Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

CARTOONS have overtaken Denmark’s previous most important export – Hamlet!

They are only Cartoons!

A variety of columns from various sources about the Danish Cartoons.

Our media must give Muslims the chance to debate with each other

We used to say 'When in Rome do as the Romans'; but Rome is now Tunis, Cairo and Tirana, while London is all the world

Timothy Garton Ash

Thursday February 9, 2006

The Guardian

Facing me in my living room, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed says a Danish cartoonist who insulted the prophet should be tried in an Islamic court and then "he will be executed according to Islamic rules". Of course the Syrian-born Islamic cleric is not physically sitting in my living room; he's on a television screen, live from Beirut, where the Danish embassy has just been trashed by demonstrators. That makes the death threat only slightly less threatening. Imagine how it feels to be one of those Danish cartoonists.

For centuries, there has been a good rule for the coexistence of civilisations. It said: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Globalisation has undermined that rule. Because of mass migration, peoples and their cultures are physically mixed up together. Rome is no longer just Rome; it's also Tunis, Cairo and Tirana. Birmingham is also Kashmir and the Punjab, while London is all the world. Because of worldwide mass media, there is no longer such a thing as local offence or local intimidation. Everything can reach everyone. Competing cultures try to spread their norms around the globe: George Bush for western-style democracy, Pope Benedict XVI for Catholicism, Omar Bakri Mohammed for sharia.

How should we live in this brave new world? How can we stay free in it? Like most of my friends, I have been agonising about this over the past week. We feel this is a defining moment, for all who live in Europe. And we know that there are no simple answers. The least bad outcome will be a painful compromise between the universal right to free speech - the oxygen of all other freedoms - and the need for voluntary self-restraint in such a mixed-up world.

One thing, however, I know with certainty: violence, or the direct threat of violence, of the kind we have seen in the past few days, is totally unjustified as a response to any published word or image. That is the first thing to be said. I have been saddened to see British politicians and commentators, particularly on the left, hesitating for a long moment to say so clearly, or feeling it necessary to say other things first. (Do you want to leave the defence of free speech and non-violence to David Davis?) I have also been saddened, though hardly surprised, by the weakness of the EU's reaction to the criminal attack on the Danish embassy in Syria, which seems to have been permitted, if not actively encouraged, by the Syrian regime. We should have said: when you burn the Danish flag you burn our flag. Why weren't all EU ambassadors instantly withdrawn from Damascus in protest?

Violence or the direct threat of violence - as in those posters held by London protesters that read "Behead Those Who Insult Islam" - is both morally unjustified and, rightly, brings the threat of criminal prosecution. It is right that Abu Hamza has been convicted for incitement to murder. (Incidentally, this shows that we do not need a new offence of glorification of terrorism, since he was convicted under existing laws.) Those Danish cartoons were offensive, perhaps even abusive - and I was not in favour of their re-publication in various European newspapers - but they were not threatening to any particular group or individuals. They are in no way comparable with a death threat to individual cartoonists or torching an embassy - with people dying in the process. And let's not have any of that tired old higher nonsense about "structural violence" or "repressive tolerance".

This violence was unjustified and criminal, but perhaps it was also effective. One way of looking at the self-restraint of the British media over the past week is to say how responsible, pragmatic and sensitively multicultural they all were. Alternatively you might say they were scared of having their offices burned. Was it wisdom with a seasoning of fear, or rather fear packaged as wisdom? Throughout history, violence has often paid off, but the struggle of civilisation against barbarism is to ensure that it doesn't.

That said, the question remains: how to strike the balance between free speech and mutual respect in this mixed-up world, both blessed and cursed with instant communication? We should not fight fire with fire, threats with threats. The danger at this critical moment is that we will see the beginning of a vicious spiral, with Muslim extremists blowing wind into the sails of anti-Muslim extremists (such as Nick Griffin of the BNP, and how I wish he had been convicted a couple of days before Abu Hamza), whose violent language in turn drives more moderate Muslims to support the jihadists, and so on down. But I do not agree with yesterday's Guardian leader when it said that the BBC's Today programme was wrong to broadcast an interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad, who was also interviewed by Channel 4 news.

On the contrary, I think the British media have done exactly what they should by letting us hear the voices of Muslim extremists but setting them against moderate and reasonable Muslim voices, as well as those of non-Muslims. There was a riveting discussion on Newsnight, in which two British Muslim women calmly argued with the ranting, demagogic, but in style and accent also recognisably British, extremist Anjem Choudary, of the al-Ghuraba groupuscule. Perhaps it would have been better still if the discussion had been chaired by, say, Zeinab Badawi rather than Jeremy Paxman; but the essential point is that it provided a civilised platform on which Muslims could argue with fellow Muslims. Reporters sweepingly write of "Muslim anger" erupting across the world, but many British Muslims are as angry with the jihadist provocateurs as they are with the Danish cartoonists, as we will doubtless see in the demonstration planned by British Muslims in London this Saturday.

The temptation, to which too many are succumbing, is to see this as a showdown between Islam and Europe or the west (although, for once, the US has been somewhat out of the firing line). That is how extremists want to frame the argument, as in the poster waved outside the Danish embassy in London: "Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer". But the real dividing line is between moderates and extremists on both sides, between men and women of reason and dialogue, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and men and women of hatred, such as Abu Hamza or Nick Griffin. Not for the first time in recent history, the means are more important than the ends. In fact, the means you choose determine where you'll end up.

This is not a war, and it's not going to be won or lost by the west. It's an argument inside Islam and inside Europe, where millions of Muslims already live. If reason prevails over hate, it will be because most British, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Danish and altogether European Muslims prevail over their own extremist minorities. We non-Muslim Europeans can contribute to that outcome, by our policies abroad, towards Iraq, Iran, Israel and Palestine, and at home, on immigration, education, jobs and so forth. We can also contribute by cultural sensitivity and self-restraint, but we cannot compromise on the essentials of a free society. Offering platforms of civilised free speech for European Muslims to conduct their debate with each other, as the British media have done this week, is one of the best answers we can give to hate.

Moral Atomic Bomb

In the midst of a planetary intifada, let us stand by the moderate Muslims.


Thursday, February 9, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

One can find these cartoons mediocre.

One can perceive in them, as I do, a certain similarity with the anti-Semitic and racist caricatures of the 1930s or '50s.

One can--and it would still be true--decide that depicting the prophet in this way, particularly with such dumb and obnoxious features, wasn't the brightest idea in the present context and amounted to tossing a lit match onto a powder keg.

Still, it is one thing to publish ludicrous cartoons in a newspaper that no one has heard of outside Denmark, but it is quite another to see these cartoons travel around the globe four months later, igniting a form of planetary intifada with enormous demonstrations, embassies and consulates set on fire, a priest shot dead in Turkey, four protesters killed in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, not to mention the turning of Westerners living on Islamic soil into targets, mortal enemies threatened with death--expiatory victims offered to the white-hot, crazed and radicalized crowd.

So what made this demented scene, this planetary upheaval, possible? However you might look at the problem, it is hard not to see that insidious forces have brought these drawings to the attention of the Muslim masses. And it is hard not to link this provocation, the deliberate circulation of these cartoons, the quasi-home-delivery of a Danish paper that no one could have guessed had so many readers in the Muslim world, it is hard not to link this self-inflicted blasphemy, this calculated offense (calculated, mind you, by the organizers of the distribution of the cartoons), it is hard not to link this blasphemy to a new planetary configuration, itself determined by three recent and major events.

The diversionary tactic of a Syria which we never saw so concerned over religious matters, but which now turns out to be capable of anything--including infiltrating agents into Lebanon and sponsoring demonstrations in Damascus, where it is well known that nothing of the sort can happen without the explicit assent of the government--in order to reclaim its role as a great regional agitator and make everyone forget the involvement of its secret services in the murder of Rafik Hariri.

The hardening of Iran's Islamic Republic, ready to make all kinds of theological concessions (including a grand historic alliance of Shiites and Sunnis, which experts have been telling us for decades would be against nature) with the goal of heading up in the Muslim and Arab world the grand anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and antidemocratic crusade.

And then this tragedy in the Palestinian territories of the victory of an ideology whose themes (the call, based on the denial of the Holocaust, for the pure and simple destruction of Israel and the Jews) had up to now been in power only in openly dictatorial, sometimes even crypto-fascist, states. This ideology has triumphed for the first time in a long while through democratic decision and the sacred path of the ballot. Would we be witnessing, without this electoral sacrament of Hamas, Hebron crowds so sure of their right to hold any Westerner in the West Bank accountable for the offense? Would we be witnessing all these Fatah militants--were it not for the will to defy Hamas on the very terrain where it won--actually trying to outbid everyone else in the grotesque denunciation of the "French position," as manifested by the reprinting of the cartoons in an obscure Parisian newspaper?

These three events are linked as a triangle. There is between these three poles a veritable triangle of death, which is in the process of locking into place thanks to the cartoons affair-- and which, if it is successfully welded together, will produce not just symbolic heat, but, with an Iranian bomb, a fissile heat unlike anything we saw in the good old axis of evil.

And, faced with this triangulation in progress, faced with this formidable hate-and-death machine, faced with this "moral atomic bomb," we have no other solution than to counter with another triangle--a triangle of life and reason, which more than ever must unite the United States, Europe and Israel in a rejection of any clash of civilizations of the kind desired by the extremists of the Arab-Muslim world and by them alone.

The heart of this second triangle? First, the affirmation of principles. The affirmation of the press's right to the expression of idiocies of its choosing--rather than the acts of repentance that too many leaders have resorted to, and which merely encourages in the Arab street the false and counterproductive illusion that a democratic state may exert power over its press.

And second, in the same breath, the reaffirmation of our support for those enlightened moderate Muslims who know that the honor of Islam is far more insulted, and trampled under foot, when Iraqi terrorists bomb a mosque in Baghdad, when Pakistani jihadists decapitate Daniel Pearl in the name of God and film their crime, or when an Algerian fundamentalist emir disembowels, while reciting the Quran, an Algerian woman whose only crime was to have dared show her beautiful face. Moderate Muslims are alone these days, and in their solitude they more than ever need to be acknowledged and hailed.

Mr. Lévy is the author of "American Vertigo," published recently by Random House, and of "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" (Melville House, 2003). This piece was translated from the original French by Hélène Brenkman.


                      by Michael Radu

In  September   2005,   Danish   newspaper   Jyllands-Posten

published 12  cartoons that depicted the prophet Mohammed in

a less  than positive  manner, including  one that  has  his

turban replaced  by a  bomb with a lit fuse. This January, a

Norwegian  journal   reprinted  the  cartoons.  The  result,

according to  Der Speigel, was that Arab countries including

Saudi  Arabia,   Libya,  and  Jordan,  have  staged  loosely

organized, impromptu  boycotts that have led many companies,

including France's  Carrefour supermarket  chain, to  remove

Danish products from their shelves. Denmark's Jyske Bank has

estimated that  a  one-year  Arab  boycott  of  Danish  food

products could  result in lost revenues of 322 million euros

and the loss of as many as 4,000 jobs.

