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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: More on the Current Europe/Islam Debate 
4th-Feb-2006 02:06 am
I See You!
Some telling remarks in this article. Another article, "Protests Over Muhammad Drawings Intensify" follows, with further over-the-top calls for destruction.

Mohammad cartoons row resembles dialogue of deaf

Feb 3, 11:25 AM (ET)

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - The row over caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammad resembles a dialogue of the deaf, with many European spokesmen defending the right to free speech and many Muslims insisting Islam must be treated with respect.

Calls for moderation, both from Muslim leaders and European politicians, risk getting lost in a public debate dominated by Europeans afraid of losing a core right of their culture and Muslims struggling to win more recognition for theirs.

Centuries of tradition stand behind both viewpoints, which may account for the virulence of the reactions aroused by the publication -- first in Denmark, then across Europe -- of cartoons depicting Mohammad as a terrorist.

The Europeans can date their long struggle for free speech to the 18th century Enlightenment and consider the liberty to criticize all authority a cornerstone of modern democracy.

Muslims look back on centuries of Western hostility toward, and misunderstanding of, their religion and say the time is ripe -- with the higher profile for Muslims in the Middle East and Europe -- for Western countries to treat them as equals.

Egypt's ambassador in Copenhagen, Mona Omar Attia, highlighted the stalemate in comments after she heard Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen say his government could not apologize for anything that Danish newspapers had printed.

"This means that the whole story will continue and that we are back to square one again. The government of Denmark has to do something to appease the Muslim world," she said.

In separate statements, the French and German interior ministers defended their traditions against Muslim taboos.

"Why should the government apologize for something that happened in the exercise of press freedom?" Germany's Wolfgang Schaueble asked. "If the state intervenes, that is the first step toward limiting press freedom."

In Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy said: "Given the choice, I prefer too many caricatures to too much censorship."

RESPECT

The word "respect" repeatedly pops up in Muslim comments, revealing how much the cartoons linking Mohammad and terrorism hurt the feelings of people who feel humiliated by the West.

Mohamed Mestiri, head of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Paris, said respect was the main issue for Muslims outraged by the images they consider blasphemous.

"It's all about creating a culture of respect, of wanting to live together under the roof of a plural citizenry," he said.

The head of France's Muslim Council saw the cartoons as the latest in a history of Western affronts to Muslims who only in recent years have mustered enough political clout to fight back.

"Yesterday, the world's Muslims were unable to react to critics who for centuries constantly dumped truckloads of slander on their religion, sacred books and Prophet," said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Grand Mosque.

While insisting European Muslims accept the separation of church and state, Mestiri warned against assuming Islam would ever tolerate criticism of what it held most sacred. "One must not judge Islam by the standards of Christian culture," he said.

EXCEPTION FOR JEWS?

Muslim spokesmen resent the way non-Muslims argue they cannot dilute press freedoms just for one religion but make an exception for Jews.

"Why do they say that Muslims have no right to condemn the publishing of those cartoons, when they fight tooth and nail against those who even talk negatively about the Holocaust?" asked Sheikh Hussain Halawa, secretary general of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.

These arguments seemed to have little influence at Liberation, the Paris daily that joined the European media's solidarity wave on Friday and reprinted two Danish cartoons.

It called the Danish caricatures "The Satanic Drawings," referring to "The Satanic Verses" whose criticism of Islam earned British author Salman Rushdie death threats in 1989.

"Rushdie's novel would be almost impossible to publish today," it wrote.



Hundreds of Morrocan Muslims protest against the Danish and Swedish publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, in front of the Parliament in Rabat, Morroco, Friday, Feb. 3, 2006. Incensed Muslims filled squares and streets across the Middle East on Friday to condemn Europe's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, trampling and burning Danish flags, and even calling on al-Qaida to carry out revenge attacks. (AP Photo/Jalil Bounhar)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




Protests Over Muhammad Drawings Intensify

Feb 3, 10:45 PM (ET)

By IBRAHIM BARZAK

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Outrage over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad erupted in a swell of protests across the Muslim world Friday, with demonstrators demanding revenge against Denmark and death for those they accuse of defaming Islam's holiest figure.

In Iraq, the leading Shiite cleric denounced the drawings first published in a Danish newspaper in September, one of which depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. But the cleric also suggested militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting the image of Islam.

Some European newspapers reprinted the caricatures this week, prompting protests Friday in Britain, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Palestinian areas. In Sudan, some even urged al-Qaida terrorists to target Denmark.

"Strike, strike, Bin Laden," shouted some in a crowd of about 50,000 who filled a Khartoum square.

The U.S. and British governments criticized publication of the caricatures as offensive to Muslims, raising questions about whether the line between free speech and incitement had been crossed.

The Danish government tried to contain the damage. Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and said the Danish government "cannot accept an assault against Islam," according to Abbas' office.

On Monday, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said his government could not apologize on behalf of a newspaper, but that he personally "never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people."

Many Muslims consider the Danish government's reaction inadequate.

