Cartoons of Prophet Muhammed in the Internet Age: Indonesia
By Rien Kuntari
On September 30, 2005, twelve cartoons most of which depicted the
Islamic prophet Muhammad were published in the Danish newspaper
Jyllands-Posten. Though equality and freedom of expression is highly
respected in Denmark, this publication triggered public protests by
Danish Moslem Organization. In response, many Indonesian Moslem
Organizations showed their anger and spread knowledge of the
Jyllands-Posten’s publication. Then, the cartoons were reprinted in
newspaper in more than twenty other countries. This is led even more
violent protest, especially by fundamentalist Moslem groups.
Critics of the cartoon have described them as Islamophobic and argue
that they are blasphemous, intended to humiliate a marginalized Moslem.
And, they display an ignorance of the history of western imperialism,
from colonialism to the conflicts in the Middle East.
While supporters of the cartoon claim they illustrate an important
issue in an age of Islamic extremist terrorism. Their publication
exercises the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
They also claim that similar cartoons about other religions frequently
printed, arguing that the followers of Islam were not targeted in a
ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Indonesia is the biggest Moslem populous country in the world. And,
in my experience, it is prohibited to make an open debate about Islam,
even as knowledge, let alone a prophet cartoon. To Moslem communities
worldwide, it is an enormous spiritual importance.
A Moslem friend explained, as mentioned in Hadith, for the last 14
centuries, Moslems have adhered to a strict code that prohibits any
visual portrait of the prophet. “Ibn ‘Umar reported Allah’s Messenger
(Muhammad peace be upon him) having said: Those who paint my portraits
would be punished on the Day of Resurrection…” (Hadith). The only
reason of Muhammad’s unwillingness to be visualized is to prevent Him
from being an individual cult. When this code was violated and their
Prophet mocked for the purpose of humor, Moslems felt a direct assault
on their faith.
While to non-Moslem, especially Christians, such a cartoon may only
be of casual interest. God tells us to be happy even when we were
insulted just because we are His followers. “Happy are you when people
insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against
you just because you are My followers.” (Matt 5:11)
ISLAM, POLITICS AND MEDIA
In the Soeharto’s era, media faced “Subversion Law” or ‘Banning of
the Press’, or ‘telephone call’ which we called ‘budaya telepon’
(telephone culture). Soeharto used these tools as a deterrence to
control politics and the media.