For  liberal   Europeans,  used   to  cartoons  or  comments

involving Jesus  Christ, the  Pope, or God himself, this was

just  another  example  of  media  irreverence  in  a  post-

Christian  country.   Indeed,   according   to   the   State

Department, as  of January  2002, while  84.3 percent of the

Danish  population  belonged  to  the  official  Evangelical

Lutheran Church,  only  about  3  percent  of  those  church

members attend services regularly-making them about the same

number as  there are  Muslims in  Denmark. Approximately 5.4

percent of  the population  is not religious and 1.5 percent

atheist. There  are therefore  twice as  many agnostics  and

atheists than practicing Christians.

Not  surprisingly,   given  such  attitudes,  when  Thorkild

Grosboel, pastor  of  Taarbaek,  a  town  near  the  capital

Copenhagen, and  thus a  state employee, stated in 2003 that

"there is  no heavenly  God, there is no eternal life, there

is no  resurrection" and was fired, many Danes supported his

"right" to  a salary  as a pastor. All of this suggests that

if one  looks for  "crusaders," Denmark  is simply the wrong


Speaking in  Doha, Qatar,  ex-president Bill Clinton claimed

that the  cartoons are an "outrage" to Muslims. On the other

hand, belatedly  and somewhat  surprisingly, many  Europeans

seem to  understand what  is at stake--quite simply, freedom

of expression and, implicitly, liberal democracy in general.

That is  why Die  Welt and  Berliner Zeitung  in Germany, La

Stampa in  Italy, El  Mundo in Madrid, France Soir in Paris,

and  Tribune   de  Geneve,   among  others,   reprinted  the

"offending" cartoons,  in solidarity  with  Jyllands-Posten.

Even  more  surprising,  albeit  of  doubtful  sincerity  or

lasting power,  the European  Union told  the Saudis  that a

boycott against  Danish  products  will  be  interpreted  as

directed to  all EU  members. (The  giant French supermarket

chain Carrefour  nonetheless went  ahead and  removed Danish

products from its shelves.

The reaction  in the Arab/Muslim world was revealing of what

may well  be the  most important  and lasting  result of the

controversy. With a handful of honorable exceptions, such as

Mona Eltahawy,  who asked "Can we finally admit that Muslims

have blown  out of  all proportion  their  outrage  over  12

cartoons depicting  the  Prophet  Mohammed  published  in  a

Danish newspaper  last September?" that reaction was defined

by two elements: a fundamental lack of understanding of what

democracy and  freedom of  the  press  are  all  about,  and

continued use  of violence  or  threats  to  impose  Islamic

concepts upon non-Muslims.

As could  have been  expected, the  worst offenders were the

Palestinians, who  are major  beneficiaries of  Scandinavian

aid--which should  put paid  to the argument that the recent

electoral victory  of Hamas  was simply  punishment for  the

Fatah party's  corruption, rather than another indication of

the  popularity   of  violent   Islamism.  Anti-Danish  (and

Norwegian and  Swedish) mass  demonstrations have  been held

throughout the  Muslim world  and threats  made against  the

citizens of  those countries  in Gaza.  The Saudi and Syrian

ambassadors to Copenhagen have been withdrawn, and Denmark's

diplomatic relations with Libya ruptured.

The generalized  boycott against  Danish products  have cost

the main  European dairy  producer, Arla  Foods  (which  has

annual Middle  East sales  of $488  million), $1.8 million a

day. It  expects to  have to  lay off  workers, as does Novo

Nordisk, the  world's largest maker of insulin. One can only

wonder if  the health  of children  and  diabetics  is  less

important  than   imposing  Islamic   values  on   a  small,

democratic European country.

By now,  the Organization  of the  Islamic  Conference,  the

Muslim World  League, and  the Arab  League have all charged

Denmark  with   blasphemy,  desecration,  and  sacrilege.  A

protester in  Kuwait said  he wanted Danes "to feel the harm

as a  people the  same way they harmed our prophet." And the

World  Assembly   of  Muslim  Youth  has  decried  Denmark's

"culture of Islamophobia."

It has taken a long time for Samuel Huntington 's concept of

a "clash of civilizations" to be taken seriously in European

and American  elite circles, but how else could one describe

mass demonstrations in the street and such strong government

reactions throughout the Muslim world against the concept of

a free  press, which  is clearly a Western invention? And we

should be  clear that  that is what is at stake. The Danish,

French, and  Norwegian governments have all tried, futilely,

to explain  that what  newspapers publish  has nothing to do

with government  policies, and  it should  be  obvious  that

neither Arla  Foods nor  Novo Nordisk  control the editorial

decisions of  Jyllands-Posten. Unfortunately, in most Muslim

and all  Arab countries,  there  are  no  such  separations.

Hence,  the   demand  for   government  action  against  the

newspaper -  a call  going directly against the very essence

of Danish and European democratic systems.

The latest  assault against  Western values  in the  name of

Islam is  not the  first. There  have been  similar,  albeit

smaller and  briefer ones,  attacks on  free expression  for

almost two decades, in the cases of novelists Salman Rushdie

and Michel  Houllebecq, journalist Oriana Fallaci, and Dutch

film director  Theo van  Gogh, who  was assassinated, all in

the name  of punishing insults to Islam. The Jyllands-Posten

conflict, however,  seems to have accomplished two things in

the West.  First, it  has made  it clear  that most  Muslims

simply do  not comprehend  but nevertheless  oppose  Western

democratic  values   and  diversity.       Second  and  most

important,  it   has  forced   the  Europeans  to  begin  to

understand and react to that fact.


The misplaced defense of free speech

By Aseem Shrivastava

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."

- 19th-century Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard  

A mature sense of humor must be founded on the capacity to laugh at oneself, for it is by worlds easier to make a laughing-stock of others, especially when one persists in remaining ignorant of their sensibilities. This can become seriously dangerous and lead to some absurd consequences when done in public.

This is the lesson one may draw from the events sparked by the publication of a series of frivolous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.

There are some other lessons that can be learned, but first a brief excursion into some not-so-popular strands of Western philosophy will be necessary to expose some of the elementary confusions regarding faith and reason that pervade popular discourse.

Is God really dead?

Since Friedrich Nietzsche made the oft-quoted but widely misunderstood remark about "the death of God" in the late 19th century, atheism has become part of intellectual orthodoxy in the West. It is not merely fashionable to be an atheist today. It may also indicate spiritual sloth and intellectual laziness, for blind believers in material progress and the church of technology need not take the trouble of examining the underlying philosophical underpinnings and prejudices of their own thinking, not to speak of the conspicuous absence of spiritual values. Nobody born in the West during the last century needs to waste any time in doubting any more whether God exists or not. It has been scientifically "proved" that there is no God. Such is the atheistic faith, if I may be permitted a malapropism.

In fact, no such thing has ever been proved in the history of human thought. The two things hardest for human beings to prove are those for which there is no proof and those for which there might be too much! It has been as difficult to show God's existence as it has been to disprove the hypothesis. Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence.

When it comes to divine matters, all that human thought has been able to persuade others of are probabilities. Thus the French philosopher Blaise Pascal argued forcefully in the 17th century that if one was uncertain about the existence of God, it was far wiser to bet on (and believe in) his existence, at the cost of sacrificing some pleasures, than to deny a possible great fact (and carry on with a blind way of life) for which one may suffer "eternal damnation".

Interestingly, the 19th-century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, quoted at the start of this article, was an avowed Christian. However, he expressed his criticism of the established Lutheran Church of his day when he distinguished himself from "Sunday Christians". Importantly, he suggested that reason cannot decide the matter of God's existence. Why? Because if the fact was that God did not exist and one tried to prove his existence, it would be impossible to do so and, on the other hand, if God did in fact exist, our attempt would be all too foolish! A bit like painting the sky blue.

Thus belief in God's existence involved a "leap of faith". But faith was not, for Kierkegaard, a foul word. It was not inconsistent with the use of reason (as his many books demonstrate) and nor was it a superstition. On the contrary, "faith is the highest passion in a human being", he wrote in his book Fear and Trembling.

The irony, in light of recent events in Denmark, could not be starker.

In modern Western intellectual sensibility the reigning mainstream view, which informs most of the response in the Western media to the events emanating from the publication of the cartoons of Mohammed, is that science and reason have for a long time now overwhelmed religion as a basis for a world view and can and have replaced it.

Progress is, among other things, understood as the transition from religious to scientific societies. (Let us abstract, for the time being, from the massive church-going population of the United States that wanted only "intelligent design" to be taught in schools.) This is taken very widely as an article of faith in the popular mind of the West.

Such a view is just what Kierkegaard spent much of his life criticizing. With Pascal, two centuries before him, Kierkegaard argued that there were metaphysical truths that reason could only express, but never discover, that "the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of", as Pascal so pithily expressed it. For these two thinkers, both reason and faith were indispensable. There was no choice to be made between the two, if one knew the place of each.

It is safe to argue that present-day Western societies with their ruling ethos of material values, their willing embrace and imposition of compulsive consumerism (on the rest of the world), not to speak of the resulting narcissism, nihilism, the trivialization of spiritual values, and a total loss of faith in anything not centered on (privileged) humanity and its limited anthropocentric vision, would have terrified and ruined the digestion of such thinkers as Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

That is the extent to which Western culture is today in treason against some of the highest values of its own past.

It also bears mention that the history of Islamic societies, in which (to take just a few examples) mathematicians such as Omar Khayyam and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali found no contradiction between their religion and their reason, and in which tolerance of religious and intellectual freedom was in many cultures the very hallmark of good governance, is quite different from that of those periods of European history when true thinkers and skeptics, like Giordano Bruno, were burned at the stake. I point this out only to suggest that anxious extrapolations from the European experience of religion to that of others is free neither of prejudice nor of dangers.

Now, after that little philosophical preamble, we may approach the meaning of the events set in motion by the publication of those cartoons in a Danish newspaper three months ago.

Freedom of expression?

Is it so hard to make sense of the upset caused by the cartoons to so many Muslims across the world? If so, Palestinian writer Remi Kanazi may be of help: "Picture this: a cartoon of Jesus, with his pants down, smiling, raping a little boy. The caption above it reads 'Got Catholicism'?" Or how about a picture of a rabbi with blood dripping from his mouth after bludgeoning a small Palestinian boy with a knife shaped like the Star of David - the caption reads, "The devil's chosen ones."

