To the editor:

Feb 132006

The controversy over the Danish cartoons that negatively portrayed the Prophet Muhammad is about racism, equality and simply whether Muslims are welcome as citizens in the West.

As the protests worldwide escalate in scope and descended into chaos, the facts and context in which the cartoons were published have been obscured. The cartoons were originally published in September 2005, amid rising anti-Muslim xenophobia in Europe, particularly in Denmark, where about 3 million Muslims form 4 percent of the population. Denmark's far-right politicians and political party openly condemn Muslim beliefs, practices and people. Those that despise and detest Muslims found a willing outlet for their hatred in Jyllands-Posten, which solicited the offensive cartoons, including one that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Danish Muslims complained about the cartoon and compiled a lengthy report detailing the institutionalized racism they experienced. Several ambassadors of Muslim countries in Denmark requested a meeting with Danish officials to discuss the issue and were spurned. Nearly four months later, the situation seems out of control.

Like most Muslims, I wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has been part of the protests. But I am not opposed to protests or boycotts because of these cartoons. No matter what anybody says behind the facade of free speech, the cartoons were meant to offend.

The cartoons deeply offended Muslims all over the world, of all denominations, because they attacked something that forms the very core of our being, the core of our identity: Islam.

An attack on him is directly an attack on all Muslims.

That's what the cartoons were meant to convey: it isn't just the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, it's by implication every single Muslim. The message is that we are terrorists and we are a threat to all that is Western.

This is inaccurate, irresponsible and dangerous. Browse through cartoons in Europe and the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s and see how Jewish and Japanese people were portrayed. It's becoming increasingly clear that Islamophobia is the last acceptable racism, and Muslims are marginalized and vulnerable in Western. If you don't think that's true, then imagine the reaction of a cartoon portraying Jesus or Moses or Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. with a bomb. That's flat-out wrong and people of conscience would stand against that.

After what we've been through, Muslims would be the first.

Rahaf Kalaaji

2001 graduate of Colorado State University

and a former newspaper reporter,

currently a graduate student

in Chicago.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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