Cartoons: Open Society in a Closed Circle

Category: World Affairs Topics: Europe, Freedom Of Speech Views: 3085

Freedom of speech is an inherent right of everyone and in most societies, legally protected, but that doesn't make every expression of it right. The inflammatory content of the Danish cartoons - comparing Prophet Muhammad to a terrorist -- belies the claim that it was an exercise in "freedom of the press." Muslims worldwide see it as anti-Semitism reborn as "Islamophobia" in a Europe that gave the world the Inquisition, two World Wars, the Holocaust and the recent Bosnian genocide. 

From the Islamic perspective, freedom of speech and expression (hurriyyat al-qawl wa bayan) is "vindication of truth" and "protection of human dignity," with embedded maxims of morality and legality. Slander and libel is not protected under free speech. 

The outcry over the Danish cartoons didn't emerge overnight. Since their first publication in September 2005, Muslim and Arab envoys unsuccessfully tried to convince the publishers to recognize that the cartoons were at best insensitive and at worst inciting hatred toward an entire community. The Danish courts refused to even admit the case on the grounds of freedom of expression; and the Danish Prime Minister cried off, citing freedom of press in his country.

After such efforts failed, the envoys turned to the EU and the UN and finding no response even as more European papers printed the insulting cartoons, only then were diplomatic withdrawals and economic boycotts started and demonstrations seen from London to Jakarta. Regrettably some elements have used this issue to stage violent protests. 

Why have Muslims pursued the matter? It is because Islamophobia is a clear and growing trend in the West and Muslim(s) bear the brunt of this animosity and atmosphere of hatred and mistrust. In this context, the motive of a small right-wing Danish paper in printing such drawings is highly questionable. Would the same champions of press freedom (in Europe) approve reprinting of anti-Semitic cartoons from 1930s Germany?

Muslims are also aware of the double standards of freedom of expression in the West. Al Jazeera's offices are bombed and shut down for showing the "collateral damage" of U.S. invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

As recently as President Bush's 2006 State of the Union address, a U.S. citizen (Cindy Sheehan) was ejected from the halls of people's Congress for merely wearing a T-Shirt stating "2,245 Dead. How Many More?" 

The Twenty-first century has clearly divided the world in "two camps": secular and religious, living together without knowing one another. What is sacred in one camp is deranged in the other. These are the two civilizations clashing, not the East and the West.

Fostering an environment where nothing is sacred in the name of freedom of speech will not help understand the values of a civilization in which sacred is all that counts. Many Christian and Jewish leaders recognize this, and have decried the Danish cartoons.

It is not just about cartoons or calls for censure. It is also about the frail and fragile world we have made for ourselves. Just as a sketch in Europe can arouse the populace in the Middle East, a word from the East, if properly understood, can bring a lasting peace to the agitated West.

Failing to see beyond oneself will result in a life that sees all within the closed circle as good, and all outside as evil. In an ever-growing interconnected and interdependent world, this is a sure recipe for disaster of biblical proportions.

All strands of artists and academics, journalists and politicians must engage in a thoughtful discourse to advance the understanding of Isaac and Ishmael. The world belongs to both and so do they, to one another.

 

Shakeel Syed is Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council, a federation of over seventy Mosques in Southern California and can be reached at [email protected]


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  8 Comments   Comment

  1. Doinp Phine

    To Yahya Bergum, Thank-you very much for you helpful comment. I will take the time to read the a fore-mentioned verse and reflect upon its teachings. Thank-you and have a good day.

  2. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Thanks for the text, Doin Phine. But please be advised that I don't like you (to omit vital parts of rules and regulations you are citing). So please consider examining verse 4:90 if you might feel like doing so. As you have quite rightly pointed out the Muslim community should vigorously prosecute those who having sought to subdue the community were instead subdued by it and having sworn allegiance to it had thereafter broken faith with it;-

    'Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah Hath opened no way for you (to war against them).'

    And thus it also would seem that outsiders who approach the Muslim community are not expected to betray their communities of origin for the sake of peaceful relations with the Muslim one. And I do hope that by my own submission I could in some way be genuinely helpful to you.

