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Italy’s Muslim Cartoon Brouhaha


An Italian monthly published a cartoon about the Prophet Muhammad in hell.
Now that’s asking for controversy, isn’t it?
The story blossomed over Easter weekend, ending with editor Cesare Cavalleri “apologizing, as a Christian,” for any offence.

My old journalism professor, Len Sellers, doctored the base of a tacky plastic “best mom in the world” statuette to read: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The concept, stared at across his desk while he shredded my stories, has stuck with me.
So Tuesday, the first day with shops open after the holiday, I set out to buy a copy of this journal. I wanted to see the cartoon. None of the papers published a photo of the offending vignette.
The journal is called “Studi Cattolici” (Catholic Studies) and because I’d never heard of it, I went online to see where it is distributed. Where? At eight book stores, in all of Milan, only three of them are not specialized Catholic bookstores.
I went to all three but had no luck.
None of the clerks had ever heard of it (nor thought they had a sell-out that morning); two had to check on the computer to see whether they actually stocked it.
One helped me rifle through minor, book-sized specialized journals in the corner where it might have been: “I don’t know what to tell you, it should be here right before Studi Junghiani, but it’s not.”
In other words, Studi Cattolici is not exactly a mainstream glossy.
It’s mighty difficult to talk about freedom of the press vs. respect for religion when you can’t even get your hands on the publication in question.
Basically this is a non-story, exactly the kind of thing that would give the three journalists at work something to do over a holiday weekend.
This year, April is so riddled with national and religious holidays that a group of mothers here in Milan pleaded with the school principal to shorten Easter vacation because they don’t know what to do with the kids.
With the exception of the political seesaw following elections, it’s a slow news month in Italy.
Re-reading the cartoon stories, I noted that it was the March issue of the magazine, if Studi Cattolici works like most monthlies, it was available in February.
Here’s the rub: I later found the cartoon, with translation, online here.
Thanks to new media, the cartoon may come back to bite Italy on the proverbial sedere. Trouble is, the average Italian won’t be debating with first-hand knowledge: 62% have never used Internet.
And the journalists firing this particular shot around the world often are just as much in the dark. The AP story about the apology describes the cartoon as depicting the Prophet Muhammad in hell, when in fact he’s not actually portrayed, just alluded to.

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