Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Monday, February 13, 2006

Danish Cartoons Revisited

While it is true that Europe has been more forthcoming and honest about the Palestinian question and core European countries (France and Germany) refused to partake in the war on Iraq, Spain, Britain, Poland, Italy and Denmark gladly joined the United States on a rampage the likes of which Iraq has not seen since the days of Ginghis Kahn.

I agree with you that European societies are free and I wish that European governments were so keen on seeing those same freedoms implemented in the Arab world. Instead, Europe and the United States curry favors with such unsavory regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Morocco.

I don't think these riots were about the cartoons in and of themselves. I for one would not have cared at all if Denmark had published those cartoons but then stopped there. There is something extremely insulting about the fact that the prime minister would not even meet with Arab and Muslim ambassadors to Denmark but what's more is that the government is being ruled by a rightist party not unlike France's Le Penn and Belgium's Flams Block, which campaign on anti-immigrant platforms and forced integration (i.e. Europeanization and secularization) without addressing issues that make integration difficult if not impossible (such as jobs, discrimination, and economic opportunity). At a time of extreme tension between the Muslim world and the West (because of Iraq, Palestine, dictators), the Danish government handled the situation very badly and the European newspapers that followed suit in publishing the cartoons did so knowing it would be a provocation. Remember that the first newspaper that republished the cartoons was an evangelical Christian Norwegian daily.

All that being said, world Arabs and Muslims are hardly blameless. I agree that in normal circumstances, one should depict Mohammed in what ever light one wants to and I do not expect non-Muslims to abide by Islamic rules of not drawing the prophet. But we are not living in normal times, we are living in times of an Israeli wall on Palestinian land, four years of Guantanomo, secret CIA prisons in Europe, renditions of suspects to torturing regimes, ruthless Arab and Muslim dictators that will not share power, and American and European governments that have only narrow interests with no vision in the longterm repercussions.

Violence by Muslims (although, I must say, was very small compared to the hundreds of thousands who protested peacefully) is abhorrent and did nothing but emphasize the racist and xenophobic stereotypes drawn by the Danish artists in the controversial cartoons.

As to the Arab and Muslim governments (those which are not democratic) have my greatest contempt. Because, it is true, they used this whole debacle cynically to foment anger against a disengaging West, no longer interested in buoying up their sagging, sinking ships. Arab and Muslim governments tried to paint Western democracy as irreverent and even evil, because it is their greatest threat. The angry Muslim reactions we saw on the streets are an indictment of those regimes and their utter failure. There cannot be bridging between the Muslim world and the West, until those regimes are dismantled, because Muslim mouths are closed shut and their hands are tied behind their backs with no representative nor accountable governments.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Danish Cartoons: An American-Muslim’s Perspective

In the past few weeks, we have seen an incredible escalation between Europe and the Muslim world over cartoons originally published by a Danish newspaper that depict the Muslim prophet, Mohammed, in an unflattering light. The Danish newspaper and government insisted that the cartoons are a matter of free speech and recently a few European newspapers reprinted the cartoons in agreement and solidarity in principle. The Muslim world already angered by the original publication was further inflamed by the Europeans’ inability to see matters from their perspective. While free speech is important and a fundamental of free society and democracy, even European countries place constraints on its extreme forms such as incitement and bigotry. Should the American KKK and the German Neonazis be handed forums in respectable newspapers to spew their hatred?

Here lies what most Muslims view as a double standard. Although depictions of the prophet Mohammed are impermissible in Islam, Muslims cannot expect Europeans to adhere to Islamic mores. However, what angered the world Muslims is the nature of the depictions published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, and subsequently in French, German and Norwegian newspapers. The prophet Mohammed was shown as a terrorist with a bomb disguised as a turban on his head and, in another cartoon, he was shown as a crazed man telling a queue of suicide bombers to stop for heaven has run out of virgins. Europeans maintain that the drawings are in bad taste but that “free society has a right to blasphemy” as the Le Monde puts it.

However, the Europeans are missing two important points. First, by publishing a caricature of the prophet Mohammed as a suicide bomber, they not only condemn him of being a terrorist but also condemn all his followers of being complicit in the violence. The former is blasphemy but the latter is defamation. This point is perhaps the most angering to world Muslims. While terrorism by all accounts is carried by a small minority, all Muslims are collectively incriminated by the West. As most Muslims condemn violence, explain that their religion is against the killing of civilians, that even plants should not be harmed during war, an all encompassing condemnation of 1.5 billion people by Europe is frustrating and insulting.

The second point has more to do with today’s Europe. It is an increasingly hostile place for Muslims whether they are immigrants, first or second generation. The fact that a Danish politician can say that Muslims are a spreading cancer coupled with a colleague’s assertion that new converts to Islam should be placed under surveillance demonstrates the kind of atmosphere in which these drawings first appeared. This Islamophobia was already evident during Turkey’s talks for accession to the European Union and during the French riots earlier this year. Perhaps even more disturbing is the silence emanating from the Vatican during the cartoon debacle, even as the Grand Rabbi of France condemns the Danish cartoons. Aside from the hypocrisy of Arab governments, who are using the crisis to polish their Islamic credentials, there is genuine anger and concern in the Muslim world about the rift between Islam and the West.