Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Racism part of our heritage, Cape Times?

Heritage Day today coincides with a horrible stand-off in an upmarket mall in Kenya, where the extremist group Al-Shabaab gunned down at least 62 people, and held hostages. It begs mention that although this grouping have adopted religious rhetoric, their aims and actions are driven by distinctly political intent.

The depiction by the cartoonist in the Cape Times on the 24th September 2013 regarding this incident distresses and disappoints me deeply. The cartoon, of demonic bearded men in turbans with their murderous shopping list and their gleeful anticipation of going on a shooting spree, is replete with contextual inaccuracies, racism and cultural insensitivity.

The majority of Al-Shabaab fighters are native to Somalia. Why would they be depicted as Arab or Middle-Eastern looking? Because that is the stereotype of what an "Islamic terrorist" looks like? Because it should reinforce the profile everyone should be looking out for? Is it not concerning that similar-looking peaceful Muslim South African men also frequently don the garb depicted?

It is often argued that taking offence to satirical representations of one's culture or ethnicity is just plain oversensitive, especially in South Africa, where the diversity of these elements necessitates a slightly thicker skin. This argument, of course presupposes that these representations fall within the ambit of acceptable commentary that does not marginalise any group, does not promote hatred or violence towards a specific group or does not alienate the group from the rest of the populace. Bearing in mind that Muslims are being profiled at airports internationally based exactly on the caricature offered by your cartoonist, that there has been a hate-murder of a man in a beard in South Africa on the basis of a perverted idea of what a terrorist should look like, and that even Hashim Amla was called a terrorist by an Australian commentator based on his appearance; it becomes clear that stereotypes of this nature are wholly and completely unacceptable. If you don't think Islamophobia is a problem in South Africa, I challenge you to check on South African news websites. The vitriolic hatred spewed out there in the name of anonymity is jaw-dropping.

As previously alluded to, this incident is of a distinctly political nature. The vast majority of the millions of African Muslims, and over a billion Muslims internationally, condemn in the strongest terms such acts of indiscriminate violence. It is fully understood and appreciated that these extremists need to be opposed on all fronts. Muslims in South Africa know this, and have already officially condemned this incident in the strongest terms. We also remind the media that the fight against extremism is also a fight for the symbols of our religion. The beard and turban is a venerated symbol of piety, peace, scholarship, love, patience, forbearance and strength. When a cartoonist collaborates with terrorists in usurping our sacred symbols, we cannot be silent. We will defend our heritage.

Will the Cape Times defend this racist filth as part of their heritage? Let's wait and see.