The cartoon controversy one year on
A butterfly flaps its wing somewhere in Borneo, setting off a perturbation in the weather system that eventually leads to a depression in the Bay of Bengal, and millions in the coastal Bangladesh fear the worst. This is a popular characterisation of chaos theory – a branch of mathematics that says that small changes in the initial condition has big impacts in the final outcome. I don’t know whether Arifur Rahman read about chaos theory or not, but when one of his cartoons was published by the Daily Prothom Alo last Sep, what happened was pretty close to chaos.
This was a time of fraying nerves. Tazreena Sajjad describes the zeitgeist of the time here. It was within weeks of the Dhaka University riots. For a while, there were rumours of Prothom Alo being shut down. In the event, things calmed down after Prothom Alo editor, a one-time communist, apologised to the Imam of the national mosque in the presence of the information minister of the military-backed regime.
After a year, we can think about the controversy with a calmer mind. That’s what this post attempts. First it notes the role played by a new generation of activists – online and in the ‘real’ world – during the crisis. Then it notes that this wasn’t the first incidence of its kind. Finally, it discusses where and how we might draw the line between freedoms of speech and faith.
(More at UV)