September 18, 2007

Bangladesh: yet another Muhammad cartoon controversy

Alpin is one satirical cartoon supplement of the Daily Prothom Alo, which claims to be the most popular Bangla Newspaper in Bangladesh. In the 6th page of its 431st issue a cartoon titled 'name' was published (on Monday, September 17, 2007) which created much controversy in Bangladesh.

So what was in that cartoon? The controversy is not in the picture, rather in the text. The Bangla blogosphere took on this issue right from the beginning.

The text of the cartoon is a conversation between a boy and an aged person. Sudharam Sadhu posts the texts in his blog:
* Boy, what is your name?
- My name is Babu.
* It is customary to mention Muhammad before the name

* What is your father's name?
- Muhammad Abu

* What's this in your lap?
- Muhammad cat
(Here is the cartoon)

This appears to satire the culture of the use of Muhammad in Muslim names and nothing to disgrace the prophet itself.

However the Islamist political parties thought otherwise. The Daily Naya Diganta reports that Khelafot Andolon had protested aginst this at Baitul Mokarram Mosque in Dhaka by burning copies of Prothom Alo. Its Ameer, Maulana Shah Ahmadullah Ashraf stated:
(that) the cartoon indicates disgrace of the Muslim prophet by naming a cat 'Muhammad'. Similar to the Danish Cartoon incident prophet Muhammad has been defamed in Muslim majority Bangladesh. He says Muslims use Muhammad in their names to pay the respect to the prophet. He demanded Prothom Alo to seek apology to the nation otherwise they demanded the Government to take strong action against Prothom Alo."
No doubt this has instigated many people to react strongly against this newspaper. Check the comments section of the Daily Amar Desh report to get an idea about the outrage. You will also laugh at some stupid comments and I wonder how this newspaper approved them-probably they have a personal vendetta against Prothom Alo.

Prothom Alo gave in to all this and published an apology today:
We apologize and are extremely sorry:

...inadvertently an unedited, unapproved and unacceptable cartoon titled 'name' was published...we are withdrawing the cartoon...and taking actions against the persons responsible for this.
Wow! Note the emphasis (added), they just don't want to face this and blame somebody else! They have removed the Monday's publications from their archives. What an escapist move!

Arif Jebtik slams Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman for his actions of suspending the editor of Alpin for his rescue:
I have seen the real character of the intelects of this country who cries out for Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and such popular tags in Matiur Rahman's actions.
However the Bangla Blogosphere is divided over this issue. Hasib comments on Sudharam's post:
This is an innocent cartoon. It is evident that the target is not the prophet himself. The retarded ones should read the texts again.
Tirondaz says:

The protests against these cartoons show the opportunist intentions of the political Islam. I have no support for these kinds of protests.
While Ummu Abdullah says:
Prothom Alo apologized, so the issue is over. The apology indicates they are also in doubt. This victory is for Bangladeshis. I welcome the protests.
Ziner Badshah comments in the above post:
In our parts of the world people add Muhammad to their names to respect the prophet...there is nothing religious about it...even if it is it does not add any value to anyone...but defaming this culture is like the same as destroying the Bamian heritage in Afghanistan by the Talibans.
And what a reaction was from the Caretaker Government! reports that the Government has banned the debated issue of Alpin and more worryingly detained Arifur Rahman, the creator of the cartoon. The Press and Information Department (PID) said in a statement that the cartoon hurts the feeling of the citizens.

Kowsheek Ahmed is outraged by this action of the Government:
"Arifur Rahman achieved many awards for his cartoon. This time for a innocuous cartoon he was made victim of self proclaimed defenders of religious feelings. Now a days satire cartoonists are prone to these kinds of attacks. But this is happening in this dire time when we are crying that we are being more tolerant, claiming all piece of the world is embedded in this religion. The Alpin issue has been banned and the editor was suspended.

How strange are our realizations. After the 22nd August revolution the Government has become so narrow in their views that a mere cat has instilled fear in them."
For more hot buzz on this issue please read the Bangla Blogging platforms "Bandh Bhanger Awaaj" and "Sachalayatan".

Cross posted in E-Bangladesh and Global Voices Online.

Update:International reactions:

* Reports in IHT, Yahoo News, Press TV, Kuwait Times, Hindustan Times.

* The folks at LGF has got something to cheer about.
A commenter says:
They got upset over that? Good lord, these people are idiots! It's a mild cultural comment, it doesn't involve religion at all.
Idiots! Idiots! I'm falling into despair. Can no one in Bangladesh think?

Update II: Reporters without borders picked up this story and demanded release of Arifur Rahman.

Update III: This debate just got more interesting. The Bangla Blogosphere is just great, they dug out a similar cartoon published in Bangladesh by Chattra Shibir, the Student wing of the Islamist party Jamaat-E-Islami. Saleem Samad writes in E-Bangladesh:

Day later the blogger’s in Bangladesh have stumbled into a nine-year old juvenile magazine “Kishore Kantha” published by pro-Islamist Chattra Shibir, the student wing of dreaded Jamaat-e-Islami.

Now that we know the history of the cartoon published in Prothom Alo, can we anticipate the FUA-MUA will also take action against the contributor madrassah student Mohammad Masud and the editors Matiur Rahman Akhand (chief editor), Ehsanul Mahmud Zubayer (editor) and Sirajul Islam Shahin (executive editor).

The cartoon in the pro-Islamist juvenile magazine was contributed by a student of a notorious Madrassah in Amirabad, Feni in November 1998. Why nobody bothered? Rather interpret - nobody dared to raise the issue of “hurting the feeling of Muslims.”


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