Clerics in Palestinian areas called in Friday prayers for a boycott of Danish and European goods and the severing of diplomatic ties. Tens of thousands of incensed Muslims marched through Palestinian cities, burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance.

"Whoever defames our prophet should be executed," said Ismail Hassan, a tailor who marched in the pouring rain with hundreds of other Muslims in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up," the protesters chanted.

Foreign diplomats, aid workers and journalists began pulling out of Palestinian areas Thursday because of kidnapping threats against some Europeans.

In Iraq, about 4,500 people protested in the southern city of Basra, burning the Danish flag. Some 600 worshippers stomped on Danish flags before burning them outside Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Mosque, Sunni Islam's holiest shrine in Iraq. Demonstrators also burned Danish journalists in effigy and torched boxes of Danish cheese.

Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the publications as a "horrific action."

But in remarks posted on his Web site, al-Sistani referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community whose actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."

Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet, forbids any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, even positive ones, to prevent idolatry.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized European media for reprinting the caricatures. While free speech should be respected, Straw said "there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory."

The State Department called the drawings "offensive to the beliefs of Muslims" and said the right to freedom of speech must be coupled with press responsibility.

"Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable," State Department press officer Janelle Hironimus said.

In Damascus, Syria, entrances to the Al-Murabit mosque were strewn with Danish, Israeli and American flags so worshippers could trample them as they entered. Banners outside called for a boycott of Danish, European and U.S. products "until Denmark is brought to its knees, regretting this farce of freedom of expression."

Some 1,500 worshippers in Jordan marched in the northeastern city of Zarqa, demanding that Denmark prosecute the cartoonist who drew the caricatures.

Pakistan's parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the cartoons as a "vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign."

And in Jakarta, Indonesia, more than 150 Muslims stormed a high-rise building housing the Danish Embassy and tore down and burned the country's flag.
Comments 
4th-Feb-2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
I can agree with you, Jen, but only up to a point. Are the cartoons an issue able to be manipulated by corrupt governments against an oppressed citizenry open to such manipulation? Is the press on both sides capable of exacerbating the problem by fixating on inflated differences to the exclusion of more tangible problems? (Your reminder of that Palestinian clip from 9/11 is particularly sensible and apt here.) Certainly I agree with you that yes, such is the case and that these factors may play a significant role here.

But I'm going to get all "history of ideas" on this description here. I think you are also engaging in a description here that has the potential to distort the problem, and I think I have to state it in such bald terms that it might sound offensive or that it is a personal attack against you which is utterly not the case. Here goes: secular, liberal, European perspective is as all-conquering a perspective as anything Europe has ever put out, even if it's not as crass to our ears as speaking of the "White Man's Burden." Going by the description you provide here makes it a secular problem of the lack of the benefits of liberal government. Yes, the people in the streets could be manipulated in this way by people with those motives, but it seems to me that that explanation would overly-dismiss their real intellectual capacities and their ability to define the world in the categories that they see fit. And their perspective is clearly that "Islam is true" and "Islam has been denigrated in ways Islam deems unacceptable and worthy of complete social elimination."

Now, you and I can both think these ideas are not true, if for different reasons. I embraced Christianity because I concluded that it spoke most truly about history and reality, and as a result I see Islam as a cobbled-together religion of misunderstood and cast-off fragments of Judaism and Christianity put together by a man of modest education who didn't understand them very well, but who created an ideology sufficient for creating a unity that the Arab culture had never enjoyed before. Coming from the more Secularist background you've described to me, I would gather that you would hold that Islam was not true in what what it described because all religions are simply anthropological and sociological constructions whose purpose is to provide an interpretive and organizational key to human life, but that no one religion has any greater claim to fact or truth than any other.

But I think that if we don't speak in terms acknowledging the Islamic perspective as an a complete worldview for its holders (even if it is capable of being manipulated in exactly the ways that you describe) then we risk missing being able to accurately understand--much less deal with--the issues at hand.

Now, I'll gladly admit that reducing everything to intellectual history is ultimately just as distorting as reducing everything to social history. But I think that what we have here has to be remembered as having a great deal to do with competing visions of the truth. What leapt off the page to me in your description was an overlooking of the primary issue of the truth of Islam because of the standard European assumption of the truth of the secular worldview. That seems to me to end up in just as much a "huge convenient distraction from real, local, tangible problems."

Blah blah blah. Am I offering anything in place of the problem? Obviously not. But since my training is in the history of ideas, perhaps I'm overly-sensitive to what appears to me to be examples of just that "worldviews-speaking-past-each-other" that is at the root of this problem. The particularly distorting issue, I think, with Secularism is that it seems to kind of hide from itself: it denies that it is [in its own terms, which I'm not necessarily endorsing] exactly the same sort of social construction that any religion is. Because it has that Enlightenment belief that it has "seen through" the errors of religions, it conveniently exempts itself from that kind of self-critique.

Last point:
5th-Feb-2006 06:11 am (UTC)
Wow............that is one hell of a great post!
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