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Heba Al-Adawy

The Cartoons That Resist Amnesia

On January 30th, the conviction of two Norwegian men on charges of terrorism against a Danish Newspaper that published the notorious “Muhammad caricatures” re-opened a five-year-old debate. Ironically, the news was timely at the University of Oxford’s launch of Free Speech Debate where a conversation with Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, had earlier turned once again to the question of the Danish Cartoons. Subsequently, an op-ed article in Huffington Post derided the Wikipedia vote to introduce ‘image-filters’ for the Danish cartoons, considering the option to view the images through the click of a button as an implicit act of censorship. The article reproduced a portrait of an Arab-Muslim adolescent struggling to reconcile his wish to view the caricatures and fighting an inner battle in fear that the wrath of God may be unleashed on him. This image was upheld as a source of pity, humor and sympathy -- and dare I add -- condescension. As redundant as the tirade against ‘image filters’ may be in light of the bigger picture, it obliges us to revisit a controversy that resists popular amnesia for the defenders of the cartoonists, for the alleged terrorists reprehensible as they are, for free speech activists and the wider moderate Muslim population in Europe and beyond: the issue of freedom of speech.As much as the Danish Muhammad Cartoons, five years post factum, continue to be dubbed as the “test” of free speech ideals -- a yardstick for measuring one’s commitment to liberal ideals by some vanguards of the tradition -- the debate, unfortunately, still lingers at the peripheries. In a world where the voices of the more powerful (and the more militant) continue to air the loudest, the principal protagonists in this debate remain the cartoonists in the name of ‘enlightenment’ and the extremist on the other end… Read More