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Posted Online on Friday 10, February 2006 00:10 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsCartoon Controversy: Opinions and Comments of Muslim Parliamentarians and Scholars 

By Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Milli Gazette Online

10 February 2006

The cartoon images published in the Danish national newspaper, the right-of-centre, Jyllands-Posten, on 30 September, 2005, depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with a bomb on his turban with a lit fuse is insulting, provocative and deeply offensive to Muslims. According to the Hadith, the sayings of the prophet, all depictions of Muhammad (pbuh), however complimentary, are idolatrous. As such, the image of the Prophet (pbuh) can not be depicted.

The cartoon images naturally hurt more than 1.3 billion Muslims all over the world. Immediately in October 2005 Danish Muslims brought out demonstrations and protested against it. The ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries requested a meeting with the Danish Prime Minister to discuss the matter, and were turned away. Many people in Denmark criticized the government’s handling of the affair, particularly the Prime Minister’s decision not to meet with the Islamic ambassadors in October 2005. On 20 December, 2005, twenty-two former Danish ambassadors sent an open letter to the Prime Minister criticizing his decision not to open a dialogue with the international representatives.

Muslim Anger and Distress
The anger has deepened in the first week of February after the reprinting and republication of one or more of the cartoon images in seven newspapers in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands in solidarity with the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten. Muslims mounted vigorous protests and demonstrations throughout the Muslim world, from London to Jakarta. Syria and Saudi Arabia have withdrawn their ambassadors from Denmark in protest and Libya has closed its embassy in Copenhagen altogether. Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassador of Austria, which holds the EU Presidency, to protest.

Leaders of Muslim countries also condemned the cartoons. The National Parliament of Pakistan unanimously passed a resolution condemning the offensive cartoon images. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf said, “I have been hurt, grieved and I am angry.” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the cartoons will fuel terrorism. A spokesman for President Mubarak said: “The President warned of the near and long-term repercussions of the campaign of insults against the noble Prophet. Irresponsible management of these repercussions will provide further excuses to the forces of radicalism and terrorism.”

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said: “Any insult to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is an insult to more than one billion Muslims and an act like this must never be allowed to be repeated.” Mahmoud Zahar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, visited a group of Christian nuns and clerics at the Holy Family School to reassure them and unequivocally condemned the threats against foreign nationals. “We are not accepting any aggression against foreign institutions whether EU or American or against any group, foreign or Palestinian,” Dr. Zahar said.

Many Arab commentators called for boycotts of European goods. The Qatar Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi said: “The least we have to do is boycott those who offended us by not buying their products.” Consumers across the Muslim world then boycott Danish dairy products. Across the Middle East, Danish dairy produce has been boycotted by an estimated 50,000 shops since Saudi Arabian Sheikhs asked shopkeepers to remove the items from their shelves. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Arab League have demanded that the United Nations impose international sanctions upon Denmark.

Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, said that newspapers had been deliberately provocative in republishing the drawings. Franco Frattini, the EU Justice Commissioner, said that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten had been “imprudent” to publish the 12 cartoons. Publication was wrong, he said, “even if the satire used was aimed at a distorted interpretation of religion, such as that used by terrorists to recruit young people, sometimes to the point of sending them into action as suicide bombers”. Even Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, was drawn into the debate, saying that freedom of the press should not be an excuse for insulting religions.

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, a retired Vatican diplomat, told the Corriere della Sera, an Italian newspaper, “Freedom of satire that offends the feelings of others becomes an abuse, and here we are talking about nothing less than the feelings of entire peoples who have seen their supreme symbols affected.”

In the United Kingdom
The situation in the United Kingdom is different. Shortly before the protest began, the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, attacked the media outlets that had republished the images. “There is freedom of speech, we all respect that - but there is not an obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory, and I believe that the re-publication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong,” he told reporters.

Mr. Straw also said, “What we also have to remember is that there are taboos in every religion. It is not the case that there is open season in respect of all aspects of Christian rights and rituals in the name of free speech, nor is it the case that there is open season in respect of the rights and rituals for the Jewish religion, the Hindu religion, the Sikh religion, and it should not be the case in respect of the Islamic religion either. So we have to be very careful about showing proper respect in this situation.”

No British newspaper has yet published a cartoon. UK broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4, have shown brief glimpses of the images. The Spectator magazine briefly published them on its website, but they were removed last night. Hundreds of British Muslims gathered outside the Danish embassy in London to vent their anger over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

I interviewed Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham and Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn, Peers of the House of Lords; Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Zia Uddin Sardar, writer of many books on Islam, columnist and broadcaster on these offensive cartoon images of the Prophet (pbuh).

Opinions and Comments of Muslim
Parliamentarians and Scholars
Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, said, “Freedom of _expression and freedom of the press have to be balanced with responsibility.” Lord Ahmed also added, “I think if we are to defend our freedom of speech and the right of a free press, then we have got to ask if insulting cartoons or articles in any way help to promote intellectual or civilized discussion. After all, as I understand it, a civilization is a cultural entity, guided by certain basic principles, rules and morals, which include mutual respect.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “Freedom does not mean we can just walk up to someone and insult them in their face and expect no reaction. That is not civilised behaviour; it would be Wild West anarchy.”

Lord Ahmed also acknowledged “There is confusion and debate is the way to clear it up and create a more harmonious society, but we must do so within the constraints of civilised behaviour.”