Kanazi points out that there is probably a minority of free-speech advocates in the West who will accept such cartoons as within the law, if not within decency. But he is right to speculate reasonably that there will be public outrage, most media outlets would not pick them up and advertisers would soon pull out of those that did. A cartoon depicting a bomb-hurling Jesus, when the Irish Republican Army was setting Belfast ablaze, would have been greeted with revulsion and indignant censure.

Why is it so hard to understand that there are millions of people living today who still have not lost their faith, who are not prey to wealthy nihilism and its frivolous excesses, who still run their lives along disciplined religious lines? Why must it be assumed, in light of what the best religious thinkers in the West have themselves pointed out, that people with faith are necessarily unreasonable and superstitious? Couldn't a case be made that precisely those without any faith in any value, or principle, or god (except power and wealth) would be unreasonable?

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that he cannot apologize for his country's free press.

Free press? How come we hear so little from the same free press about European governments helping the US ferry people - on no fewer than 800 flights over four years, according to Amnesty International - to be tortured in places where it is legal to do so? How is it that nobody in the European free press is talking much about the fact that Iran stopped any further discussion of its nuclear program because the three EU leaders who were parleying with them reneged on their side of the bargain, by not ensuring Iran security in the event of a foreign invasion?

We hear nothing from the free press about the fact that the success of Hamas in the recent elections may have more to do with its schools and health clinics for beleaguered Palestinian communities (while the generous "international community" has abandoned them) than with its purported Islamic fundamentalism.

The "free" media in the West do not bother to investigate the events of September 11, 2001, or allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency itself may have been involved in the Bali bombings of 2002. It does not make any demands of the Bush administration to release the more than 1,700 pictures and videos of tortures and humiliations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that the Pentagon has kept away from the public eye.

We have to hear from bloggers on the Internet about the US forces in Iraq kidnapping women and girls related to suspected insurgents. Needless to mention, no dead American soldiers are shown on the TV screens of the Western media (though there is no bar on showing those killed by suicide bombers in Baghdad). How often is it remembered, not to speak of responsibility taken for the fact, that genocidal UN sanctions prosecuted by the West killed more than a million innocent people in Iraq in the 1990s? The free media in the West keep secret from the public the fact that the US has for years given asylum to proven terrorists such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, wanted by Latin American governments for blowing up planes and suchlike. They are exempt from the "war on terror".

Above all, the media do little to ask for the impeachment of the consummate liars and mass-murderers who occupy elected positions in more than one Western democracy today, even as they pretend to teach lessons in political morals to less fortunate countries.

Free press? Or cowardly media eager to please the wealthy masters?

European cowardice has reached such abysmal depths that the media do not even have a nose for European interests anymore, if they are at odds with those of the Americans. How many times have we heard the European media point out that the Americans and the British have gone to Iraq (and are now going to Iran) looking for oil? We are encouraged to think that the Americans are so principled that they would have been as willing to shed the blood of their young men to bring freedom to a broccoli-growing tyranny in the South Pacific.

To gain monopolistic control of the oil supply of economic competitors such as Japan, China and the Europena Union has been the little-analyzed, overwhelming reason for the invasion of Iraq (and why Americans will never leave that country unless and until their own citizens demand it) and the forthcoming attack on Iran. But free Europeans prefer to look the other way. And deep in their hearts they know that their silence is a lie.

The dangers of cultural solipsism

To philosophers, solipsism is the view that the only thing in existence of which one can be sure is oneself. From here to relegating others to the far corners of one's imagination is but a short step, especially when one has the power to control their realities, for then one can subject them at will to one's illusions. What fun! If a lot of people in a certain culture fall into the habit of doing this, one is entitled to speak of cultural solipsism.

It is often heard in Europe (less often in the United States) nowadays that immigrants – and Muslims more than others – are destroying the age-old culture of the West. It is true that Western culture has seen far more happy times, when the meaning of life was not lost. However, if truth be acknowledged, nobody has robbed Europe of its culture and its heritage as effectively as the organized greed of multinational corporations.

It is they, with their agendas for endless growth and prosperity (self-enrichment), who have enslaved everyone in their jobs (when they are lucky to have one), who have made people too busy to dance, sing and create culture. It is they who have sought cheap labor from North Africa, the Middle East and many poor parts of the world, often sending headhunters to these countries looking for workers cheaper than their own. It is they who have brought on the more or less rapid unraveling of the welfare state, robbing the working classes of the benefits of public services while levying more taxes from them (while reducing those that the rich pay), making them work harder, and pushing for an increase in the age for retirement. Much of this is meant to meet the competition from East Asia, especially totalitarian China, which was introduced to capitalism by president Richard Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger back in the mid-1970s.

It is not the contention of this writer that Muslim communities are paragons of justice. Very far from it, in fact. If one looks around the world one is immediately struck by the routine oppression of societies like Saudi Arabia or Egypt, among others. However, there is plenty of oppression within Western societies too, not to forget the injustices inflicted by the West on the rest of the world.

If we are to survive globalization, communities of remarkably varied backgrounds and unequal histories have to learn to co-exist and understand themselves and each other. Most important, they have to diagnose their own ills honestly. This cannot be achieved even minimally if economically and militarily powerful Western societies continue to live in a culturally solipsistic universe in which others are mere figments of the imagination, fit for war games when they are at a distance, and the butt of racist jokes, even when they are neighbors. Far from such brutality and vulgarity, ruthless self-criticism has to be recalled as the very touchstone of democracy. It is in this context that genuine political opposition and a free media take their significance.

Western societies are duty-bound to examine themselves and their pasts in relation to others. That colonialism, imperialism and the concomitant racism have played and continue to play a huge part in the formation of the identities of everyone living today - whether they are Westerners or not - is not a theory but facts that any self-respecting scholarship acknowledges. That these facts of history inevitably color perceptions even today cannot be doubted. Only cultivated or intentional ignorance, led by state and media propaganda, can hide them.

The realities of others are also no less imperative to discover if one is to know one's own reality honestly. To surrender to parochial instincts, that too in the name of higher values, such as freedom of expression, is not only to ensnare oneself in further illusions, but to endanger today the very survival of human civilization as we know it. If the West were culturally less solipsistic it would not have found it hard to respect the sentiments of a billion-strong community that has stayed true to a key tenet of its faith: that the image of God, and of the Prophet, cannot be drawn. Even from a secular but skeptical point of view it may be wondered as to who could draw a picture of a human being whose image has never been recorded. In a similar vein, pantheists have argued that if God is everywhere, who could possibly draw an image of him/her/it?

If the realities of the lives of others are not respected and understood minimally (presumably a hallmark of civilization), the "clash of civilizations" (more accurately, the clash of barbarisms) will become all too tragically real. Thus it is absolutely necessary to imagine how it feels to be an Iraqi mother, all children lost to US bombs, whose husband has lost his job (because the factory where he worked was bombed) and now wants to help the insurgents throw the Americans out of Iraq.

Or to conceive how people on the streets of Tehran feel after European leaders have betrayed them, leaving them quite exposed to attacks by US or Israeli bombers. Without extending our imagination in these directions, one will fail to understand and alleviate the despair that people exposed to the military might of the West feel today. In the process, the despair will be aggravated with consequences all too foreseeable.

Can Europe recall its own culture?

When the arteries of human thought are prey to indoctrinated herd instincts under the tutelage of the big-brother state, how much freedom is there left to defend?

Freedom is to know the balance between silence and speech, to know when and about what to speak in public, not to rave and rant at will, not caring for the sensitivities of others. Hate-mongering is not freedom of speech. In a world situation fraught with potentially fatal geopolitical tensions generated around Islam by Western powers, it may easily become the kickoff for a terminal world war. It also demonstrates irresponsible journalism, atrophying under the force of the commercial imperative that compels it to confuse newspaper with tabloid.

The reader is urged to go back to the beginning of this article and read the quotation from Kierkegaard once again. He emphasizes thought over speech. In book after book Kierkegaard bemoaned the absence of contemplation in modern life, criticizing, among other things, the numbing effect of technology and commerce.

If one is able to think one's thoughts freely, one would not partake of vulgarity, or imagine that one's own freedom can be earned at the cost of that of others. One would never mistake power for freedom. The former is a zero-sum game, the latter is not, for it implies that the freedom of each is contingent on the freedom of all.

To have freedom of speech in a time of remarkable censorship and relentless thought control exercised by the powerful Western media on behalf of their corporate interests is a recipe for certain disaster. This is certainly one of the lessons to be learned.

It also demonstrates how dangerous illusions of freedom, when it is confused with power, are. The cartoons of Mohammed are thoughtless and vulgar, and only serve to show the absence of inner freedom in the so-called free societies of the modern world. For European newspapers outside Denmark to have reprinted the cartoons after three months (when the matter had not really had much effect outside Denmark until last week) is a sign of an infantile disorder in the public discourse of the West, not to speak of a terrifying cultural bankruptcy. The disease has now traveled westward from the US. It demonstrates the growing immaturity of a decadent polity. The 18th-century Enlightenment is but a shriveled memory, prey to Mammon.

Now how well do Danes know their cultural past, if the thoughts of their finest thinker sound alien to them today? And are Muslims to be blamed if Westerners have themselves allowed the commerce of decadent capitalism to make them forget some of best features of their intellectual heritage?

Aseem Shrivastava is an independent writer. He can be reached at .


February 07, 2006, 7:54 a.m.

The Clash to End All Clashes?

Making sense of the cartoon jihad.

In belated response to a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish paper and subsequently reprinted across Europe, scenes of outrage filed out of London, Beruit, and Damascus, among other cities this weekend. Flags and embassies burned. Placards (in London!) read: "Behead those who insult Islam."

In light of the anger unleashed, National Review Online asked some experts on Islam and/or the Mideast for their read on what's going on and what can/should be done. We asked each: Is this a clash of civilizations we're watching? What can be done? By Muslims? By everyone else?

Mustafa Akyol

As a Muslim myself, I understand the disgust of Muslims around the globe at the Euro-cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad. A deep respect for God, His revelations, and His prophets is a hallmark of the Islamic faith. In the Muslim culture there are no jokes about God; we take Him and His religion quite seriously. And we abhor those who ridicule them.

However, this sensitivity does not justify the violent, uncivilized rampage that we are now seeing across the Islamic world. They threaten and hurt innocent non-Muslims and do more harm to Islam than any cartoon could do.

