To many peace-loving Muslims and non-Muslims around the world the riots of recent weeks over a dozen provocative cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad was the worst thing that could happen to our politically volatile world. They see neither the newspaper’s thinly veiled provocation, nor the senseless, emotional reactions that ensued as justified.
To others (extremists from both sides of the fence) this was their respective wishes delivered on a golden plate!
While the Danish newspaper is indeed protected under “freedom of the press” , and while the Western culture in general does not consider lampooning a religious figure a blasphemous act, it is crucial to highlight the importance of media sensibility and self-restraint and how they are rooted in the very “social contract” that reassures the press the said freedom in the first place. In other words, the fair price of rights and privileges is a good sense of responsibility.
In his famous book “Democracy in America” , written almost two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville accurately observed that democracies could not exist without freedom of press and that social order could not be maintained with (boundless) freedom of press.
This conundrum he thought would require a certain balancing act. Perhaps that is why some European countries have instituted certain legal and social restrictions to freedom of press and expression. A few days ago, historian David Irving was sentenced to serve a three-year jail sentence for denying the holocaust.
With that background in mind, many are asking: why would the Jyllands-Posten editor, Flemming Rose, ignore warnings of experts such as Tim Jensen – a leading Danish religious historian – and publish and later republish the provocative cartoons in the most offensive timing (first around Ramadan and later during the Pilgrimage season)? Why would an editor who, according to the Guardian newspaper declined a few years earlier to publish cartoons offensive to Christianity, aggressively promote and disseminate those offensive against Muslims? Was this a case of a right wing editor imposing his extremist views of a different faith in the name of freedom of press?
These implications of reckless impropriety, if not an outright contemptible expression of Islamophobia, were further highlighted since recent reports have established Mr. Rose’s connection with Neocon activist, Daniel Pipes – a man whom many Muslims consider America’s Islamophobe par excellence.
However, it is fair to say that, following these reports, Mr. Pipes has published a statement in which he on one hand admits meeting with Mr. Rose a few months before the publication of the controversial cartoons and, on the other hand, asserts his innocence of any ‘conspiracy’.
But, regardless of who provoked the outraged rioters and why, the reactionary mob mentality of recent weeks was chaotic and destructive. And no Muslim can find a text in the Qura’n or in the Hadith (the narrative of the Prophet’s life) that would justify such overreaction in defending the honor of the Prophet Muhammad or other Prophets of God.
Clearly, in their overreaction, the rioters have played right into the hands of the provocateurs and extremists from both sides who wanted to prove that Islam cannot coexist with the West and therefore must be dealt with, and by those who want to blame every historical misery ever suffered by Muslims on the West.
It is no secret that, both in the West and the Islamic world, the propaganda machines are controlled by extremists who neither care for dialogue with their counterparts, nor want to understand each other.
Of course, desecrating the honor of most revered figure in Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, is offensive to all Muslims who take their religion seriously. Granted, their reaction might differ, but they would be offended because dishonoring or defaming another human being, even in lampooning fashion, is unacceptable.
Along with life and property, dishonoring someone is one of the three most serious sins or crimes that one can commit against another. So serious are these three that the Prophet reiterated their importance in his famous last sermon known to Muslims as the “Farewell Sermon” , which sums up the essence of Islam.
The daunting outrage of recent weeks and ensuing violence encouraged no one other than certain extremist elements from both sides who may be jubilant about this self-fulfilling prophecy toward the Huntingtonian world view, better known as the “clash of civilizations” . What better outcome could they have hoped for?!
Here are on the one hand “God-less Westerners” labeling Prophet Muhammad as a ruthless terrorist, and on the other, mobs of “wild-eyed Muslims” burning flags carrying the Christian symbol.
This is a convenient prelude to authenticate the Armageddon-enthusiasts’ claim that the West and Islam can never coexist. Those who conveniently overlook the great majority of moderate Muslims around the world who consider their religion as is described in the Qur’an, “the Middle Ground Faith” , who rely on a pendulum of political confusion that swings to all directions and promotes a subtle, spare-no-one campaign that implicates all Muslims. A campaign that one day defines the enemy as “global terrorism” ; the next day as “Islamic terrorism” ; then as “radical Islam” ; then as “political Islam” , then as “Islamists” ; then as “Jihadists” ; then as “Wahabis” ; then as “Islamo-fascists” ; then as “Ant-Zionist Moderates” ; then as “the Qur’an” ; then as “Muhammad” ; then as the “innate violent tendencies of Islam” !
Indeed, there is enough inflammable ignorance on both sides that must be carefully addressed, restrained, and in due course, reversed.