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Satirical Cartoons Can Have Serious Consequences

Satirical Cartoons Can Have Serious Consequences

Posted - Feb. 7, 2006 at 4:43 p.m.

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Carole Mikita ReportingViolent confrontations continued in a number of countries today as protestors demonstrated against cartoons that satirized the Prophet Muhammad. Three protesters were killed and 22 injured in a clash in Afghanistan. A journalistic decision is having unintended consequences, far beyond the newsroom.

Few stories in recent memory have combined religion, politics, the free press and protests in such a combustible way. For some insight, we turned to the leader of a Utah mosque and Utah's best-known cartoonist.

Shuaib Din, Imam, The Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake: "Every freedom has a limit."

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune Cartoonist: "It does show the power that a cartoon can have, that an image can have."

The drawings first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. One shows the prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. The Imam says the cartoons touched a raw nerve, in part, because Islam forbids any illustrations of Mohammad.

Shuaib Din, Imam, The Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake: "Just the physical depiction of the prophet is prohibited. Now on top of that, if it's put in a derogatory manner, then that just makes the matter more worse."

In many parts of the Middle East, the government controls the press, there is no free press. Therefore, perhaps it's not surprising that this cartoon was misinterpreted as an official statement of the Danish government.

A series of events -- the Iraq War, Abu Gahrib, Guantanamo-- are fuel for the unrest and the cartoons lit the spark.

Shuaib Din, Imam: "Depiction of politicians, a cartoon of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden would not offend any Muslim. But Prophet Mohommed and other prophets are different from political figures."

Pat Bagley says his job is to be provocative...

Pat Bagley: "The job of a cartoonist is to kind of push the envelope. And so that's what I do, try to go as far as I can. And the point of a cartoon is to provoke. Not to provoke violence, but to provoke people into thought."

Over the years Bagley has lampooned politics and culture, the Olympics, even local religious issues.

Pat Bagley: "You do have to kind of be careful. You can't be unfair."

Only twice has he drawn President Gordon B. Hinckley, once when he first appeared on Larry King Live, and in a light-hearted but pointed cartoon last weekend.

Pat Bagley: "I wanted people to be provoked to the point where they thought, 'How is my outrage any different than what they're feeling in the Middle East?'"

Bagley says journalists make judgment calls all the time based on what they think may cross a line for their audience.

Pat Bagley: "Putting images of garments, temple garments on the front page of the tribune. The tribune has a perfect right to do that. Now would we ever do that? Never. Absolutely not."

The free press has a right to publish. The question is when to hold back?

Shuaib Din, Imam "Every freedom has a limit. Freedom of religion as long as you don't disturb or harm others. Freedom of press as long as you don't offend others in such a manner."

As this incident shows, words and images have power. Once unleashed, sometimes they change the world.


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