Moreover, their reaction is not what the Koran tells Muslims to do in the face of mockery. Early Muslims were ridiculed very often by pagans, and the Koran suggested a civilized disapproval: "When you hear Allah's verses being rejected and mocked at by people, you must not sit with them till they start talking of other things." (4/140) And although the current cartoon-avengers are filled with fury, the Koran defines Muslims as "those who control their rage and pardon other people, [because] Allah loves the good-doers." (3/134)

This rage, then, is not a theologically driven response, but an emotional uproar by people who think that their faith and identity are being insulted. It is in a sense a nationalist reaction — the nation being the Muslim umma. (If this reaction were not nationalist, but purely religious in nature, then it would also follow on the mocking of Jesus Christ and Moses. After all, the Koran regards these holy men as God's chosen messengers.)

All of this means that an Islamic argument against the current "Islamic rage" can — and should — be brought up by Muslim scholars and intellectuals. Their message should not be "Let's not take God so seriously," but "This is not the way to honor Him."

Another interesting point in the whole cartoon hype is the difference of attitude between the ultra-secular continental Europe and the more God-friendly Anglo-Saxons. It is a notable fact that cartoons were published and, in some cases, officially supported in countries characterized by widespread atheism and deep-seated anti-clericalism. Yet neither the religious U.S., nor the not-so-religious, but still respectful, Britain joined them. Similarly, the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, along with many non-Muslim clerics, criticized the cartoons for offending the Muslim faith. Believers respect each other's beliefs about what is sacred.

Thus, if what we see is a clash of civilizations, the responsibility lies in the hands of the extremists on both sides: those who insist, "Yes, we have a right to ridicule God" and those who threaten, "We are going to kill you for it." The rest could get along.

— Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish Muslim writer based in Istanbul, Turkey. His website is located at

Zeyno Baran

In their efforts to combat radical Islamist extremism, many Western governments make a simplistic distinction between groups that use violence and those that do not. Anxious to "beat the terrorists," they ignore groups which, while forswearing violence for themselves, incite others to carry out terrorist activities. This inability to recognize that groups with differing tactical approaches nevertheless can have similar ends has allowed radical organizations to operate with near-impunity in dramatically escalating tensions between Muslims and the West — tensions that only further the radicals' ultimate goal of a clash of civilizations.

If the latest set of incidents stemming from the Danish publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammed is not a final wake-up call for a change to this overly narrow approach, then it is difficult to see what would be. Tolerated and sometimes legitimized by European governments, "non-violent" groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) and even the less-extremist International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) have been free to encourage confrontation between Muslims and the West. In Denmark, long a key target of HT, the group has called for the killing of Danish Jews and of members of parliament. Meanwhile, at an HT-organized demonstration in Britain outside the Danish embassy, protesters dressed as suicide bombers and carried placards stating "Butcher those who insult Islam." At the same time, a delegation of Danish Muslims led by the Copenhagen imam Abu Laban, linked to IUMS chair Yusuf Qaradawi, toured the Middle East to garner support and orchestrate the mass protests seen over the past several days.

While common sense should have prevailed long ago in the West after the cartoons were released — after all, when radicals are trying to convince Muslims that the "war on terror" is really a "war on Islam," a certain amount of prudence is required to avoid giving propaganda victories to the enemy — the most important step now is to cease tolerating intolerance. No Western (or Muslim) government should tolerate appeals to kill others in the name of religion. The longer such radicals who claim to speak for Muslims are allowed to do so freely, and the longer they are legitimized by Western governments that want to "develop open channels" to the Muslim community, the more demonstrations, riots, and killings we will see. After all, these protests and attacks were not committed "spontaneously" by Muslims, but were encouraged by radical groups — groups that can, with the right approach, be defeated.

— Zeyno Baran is director of international-security and energy programs at the Nixon Center.

Rachel Ehrenfeld

Facing what seems to be the rising clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and Western democracies, the leaders of the Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere should seize the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic values they claim to respect and advocate. They should call immediately and publicly on their Muslim communities to stop the violent demonstrations and the death threats against those who published the cartoons about Mohammed. All leaders of Muslim communities should publicly condemn Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasralla who argued, "If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so."

The riots started after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark; after Sheikh Osama Khayyat, imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, praised on national Saudi television the Saudi government for its action; and after Sheikh Ali Al-Hudaify, imam of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, called "upon governments, organizations and scholars in the Islamic world to extend support for campaigns protesting the sacrilegious attacks on the Prophet."

President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address praised the Saudis for taking "the first steps of reform — now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts." This gives the Saudis a unique opportunity to lead the Muslim world towards tolerance, and prove that Islam is a religion of peace. For example, the Saudis should announce that they will immediately allow Christians and Buddhists who work in the Kingdom to hold prayer services. We can only hope the Saudis surprise us and rise to the challenge.

— Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It, Director of American Center for Democracy, and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Mohamed Eljahmi

The violence, intimidation and threats about the Danish cartoons show that neither the U.S. nor the West can afford baby steps when it comes to political and economic reforms in the Arab world. It is sad to note that the U.S. has allowed Arab autocrats to dictate the terms of political reforms. Despots like Qadhafi and Mubarak continue to be marketed as models, the first for giving up his WMD program and the second for winning a sham election. To Liberal Arabs, it is no surprise that Qadhafi closed his embassy in Denmark, Mubarak used his media and rhetoric to inflame the public and sparked the boycott, the Saudis boycotted the products and the Syrians torched the Danish embassy. Liberal Arabs know that Arab despots work harmoniously and each has a scripted role, because their survival depends on jointly oppressing dissidents and sedating the less educated.

In Arab societies, mob-mentality rules and the individual has no right, because according to Salafism, the whole defines the part. In a free society, the part defines the whole, therefore, the economic pie is bigger and people care about better schools for their children, gender equality, the elderly, the handicapped, and other issues that make government accountable to its people. In free society, religion is an individual choice and there are political and legal guarantees that protect individual rights. In the Arab world the Koran rules, thus it is impossible to go against the mob or argue with the divine. In Mubarak's Egypt, kidnapping of Coptic women and forcing them to convert to Islam is not offensive. In Qadhafi's Libya the desecration of Jewish cemeteries or grotesquely forcing Italians to exhume the bodies of their dead and take back to Italy is acceptable.

If the Bush administration and the West are serious about advocating for reform, then they must stop letting the despots dictate the terms of reform, because political reforms in the Arab world are not luxury but they are essential for American and world security.

— Mohamed Eljahmi is a senior software engineer with over 22 years of experience in the software industry, where he has worked in design and in development of software applications. He is a Libyan American, who is advocating for genuine political reforms in Libya. Eljahmi has lived in the U.S. since 1978 and has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1990.

Basma Fakri

The Danish cartoons were published in the name of freedom of speech. They reminded me of the infamous Salman Rushdie story and the strong reaction at the time from Iran.

Understanding and tolerance are most needed when dealing with different cultures. This is not a matter of freedom of speech — it was a matter of insulting others' religion and beliefs. Religion is a very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed delicately. Unfortunately, certain newsmakers enjoy drawing attention to themselves by being shocking.

However, violence is definitely not the right response. I do wish that Muslims had just ignored the cartoons, or had used the media to express their strong opposition to the cartoon and perhaps publicly boycotted Danish products.

There is a big confusion between terrorism and Islam. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Unfortunately, some extremists are using the religion of Islam to achieve their own goals. There is nothing in Islam that encourages killing or terrorizing innocent people. And the reaction to the cartoons that started this recent string of protests is not helping matters.

— Basma Fakri is president and Co-founder of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq.

Farid Ghadry

The event that launched this worldwide protest by Muslims over the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist was the pulling of the Saudi ambassador from Denmark, a mere four months after the printing. The effect will change the landscape for both Arab oil-producing countries and terrorism-sponsored states.

Oil-producing Saudi Arabia is also the guardian of the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. With oil, Saudi Arabia is able to influence the West, and with its guardianship of these cities, it is able to control the movement of 1.3 billion Muslims. This centralization of power gives Saudi Arabia vast powers that are having an effect on civilizations across the globe.

The Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia, adhereing to a movement that originated in the center of the country, controls oil in the east and Mecca and Medina in the west. But even within their own borders, the Wahabis have a geographic Achilles' heel in the west of the country; and this is exacerbated when one considers Jordan, as well as the history of the Hashemite family (today's Jordan), which, up until the turn of the 20th century, controlled Mecca and Medina instead of the Saudis.

It is important for all Muslims that Mecca and Medina either be returned to the Hashemite family or be guarded by an international council elected by the 56 countries of the Organization of Islamic Conferences. The few leaders of 25 million Muslims should not control the fate of another 1.3 billion. Making Mecca and Media be for Muslims more like what the Vatican is for Catholics would go a long way toward giving all Muslims a say in their own affairs and charting a new direction for Islam.

Terrorist states will use Islam, as Syria did, to impose its will on the West. Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and many others are watching how Syria used the cartoons to launch an attack against Western assets and values. This is the beginning of what promises to be an unstoppable weapon of rogue states, used to inflict pain, through violence, on other civilizations.

— Farid Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria.

Mansoor Ijaz

In order to prevent idolatrous misconceptions, it is forbidden in Islam to depict the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in any way. But Muslims greatly weakened Islam's message of tolerance and forgiveness last week with their hysterical and criminally violent behavior in response to European media outlets' printing and reprinting twelve cartoon caricatures depicting the Prophet (PBUH) in an unflattering light.

The cartoons were offensive and wrong. But the Muslim world's explosive reaction demonstrates once again the failure of Islam in the modern age — its adherents are prepared to expend seemingly infinite energy in defense of religious beliefs not many of them are prepared to practice. Rectifying the hypocrisy that riddles Islam's efforts to be portrayed in a better light is the fundamental issue at stake for Muslims, not the freedom of the press or the defense of our Prophet (PBUH) through violence and anger.

Muslim leaders must confront their demons and reform Islam from within, rather than defending what is indefensible from outside. They must reduce the impulse for Islam's followers to be their own worst enemies by acting in ways that betray the traditions and teachings of a great religion, while giving ammunition to those who seek to portray them in a negative light.

It is simply unacceptable that while hundreds of millions of Muslims live in squalid conditions throughout the world, Islam's so-called guardians bask in the sunshine of resorts from Marbella to Cannes, and their children waste away national wealth in casinos and nightclubs from Geneva to Las Vegas. The money spent by one member of a Middle Eastern royal family on vacation at a Geneva hotel and casino for one week could feed thousands of Palestinian children for one year — such is the magnitude of hypocrisy in the Muslim world today.

Saudi Arabia's Custodian of the Holy Mosques, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, should set the example for reformation. He should invite the Danish and Norwegian prime ministers to Riyadh and educate his Scandinavian guests about why there is need to protect Islam's message against idolatrous misinterpretations. He should then listen carefully to his guests about why freedom of expression, as offensive as it was in this case, must be insured by Western governments, whose primary responsibility is to defend their citizens' rights and freedoms. In this way, he would demonstrate Islam's fundamental thirst for giving and receiving knowledge, its capacity for forgiveness, and its core value of tolerance, rather than allowing mass hysteria to define Islam's message.

