18 February 2006 issue 1988
From Socialist Worker
From London’s Trafalgar Square to Ramallah in Palestine, from Lebanon to Austria, the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, first printed in a Danish paper, have sparked rage
Some 20,000 protesters filled Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday of last week for a rally against Islamophobia and incitement. The event was called at short notice by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and others in the wake of the cartoons row.
The protest was also supported by the Stop the War Coalition and CND. Lindsey German, convenor of Stop the War, was warmly received by the crowd when she spoke at the rally.
She noted that it wasn’t only Muslims who find the cartoons offensive: “They offend me because they offend my politics – they are racist provocations from a racist newspaper.”
MAB spokesperson Dr Azzam Tamimi also drew cheers and applause for a fiery and uncompromising speech. “They say Muslims don’t understand that governments can’t control the media. Who are they bullshitting?” he said.
Kate Hudson, chair of CND, said she was proud to be “standing here in solidarity with the Muslim community”. She was one of many speakers to note how anti-Muslim racism is being used to cover up for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Respect MP George Galloway backed up this message of solidarity, noting that the anti-war movement today stood in a proud tradition of working people mobilising against racism and fascism.
Yvonne Ridley, political editor of the Islam Channel, attacked the mainstream media’s stereotypes about Muslims and double standards over “freedom of speech”.
She and others drew a direct parallel between contemporary anti-Muslim caricatures and the anti-Semitic caricatures of the 1930s that helped lay the groundwork for the Nazi Holocaust.
Throughout the rally, the speakers who made political connections between the cartoons row, racism and the “war on terror” were cheered and applauded.
In contrast, those who spoke more defensively about the need for “moderation” were received less well.
The same anger felt on the demonstration in London echoes through the streets of Ramallah, on the Palestinian West Bank, 1,500 miles away.
The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Palestine has joined the international chorus of criticism of the cartoons.
The movement, which brings together activists from around the world to stage non-violent direct action in support of Palestinians, released a statement denouncing the cartoons.
Israeli-Canadian peace activist and ISM founder Neta Golan spoke to Socialist Worker from Ramallah.
She said, “The Danish cartoons have sparked deep anger among the Palestinian people. Many feel that it is part of the discrimination, racism and disrespect that they have been suffering under occupation.
“By labelling the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist, they are labelling all Arabs and Muslims as terrorists.
“This disrespect reinforces the feeling that the life of a Palestinian is worth less than that of a Westerner, that Palestinians and Muslims are to be looked down on.”
The ISM has called on the newspapers that published the cartoons to apologise and is demanding Western governments condemn Islamophobia. Neta says these cartoons are a part of the demonisation of Arabs and Muslims:
“Racism against people in the Middle East, and towards their own Muslim citizens, has a long history in the West and underlies much of the current policies in the Middle East – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine.
“Most Western media are ignoring these facts while discussing the issue of free speech. They are reinforcing stereotypes that the Muslim world rejects Western liberties.”