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Freedom of Expression in Qatar

This is a Guest Post by Imran

Maqbool Fida (‘MF’) Husain is a 95-year old Indian artist, often referred to as the Picasso of India.  Following a celebrated career spanning seven decades, Husain became embroiled in controversy in 1996, following the publication of an article about nude images of Hindu gods he had painted in the 1970s.  He has reportedly been the subject of death threats ever since, and lives in exile between London and Dubai.  Husain is still the subject of numerous pending lawsuits in India on the grounds of offending the sensibilities of religious Hindus with his risqué images.

The other day it emerged that the Gulf state of Qatar (home of Al-Jazeera) has offered Husain Qatari citizenship.  If this is in fact true, this is a real turnaround.  In 2006, at the height of the Danish cartoon fiasco, Qatar’s Al-Watan newspaper (which is owned by the country’s royal family) had this to say about the matter:

It’s clear that the publication of cartoons wronging Islam is premeditated and requires deterrent action, such as public and diplomatic boycott…The Danish government has committed a sin by provoking the Arab and Muslim streets, which resorted to the weapon of boycott, the most effective weapon in fighting the Israeli entity. The foreigner only moans when his economic interests are affected.

Is the offer of citizenship to MF Husain evidence of a new, enlightened approach to religious expression, or could it have something to do with the  fact that his artwork offended Hindu, and not Muslim, sensitivities?

Coming soon to a blasphemous cartoonist near you (provided the target of his offence is not Muslim.)

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