Toleration asks us as citizens of an integrated world not to insult one another's religion. Freedom demands that we be allowed to reject the societal norms of others, and even to insult them, as Muslims often do when they burn an American flag or set fire to an effigy of a political leader they loath. Eliminating the hypocrisy between toleration and freedom should be Islam's goal.

— Mansoor Ijaz is an American Muslim of Pakistani origin.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer

We are in the midst of an Intifada designed to remake Europe in a manner more in line with the creed of its religious Muslim minority. Placing respect for Islam above freedom of the press would be one such change. Using state power to limit freedom of speech would be another. Europe has three options. It can agree to accommodate Muslim demands, disengage from the Middle East, or join the American struggle to democratize the Middle East. Let me outline briefly the meaning of each choice.

Accommodation or appeasement would not mean just agreeing to a few minor legal or behavioral changes. Note that the abstention of the British press from publishing the cartoons, the plans to rewrite British law to prevent insults to Islam, and the British government's strong condemnation of the publication of the cartoons did little to moderate the stance of British Muslims. Instead, British citizens were treated to marches celebrating those who blew up the London subway system.

Disengagement is the road Israel eventually chose, and the road an increasing number of Europeans would like to take. This would mean closing European borders to any additional Muslim immigrants, deporting illegals, and undertaking a vigorous program of forced integration. It also means precluding Turkish entry into the EU. Indeed, it means erecting a new iron curtain between Europe and the Middle East.

Reengagement would mean joining the U.S. in selling democracy to the Middle East in the manner the U.S. sold democracy to Europe in the fifties. Then, Communism presented the same challenge Islamism is presenting today. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The secret is to dare to make the people of the Middle East the same promise the U.S. made the Europeans during the years of the Marshall Plan: Follow us and your lives will be radically better. It was a promise kept. If you doubt this, just watch the 1952 documentary entitled Struggle for Men's Minds. It was made to explain to Americans the reasons it is worth their while to use their tax dollars to finance selling democracy in Europe. It focused on Italy, which then looked as undeveloped and chaotic as Iraq looks today, and it outlines the strategies the U.S. used to combat the rising tide of Communism there. If I were a Western leader, I would not only watch, it but make all my staff do so too. For when all is said and done, this is the only strategy which will provide prosperity, peace, and security to both Europe and the Middle East.

— Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Fulbright professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and History News Network blogger.

Clifford May

It is not a "clash of civilizations" that is taking place. It is a clash between civilization and barbarism — which currently expresses itself most forcefully and lethally as Militant Islamism.

Civilized people — whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew — do not respond to an offense by torching embassies, stoning churches, and calling for offenders to be beheaded.

Of course, most Muslims are not doing that — most Muslims are neither barbarians nor extremists. But most of the money and power in Muslim societies today is in the hands of Islamists or of dictators who are only too eager to harness anti-Western animus for their own purposes.

By persuading so many people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — that the cartoons in question "insult Islam," Militant Islamists have achieved a victory.

Few dare argue that the cartoons do not insult Islam — that they insult only Militant Islamism. Yet, surely that would be the most obvious interpretation of a cartoon showing Mohammed wearing a bomb in place of a turban. If such groups as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas had not committed countless acts of violence in the name of Islam, such an image would make no sense.

Similarly, the cartoon showing Mohammed saying that heaven was running out of virgins is most obviously interpreted as a commentary on the unprecedented frequency of suicide bombings being carried out by Militant Islamists. Why would such a cartoon insult peace-loving Muslims who would never consider strapping on a bomb belt in the expectation that mass murder will bring rewards in the next world?

Many commentators have charged protesters with hypocrisy, noting — correctly — that venomous characterizations of Jews and Christians are routinely on display in Arab and Muslim countries. But hypocrisy is professing beliefs that one does not actually hold. The Militant Islamists are doing no such thing. What they profess and what they believe are identical. It's simply this: Infidels must not insult Islam. But Muslims may insult infidels. The Islamists are not arguing for Islam's equality among the world's great religions. They are insisting that Christians, Jews, and others acknowledge Islam's superiority, its status as the one true faith. They are quite clear on this. If we refuse to hear what they are saying, that is our fault and our problem.

— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Ramin Parham

Are we witnessing a clash of civilizations ignited by the Danish caricatures?

Civilization, says the dictionary, is defined as "an advanced state of human society in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached".

As a French and U.S.-educated Iranian, I seriously doubt that, with the exception of secular Turkey, one could find among Islamic countries anything even close to that definition. Pre-Islamic Persian and Islamic civilizations are today nothing but history.

The Danish caricatures have the merit of underlining the above point from a different angle: A so-called civilization whose foundations are shaken with a few drawings is anything but a civilization!

Twenty-seven years after the islamist revolution in Iran; 17 years after Khomeini's fatwa against the Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdi; 15 years after the slaying of Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses; an entire new Middle East is being born in pain. At this critical juncture, we should all keep in mind a few basics:

First, painless birth is a chemical fantasy.

Second, Muslims will achieve nothing by self-complacency.

Third, readjusting democracies to new necessities is a legitimate problematic for those adhering to common secular values within a trust environment.

Forth, democracies were born out of the Enlightenment, the Lumières, and the Aufklärung, that is the personal liberty of thought and the sum of the public, universal and free usages of reason. The price tag to enter this elite club is high in terms of sacrifice. Iran has reached the necessary level of cultural complexity.

Fifth, the West should catalyze the democratic maturation of the Muslim East in the common interest of all.

Last but not least, there is no better candidate than a free Iran to champion that cause.

— Ramin Parham is an independent commentator based in Paris.

Daniel Pipes

It certainly feels like a clash of civilizations. But it is not.

By way of demonstration, allow me to recall the similar Muslim-Western confrontation that took place in 1989 over the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and the resulting death edict from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. It first appeared, as now, that the West aligned solidly against the edict and the Muslim world stood equally with it. As the dust settled, however, a far more nuanced situation became apparent.

Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be "sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims. The director of the Near East Studies Center at UCLA, Georges Sabbagh, declared Khomeini "completely within his rights" to sentence Rushdie to death. Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote that "the book should not have been published" and called for legislation to proscribe such "excesses in the freedom of expression."

In contrast, important Muslims opposed the edict. Erdal Inönü, leader of Turkey's opposition Social Democratic party, announced that "killing somebody for what he has written is simply murder." Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, called Khomeini a "terrorist." A Palestinian journalist in Israel, Abdullatif Younis, dubbed The Satanic Verses "a great service."

This same division already exists in the current crisis. Middle East-studies professors are denouncing the cartoons even as two Jordanian editors went to jail for reprinting them.

It is a tragic mistake to lump all Muslims with the forces of darkness. Moderate, enlightened, free-thinking Muslims do exist. Hounded in their own circles, they look to the West for succor and support. And, however weak they may presently be, they eventually will have a crucial role in modernizing the Muslim world.

— Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures.

Nina Shea

Blasphemy laws are among the greatest impediments to democratic evolution in the greater Middle East. Not limited to criticisms of Islam's Prophet Mohammed, or the realm of the Divine, they are also used by prevailing powers and those with Islamist agendas to crush political dissidents and scholars engaged in intellectual debate. Carrying the death penalty or other harsh punishment and inviting vigilante retribution, the crime of blasphemy has become an indispensable tool of repression in that region.

Saudi Arabia regularly brings blasphemy charges (or one of its variants, such as "using Western speech") against those who speak out of turn. Recent examples include democracy activists who proposed substituting a written constitution for the Kingdom's slogan that "the Koran is the constitution," and a school teacher who instructed his class to be tolerant of Jews.

Revolutionary Iran, which has put to death thousands for blasphemy and shut down hundreds of newspapers, has turned the practice into an art form. One who made the mistake of translating into Farsi the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was killed on the Declaration's 50th anniversary. Another famous case of a Shiite professor highlighted the usefulness of the charge to silence critics of clerical rule. At his July 2004 trial, he declared he was being punished for "the sin of thinking."

Afghanistan still criminalizes blasphemy. A journalist who argued against the criminalization of heresy was found guilty and barely escaped with his life. Karzai's only female cabinet member was charged with blasphemy for criticizing blasphemy and other Islamic rules, and, though never tried, was ousted by death threats.

Once blasphemy is introduced into the law, it becomes almost impossible for the system to reform itself. Western leaders should be pressing these Middle East governments to drop their legitimization of blasphemy, not contemplating whether to adopt it here.

— Nina Shea is the director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.

Bat Yeor

We have always been in a clash of civilizations. The fact that our European leaders choose to deny the reality is not an argument to dismiss what is so obvious to everyone. But having a clash of civilizations does not entail a global war of all against all. On the contrary, it imposes a need for a deeper dialogue — a type of dialogue that has been prevented by our leaders, busy to protect the virtual and sanitized image of Islam they tried to impose on Europeans for 30 years, through a culture of self-flagellation, self-guilt, obfuscations, denials, obsequiosity, anti-semitism and anti-Americanism: what we call politically correct and totalitarian language.

I see the cartoons affair as an inter-European conflict also. A revolt to assert, within the law, Western values of freedom of opinions, speech, and religion — the basic values of our civilization, acquired through centuries of conflicts, sacrifices, and courage. It is possible that people could be displeased by some analyses, but this cannot suppress the right to speak them. In the last century Europeans have endured three totalitarian regimes: Nazism, Fascism, Communism. They are not ready to accept a fourth one: sharia rule. However much I understand Muslim's sensibilities, I expect Muslims who chose to come and live in Europe to respect European sensibilities for their values and laws.

In this affair I see also the dangerous role played by some Muslim groups in Europe. They instigate, like the Danish imam Ahmed Abu Laban and others, hatred among Muslims and excesses against Europe, and then they pose as indispensable peace intermediaries between Europe and the Muslim world. This unhealthy situation is much developed in Europe due to the weakness and lack of resolve of our leaders, who have not the courage to deal with the security problems they have themselves created. These leaders have the duty to solve these problems by the rule of law, and not by deferring them to a third party, as if Europeans cannot express their rights except by begging through a benevolent Muslim channel. In this respect, the cartoons affair expresses the rejection by some of the EU's lack of political transparency and its contempt for its European constituency from which it takes billions of euros to give to the Arab world, and particularly to the corrupt and terrorist Palestinian Authority.

A lot can be achieved toward reconciliation by a free debate. This would trigger an inner Muslim reformist movement, which could then destroy the jihadic framework through which a majority of Muslims relate to the infidels even today.

