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Theres need to put limits on freedom

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By Yusuf Abramjee

(source: Pretoria News,May 25, 2010 Edition)

Anger is running high within the Muslim community after the Mail & Guardian published a33by Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro depicting the Prophet Muhammad complaining to a psychiatrist that "other prophets have followers with a sense of humour".

Zapiro’s caricature was in response to the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" campaign on Facebook.I’m convinced that Zapiro sought to be provocative and to cause a stir. He can’t deny that he knew that his33would raise emotions and anger within the Muslim community.

M&G editor Nick Dawes ought to have known better what response the33would elicit. It’s a sensitive matter. We all know what the response was when a Danish cartoonist drew Prophet Muhammad. It caused fury throughout the Muslim world and even today, long after the incident, followers of the Muslim faith still feel hurt and insulted.

In South Africa, we enjoy freedom of speech and expression as it is enshrined in our constitution. We must however be mindful of religious tolerance. My religion forbids the depiction of any prophet and Zapiro has insulted Muslims. He has gone too far.I stand for freedom of speech and will continue doing so, but this right should not be abused. It is not absolute. This is what some editors and commentators fail to understand.On Talk Radio 702, The Freedom of Expression Institute argued that it was okay to depict Prophet Muhammad, citing freedom of speech.When asked whether it was acceptable to use the "K" word in a33or column that would offend many, the representative replied "yes". Surely, this cannot be allowed.Cartoons can create hard feelings for different religions. Religious leaders say "such blasphemous cartoons would hurt the feelings of Muslims. Islam demands that Muslims respect all God's creations, prophets and the scriptures of all religions".Freedom (of expression) must be enjoyed with respect and, as with all other freedoms, must be curtailed at a certain point before it becomes dangerous – as in this case. Zapiro said his33was "quite gentle" while Dawes said "we cannot be stopped from exercising our constitutional freedom of expression".Both need to take off their blinkers. They have refused to apologise. Former editor of the M&G Ferial Haffajee, now editor of the City Press, says she would have resigned when confronted with a decision whether to publish the33or not.There are a number of Muslim editors in South Africa and we know and understand the sensitivities around depicting our prophet. The image may have been "gentle" for Zapiro because he is not a Muslim, but he fails to understand how much we love, respect, admire and follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.Zapiro is fuelling what many believe is growing 42which is evident in many parts of the world. The timing of this33is also unfortunate; days before the World Cup. It's no secret that people with ill or evil intent always look for something to latch on to and he has given them the arsenal. We have seen how previously published cartoons have been used to cause bloodshed around the world.One can find many examples where freedom of speech can be abused. A Muslim student in the US wrote: "If you saunter up to a random dude in a bar and say, 'Your mother's a fat whore', are you exercising free speech, or just being an offensive idiot?"The key issue here isn't freedom of speech – but actions that intentionally marginalise a community. Muslims however need to contain their anger and engage Zapiro and Dawes so that they apologise. There is no need for threats or abuse.

  •  Yusuf Abramjee is Head of News and Current Affairs at Primedia Broadcasting and writes in his personal capacity. He is also chairman of the National Press Club.