Last week I had a debate with the editor-in-chief of a Christian daily newspaper in Denmark, which had refused to publish the controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed in 2006, but republished some of them in 2008 following an alleged abortive plot against the cartoonist's life.
Apart from his courageous self-criticism, his remarks were intelligent, and his arguments were clear but far from being heard or debated in Muslim and Arab countries.
First of all he acknowledged that publishing the cartoons caused "unintentional" emotional harm to millions of Muslims. But, he added, this is freedom of expression, which sometimes accommodates critical assessments of religious thinking. This is the only way to develop and modernize religious rhetoric.
Playing the devil's advocate, I asked him, from an Arab perspective on the crisis, if there really was a plot to kill the cartoonist, why did newspapers resort to republishing the very same cartoons that sparked waves of anger, sadness and violence across the Islamic world instead of looking into the whole case as a crime?
His answer was flabbergasting: In Danish society, he said, religious beliefs are not beyond criticism. This includes Christianity in a society that considers itself Christian. Why then do Muslims, he asked, want to immune their own religion from criticism? If Muslims in Denmark consider themselves "Danes" they have to absorb, witness and respect the mainstream culture, especially freedom of expression.
I didn't buy this argument, simply because criticizing religions is neither a sign of progressiveness nor a manifestation of "faithful citizenship." However, it is difficult to dismiss his whole argument. He pointed to an important issue concerning "cultural integration."
Generally speaking, Muslims who immigrate to Western societies only want to integrate economically, showing little interest and sometimes resistance to all efforts exerted to facilitate cultural integration. They believe that they can plant their own sub-culture in the social body of the country. All forms of cultural integration fail, leaving a strong sense of suspicion between the majority and the minority.
Mohammed Islam is originally Pakistani, but is now the head of the local council of Molenparken, a small district in Copenhagen. Although he went to a Danish school and university, he still insists on wearing traditional Pakistani dress, and when he decided to get married he returned to Pakistan to choose a wife. This is a very complicated cultural situation for both Danes with ethnic background as well as original Danes.
Immigrants resist Danish cultural norms and symbols, while original Danes want to see their society as homogenous as it used to be for centuries. While walking in Molenparken, I noticed a poster belonging to the "Liberation Islamic Party" inviting "fellow Muslims" for a workshop on "The Collapse of the Islamic Caliphate."
According to the party literature, which is legally banned in many Arab and Islamic countries, the Islamic Caliphate is modeled on the Taliban in Afghanistan.
I believe that the natural place to hold such a workshop would be Islamabad or Tora Bora, not Copenhagen, which has never been a part of the Islamic Caliphate. Does this mean that some radical Muslims want to build an Islamic Caliphate in Western Europe?
Fatih Aleaf is originally Turkish, but he has been living in Denmark for a long time. He recently established a foundation whose proposed name (refused by a majority of Muslim) includes the expression "Danish Islam." Opponents refuse this name, and the identity it conveys, because they think of themselves as Muslims not Danes, and believe that Islam is universal.
Back to the editor-in-chief of the Christian daily. I concluded the discussion with him with an idea that is neither clear to him nor to many Westerners. Islam does not include an establishment like Christianity, so many people can speak on behalf of Islam, and do terrible things in the name of Islam.
But this is not the Islam we have known for centuries. So, we should not judge Islam or any other religion according to the behavior of some of its followers. Islam as a religion is different. It is the responsibility of "true" Muslims to disentangle "Islam" from all forms of negative perception, and bad behavior.
Sameh Fawzy is an Egyptian journalist and researcher.
Source: Daily Star Egypt
If that's the case, you haven't been paying much attention. Start with the Barbary Pirates and see how the Caliph excused their behaviour, and then feel free to work forward or backwards in the history of Islam. An honest person will admit that Islam has historically been used as an excuse for taking what belonged to non-Muslims, regardless of if the author thinks that it's 'Islamic' or not. As is often mentioned, there isn't one organization that talks for all Muslims. Therefore the author is just as "true" a Muslim as those he says do terrible things in the name of Islam. Who is to say?