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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."


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.


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)


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.
4th-Feb-2006 11:52 pm (UTC)
You are right about me. I think the specifics of any particular religion are human constructs, none of which define or encompass the divine. Some make more sense than others. Some are more attractive to me than others. But I do understand that people who are extremely faith-driven are operating from a "Religion is real" perspective, even if I am not, and that they way that they react to their faith has real consequences in the real world. And I think you have a good point that Europeans, culturally, think that they have "moved beyond" religion and are finding out, to their shock and surprise, that not everyone has.

To move the argument home:

Pat Robertson is a devout Christian. He is also a jackass.
Jerry Falwell is a devout Christian. He is also a jackass.
George W. Bush...well, he's almost achieved Godwin's Law status in an argument
What's the Focus on the Family guy's name? I hate that guy, too.

All of these people get enough press and pulpit time to be considered "Religious Leaders in the United States." "Leading U.S. Christians today denounced x, y, and z" is a headline that you'd see both here and in the Islamic world. Fundamentalist Christianity is alive and well in the United States, and people looking in from the outside, who were not native speakers of English, who saw stories like this could say "United States Christian Culture is intolerant and idiotic and totally against everything we stand for." Does that mean every American or every Christian agrees with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? No. But the media on both sides sensationalizes and reacts to the most extreme elements of culture and ignores the diversity of opinion within the culture.

I've seen some very ugly statements in your blog on this issue lately. "Is moderate Islam a liberal secular fantasy?"

Or this:

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.

If I said "Christianity was a cobbling together of misunderstood and cast-off fragments Judaism and Mitrhaic myths, put together by a small and persecuted group of wingnuts dumb enough to subscribe to the idea of Virgin Birth who over time made enough of a fuss that they got the attention of someone powerful enough to make it the Roman state religion - the rest is history" you might be a bit taken aback, yes? If that's how I viewed your entire culture? If that's how the dominant culture on the earth viewed your entire culture? You'd say "But Christianity is real" just as Muslims say "Islam is real", and I (secular humanist that I am) would say "Boys, boys, stop fighting! For the vast majority of you what you happen to believe is an accident of birth and culture anyway."

You could prove that Christianity is the true religion - as a student of intellectual history, as a student of theology, as a preacher, as a scientist, as a saint who sees visions. It wouldn't matter, because Muslims would still think their religion is real, and to get along in the world in any kind of peaceful way we have to find some kind of common ground as humans that does not depend on religion. And by taking the most ridiculous kind of media reports, that are written absolutely with the idea of "The West is the Best" (and I'd even argue within the secular mindset of - "Look at these religious wingnuts, don't they know how crazy they are" - I guess if you are using these as an example of how secular Europe doesn't understand, or underestimates Islam, you're in the right place, but that's not the sentiment that's coming across in your comments on the articles.

Also, wish granted: I'd encourage you to visit Global Voices - an aggregate of blogs from around the world, including Arab Islamic bloggers who write in English. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/globalvoices/

Their whole front page right now is devoted to this issue.
5th-Feb-2006 05:35 am (UTC)
Excellent! That should make for an interesting source. As to some of your concerns:

I've seen some very ugly statements in your blog on this issue lately. "Is moderate Islam a liberal secular fantasy?"

Huh. I'm not sure how that can be taken as "ugly": I hope that it's understood that I don't "do" "ugly!" Simply asking whether or not we are in danger of viewing Islam through our own liberal lenses is the same overall point I made earlier, and not too daring or original, I would think. Certainly I didn't think I was adding any emotional content that would convey any ugliness. Or did you think I meant "liberal" as opposed to "conservative?" I'm pretty adamant about avoiding those categories, but yes, if I was talking about "the evil liberal media" versus my "good conservative FOXNews media," then that would be pretty banal.

If I said "Christianity was a cobbling together of misunderstood and cast-off fragments Judaism and Mitrhaic myths, put together by a small and persecuted group of wingnuts dumb enough to subscribe to the idea of Virgin Birth who over time made enough of a fuss that they got the attention of someone powerful enough to make it the Roman state religion - the rest is history" you might be a bit taken aback, yes?

