Despite Standing with Charlie Hebdo, Abu Mazen Represses Palestinian Artist’s Cartoon

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A snapshot of Mohammed Sabaina's drawing from his website.

By: Orouba Othman

Published Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On Tuesday, following widespread pressure and condemnation, Ramallah-based Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida issued a statement apologizing for a cartoon by Palestinian cartoonist Mohammed Sabaina of Prophet Mohammad that they published on Sunday.

“We strictly deny all allegations or interpretations attempting to establish a link between the published drawing and depictions of prophets or disciples,” the statement read. The Palestinian daily added that “a committee was formed to investigate the published cartoon, which became a subject of controversy.” The paper noted, “The cartoon, when published, aimed to defend religions and convey a message of love and peace.”

The issue has been a hot topic in Palestinian political and media circles since Sunday, and Mohammed Sabaina has been the subject of widespread criticism. It seems that the wave of Islamophobia that rose in the West after the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has been met by religious hysteria in Arab countries, dealing a deadly blow to free speech.

Sabaina, a famous cartoonist and former prisoner, born in Jenin in 1978, is the primary victim of this unbridled hysteria. The Palestinian public and journalists were outraged by Sabaina’s caricature, which depicted a man standing on planet Earth, surrounded by an aura of light, carrying a beating heart as a handbag, and spreading seeds of forgiveness.

Although the meaning of the cartoon is evident, many chose to incite outrage and exploit religious sensitivities. They flaunted their muscles in a pretentious defense of Prophet Mohammad, likening Sabaina’s drawing to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, despite the great difference between the two.

Others cited fatwas recently issued by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, which forbade the “depiction of the Prophet, peace be upon him, through images, whether in drawings, animated pictures, or still images,” and prohibited “ministries of information and publishers from portraying the Prophet in novels, plays, and movies, as well as on television and in cinema, etc.”

Sabaina did not want to get caught up in attacks and counter-attacks between Arab countries and the West after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Thus, in his cartoon, he adopted a defensive approach, rather than an offensive or apologetic one. Journalists and netizens, however, failed to see that, and accused him of “blasphemy and violation of Islamic teachings.” Some reporters chose to aggravate the situation and tarnish the image of the cartoonist, who is known for his firm national standpoint.

Sabaina tried to contain the situation, which spread quickly through the mainstream and new media after the cartoon’s publication.

On his Facebook account, he wrote: “I reject the claim that the drawing includes a depiction of the Prophet. The person [in the caricature] represents a Muslim who follows the calling of our Prophet Mohammad. As for the aura surrounding him, it is the light of our Prophet, and the goodness emanating from Islam.”

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas joined the heated battle and, ironically, opened the door to further escalation. Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported on Monday that “the president ordered an immediate investigation into the cartoon of Prophet Mohammad published in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida newspaper.” Apparently, the big fuss around Sabaina’s cartoon prompted Abbas to resort to threats and intimidations, and issue an illegal decision that compromises free speech.

WAFA quoted Abbas as stressing “the need to take deterrent action against those responsible for this terrible mistake, out of respect for sacred religious symbols, most notably the prophets and messengers.”

Abbas had joined the French and Israeli prime ministers in the historic march in Paris after the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack, under the pretext of supporting freedom. It seems that he was nonetheless upset by this cartoon, though Sabaina used all possible artistic means to avoid the religious frenzy that resulted from the previous incident, and used his own style to defend the Prophet.

This position reveals Abbas’s double standards regarding freedom of expression — he is known, after all, as “Palestine’s Karzai” — as well as the double standards of the PA, which has previously shrugged aside Palestinian sensitivities by paying condolences to dead Israeli soldiers. In the midst of this political absurdity and manipulation of religion, Sabaina said: “In front of any investigation committee... inquiry, I love this country.”

Solidarity campaigns

After a wave of negative reactions to the cartoon, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida soon “broke the artist’s pencil.” Its board of directors issued a decision to “temporarily suspend those responsible for publishing the caricature.” This arbitrary decision came only a few hours after the newspaper ordered an internal investigation into the scandal, noting that the appropriate procedures had yet to be performed.

This decision reveals the precarious state of Palestinian print media, and how strictly it accords with the PA’s inclinations, not to mention the influence of religious fanaticism on Palestinian media and its shallow approach to the art of cartoons.

The Palestinian daily mentioned in its statement on Tuesday that it “submitted the outcome of the internal investigation to the authorities that President Mahmoud Abbas assigned to the file.”

In the same context, a number of social networkers launched a campaign in solidarity with Sabaina, writing “We are all Sabaina” on their pages. The cartoonist is, in fact, known for his efficient role in circulating the letters of prisoners in Israeli jails.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


It just goes to show what a firm grip "some" have over our lives -

I totally agree. However what is interesting is that according to historians, Mohammed categorically stated that he did not want any sort of images of himself flaunted around. Historians have always misquoted the truth and it is well known that many of them have stretched the truth for the purpose of making a great name for themselves. In regards to Mohammed having stated that he never wanted any images of himself spread around, is something that I find very hard to accept. Nor Jesus or Moses ever thought that others in later years would depict them and yet this is what people do. Mohammed would be no different. I believe that Mohammed never said anything like that and whoever was the original forbidder of spreading images of the prophet, was either a Shiite or a Sunni. Who ever started this story others simply followed. As for Abbas and his latest move, his hypocritical side was certainly exposed by his actions.

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