• February 5, 2006
  • 7 minutes read

Call for Reconciliation

Call for Reconciliation
The Muslim world is rightfully furious about the humiliation of Prophet Mohamed, PBUH, by the reprehensible caricatures published in a Danish newspaper and fueled by extremist right wing groups in Denmark and across Europe. Muslims consider depiction of any prophet, is blasphemous, including depictions that are not negative. The cartoons violated this dictum, and many of them also ridiculed the Prophet PBUH.  Political analysts from both sides described the newspapers’ printing of the cartoons as a dangerous incitement in a conflict that has already alienated the growing Muslim populations of West European nations and hardened extremists in both camps. 
The European Union’s trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said the continued printing of the cartoons was “throwing petrol onto the flames.” Acknowledging the desire to stand up for press freedom, he said newspapers must understand “the offense that is caused by publishing cartoons of this nature.”  In addition, the US State Department said: “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims”.
Therefore, it seems that there is a consensus among reasonable European officials and the majority of people in the West that these cartoons were offensive and this should be the base for reconciliation. The argument that publicizing these cartoons falls within the rights of “freedom of expression” as protected by laws and western values is considered a weak argument to many Muslims.  Islam indeed upholds the rights of individuals to be free, practice their own religion, and express their views and opinions. Muslims respect other religions and this respect should be mutual .The people in Europe can relate to the fact that “A person’s freedom ends where the freedom of others begins”. Muslims, on the other hand, make a strong argument by citing the double standards by Europeans when they defend “freedom of Expression” but all of a sudden adopt a different policy when it comes to “Anti-Semitism”.  People who question some of the facts of the Holocaust are ostracized; most publishers are so sensitive they will not even get into the argument. A degree of censorship is imposed that is not articulated in this case.  In 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), a body of the European Union, developed a more detailed working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. The EUMC then listed “contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere.” These included: Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews; accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group; denying the Holocaust; and accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations. The EUMC also discussed ways in which attacking Israel could be anti-Semitic, depending on the context.  Muslims are not even demanding the same level of protection that the Jews enjoy all over the world by law. They are not demanding to stop attacks, intimidations, or harassments that are committed against them because of their religious beliefs but, in this case, they are only seeking to protect their own sacred symbols from being lampooned or ridiculed.
This is a wake up call for the international community represented by the UN to intervene and draw a line between Freedom of expression and right of others to have their faith and beliefs respected.  The US government agrees to this meaning.  State Department Spokesman, Kurtis Cooper, said, “Freedom of the press and expression must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable”
The situation is escalating and threatens with serious repercussions and wider confrontations unless sincere actions are taken to put a decent end to this crisis. A larger strategy is needed to reconcile democracy and freedom as understood in the West and Islam as practiced in much of the Muslim world  The West has to respect the fact that Muslims will not accept tampering with their faith and that freedom of expression has boundaries when it comes to religion and values, meanwhile, Muslims need to be more tolerant and refrain from violent demonstrations, burning flags or attacking embassies.  We as Muslims felt the pain on Sep. 11th, and during the bombings in Madrid and London.  We condemned collective punishement and stereotyping as we considered these despicable acts not to be true representation of our religion or us. Now we must come to understand that the actions of Jyllands-Posten or other like newspapers as isolated and do not represent the people of Europe or the Christian faith. We must all come together, Muslims, Christian, Jews and all people of faith to build a better future for our children and the generations to come. 
Khaled Hamzah