When the Name Shakes 

 HassanAl Abdullah

Published on September 21, 2007

Well, the name of the cartoonist is Arifur Rahman(20) and the title of his cartoon is Name. In the cartoon he wrote:

--What's your name? [Asked the illiterate Mullah]

--My name is Babu. [Answered the innocent boy]

--Always say Mohammed before your name, [says the mullah] and asked again, what's your father's name.

--My father's name is Mohammed Abu. [Replied the boy with a kitty in his hand]

--What's in your hand? [Asked the mullah again]

--Mohammed Kitty. [Answered the boy]


The cartoon was published in the Daily Prothom Alo in its supplement, Alpine, on September 17, 2007. After seeing it and knowing about the protests against it, I wanted to measure the seriousness of the cartoon by a person who did not know the story. So, I've presented the story to my mother, who is a very religious person, and who is fasting in this month of Ramadan. Hearing the story from me, she burst out in laughter. I, too, would laugh like her if the Bangladeshi Mullahs would not find this cartoon religiously offensive and would not say that it was an insult to their prophet Mohammed. Moreover, the law advisor (Ministry of Law) of the present caretaker government said that the publishing of the cartoon was a conspiracy against the country's stability while a group of Mullahs went to him demanding the immediate arrest of the cartoonist, the editor and the publisher of the Daily. The government banned this particular issue and the further publication of the magazine, Alpine. Surprisingly, the Daily Prothom Alo took similar steps by firing, Sumonto Aslam, the journalist who was in charge of the magazine, and sending an open letter to the public saying that it was a great mistake to publish that offensive cartoon and they would never publish any more contribution from the cartoonist, and they would also make sure nothing that denounce the religious sentiment would ever be published in their Paper again. So, the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, was arrested and the next day he was sent in jail by the honorable judge. There was no lawyer for the cartoonist to defend his freedom of thinking. On the other hand, thousands of Mullahs are protesting in the streets against the Daily and asking the government to cancel its license, so that the Mullahs can keep their ignorant activities freely alive.


Neither the Mullah nor the boy in the cartoon looks like an Arab. So, how would that be an insult to their prophet? Many of the Islamists would say, well, the usage of the name Mohammed is an insult. But, how many Mohammeds are there in the world now? Probably about a billion or so. And how many of them are thieves, hijackers, murderers, and hypocrites? (Here I am not talking about the Mohammeds who are engineers, doctors, poets, writers and good people like me(!)--since I am also a Mohammed named by another Mullah some 40 years ago--for the sake of the argument.) Are not these people then an insult to the prophet Mohammed, since they are all using his name? Why do the Mullahs then push everybody born in a Muslim culture to have the first name, Mohammed? Probably, now is the time to rethink about the tradition. At least, the 20-year-old cartoonist pointed it out through his cartoon characters, by criticizing not the real Mohammed but the ignorant Mullahs of our society.


I was not only surprised by the government's response to the issue, but the decision by the Daily Prothom Alo to not to defend even the cartoonist and firing the Alpine editor immediately made me think deeply about what's going on in the poorest country of the world, Bangladesh. I know, the fundamentalists would find anything, even a laughable matter like this, to make an issue for their own political gain. But, what happened to our so called �intellectuals� and 'freethinkers' who are running Papers like the Prothom Alo? I strongly condemn their cowardice decisions. And I urge the fundamentalist and the military backed government, please open your eyes before you even pronounce that you are blind. I also demand the immediate release of the innocent cartoonist, who can think better than many lawmakers and politicians of the country. I am worried because I don't want to see Bangladesh turning into another Afghanistan which the Muslim fundamentalists are trying to do for a long time. When I see that the editor of the Daily, Motiur Rahman, goes to the Mosque to beg pardon from the Mullahs, I do not understand who the people are actually running the country, the Mullahs or the Government. How many steps are there to make Bangladesh a new Afghanistan ?


As I am writing this article, I got the news that the government also banned the Eid issue of the Weekly 2000 for the similar reason. Wow!

Hassanal Abdullah, the poet and the editor of the international bilingual poetry journal, Shabdaguchha, is the author of 13 books. Mr. Abdullah teaches math and computer for the New York City High School. E-mail: [email protected]