Sunday, May 23, 2010
(By David Bullard)
The late Steve Irwin, better known as the Crocodile Hunter, made his name and a very good living from taking chances with dangerous animals. His favourite trick would be to get near the snapping jaws of a crocodile while the camera was rolling. His fame spread and he decided to get close to other dangerous animals until he met his untimely end by swimming underwater with a dangerous ray. Since then virtually every programme on National Geographic or Animal Planet features some whacko getting close to dangerous animals for our pleasure and amusement. Steve Irwin upped the game and these days no television network would pay for a documentary on the life of lions, however well filmed, unless there was some obvious danger to the presenter.
Series with names like “The 10 most poisonous snakes” invariably have an episode where the presenter gets bitten and has to be given anti serum after being flown by helicopter to the nearest hospital. But even the most ratings conscious wildlife presenter isn’t going to risk getting bitten by something that can kill you in two minutes…..just in case he can’t get the lid off the anti serum.
Last week Zapiro, South Africa’s most publicity hungry cartoonist, drew a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). Predictably there was an outcry and there have apparently been death threats aimed at the editor of the Mail and Guardian and the cartoonist. Both claim that this is all about freedom of speech but it isn’t and let me tell you why.
The cartoon was apparently drawn because someone decreed that last Thursday should be “Draw the prophet Mohammed day”. That in itself is an obviously inflammatory action because the furore the followed the Danish cartoons of the prophet several years ago made it perfectly clear that many devout Muslims don’t like their prophet depicted as a cartoon figure. So to deliberately annoy a large group of people by suggesting that we do something they don’t like is particularly insensitive. Why not just call it “piss off a humourless Muslim day”? By drawing the cartoon in the M&G Zapiro has effectively said to Muslims that he doesn’t give a rat’s arse about their sensibilities. That, at least, is the interpretation of many.
It’s too glib to dismiss this and say that Muslims should get a sense of humour. I’m sure many Muslims do have a sense of humour but it’s arrogant to assume that a sense of humour should extend to the deliberate mocking of their religion by someone from another religion. Knowing the situation Zapiro was plain dumb to draw that cartoon and Nic Dawes showed a lack of judgment in my opinion by running it. On the pure press freedom argument of course we should be allowed to do such things but there are greater issues at the moment that argue against that.
We are about to host the FIFA World Cup and last week there was a story that Al Qaeda had plans to launch a terrorist attack on stadiums. So how clever is it to run a cartoon so near to the World Cup which any idiot knows will antagonize Muslims? And what about the safety of the people who work at the Mail and Guardian and of the paper’s neighbours (of which I am one). If (heaven forbid) their offices were to be bombed by some deeply offended extremist will the twisted, bleeding bodies of innocent M&G staff have been worth the sacrifice in the name of press freedom? I don’t believe so.
So why did Zapiro draw a not particularly funny cartoon of the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) talking to what is obviously a Jewish psychiatrist up in heaven? Did he do it to deliberately upset Muslims? Did he do it to point out that the prophet is no big deal and in need of psychiatric help? I don’t believe he did and I don’t believe Nic Dawes (the M&G editor) ran the cartoon with that purpose in mind. They did it for the money.
It’s well known that newspapers are floundering and losing ground to innovative and dynamic websites like Newstime. So every once in a while they have to come up with a publicity stunt to sell papers. One of the more recent was the announcement that Julius Malema had R51 million in his bank account and was being funded by someone. Have you seen anything to substantiate that claim in the past few weeks in any of the newspapers?
No….neither have I. The ill judged Zapiro cartoon is more about profits than prophets. If more people went out and bought the M&G last Friday a sub editor’s job might be saved. But more importantly, it gets people talking about how brave Zapiro is and don’t we newspaper people love our egos to be inflated? Unfortunately cheap publicity stunts do occasionally go horribly wrong and this seems to be a good example of that. Bearing in mind the deep offence caused it might be advisable for both Zapiro and Dawes to eat humble pie on this one, offer a grovelling apology and make a substantial donation to a worthy Muslim cause.