaze in the capital (Niamey) alone," and a "Christian school and orphanage were also set alight." Numerous sites were pillaged before being burned.  A video from Niamey showed protesters waving Qur'ans and yelling "God is great" while tearing apart Bibles and throwing them onto the ground.

Pakistani protestors
Pakistan was no better.  According to published reports from there:

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters outside the French consulate. A Pakistani photographer for AFP was shot and wounded, the news agency reported.  At least 200 protesters were involved in the violence, which broke out after Muslim religious parties called on supporters to condemn the cartoon following afternoon prayers, said Ahmed Chinoy, chief of Karachi's Citizen Police Liaison Committee.  Images from the scene showed police in running street fights with demonstrators.  Those protests came after Pakistan's parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the caricatures printed in Charlie Hebdo.

Don’t folks there have more serious concerns?  After all, Pakistan for example stands 126th in the world economically and ranks 29th in economic support for its citizens in its region.  Niger, too, ignores its citizens, ranking 127th in the world economically and 24th in Africa for the economic support it provides its residents, according to the Heritage Foundation. 

No wonder leaders in those countries would rather concentrate on "evil" cartoons.  They provide a wonderful distraction.

One Israeli newspaper quoted a Gaza protestor named Abu Abdallah Makdissi as saying, "Today, we are telling France and world countries that while Islam orders us to respect all religions, it also orders us to punish and kill those who assault and offend Islam's Prophet Mohammed."

No, it doesn’t.  The Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, does not ban images of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad in any form.  There are actually only two lines in the sacred text that even offer advice on this subject:

 [Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth... [there is] nothing like a likeness of Him. (42:11)

[Abraham] said to his father and his people: “What are these images to whose worship you cleave?' They said: “We found our fathers worshiping them.” He said: “Certainly you have been, you and your fathers, in manifest error." (21:52-54)

That teaching parallels the second Commandment in the Jewish teachings: 

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of then that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. (Ex: 20: 4-6)

The Abraham account in the Qur’an is also very similar to a Jewish tale about Abraham objecting to and later destroying idols made in his father’s workshop.

Muslim calligraphy artwork
In Islamic tradition, however, images of Allah, Muhammad and all the major prophets of the Christian and Jewish traditions are prohibited.  Muslims have gotten around their restriction largely by using calligraphy as art, while Jews have simply avoided depicting anything that could be worshiped as a deity.

Not that everyone paid attention to such rules.  Artists in the Middle East, but principally in Persia, regularly produced images of the Prophet starting in the 7th century.

Early drawing of Muhammad
The real objection to the cartoons has to do with the rising hostility between the Christianized West and the Muslim East.  For some strange reason, residents in non-Muslim countries increasingly see Muslims as terrorists. 

This latest series of violent protests against cartoons can’t help that image. 

However, as long as the imaginary teachings of religion overshadow the reality of social disparity, such violent behavior will continue.  The Muslim residents would be far better off protesting against their own civil governments than against drawings published in different lands.

They might also follow the guidance of their own holy book:

 Everybody is the servant of Allah and to treat everyone with love and affection becomes the source of Allah's pleasure and the best man is he who is the best well-wisher of others.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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