Not a little hissing, scratching and miaowing has taken over from the howling and baying as the MoDog fiasco gives way to – wait for it – the MoCat outrage.
Arifur Rahman, a cartoonist with a publication called Aalpin – which is a satirical supplement within a newspaper called Prothom Alo – has become another cause celebre in the name of freedom of expression, after his arrest and detention for publishing a cartoon strip.
He was arrested at his Dhaka home on 17 September, but now the campaigning organisation Reporters Without Borders are on his case, and have called for his release.
Bangladesh’s government press department says Rahman has “hurt religious sentiments”, because the little boy in the strip refers to his furry friend as “Mohammed cat” (see dialogue below). However, all copies of the supplement have been seized, Prothom Alo has apologised and the supplement’s deputy editor has been given the boot. There have been the expected street performances of marching, shouting, punching the air and brandishing banners, and a few minor conflagrations here and there with the main combustible material being newsprint – bearing the cartoon, of course. Oh, and calls for death.
The reference to “Mohammed cat” was a cultural one. It was a play on words, a whimsical allusion to the fact that the name Mohammed is seen as an essential part of the nomenclature in those parts. Here’s the exchange between the man and the boy in the strip:
Boy, what’s your name?
My name is Babu.
It is customary to put Mohammed in front of the name. What is your father’s name?
What is that on your lap?
All pretty harmless stuff, but not to those who seem to be stuck in the seventh century.
“Religious leaders have called for the cartoonist to be severely punished and for Prothom Alo, one of the country’s leading dailies, to be closed,” says Reporters Without Borders. “Copies of the newspaper have been burned outside one of the capital’s mosques.”
The group adds: “The government should not yield to pressure from extremist leaders who are trying to politicise the case. Rahman should not be made a scapegoat. He must be freed.”
What will be the next four-legged creature to be deemed an insult? They’ve done pigs, then a dog, now a cat; soon it’ll be the whole kitten caboodle, you might say.
UPDATE: (1st October) They were rioting on Friday. Big surprise!