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?
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 www.thewhitepath.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.