No! I would say, "Now we're really talking!" At that point we're on firmer ground, because then we start asking specific, real historical and evidential questions, such as "Does the evidence we have regarding Constantine support this reading," and so forth. I have found the interreligious dialogue that existed as simply mutual-affirmation societies to be pretty weak, self-distorting, and not too beneficial for either party. Along with my Professor-Rabbi at Notre Dame, for example, I found the Jewish-Christian dialogue that starts more at the level of "You guys are so full of shit! So let's talk!" to be much more honest historically and conducive to real understanding of differences. Much better an honest disagreement than a dishonest agreement. I admit most people aren't used to hat kind of directness, though.

I'm not sure how to divide-up that last paragraph of yours, so I'm hesitant to say anything without a better sense of what you're saying before the end. I do think I'd probably argue with the thesis that "to get along in the world in any kind of peaceful way we have to find some kind of common ground as humans that does not depend on religion." At least, if by that we are just coming back to the Secularist program of "eventually you have to trash your religions and then we'll get along," well, that just amounts to converting to a new faith, if a secular one. I suspect that that's part of what we might be beginning to see as a cultural impasse here.

I think that the neutral ground of our peaceful lives together doesn't come from our converting to Neutrality, but comes from the best of the resources we have. Yes, intellectually, I've concluded Christianity is holding the winning hand of cards and so I joined the team, to mix my metaphors. But I suspect that the peace of Islam and the West, if possible, is only possible in dealing with Islam as Islam. And it might be in their real specificities that Judaism and Christianity can speak to Islam in a way that the secular West cannot. Yet the fundamental roots of Islam have some content in them that make me wonder if there is a long-term compatibility with Western liberal democracy, at least, without moves in Islam on the level of the Reformation in Europe. I don't think that the question is an ugly one to ask--just honest.

I should note here that a lot of my thinking on this is influenced by the assessments I've seen, say by a professor at Notre Dame who writes of her research on the streets of Pakistan, face hidden behind her burqa, who argues that what we want to bracket off as "fundamentalist Islam" is mainstream Islam, by any numerical, cultural sense of "mainstream." So I find myself watching these events, comparing what I read Muslim leaders saying to my own North African experiences, and to talking to very liberalized Muslim friends here, and realizing that what I see here in the States might not be a form or formula that can hold the center in world Islam.
5th-Feb-2006 06:25 am (UTC) - reformation
Yet the fundamental roots of Islam have some content in them that make me wonder if there is a long-term compatibility with Western liberal democracy, at least, without moves in Islam on the level of the Reformation in Europe. I don't think that the question is an ugly one to ask--just honest.

Can you explain to me why the reformation was instrumental in making Western liberal democracy compatible with Christianity?

My thinking was that Christianity and modern liberalism shared a common sense of some basic moral and political principles and that that was why they are/were compatible.
5th-Feb-2006 06:39 am (UTC) - Re: reformation
Follow up to above comment:

But the virtue of the American Founding rests not only upon its defusing of the tension between reason and revelation, but upon their fundamental agreement on a moral code which can guide human life both privately and publicly. This moral code is the work both of "Nature's God" — reason — and the "Creator" — revelation. Religious freedom properly understood is a principle which emancipates political life not only from sectarian religious conflict, but from the far profounder conflict between reason and revelation. Indeed, it makes reason and revelation — for the first time — open friends and allies on the political level. For they are, to repeat, agreed upon the nature and role of morality in the good society.

5th-Feb-2006 07:54 am (UTC) - Re: reformation
This is one of the reasons why I have been studying the shift in the last half-century from this neutral conception of church-state balance in the Constitution to the new Secularist reading of assuming that "Neutrality," if you will, is a position in itself and that this is to be held as over and against the divers religious positions. It seems that a shift occurs in 1947's Everson vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that had implications far beyond its immediate application and that have gravely complicated both the Court's ability to rule on these cases, and in the average person's ability to think about them.

While there definitely needed to be a break in the de facto Protestant hegemony in the public sphere, the tilt since switching the fulcrum of balance between the interests of various sects to the interests of non-religion versus religion has resulted in the disjuncture that has been called the victory of "practical atheism" as the public default position, and that's not the same as neutrality. Not that I'm in sympathy with a lot of the politics of the Christian Right that have made challenges to Everson's formula, but I do think a better balance is possible. The issues of school funding are a good example in that regard. Just about every other Western liberal democracy will equally fund organized schools for Christians, Jews, Buddhists, whathaveyou. While the Everson decision actually drew upon typical anti-Catholic resources of the time, it has in fact created a climate of near-hysteria on the subject. I've heard "theocracy" tossed about so often in regard to some of Bush's programs or policies that I despair of Americans' accurately understanding or recognizing the real thing in history or in a contemporary setting like Iran.
5th-Feb-2006 07:35 am (UTC) - Re: reformation
Whoops! I didn't mean to imply that kind of relationship: I was talking about the level of an intra-religous event that it seemed to me would be required to permanently put to rest the texts of the Qur'an that stand in tension with Western liberal democracy. I didn't mean to suggest that that it was the Reformation itself that gave Christianity its compatibility with that style of democracy.