  3. nur from USA

    COPENHAGEN, February 9, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) - Three years ago cartoons of Jesus Christ were rejected by Denmark's mass-circulation daily Jyllands-Posten, which recently commissioned and published insulting drawings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

    "My cartoon, which certainly did not offend any Christians I showed it to, was rejected because the editor felt it would be considered offensive to readers -- readers in general, not necessarily Christians," cartoonist Christoffer Zieler said in an e-mail to Reuters on Wednesday, February 9.

    For details see http://www.islamonline.net

  4. FOLLOWER OF PROPHET MOHAMMED (PBUH) from USA

    Freedom of speech has bankrupted the western civilistion from the moral values and respect for the mankind. West is only using freedom of speech to degrade human beings and societies. It is their hypocracy to use freedom of speech to attack the most highest character ever born on the face of the earth Prophet Mohammed (PBUH - May my life, wealth, my family and my parents be sacrified for the his cause which is islam).

    What else they can do since west is completely bankrupted of Values, Morals and respect for mankind. Their values only respect money and materials which they worship and that they want to acquire at any cost.

    I invite to the west and Danish editor who published those blasphameous cartoon to study the life of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and insaallah they will find in Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) an example of the highest character ever born on the face of the earth. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is the mercy to the every creatures of the universe even to animals, trees and the entire mankind.

    Come check out Islam you will be enriched with peace and security.

    Follower of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

  5. Abu Khalil from Norway

    Assallamu Aleikum!

    Those who read history will also remember that events leading to the holocaust started similarly with cartoons.Extremists in the West however, seem not to have given up.Everything being done now against Islam and Muslims bear a horrible resemblance to the treatment meted out to the Jews before millions of them were alledgedly massacred in the Nazi gass chambers.This is all the more reason why fair minded peaple of all persuasions:Muslim,Christian, Jewish,secular or whatever must come together and arrest a potentially disastrous situation before it gets out of hand.

  6. Yahya Bergum from USA

    US Government officials seem willing to spend two TRILLION dollars on military intervention among Muslims but afraid to say nice things about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So what's all this fuss about freedom of speech? Obviously these government officials realize that speaking freely can have consequences. But then again so can remaining silent when it's important to say something.

    I think these particular officials should either take Osama up on his offer or make a point of saying something nice about Muhammad (peace be upon him). Do they seriously want to protect Americans in Muslim places? Perhaps they can start by pissing off some of the phony baloney evangelists among their camp followers. Think of that, if you like, as a necessary provocation. Or perhaps you'd care to let it pass. The choice is seemingly up to you.

    And anyhow what are Islamophobic Americans going to do about it anyway? Vote for Hilary? Well perhaps they might do precisely that. Regardless, their European brethren reportedly had intended to provoke the Muslim community. And it seems they succeeded in doing precisely that. (Your move.)

    But as for Isaac and Ishmael peace be upon them. Furthermore, "the God-fearing believers shall be against whoever rebels or him who seeks to spread injustice... even if he be a son of one of them... The Jew who follows us is surely entitled to our support and the same equal rights as any one of us. He shall not be wronged nor his enemy be assisted." Just offhand who do you imagine has said that? And peace be upon him.

  7. Doin Phine

    Wow the author wrote; "Failing to see beyond oneself will result in a life that sees all within the closed circle as good, and all outside as evil."

    How can Muslims not fail if they read the Koran. For example the verse 3:73

    "And believe no one unless he follows your religion." Say: "True guidance is the Guidance of Allah. (Fear ye) Lest a revelation be sent to someone (else) Like unto that which was sent unto you? or that those (Receiving such revelation) should engage you in argument before your Lord?" Say: "All bounties are in the hand of Allah. He granteth them to whom He pleaseth: And Allah careth for all, and He knoweth all things."

  8. Romesh Chander from US

    The author state "From the Islamic perspective ...". Well, that is exactly the problem in a secular society. There is no such thing as "Islamic Perspective ", "Catholic perspective", "Christian Perspective", etc. Secular societies are governed by man-made laws, not religious laws.