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

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.


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