Lord Patel said, “I am absolutely disappointed and disgusted that in the name of freedom of _expression, Western media, apart from UK media, are going against the feelings of the entire Muslim world. It is totally unacceptable in the name of freedom. They don’t consider their own responsibility to respect the feelings of other faith communities. It is totally disrespectful and not acceptable by any good thinking people of the world.”

Sir Iqbal said, “Freedom of _expression can never be absolute. It always goes hand in hand with responsibility. In the same way we respect freedom of _expression we should not allow freedom to abuse and vilify in a civilized society.” Sir Iqbal also said, “There is a deliberate attempt from certain mischievous quarters to provoke Muslim community so that they can respond with emotions and thereby giving the opportunity for the same elements to attack the Muslim community and Islam as being intolerant.”

Zia Sardar observed, “This is a very deliberate attempt to insult Muslims. They have gone out of their way to commission cartoons and paint all the Muslims with colour violent. This is not an issue of exercise of freedom of _expression but an exercise in power. They want to show that with their power they can do whatever they want to do and to demonstrate the powerlessness of Muslims. They want to show how powerless Muslims really are.”

While writing an article entitled “A ‘Freedom’ whose home is the jungle” in The Independent on Sunday, 5th of February 2006, Zia Sardar wrote, “On one side, we have liberal extremists defending “freedom of _expression” as a sacred and absolute territory. The right to offend is advanced as the essential liberty of a secular society. On the other side, we have bearded and masked men protesting against the outrage in the language of absolute fanaticism….Both are cast in the language of extremism and violence.”

Sardar also wrote, “The choice of so many newspapers across Europe to republish the cartoons is definitely a gauntlet directed at all Muslims. It is a practical demonstration of President Bush’s diktat that you are either with us or against us – accept what we do or and join civilization; object and be categorized as barbarians.”

“Freedom of _expression has now become a precursor to the banality of evil. In other words, Muslims are being set up for the next holocaust.” Sardar said and added, “In a civilized society, freedom always comes with responsibility. In many European countries, free speech does not extend to the denial of holocaust. Indeed, anyone denying even the methods by which Jews were put to death by the Nazis can end up in jail. We are not free to glorify child pornography. We are not even free to drive on the road the way we want to drive.”

Referring to Nick Griffin’s free _expression, Sardar asked, “Am I the only one who can hear in his words the echoes of Germany in the 30s? Are the Danish cartoons not merely Griffin’s words in graphic form?”

Sardar concluded by saying, “Prejudice is not a basis for defending liberty. Ridiculing those whose liberties are most under threat is only adding fuel to wildfires our politics at home and abroad have unleashed. We all need to learn how to become firefighters, not arsonists.”

Writing an article “Cartoon Conflicts” in The Guardian on Monday, 6 February, 2006, Tariq Ramadan, visiting fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford University and senior research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation, in London, “We are facing an incredible simplification, a gross polarisation: apparently a clash of civilisations, a confrontation between principles, with defenders, in one corner, of inalienable freedom of speech and, in the other, of the inviolable sacred sphere.”

Professor Ramadan urged to “create a space for serious, open, in-depth debate and peaceful dialogue” and said, “This is not the predicted clash of civilisations.”

“Instead of being obsessed with laws and rights - approaching a tyrannical right to say anything - would it not be more prudent to call upon citizens to exercise their right to freedom of _expression responsibly and to take into account the diverse sensitivities that compose our pluralistic contemporary societies?” asked Professor Ramadan and added, “It is more about nurturing a sense of civic responsibility than about imposing legislation: Muslim citizens are not asking for more censorship but for more respect. One cannot impose mutual respect by means of legislation; rather one teaches it in the name of a free, responsible and reasonable common citizenship.”

Professor Ramadan advised: “We are at a crossroads. The time has come for women and men who reject this dangerous division of people into two worlds to start building bridges based on common values. They must assert the inalienable right to freedom of _expression and, at the same time, demand measured exercise of it. We need to promote an open, self-critical approach, to repudiate exclusive truths and narrow-minded, binary visions of the world.”

In conclusion, I would like to quote two advices: one to the non-Muslims and another to Muslims. Jamaal Zaraboza wrote in his article “Reflections on Hatred,” “I think all in the world can agree that mutual understanding, mutual respect, peace and justice certainly will never result from defamation, ridicule and insult. Therefore, there is no real benefit from defaming or denigrating the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in a manner like the recent political cartoons in Europe. The only result that one can expect from such practices is more hatred, violence and fear. At the same time, we have to call upon all interested parties to show restraint and to consider what ramifications anything that they say or do might have. Muslim scholars should take the lead, as they have done in the past, to stress to the Muslims that the actions of the non-Muslims should never anger them so much that it leads them to do something that contradicts the Law of Islam.”

Essam Ahmed Mudeer, a leading Dawah worker and a columnist with the Al-Bilad newspaper in Saudi Arabia, said, “This (the publication of cartoons) was a calculated move to incite anger within the Muslim community and unfortunately, our response has been quite typical and predictable, as always.”

“Not all Danes hate Islam, those who profess hatred against Islam and Muslims are a minority. …The right response from our side would be to turn the tables on the hatred-mongers, Mudeer said. He said that the Muslims should do away their conventional typical, stupid method of responding to such controversies. “We should confront the attacks on Islam, the way the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did,” Mudeer said and added,” The Muslims should take the message of the Holy Qur’an to the drawing rooms of the Danes. Don’t beg for respect, Islam is a faith which commands respect.” (Saudi Gazette, 4/2/2006)



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