Obviously the Western view of human dignity that is at the root of our democracy, and all of Western human rights thinking, is derivative from the Judaic and Christian traditions. Athenian democracy certainly has a different view of humanity at its root. But I think it would be far too simplistic to trace a causal relationship between our current democratic forms and even one major event/period like the Reformation.

I'm sure you have seen all the English Common Law material cited in typical history courses dealing with the rise of American democracy. John Courtney Murray, S.J.'s We Hold These Truths is a great resource for starting to explore the heritage of the medieval Natural Law tradition's huge contribution to democratic thinking and structures. So you'd have to go back through John of Paris and Thomas Aquinas on "the Christian Prince," and Augustine's The City of God, and his work on Pelagianism for the roots of that "standby" suspicion of human nature that unlies the idea of the separation of powers--Yeesh...! Honestly, the roots stretch as far back and as far apart as the Sermon on the Mount, Athens, and Sinai.
5th-Feb-2006 06:26 am (UTC) - mainstream
who argues that what we want to bracket off as "fundamentalist Islam" is mainstream Islam

Really!? Pretty scarey. Anything else you reading supporting that?
5th-Feb-2006 08:13 am (UTC) - Re: mainstream
Huh. Nothing I can specifically point to. I actually guess that I see enough of that in the breadth of media that its a general supposition. My time in a fairly moderate country like Tunisia would argue against it, I suppose. The Islam I saw was a significant part of the people's lives, but anything like a militant, clerical leader of fundamentalist Islam apparently was pounced-upon and imprisoned almost as soon as they opened their mouth. The President of the country, Ben Ali, was very watchful about that sort of thing, with their strongest trading partners being France and Italy, and dissent against his secular government was pretty much Not Allowed. He would still collect awards from Amnesty for his support of human rights, but it's a fairly autocratic freedom and the citizens know it and are careful in their language regarding it. But they prosper, and perhaps the habits of democracy there will have time to grow. But at the same time, there is not really any religious diversity, and that could be a democratic habit that might not grow. The land of Tertullian, Perpetua, Felicitas, Cyprian and Augustine today has only one active Church: a Catholic Church across the street from the French Embassy.

Some of the close readings of the Italian columnist Sandro Magister are illuminating at times, particularly in his reporting on European Islamic leadership, but some people might find him ideologically-suspect.

The question of course with the media is the extent to which they over-report the extremes. If the U.S. is any indication in reporting on religion, we might guess that the extremes are over-reported a lot. Certainly I've come to dread the formulaic--if not idiotic--articles I read on Church-State questions here in the States when after problem A is introduced, for the sake of "fair reporting," the reporter than asks what the President of Americans United For the Separation of Church and State thinks--"I think X!" and then asks the President of Americans United for the Union of Church and State thinks--"I think ~X!" Really? How informative!

So yes, I think the question of my data is a critical one. I would love to be walking around in the Middle East on my own to do this, but I have learned the limits of what my body and my checkbook can handle over the last few years....
5th-Feb-2006 03:48 pm (UTC) - Re: wingnuts
If we do pursue this on the lines Mike suggested, I further suggest that we begin witht the Resurrection. This appears to provide much support for much of the wingnutism. Seems that more and more research is pointing to its being true. Seems that all of the secular theories explaining it are slowly slipping away.
5th-Feb-2006 06:30 am (UTC) - wingnuts
Wow.......another very good post. I happen not to agree, but still a great post.

Next move is to do exactly as Mike says: Ask ourselves: Now, does the historical evidence, our deepest convictions of what is good and bad, etc, etc, support the cobbled together movement or the wingnuts?

As a card carrying member of the wingnuts, I submit that your secularist view is a complete cop out. Ya gots to choose one of the others.
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