— Bat Yeor is the author of studies on the conditions of Jews and Christians in the context of the jihad ideology and the sharia law. Recent books include: Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide and Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, both at Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.


Bonfire of the Pieties

Islam prohibits neither images of Muhammad nor jokes about religion.


Wednesday, February 8, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

"The Muslim Fury," one newspaper headline screamed. "The Rage of Islam Sweeps Europe," said another. "The clash of civilizations is coming," warned one commentator. All this refers to the row provoked by the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper four months ago. Since then a number of demonstrations have been held, mostly--though not exclusively--in the West, and Scandinavian embassies and consulates have been besieged.

But how representative of Islam are all those demonstrators? The "rage machine" was set in motion when the Muslim Brotherhood--a political, not a religious, organization--called on sympathizers in the Middle East and Europe to take the field. A fatwa was issued by Yussuf al-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood sheikh with his own program on al-Jazeera. Not to be left behind, the Brotherhood's rivals, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and the Movement of the Exiles (Ghuraba), joined the fray. Believing that there might be something in it for themselves, the Syrian Baathist leaders abandoned their party's 60-year-old secular pretensions and organized attacks on the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Beirut.

The Muslim Brotherhood's position, put by one of its younger militants, Tariq Ramadan--who is, strangely enough, also an adviser to the British home secretary--can be summed up as follows: It is against Islamic principles to represent by imagery not only Muhammad but all the prophets of Islam; and the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. Both claims, however, are false.

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments--which include a ban on depicting God--as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is "an absolute principle of Islam" is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

The claim that the ban on depicting Muhammad and other prophets is an absolute principle of Islam is also refuted by history. Many portraits of Muhammad have been drawn by Muslim artists, often commissioned by Muslim rulers. There is no space here to provide an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most famous:

A miniature by Sultan Muhammad-Nur Bokharai, showing Muhammad riding Buraq, a horse with the face of a beautiful woman, on his way to Jerusalem for his M'eraj or nocturnal journey to Heavens (16th century); a painting showing Archangel Gabriel guiding Muhammad into Medina, the prophet's capital after he fled from Mecca (16th century); a portrait of Muhammad, his face covered with a mask, on a pulpit in Medina (16th century); an Isfahan miniature depicting the prophet with his favorite kitten, Hurairah (17th century); Kamaleddin Behzad's miniature showing Muhammad contemplating a rose produced by a drop of sweat that fell from his face (19th century); a painting, "Massacre of the Family of the Prophet," showing Muhammad watching as his grandson Hussain is put to death by the Umayyads in Karbala (19th century); a painting showing Muhammad and seven of his first followers (18th century); and Kamal ul-Mulk's portrait of Muhammad showing the prophet holding the Quran in one hand while with the index finger of the other hand he points to the Oneness of God (19th century).

Some of these can be seen in museums within the Muslim world, including the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in Bokhara and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and Haroun-Walat, Iran (a suburb of Isfahan). Visitors to other museums, including some in Europe, would find miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad, at times wearing his Meccan burqa (cover) or his Medinan niqab (mask). There have been few statues of Muhammad, although several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the building of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honored as one of the great "lawgivers" of mankind.

There has been other imagery: the Janissaries--the elite of the Ottoman army--carried a medallion stamped with the prophet's head (sabz qaba). Their Persian Qizilbash rivals had their own icon, depicting the head of Ali, the prophet's son-in-law and the first Imam of Shiism. As for images of other prophets, they run into millions. Perhaps the most popular is Joseph, who is presented by the Quran as the most beautiful human being created by God.

Now to the second claim, that the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. That is true if we restrict the Muslim world to the Brotherhood and its siblings in the Salafist movement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda. But these are all political organizations masquerading as religious ones. They are not the sole representatives of Islam, just as the Nazi Party was not the sole representative of German culture. Their attempt at portraying Islam as a sullen culture that lacks a sense of humor is part of the same discourse that claims "suicide martyrdom" as the highest goal for all true believers.

The truth is that Islam has always had a sense of humor and has never called for chopping heads as the answer to satirists. Muhammad himself pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him for more than a decade. Both Arabic and Persian literature, the two great literatures of Islam, are full of examples of "laughing at religion," at times to the point of irreverence. Again, offering an exhaustive list is not possible. But those familiar with Islam's literature know of Ubaid Zakani's "Mush va Gorbeh" (Mouse and Cat), a match for Rabelais when it comes to mocking religion. Sa'adi's eloquent soliloquy on behalf of Satan mocks the "dry pious ones." And Attar portrays a hypocritical sheikh who, having fallen into the Tigris, is choked by his enormous beard. Islamic satire reaches its heights in Rumi, where a shepherd conspires with God to pull a stunt on Moses; all three end up having a good laugh.

Islamic ethics is based on "limits and proportions," which means that the answer to an offensive cartoon is a cartoon, not the burning of embassies or the kidnapping of people designated as the enemy. Islam rejects guilt by association. Just as Muslims should not blame all Westerners for the poor taste of a cartoonist who wanted to be offensive, those horrified by the spectacle of rent-a-mob sackings of embassies in the name of Islam should not blame all Muslims for what is an outburst of fascist energy.

Mr. Taheri is the author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).

Tolerance Toward Intolerance

By Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Last week the publication I work for, the German newsweekly Die Zeit, printed one of the controversial caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. It was the right thing to do.

When the cartoons were first published in Denmark in September, nobody in Germany took notice. Had our publication been offered the drawings at that point, in all likelihood we would have declined to print them. At least one of them seems to equate Islam with radical Islamism. That is exactly the direction nobody wants the debate about fundamentalism to take -- even though the very nature of a political cartoon is overstatement. We would not have printed the caricature out of a sense of moderation and respect for the Muslim minority in our country. News people make judgments about taste all the time. We do not show sexually explicit pictures or body parts after a terrorist attack. We try to keep racism and anti-Semitism out of the paper. Freedom of the press comes with a responsibility.

But the criteria change when material that is seen as offensive becomes newsworthy. That's why we saw bodies falling out of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. That's why we saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib. On such issues we print what we usually wouldn't. The very nature of the discourse is to find parameters of what is culturally acceptable. How many times have we seen Janet Jackson's breast in the course of a discussion of the limits of family entertainment? How many times have we printed material that Jews might consider offensive in an attempt to define the extent of anti-Semitism? It seems odd that most U.S. papers patronize their readers by withholding cartoons that the whole world talks about. To publish does not mean to endorse. Context matters.

It's worth remembering that the controversy started out as a well-meaning attempt to write a children's book about the life of the prophet Muhammad. The book was designed to promote religious tolerance. But the author encountered the consequences of religious hatred when he looked for an illustrator. He could not find one. Denmark's artists seemed to fear for their lives. In turning down the job they mentioned the fate of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist for harshly criticizing fundamentalism.

When this episode percolated to the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, the paper's cultural editor commissioned the caricatures. He wanted to see whether cartoonists would self-censor their work for fear of violence from Muslim radicals. Still, the European media ignored this story in a small Scandinavian country. It took months, a boycott of Danish products in the Arab world and the intervention of such champions of religious freedom as the governments of Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Libya (all of which withdrew their ambassadors from Copenhagen) for some European papers to reconsider their stance on the cartoons. By last week it was not an obscure topic anymore but front-page news. And it wasn't about religious sensibilities as much as about free speech. That's when the cartoons started to show up in papers all over Europe.

Much of the U.S. reporting about the fracas made it appear as if Europeans just don't get it -- again. They struggle with immigration. They struggle with religion. They struggle with respect for minorities. And in the end they find their cities burning, as evidenced in Paris. Bill Clinton even detected an "anti-Islamic prejudice" and equated it with a previous "anti-Semitic prejudice."

The former president has turned the argument upside down. In this jihad over humor, tolerance is disdained by people who demand it of others. The authoritarian governments that claim to speak on behalf of Europe's supposedly oppressed Muslim minorities practice systematic repression against their own religious minorities. They have radicalized what was at first a difficult question. Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules. Does Bill Clinton want to counsel tolerance toward intolerance?

On Friday the State Department found it appropriate to intervene. It blasted the publication of the cartoons as unacceptable incitement to religious hatred. It is a peculiar moment when the government of the United States, which likes to see itself as the home of free speech, suggests to European journalists what not to print.

The writer is Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly Die Zeit.

Cartoon conflicts

Tariq Ramadan

To describe the clash over the Danish depictions of the prophet as one between freedom and dogma will only fan the flames

Monday February 6, 2006

In Copenhagen last October, as demonstrations provoked by the Danish satirical cartoons about Islam were starting, a reporter from the newspaper that published them told me how intensely the editorial staff had debated whether to go ahead, how uncomfortable many of them had been about the whole issue and, at the same time, how surprised they had been by the strong reaction from Muslims and the Arab embassies. At the time, however, the tension seemed likely to remain within Danish borders.

To Danish Muslims denouncing this as an instance of racism - a provocation capitalised upon by the ever expanding far right in the country - my advice was to avoid reacting emotionally, to try to explain quietly why these cartoons were offensive and neither to demonstrate nor to risk activating mass movements that could prove impossible to master. At the time, a resolution seemed to be at hand.

One might ask, then, why it is that three months later, some find it in their interests to pour fuel on the fire of a controversy, with tragic and potentially uncontrollable consequences? A few Danish Muslims visited Middle Eastern countries and ramped up the resentment: governments in the region, only too happy to prove their attachment to Islam - to bolster their Islamic legitimacy in the eyes of the public - took advantage of this piece of good fortune and presented themselves as champions of a great cause. On the other side, the controversy was just what some politicians, intellectuals and journalists needed to paint themselves as champions of the equally great struggle for freedom of expression and as resistance fighters against religious obscurantism in the name of western values.

We are facing an incredible simplification, a gross polarisation: apparently a clash of civilisations, a confrontation between principles, with defenders, in one corner, of inalienable freedom of speech and, in the other, of the inviolable sacred sphere. Presented in such terms, the debate has unfortunately become a battle of wills, and the question becomes: who will win? Muslims, wanting apologies, threaten to attack European interests, even to attack people; western governments, intellectuals and journalists refuse to bend under threats, and certain media outlets have added to the controversy by republishing the cartoons. Most people around the world, observing these excesses, are perplexed: what sort of madness is this, they ask?

It is critical we find a way out of this infernal circle and demand from those stoking this fire that they stop their polemics at once and create a space for serious, open, indepth debate and peaceful dialogue. This is not the predicted clash of civilisations. This affair does not symbolise the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. Absolutely not. What is at stake at the heart of this sad story is whether or not the duelling sides have the capacity to be free, rational (whether believers or atheists) and, at the same time, reasonable.

