Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is the Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons understandable?

Editorial aside: I thought posting this article was a better choice today, than going through the perennial to- celebrate-or- not-to-celebrate Mawlid wars.

I hope this gives readers an insight into why Muslims react at all to people vilifying their Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when people from other faiths tamely accept their religious figures being transformed into figures of fun.

Those Danish Cartoons: Don't Be Fooled This Isn't an Issue of Islam versus Secularism
...let's start off with the Department of Home Truths.

This is not an issue of secularism versus Islam. For Muslims, the Prophet is the man who received divine words directly from God. We see our prophets as faintly historical figures, at odds with our high-tech human rights, almost cariacatures of themselves. The fact is that Muslims live their religion. We do not. They have kept their faith through innumerable historical vicissitudes. We have lost our faith ever since Matthew Arnold wrote about the sea's "long, withdrawing roar". That's why we talk about "the West versus Islam" rather than "Christians versus Islam"--because there aren't an awful lot of Christians left in Europe.
There is no way we can get round this by setting up all the other world religions and asking why we are not allowed to make fun of Mohamed.Besides, we can exercise our own hypocrisy over religious feelings. I happen to remember how, more than a decade ago, a film called The Last Temptation of Christ showed Jesus making love to a woman. In Paris, someone set fire to the cinema showing the movie, killing a young man.
I also happen to remember a US university which invited me to give a lecture three years ago. I did. It was entitled "September 11, 2001: ask who did it but, for God's sake, don't ask why". When I arrived, I found that the university had deleted the phrase "for God's sake" because "we didn't want to offend certain sensibilities". Ah-ha, so we have "sensibilities" too.In other words, while we claim that Muslims must be good secularists when it comes to free speech--or cheap cartoons--we can worry about adherents to our own precious religion just as much.
I also enjoyed the pompous claims of European statesmen that they cannot control free speech or newspapers. This is also nonsense. Had that cartoon of the Prophet shown instead a chief rabbi with a bomb-shaped hat, we would have had "anti-Semitism" screamed into our ears--and rightly so--just as we often hear the Israelis complain about anti-Semitic cartoons in Egyptian newspapers.
Furthermore, in some European nations--France is one, Germany and Austria are among the others--it is forbidden by law to deny acts of genocide. In France, for example, it is illegal to say that the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian Holocaust did not happen. So it is, in fact, impermissable to make certain statements in European nations. I'm still uncertain whether these laws attain their objectives; however much you may prescribe Holocaust denial, anti-Semites will always try to find a way round. We can hardly exercise our political restraints to prevent Holocaust deniers and then start screaming about secularism when we find that Muslims object to our provocative and insulting image of the Prophet.

In any event, it's not about whether the Prophet should be pictured. The Koran does not forbid images of the Prophet even though millions of Muslims do. The problem is that these cartoons portrayed Mohamed as a bin Laden-type image of violence. They portrayed Islam as a violent religion. It is not. Or do we want to make it so?

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