In an interview on the BBC programme ’Hardtalk’, the presenter Stephen Sackur asked the cultural editor of the infamous paper Jyllands-Posten if it would publish, under the slogan “Freedom of Speech” that led it to insult The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), a caricature of a Jewish Rabbi killing a Palestinian child while holding a Nazi emblem. The editor answered very rudely: “No, because there are limits that should not be exceeded”.
Although it is difficult to be logical under circumstances where our prophet was so gravely and disgustingly insulted, I did choose to look at the issue and study it objectively, beginning with this query: Why does the West insult a person regarded by 1.3 billion Muslims as the most important being after the Lord?
While trying to answer that question, I remembered a piece of news reported by most international radio stations. It was about the arrest of British writer David Irving in Southern Austria on November 11th last year on charges that he denied the existence of the Holocaust. He received a jail sentence of three years. However, Austria is not the only European country that enacted laws that regard the denial of the Holocaust as a grave crime that must be penalised. Nine other European countries, including France, Switzerland and Germany, have enacted such laws.
The Holocaust is not my subject here. What I wish to stress is that those advanced countries respect the feelings and sentiments of 14 million Jews in the world, while deliberately ignoring those of 1.3 billion Muslims.
The offending caricatures were published in September 2005. London’s Guardian newspaper reported that the same Danish paper that published them had, in April 2003, refused to publish caricatures drawn by Danish caricaturist Christopher Zoeler about Jesus Christ. This proves that the paper was acting in bad faith and that it deliberately insulted Muslims. Danish Muslims and Arab ambassadors attempted to avoid any worsening of the situation but, obviously, the Danish Government felt that there was nothing to fear and decided not to apologise for the insult.
The only reason was our weakness as a Muslim nation and as Arab Muslims. If any consideration had been given to the Arabs in general or Muslims in particular none of this would have happened.
Who benefits from the after-effects of the insult?
First: the European extremist Right-wing parties which call for restricting Muslim immigration to Europe and for stricter immigration laws. They will use the Muslim reaction as a reason to accuse them of violence and claim that Muslims do not believe in dialogue. This will limit Muslim’s ability to immigrate to Europe and their absorption within European communities will be delayed.
Second: Israel and the United States were extremely put out by the Arab-European rapprochement. Because, many times, Europe hindered US plots in relation to Iraq and Israeli plots in relation to Palestine. We must also take into account the European Union’s support of the Palestinians. Doubtless, the evil act of the Danish paper will cast a dark shadow over our relationship with the Europeans for a long time, especially if Europe continues to take an indifferent stand towards the Arab and Muslim sentiment on that issue, which is a grave one for us.
What should we, as Arabs and Muslims do in the face of that offence?
I want here to stress that our religion has instructed us to respect all religions. Any response to insulting our Prophet must be expressed in a civilised manner and far away from violence and agitation to reflect the true face of our religion which is based upon justice and peace. The Holy Quran is very clear: “We make no distinction between one and another of His apostles”. (Surat Al Baqarah)
Therefore, we must reaffirm that offending any of the heavenly religions, apostles, temples or rites is a red line that we will not cross regardless of how grave the offence or challenge.
The tolerance of Islam is historically proven and its attitude towards other religions should be a model for us. I will mention here the story of Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab when he entered Jerusalem and was received by Patriarch Sophronius in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When prayer time came, Omar asked the Patriarch, where he could pray. The Patriarch answered: “Right where you are”. But Omar said: “Never. Omar will not pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for Muslims after me would say that Omar prayed here and would build a mosque in this place.”
Therefore, as Muslims and as Arabs here’s what I think we should do.
• Establish Islamic and Arab information centres all over the world, where professionals can clear any ambiguity related to this great religion or to the Prophet Mohammed, PBUH.
• Conduct high level civilised dialogues with European and other countries to convince them to enact laws that prohibit offending any religion or insulting any prophet, especially Mohammed, Jesus and Moses.
• Carry out a public boycott of products from Denmark, Norway and other countries that were insolent towards our Prophet. This would put their governments under pressure from big companies and would make them pay for their indifference and force them to prevent any such future incident.
It is of utmost importance that we uncover the truth about ourselves. That truth which makes others view us without any consideration. Let us compare ourselves to the Israelis: only 14 million strong, but respected and even feared by all nations because of their economic, political and academic influence.
At the Islamic Conference held in Putrajaya in 2003 Dr Mahatir Mohammed talked, rightly, about the heavy influence enjoyed by the Jews. We need an honest review of ourselves. And for that, I suggest that a forum be established so we may listen to our foremost intellectuals from all over the world. They must lay down an integrated plan that allows us to catch up with advanced nations. Then, I am sure no one would dare even to think of abusing our Prophet.
Finally I would like to call on all our Arab brothers, Muslims and Christians alike, to stay away from violence. Let us learn from the tolerance of the Prophet himself when the non-believers from Qureish and other tribes insulted him. He would maintain his tranquillity and peacefulness by learning from the Holy Qur’an. There, God says:
“Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs.” (Surat Al Imran, Verse 186)