The fracture is not between the west and Islam but between those who, in both worlds, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with calm - in the name of faith or reason, or both - and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other and a liking for hasty conclusions. The latter character traits are shared equally by some intellectuals, religious scholars, journalists and ordinary people on both sides. Facing the dangerous consequences these attitudes entail, it is urgent we launch a general call for wisdom.

In Islam, representations of all prophets are strictly forbidden. It is both a matter of the fundamental respect due to them and a principle of faith requiring that, in order to avoid any idolatrous temptations, God and the prophets never be represented. Hence, to represent a prophet is a grave transgression. If, moreover, one adds the clumsy confusions, insults and denigration that Muslims perceived in the Danish cartoons, one can understand the nature of the shock expressed by large segments of Muslim communities around the world (and not only by practising Muslims or the radicals). To these people, the cartoons were too much: it was good and important for them to express their indignation and to be heard.

At the same time, it was necessary for Muslims to bear in mind that, for the past three centuries, western societies - unlike Muslim-majority countries - have grown accustomed to critical, ironical - even derisive - treatment of religious symbols, among them the pope, Jesus Christ and even God. Even though Muslims do not share such an attitude, it is imperative they learn to keep an intellectual distance when faced with such provocations and not to let themselves be driven by zeal and fervour, which can only lead to undesirable ends.

In the case of these cartoons - as clumsy as they are idiotic and malicious - it would have been, and it would remain, preferable if Muslims expressed their values and grievances to the public at large without clamour, better if they paused until such a time as calm was possible. Instead, what is welling up today within some Muslim communities is as unproductive as it is insane: the obsessive demands for apologies, boycotting of European products and threats of violent reprisals are excesses that must be rejected and condemned.

However, it is just as excessive and irresponsible to invoke the "right to freedom of expression" - the right to say anything, in any way, against anybody. Freedom of expression is not absolute. Countries have laws that define the framework for exercising this right and which, for instance, condemn racist language. There are also specific rules pertaining to the cultures, traditions and collective psychologies in the respective societies that regulate the relationship between individuals and the diversity of cultures and religions.

Racial or religious insults are not addressed in the same way in the various western societies: within a generally similar legal framework, each nation has its own history and sensitivities; wisdom requires acknowledging and respecting this reality. The reality is also that the Muslim presence within western societies has changed their collective sensitivity. Instead of being obsessed with laws and rights - approaching a tyrannical right to say anything - would it not be more prudent to call upon citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression responsibly and to take into account the diverse sensitivities that compose our pluralistic contemporary societies?

This is not a matter of additional laws restraining the scope of free speech; it is simply one of calling upon everybody's conscience to exercise that right with an eye on the rights of others. It is more about nurturing a sense of civic responsibility than about imposing legislation: Muslim citizens are not asking for more censorship but for more respect. One cannot impose mutual respect by means of legislation; rather one teaches it in the name of a free, responsible and reasonable common citizenship.

We are at a crossroads. The time has come for women and men who reject this dangerous division of people into two worlds to start building bridges based on common values. They must assert the inalienable right to freedom of expression and, at the same time, demand measured exercise of it. We need to promote an open, self-critical approach, to repudiate exclusive truths and narrow-minded, binary visions of the world.

We are in dire need of mutual trust. The crises provoked by these cartoons shows us how, out of "seemingly nothing", two universes of reference can become deaf to each other and be seduced by defining themselves against each other - with the worst possible consequences. Disasters threaten that extremists on both sides would not fail to use for their own agendas. If people who cherish freedom, who know the importance of mutual respect and are aware of the imperative necessity to establish a constructive and critical debate, if these people are not ready to speak out, to be more committed and visible, then we can expect sad, painful tomorrows. The choice is ours.

· Tariq Ramadan is visiting fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford University and senior research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation, in London

Creating Outrage

Meet the imam behind the cartoon overreaction.

By Lorenzo Vidino

Confused by the wave of protests, threats, boycotts, and attacks against diplomatic facilities that have shaken their idyllic tranquility after the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed on Jyllands-Posten, the Danes are asking themselves questions. They wonder if an attack will take place in their country, as threatened by various jihadi groups, and if freedom of speech is in jeopardy. But a more immediate question is puzzling some: Why has the outrage of the Muslim world exploded only now, in February, when the cartoons were published last September? At the time of the initial publication, international media had reported news of the blasphemous caricatures, not only in Danish, but also in English. Yet nothing happened, aside from timid protests from the Muslim community of the tiny Scandinavian kingdom. So what is different about the situation now? More than the question, it is the answer that is keeping a good chunk of Denmark's political and cultural elite awake at night. The recent anti-Danish emotional wave coming from the Muslim world, in fact, is far from a spontaneous reaction, but it has been cunningly orchestrated by a knowledgeable insider, a real snake in the grass who has been creeping in Denmark for the last 15 years.


Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, a 60-year-old Palestinian imam who has been residing in Copenhagen since 1993, has become over the last few years the face of Islam in Denmark, creating his own persona of a moderate cleric who seeks dialogue but who is victimized by the widespread "racism" of the Danes. Despite his poor command of the Danish language, Abu Laban is a frequent guest on Danish television and in meetings with government officials, where he claims to represent the voice of the local Muslim community. Even though part of the establishment has always looked at him with suspicion (Prime Minister Rasmussen has always refused to meet with him), Danish intelligentsia has made him a celebrity — so much of one that even the Washington Post recently profiled him as "one of Denmark's most prominent imams."

But Abu Laban's real face has now been revealed. In September, the imam immediately condemned Jyllands-Posten's cartoons and led protests at the local level. Danish politicians and media, busy with local elections, ignored him. But Abu Laban is not the kind of person who gives up easily. After having contacted ambassadors from Muslim countries in Copenhagen, he put together a delegation with the goal of touring the Middle East to "internationalize this issue so that the Danish government would realize that the cartoons were not only insulting to Muslims in Denmark but also to Muslims worldwide," as he explained in an interview with "Islam Online". The delegation met with, among others, Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, and Sunni Islam's most influential scholar, Yusuf al Qaradawi. The delegation showed each of these leaders the 12 cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten, along with others that had never been published by any Danish publication. The new cartoons were every more offensive, as showing the Prophet Mohammed with a pig face or having sexual intercourse with a dog. While the delegation claimed that the differentiation was pointed out to their interlocutors, there is no other evidence, and rumors about the more blasphemous images began to circulate in the Middle East. Moreover, the booklet that was presented by the delegation contained several other lies about the "oppression" of Muslims in Denmark, claiming Muslims do not have the legal right to build mosques and are subjected to pervasive racism.

With emotions about the cartoons mounting, Qaradawi, the real brains of the Muslim Brotherhood's international network and a key opinion maker in the Middle East thanks to his weekly show on al Jazeera, attacked Denmark directly, warning that an apology would not be sufficient, and that "a firm stance" should have be taken by the Danish government. As Prime Minister Rasmussen refused to intervene, referring to the cherished tradition of freedom of the press in his country, Qaradawi and his ilk unleashed their propagandistic war against Denmark. Abu Laban, from his mosque in the Copenhagen suburb of Nørrebro, is now happily reaping the fruits of his hard work. But, in a quintessential exercise in taqiya (double-speak), Abu Laban has tried to hide his satisfaction to the Danes. Speaking on Danish television, Abu Laban has wept crocodile tears, condemning the boycott of Danish goods and the other consequences of his actions. Yet, interviewed by al Jazeera, the imam has said just the opposite, praising the outrage of the Muslim world at his adoptive country.

So just who is Abu Laban? The Danes are slowly getting a fuller portrait. Friday night, Danish state television DR broadcasted a long report on him and Danes have begun to understand more about the self-proclaimed voice of Islam in Denmark. According to DR, Intelligence documents reveal that Abu Laban has been in close contact for years with members of various terrorist organizations, and in particular with leaders of the Egyptian Gamaa Islamiya. In the beginning of the 1990s, in fact, several leaders of the Gamaa escaped the long arm of the Egyptian mukhabarat and relocated to Europe. Copenhagen became the new hometown of two of the group's leaders, Ayman al Zawahiri, currently serving as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, and Talaat Fouad Qassimy. From the quiet of the Scandinavian capital, the men published Al Murabitoun, the Gamaa's official publication. Abu Laban worked as a translator and distributor of the publication, which glorified the killing of Western tourists in Egypt and urged the annihilation of Jews in Palestine. Then Abu Laban worked closely with Said Mansour, a Moroccan man currently charged in Denmark for running a publishing house that distributed jihadi material.

All of this is not news to Danish security officials, but now Danes are slowly becoming aware of the facts. And Abu Laban's celebrated celeb status is about history in Denmark. Danes have no more patience for those who preach love in one language and war in another, those who publicly play the role of the victim, demand tolerance and then secretly incite hatred. While much of Europe has been asleep at the wheel, oblivious to the monumental threat radical Islam poses to its future, at least one country is increasing awake. Denmark's first battle is domestic, unmasking the enemy's fifth column inside its borders. As embassies burn, the rest might want to catch on, too.

— Lorenzo Vidino is a senior terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project and author of the book Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad.

Cartoon Debate

The case for mocking religion.

By Christopher Hitchens

Posted Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006, at 4:31 PM ET

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week's international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.

"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief."

Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean "unacceptable"? That it should be forbidden? And how abysmal that a "spokesman" cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find "offensive." ( By the way, hasn't the word "offensive" become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. … In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege. Of course there are many millions of Muslims who do worry about this, and another reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There's an insult to Islam, if you like.

The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Second (and important enough to be insisted upon): Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against "all those involved in its publication," which led to the murder of the book's Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.

Something's Rotten in the State of Denmark

What do Arab journalists think of the Islamic cartoon scandal?

By Daniel Kimmage

Friday, Feb. 3, 2006

The controversy over the 12 caricatures of Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has exploded into a global scandal, complete with angry demonstrations, defiant republications of the cartoons in newspapers across Europe, diplomatic démarches and withdrawn Arab envoys, a boycott of Danish goods in the Middle East, gunmen at the European Union's office in Gaza, and calls for calm amid fears of more tumult to come. (You can see the cartoons here.)

News agencies settled on "Muslim outrage" as a shorthand to describe the uproar over the cartoons. This is accurate but tells only part of the story. In the Arab world, press reactions revealed additional nuances in what is the biggest international wrangle over freedom of expression and respect for Islam since Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

The caricature that has sparked the loudest outcry depicts Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. Muhammad al-Hamadi, writing in the United Arab Emirates' Al-Ittihad, argued that the perception of a link between Islam and terrorism is not merely a figment of European cartoonists' imaginations: "The world has come to believe that Islam is what is practiced by Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, and others who have presented a distorted image of Islam. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that we are the reason for these drawings. Any harm to the Prophet or Islam is a result of Muslims who have come to reflect the worst image of Islam and certain Arabs who have not conveyed faithfully the life and biography of the Prophet."

