The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Protests over Muhammad cartoons

Feb 13, 2006

During the first week of February, angry protests against the publication of a cartoon in a Danish newspaper showing the Muslim prophet Muhammad with a bomb shook more than a dozen countries with Muslim populations in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Protesters marched to, and in some places, such as Syria, Lebanon and Iran, stormed and torched embassies of Denmark and other European countries.

These protests did not begin as spontaneous outbursts against a cartoon in a Danish newspaper. The Middle Eastern countries where the biggest demonstrations took place are harsh dictatorships, which almost always brutally repress demonstrations and protests. But reports showed the police and military acting in a friendly fashion and even helping the demonstrators out.

In fact, the government and religious institutions that are tied to them were behind the protests. With rising anger inside these countries, the governments resorted to a “religious” dispute against a far-off foe that did not at all challenge their authority.

In other words, the demonstrations started as carefully calculated political moves by the leaders of very repressive and corrupt regimes, which in many cases such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan and Egypt, have close ties to the U.S., as well as Great Britain and the other big European governments and their corporations. Of course, these leaders did nothing different than politicians around the world, starting with Bush and every other politician in the U.S., who also try to cloak their own disgusting rule under the garb of “religious” piety, and use religion to divert people’s anger away from their rule.

Given the horrible social conditions in these countries, the depth of anger and rage in the population, these demonstrations themselves took on an explosive character that went well beyond what the authorities had planned for. This included the demonstrations in the more prosperous European countries, starting in Denmark, where immigrants from the Middle East face high rates of unemployment and discrimination. “The cartoons were a fuse that lit a bigger fire,” said Rami Khoouri, the editor of an English language newspaper in Lebanon to the New York Times.

Not surprisingly, the demonstrations in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan went the furthest. They turned into huge and violent demonstrations against the U.S.-led occupation of their country. Demonstrators attacked a U.S. military base and set fire to four fuel tankers. Three days of protests in the capital, Kabul, and southern Afghanistan left eleven people dead and dozens more wounded, all of them shot by U.S. and Afghan soldiers firing into the crowds.

But so long as the poor and oppressed fight under the banner of religion, they are tied to the very leaders and institutions that uphold their oppression and exploitation.