The predictable hysterical response from the Muslim community arising from the publication of Zapiros cartoon completely lacks proportion to the nature of the cartoon. Inspired by a clergy, bent on consolidating their position as guardians of the faith, the masses have responded with gusto. The cartoon is in fact amusing and an appropriate comment on the Muslim community. Unlike the Danish cartoons, Zapiros was in good taste and without the degree of irreverence that Zapiro has shown other communities. In fact the Muslim community has largely rejoiced at his depiction of the Jewish community with utter irreverence, particularly in relation to the Middle-East conflict. This contradictory response has its own irony: the nature of the objection has given truth to the cartoon, which painted the Muslim community as one lacking a sense of humour, unlike other faith communities. In fact it was not long ago that the Council of Theologians in Gauteng who attempted interdicting the publication of Zapiros cartoon published a sermon on the humour of the Prophet.
The substantive objection to the cartoons is ostensibly the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad, which according to the majority opinion is not acceptable. In fact a significant opinion bars all human images, not only that of the Prophet. This however ignores the portrayal of the Prophet in much Persian and Indian historical literature without the hysterical reaction we see today. Furthermore the Prophet Muhammad has been lampooned in all period of history, but this has not diminished his veneration among Muslims and respect among many non-Muslims for that matter. The prohibition on the depiction of the Prophet is not an article of faith, but rather an attempt to discourage the Prophet becoming a fetish and his image an object of worship. Today our world is defined by images, and it is difficult imagining anyone using Zapiros image as an object of worship. It is simply a representation meant to make a larger point one which seems to have been largely lost in the current furore. But there is no arguing against those who lack an appreciation for various art forms and whose interpretation of texts is based on literalism and Manichean dichotomies. Sadly they have made the Prophet a fetish, ignoring him as a compassionate being embodying virtue, justice, love and mercy. The current reaction does violence to this picture of the Prophet.
The current reflex reaction to any perceived slight to Islam, Muslims or the Prophet is simply an invitation to any nutter to get world-wide attention. But Zapiro is no nutter. He is a progressive and respected cartoonist, activist, andsocial commentator. To put limits on his art is to remove the very essence of who he is and what he does. It would be a sad day for our country if Zapiro was silenced either by Muslims or others. To put boundaries on his criticism will only result in those boundaries constantly changing. Today the Muslims are out of bounds, tomorrow the Jews and then the ANC or government. We should rather encourage more critical voices and take the criticism in the spirit of Zapiro an ethical, moral, principled and compassionate voice in a barren landscape.
With religious fanatics stoking the flames and with willing masses at their disposal it will just be a matter of time and a sad day indeed when the predictable death threat will be made against him. We should rally behind and defend this national asset. Zapiro, you owe no one and apology and power to your pen!