Al-Hamadi criticized Denmark as well for picking the wrong issue for a stand on principle: "If Denmark has tried to teach Arabs and Muslims a lesson in respect for the country's constitution and its laws, I believe it did not succeed in choosing the right issue. The justification that one must respect the constitution that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to denigrate others, was not appropriate—this is the trap that Denmark fell into."

Abdallah Bin Bakhit, writing in Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah, used the popular boycott of Danish goods to direct subtle criticism at the Arab world's weak institutions: "All of the pressure that we see being exerted on the Danish government and on Danish public opinion is simply spontaneous pressure, supported by a few businessmen, that began with the man in the street and will end with him. The Danish goods that are today disappearing from store shelves will be back in a few days as though nothing had happened. Muslims are the strongest people in the world when it comes to individual reactions and the weakest when it comes to institutionalized operations. Events have taught us that every reaction to such attacks on Islam (wherever they may take place) ends with institutionalized responses aimed at sapping the popular, local anger, but not at treating the issue in the place where it broke out."

In an op-ed in the pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, Muhammad Karishan drew a slightly different, but no less critical, lesson from the boycott, contrasting it favorably with the ineffectual efforts of Arab diplomats: "It is now clear that the pictures of Danish goods being thrown from supermarket shelves are a thousand times more eloquent than the efforts of Arab ambassadors in Denmark to meet with the prime minister, who refused even to receive them."

Egypt's Al-Ahram celebrated the boycott in an editorial, calling it a "civil-society initiative" and warning that Muslim governments should leave the action to their citizens to avoid a detrimental multilateral escalation.

Sati Nur al-Din had little use for either cartoonists or boycotts in an op-ed in Lebanon's Al-Safir. Calling the Danish newspaper's decision to publish the caricatures a "grievous error, most likely intentional," Nur al-Din chided Arabs for a response that "that does not become them or their history and does not contribute to fixing their strained relations with the West." Looking back, Nur al-Din reminded readers that the Ayatollah Khomeini used the Rushdie affair to undermine Iranian revolutionaries seeking a rapprochement with the West. By way of contrast, he concluded, "The Arabs and Muslims who are moving today against Denmark, its products, and embassies, are not exploiting the caricature issue for any political goal, as Khomeini did. Rather, they are sending what is by any standard the wrong message, choosing a foolish pretext for what is really a caricature of a battle."

A persistent theme in the press's response was the gap between European concern over anti-Semitism and indifference to the denigration of Islam. Abdallah Bin Bakhit asked, "While the Danish government claims that the publication of the caricatures falls under freedom of opinion as guaranteed by the Danish Constitution, would it respond with the same claim if a researcher had published a report on the Holocaust challenging the official opinion imposed by Jewish organizations?"

Husayn Shabakshi wrote in the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, "Anti-Semitism is unacceptable, and the Danish caricatures would not have been published if they had depicted a Jewish rabbi, for example." He continued, "Jews have succeeded in criminalizing any critical mention of Jews as anti-Semitism, subjecting anyone who engages in this to harsh punishments. Today, it is necessary for serious Islamic organizations to make concerted efforts in the international arena to criminalize infringements on Islam."

Taking a broader view, Ahmad Abd-al-Husayn noted in Iraq's Al-Sabah that a collision of two basic rights lies at the heart of the controversy: "In the name of freedom, which is one human right, dignity, another sacred right, is trampled. What has gone wrong? Which should win out? Freedom of expression and action, the highest of the arts and most precious endowment of humankind on this earth, or the free will to sanctify the symbols and beliefs that order the existence of nations and cultures?" The author continued, "The shameful drawing by this Dane is nothing but an extreme example, one of numerous examples in which freedom stands in opposition to itself. For the free press has allowed al-Qaida to reach every home via television and the Internet. But we know what al-Qaida thinks of the free press. It is sufficient to recall the obliteration of television in Kabul when it was ruled by the 'commander of the faithful.' " In closing, Abd-al-Husayn warned, "The denigrators of the prophets are not free. They are using freedom as a weapon in a war that no one will win."

Daniel Kimmage is the Central Asia analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.


What did you think of this article?

Febuary 06, 2006, 9:45 a.m.

Daned If You Do...

The real questions to consider in the face of “spontaneous” outrage.

By Emanuele Ottolenghi

Not everything that is right or legal is necessarily wise.

Perhaps it was not so wise to reproduce, all over the European press, twelve Danish cartoons depicting Islam's prophet Mohammad in ways that many Muslims say is offensive. But it was certainly within the boundaries of freedom of speech.


European responses to the events surrounding the cartoons' publication have mainly focused on the above. Was it right? Should there be limits? Should there be editorial self-restraint? Should there be an apology? Who should apologize?

Interestingly, continental Europe has published, Great Britain has not (nor has America). Who understands the Middle East better? The EU or the Anglo-Saxon world? Who does the Arab world hate these days? The evil empire and its lesser imperialist arm? Or the Arab-friendly Europeans with their "more even-handed approach" to the region?

For lo and behold, it is "Death to France" they are chanting now, it is Norwegian flags they are burning (there's always a flags' vendor at hand in the Middle East, whenever "spontaneous" rage erupts).

A sudden reversal of fortunes, to say the least.

But in these days of rage, there is little room for Schadenfreude. Besides, I am not so sure that "I told you so" will open European eyes. Again, interestingly, it is the right-of-center press in Europe that is publishing the cartoons, it is the left-of-center press that is decrying their publication. The right says "freedom of speech" and "Western values," the Left says "multiculturalism." The politically correct may pause and think twice though, given that their once cherished slogans are increasingly the monopoly of the right and their obsession with multiculturalism is putting them on a dangerous slippery slope where their traveling companions are not merely the pious and the aggrieved, but also the less than lucid Holocaust-denying, Homosexual-hating, Jew-bashing, woman-oppressing Islamists who did not call for merely "respect" this weekend, but also for "beheading all those who insult Islam." Beware who your friends are, no less than who are your enemies.

It seems to me that the real debate should not have focused so much on the boundaries of free speech as on the wisdom of reproducing those cartoons in other Western publications (though important they are). After all, Western media routinely publish things that are not so wise or sensitive to expose. From intelligence leaks to mockery of foreign nations, passing through derision of religion and religious beliefs (and those who entertain them), there is plenty to choose from. Was anti-Americanism — so rampant in many European media especially in the last four years — always wise? Is the anti-Semitism that occasionally surfaces in commentary on the Middle East something wise?

But should the answer be censorship? Obviously not. Should the aggrieved parties torch embassies and media centers, or threaten to behead any repeat offender? Again, no. In a truly free society, grievances find legitimate ways of expression and sometimes, if their case is sound, of redress.

In the West we do not believe only in freedom of speech, no matter how silly the speech is. We also believe in the power of ideas to expose the silliness of some speech through robust, but civilized debate. Just like Danish cartoonists had the right to draw twelve cartoons depicting and deriding Mohammed, so are those who feel insulted by their content entitled to march on the streets, assemble in front of embassies, write to newspapers, petition, and go on the air voicing their grievance. As long as it is peaceful and within the legal boundaries that separate speech from incitement, decrying the content of any news item is a legitimate exercise of democratic rights. All that is part of the democratic ethos, and as long as the debate remains within these boundaries, we should let it happen, in the perhaps naively optimistic belief that wisdom will eventually emerge from this exchange.

No wisdom will prevail, though, if debate is conducted by violent means. A violent response that aims to intimidate and muzzle the West on anything concerning the sensitivities of one specific community is unacceptable and makes the dispute over the cartoons a sideshow. The only right course of action now, even if one finds those cartoons silly or in bad taste, is to stand by the publisher, the Danish government, the right of other papers to publish, and the general principle of freedom that makes Europe still a free continent and the Arab Middle East still a sea of dictatorships. Recalling ambassadors was disgraceful. Burning embassies was medieval. Boycotting businesses was mafia-like. And not formulating a joint European response (not yet, one hopes) — let alone expressing solidarity to the Danes — was pusillanimous. It is not Denmark, at this point, that owes an apology to Islam. An apology is owed to Denmark, to Europe, and to the freedom that these assaults aim to deny.

Two considerations arise from this state of affairs: One, if we determine that the yardstick for allowable and unallowable speech is someone else's sensitivity, pretty soon there will be nothing left to talk about. Sensitivity is a subjective trait and the law, with all its shades and penumbras and variations in interpretation, needs a pretty objective, abstract, and general standard. The minute we allow feelings to determine the boundaries of freedom, we will all be slaves.

Second, the reaction that swept across the Muslim world and among Muslims in Europe is symptomatic of a culture that denies democracy and fails to comprehend the mechanisms of a free society. The attacks on the Danish government and state have no precedent and find no justification, given that the target of Muslim wrath is a newspaper, not government policy. To ask for the Danish government to take steps in order to avoid further violence and rescind the sudden boycott on its products means that those who are asking think the free press of Denmark does and will do what the Danish government will tell them to do. That is how the press works in the Arab world. Not in Europe. Not since 1945 at least, and hopefully not anymore. Anyone who thinks government interference with the workings of our societies' press is bad should be outraged. Instead, most of those who routinely exalt the values of freedom of speech in Europe these days are busy siding with the enemies of freedom in the name of community relations.

Still, there remains an open question. Why all this fury now? When the cartoons appeared, there was hardly any commotion outside Denmark and only a few local disturbances. Yes, we know that the outrage was largely cooked up by a party of traveling clerics who put together a brochure designed to enrage, especially given the addition of three particularly vicious fake pictures, and showed it around the Middle East. Still, the timing is, to say the least, suspect. Could it be that, as David Conway of Civitas suggests, this has little to do with Muhammad the Prophet and much to do with Iran the nuclear power? Iran, after all, has just been refereed to the U.N. Security Council on account of its nuclear program. And guess what: When Iran finds itself in the eye of the storm, which, of all countries, will be chairing the U.N. body? Denmark.

What a strange coincidence, given that not much of this fury looks spontaneous.

— Emanuele Ottolenghi teaches Israel studies at Oxford University.

Religion of Peace” or Riots

Cartoon chaos.

By George Neumayr

Uproars over criticism of radical Islam almost always follow the same ironic trajectory. First, someone makes an observation about the violent character of Mohammed or Islam. Then what follows? Violent protests and rioting, which serve to illustrate and confirm vividly the criticism that occasioned them.

Only radical Muslims would consider rioting a rational rebuttal to descriptions of Islam as violent. What other religious group riots or issues death threats after it is criticized? It is prec