Leaving the politics of it aside, the issue is a fairly straight forward one. It is simply about values. The Danes who published the cartoons ridiculing the Prophet of my faith, degrading and attacking my religion also claim they merely exercised their right of expression-of freedom of speech. Then there were others in Europe who rose to the defense of the Danish act of insulting the prophet. They did so by also publishing the blasphemous cartoons of the prophet. As far as I can see they undermined a fundamental value of humanity; the value that calls for sensitivity towards another, the value to not hurt another person.
There is no battle to be fought with those who indulged in the ugly act of deliberately insulting my Prophet. I am numbed with outrage over this uncivilized act they have committed. I would simply say to them yours are no civilized ways. Whatever your claims to the contrary, they actually betray a people with a reactionary mindset.
Those who become possessed by anger when confronted with difficult and challenging situations. Anger halts our ability to probe and to reflect. Instead, depending on our location in life, if we are advantageously placed, we self-righteously give ourselves the license to pronounce verdict and take action to right a wrong. As many European publications have done. This is their crass response to the growing post 9/11 anti-Islamic sentiment. And for people in the business of opinion-making to indulge in such reactive acts, is extremely dangerous. It is highly irresponsible. These are people who must play the role of promoting greater understanding-pulling people away from extremist thought and action. Not join the vanguard of anger-prompted extremism .
Policy-makers and opinion-making community in the West has opted to conduct the discourse on terrorism using a terminology that has unwittingly but dangerously indicted the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Terms like Muslim terrorists , Islamic terrorists and Islamic terrorism has led to the demonization of the Muslims and of Islam. Whatever the European papers may claim they are upholding by ridiculing the Holy Prophet they would have not contemplated doing so in a pre-9/11 environment.
Social tensions may have existed in pre-9/11 Europe but in post 9/11 the tensions have vastly augmented. Muslims make for easy targets. So does their faith. This is how a section of the Europeans have opted to express their resentment against the terrorist attacks; as is evident from the contents of the cartoon itself.
This is a season of acute polarization. For example if the on-line responses of the public are any guide, this act of insulting the prophet has unfortunately received widespread public support in many European countries. The thrust mostly is that there is no reason to compromise on our value of freedom of expression, that if Muslims cant deal with this they must leave, that Muslims are hypocrites because they show no tolerance towards minorities but expect to be shown tolerance. In some cases individuals have argued that such cartoons should often be printed to get the Muslims to ultimately be more accepting of freedom of expression ! They say this is what we do to our own. Sadly so, we would say. But everyone to their own- but please do not drag our revered ones, those who we believe was the Messenger of God, in your messy notion of the freedom of speech. You have evolved into a culture of which licenses unlimited permissiveness. Inspite of our own mistakes, our many shortcomings, our morally and intellectually anemic leadership, there are some touch-stones of our civilization. It includes the respect of religion and our faith in God Almighty.
Deliberately defiling the Prophet is a highly irresponsible act. It is bound to have negative social and political fall-out. It exacerbates the existing social tensions among the locals and the Muslim population. Within the Muslims it is bound to create more alienation and resentment towards the westerners who, have chosen to be completely indifferent towards the faith and feelings of the Muslims across the world. It is the arrogance of these westerners they will resent. Like millions of westerners who have opted to not view terrorists as a fringe phenomenon within the Muslims and instead referred to terrorism as Islamic terrorism, many Muslims too will wrongly implicate the westerners across the board for this blasphemous act against the Prophet.
At the popular level we require a roll-back of the school that promotes the dangerous talk of clash of civilizations. For now the cartoon incident will merely serve to reinforce the worst of what many Muslims may believe of a growing intolerant Europe.
The framing and the discussion of the issue of terrorism has created a permissive environment which is responsible for this caricaturing of the Prophet; of hurting the feelings and ridicule the faith of a huge section of the entire human race. They paid no head to the protests. Instead they resented and condemned the nature of the protests. True the protests should have been calmer. Frenzied outrage was unnecessary and as were threats to kill. But nothing justified the reprinting of those insulting cartoons across many European countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland.
The leadership in most of these countries has not been willing to contest the wisdom of publishing cartoons which is highly disrespectful to another peoples’ faith. In fact the degree if insensitivity of the Danish Prime Minster can be gauged from the fact that when after the September publication the Muslims in Denmark sent repeated requests to meet with the Prime Minister. He repeatedly ignored their request. Essentially conveying ‘I really don’t give a damn. The Muslim leaders then went to the Middle East and other Muslim countries and showed them what the Danish papers had done. Subsequently the reaction acquired these proportions.
In Denmark the anti-Muslim sentiment has been growing at a rapid pace. The Fogh Rasmussen government has actively sought to dispel and block Muslim residents from Denmark. The cartoon is just the tip of the iceberg.
However that the notion of freedom of expression cannot be translated into unlimited freedom to abuse another’s faith is basic common sense. But also the way many Europeans have selectively applied the principle of freedom of expression is intriguing. When the ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan were criminally destroyed by the talibaan, the Europeans screamed murder the loudest. We all did too in the Muslim world.
What was that protest for ? So destruction of history is blasphemous but the attempted destruction of a people’s faith and deeply treasured symbols is not ? This is the perversity of post-modernism which seeks the right to destroy and deconstruct selectively-and give that right a sacred status. Also if the freedom of expression is so sacred how many European papers have dared to support what the Iranian president said about questioning the reality of the holocaust?
Clearly the principle of freedom has to be practiced within some rationale and egalitarian framework. It cannot be an elitest concept which a special color or creed will have more right to excercise. Why does this right not respect another’s right to chose what is sacred to them-since that what is sacred is not at the cost of undermining another’s interests. Islam abhors suicide bombings and terrorism. Increasingly Muslim leaders are condemning this openly.
Why are the Europeans so generous in applying their concept of freedom of expression at the cost of causing great pain and injury to Muslim world ? Is it because their bohemianism has a method to it ? The method is to attack and disrespect those who, are generally viewed as the politically, scientifically and economically the down-trodden of the human race-the weak and the lambasted-the violated and the angry-the reactive and seething ?
These are not the ways of a civilized people. These are ways pushing for a grand and mad conflict of civilizations. Will the European media see wisdom is stepping back and reviewing their dangerous notion of freedom of expression ? For now the limited apologies that have come were perhaps prompted by the widespread anger and protests emanating from the Muslim world. But wisdom and true civilized behavior demands that we internalize the limits of our own freedoms where it begins to undermine the freedom of another.
Otherwise a free-for-all world would best be described by Yeats perennially poignant poem The Seconding Coming;
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Clearly if it moves ahead unchecked, this unguided or self-righteous “passionate intensity” will ultimately become the undoing of the human race. We need to reflect on our ways of being especially those preaching wildly damaging forms of freedom of expression.