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The Mayor of London and the Paintings of Botero - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The media controversy in Britain in particular and in Europe in general concerning the status of Muslim communities has entered a new dimension following the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone’s statement that Muslims face serious discrimination. The mayor referred to a report containing figures on the economic and social patterns of Muslims in the British capital. The gap between the role of Muslims and members of other religions has widened bringing a number of connotations to the fore.

The Mayor of London stated that one in twelve Londoners is Muslim yet this group has the lowest rates of employment out of all faith groups. Livingstone published the report as a basic reference to be included in debates that are being launched by Muslim communities in Europe and the West, the severity of which is increasing and at times reaches levels of confrontation and violence. This debate comes in light of a real crisis that is being endured by both the Muslims and the West.

As much as it is possible to dwell upon the role of culture, extremism, and isolation that transforms Muslim communities in the west into ghettos unable to integrate into western society, it is possible to highlight the west’s role in blowing up international fears and depicting these communities as uncivilized groups that only export evil. Remarkably, the British and European media, which excelled in its coverage of the controversies of the terrorist operations that targeted London, Jack Straw’s comments about the niqab, the hijab and the cartoons row, did not grant the Mayor’s statement the coverage that it deserved. Accordingly, another debate was launched about the crisis. In the post-9/11 world, freedoms in general have retracted including the freedom of the press.

A number of international reports have warned against the deterioration that we are currently experiencing as well as the level of decline of public and press freedoms in major countries such as the United States and France because of the war on terror. In the USA, “national security” is still used as a pretext to fight any journalist who casts doubt upon the war on terror. Furthermore, a number of journalists have been taken to court for refusing to reveal their sources. The danger today is that many freedoms are prohibited.

In America, the internationally renowned artist Fernando Botero was banned from exhibiting his art pieces that represented the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. The Colombian artist’s paintings were artistic representations of Botero’s protest against the practices of torture that take place in prisons all over the world. It is true that his work may be not be known to the Arab world, however, the fact that these paintings have been banned in the United States of America reflects a rapid deterioration in the post-9/11 world and this is as painful to the United States as the Abu Ghraib scandal was to the Arab world. The scandal was a major violation of the rights of Iraqi prisoners and the ban of Botero’s paintings is a similar encroachment. The biggest danger is the imposing of debate within a limited area on one hand and the overlooking of facts that is equally as dangerous on the other.

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained worldwide recognition and was named one of the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in 2004.

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