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Drawing The Prophet

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Drawing the Prophet

[Translation of an interview with Said Zeedani, a Palestinian philosopher published in La Vanguardia Digital under the title of "La caricatura del Profeta es irrelevante" on 14-Feb-2006.]

I am 55. I was born in Galilee, Palestine before 1948 and now Israel. I am married with two daughters. I believe that the key is to separate religion (a private affair) from politics (public expression). I studied in the University of Wisconsin and returned to Ramallah. I teach in the University of Al Quds in East Jerusalem. I collaborate with the CCCB.

By Lluís Amiguet - 14/02/2006.

Question: Did you feel offended by the cartoons of Muhammad the Terrorist?

Answer: Me? No! The cartoons of the Prophet are irrelevant. Like millions of Arabs I understand that irony is a part of freedom of expression. I considered them to be nothing other than what they are: insignificant little drawings.

Question: The truth is that they are not very pleasant...

Answer: It is the work of a cartoonist and is no more than a crude mental sketch. Nothing more. I am not thinking of threatening him with death, but then that does not mean that I like them.

Question: Are you alone in your attitude of tolerance?

Answer: I believe, like millions of fellow democratic citizens who are part of the Islamic culture, that establishing limits to the freedom of expression is not achieved by street protests or violent threats. It is achieved in the courts that the democracies have set up to ensure that all citizens can exercise their rights without restricting the rights of others.

Question: I couldn't agree more.

Answer: For this reason, I think that neither Syria nor Pakistan nor any other government or religious authority has the right to make political capital out of this alleged abuse.

Question: But the protests are massive.

Answer: Because these cartoons have added to the glass already full of injustices. In this case it is an offense to a religious symbol that has caused the glass to overflow again, but the real causes of the protests are political, not religious.

Question: Isn't this a religious war?

Answer: No way! What is happening is not religion but pure politics. The offense to the Prophet is only a catalyst of all the anger in the Arabic world that has accumulated over the years due to its treatment by the West. This treatment offends me and every other Arab more than any cartoon.

Question: Do your students think the same as you?

Answer: My students are angry and it is legitimate that they act out their anger and express it.

Question: Is burning flags freedom of expression?

Answer: They too have this freedom of expression provided that they don't commit violence against property or people.

Question: How would your students vote?

Answer: I believe that half the class would support freedom of expression with me and the other half would not. It is a different thing to try to convince the protesters in the street. Crowds stirred up by agitators are just that and are often not disposed to debates.

Question: Do you believe that they will advance towards tolerance?

Answer: Perhaps the Arab countries can learn a lot about tolerance, diversity and living together, but we have to learn this in our own communities, without lessons from anyone.

Question: What has the West done to you?

Answer: To start with, they colonized us. Then they systematically prevented the possibility of democracy from emerging in the Arab world.

Question: In their speeches, they say something else.

Answer: The truth is that after colonization, the western powers supported oppressive dictatorships; firstly because of fear of panarabic nationalism; then from fear of soviet influence; and now from fear of Islam. They have preferred to support anything apart from Arab democracy.

Question: To which dictatorships are you referring?

Answer: There is a long list since we were colonized and we, the democratic Arabs, are powerless in front of our people. How are we to defend democracy against infamous dictatorships supported by the democratic West? How are we to defend democracy against the aggression of a democratic Israel? How are we to defend democracy when the democratic West invaded and re-colonized Iraq and appropriated its resources in the name of democracy? How do we justify that a shameless dictator like Mubarak in Egypt is supported in the name of democracy?

Question: Being a democratic Arab is no easy task.

Answer: Who has the US supported in the Arab world? Firstly, the Wahabys in the Gulf. It has always been their ally. The Wahabys are the most intolerant, authoritarian and retrograde branch of Islam. The only result from this union has been oil, corruption, rule by the rich and an antidemocratic regime. Ah, and Bin Laden! It is not by chance that Bin Laden is a Saudi Wahaby. Ask yourself why.

Question: Unmentionable paradoxes.

Answer: How are we to defend democracy in the Arab world when democratic Israel has made us, the Palestinians like me, into refugees, into second class citizens or the occupants of ghettos or concentration camps.

Question: Do you continue to defend democracy?

Answer: Of course. In spite of everything, there are many Arabs who believe in it. The de-colonization was exploited by the panarabic nationalists - Saddam Hussein was one of the last dictators of that movement. When nationalism began to die out it was replaced by Marxism, but we all know how the Soviet Union ended up. Now it is the Islamists who occupy the hole left by the Marxists.

Question: Are Arabs now more fundamentalist?

Answer: The leadership is changing, but the majority are neither more religious nor more fundamentalist, just like we were not more Marxist during the time when the leadership was left wing.

Question: Is the victory by Hamas only this?

Answer: This exemplifies what I have been saying. Now Hamas is occupying the vacuum left by Al Fatah, a decadent and corrupt bureaucracy. The Palestinians voted for Hamas to punish Al Fatah.

Question: Who is financing Hamas?

Answer: Hamas are well organized people in local groups who have known how to provide social services. They receive money from the Gulf, but also from their organizations in the US and Europe. Now we hope that they come together, do more politics and that they may be pragmatic in power.



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