A lot is rotten in the state of Denmark
By Karamatullah K. Ghori
Pakistan is on fire, as are a dozen other Muslim states over the cartoon controversy sparked by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. The fires in the Muslim world have been further stoked by the cartoons being reprinted in several other European countries as an expression of solidarity with the Danish temerity.
The Danish affront to Muslims' universal sensitivity about the sanctity of the Prophet
Mohammad's (PBUH) persona and the reverence it commands in the heart of every believer was deliberate and provocative in the extreme. It was a far more calculated mischief than Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. No doubt, the backlash from Muslims of all hues is so much more spontaneous and sweeping than was the case when Rushdie set about to measure the depth of Muslim sentiment regarding their Prophet.
Europe and the West as a whole are justifying the brazen act of caricaturing the Prophet of Islam as an attribute of the western ethic of freedom of speech and expression. So no apologies are in the offing. There is no contrition because admission of wrongdoing would be tantamount, in the western eyes, to sacrilege of the sacred right of free speech.
But the western tutelage over free speech and free expression looks increasingly vacuous when measured against the palpable reluctance of several European governments to share these hallowed freedoms with their visible Muslim minority. Wearing clothes of any kind is, in European eyes, an essential expression of freedom of choice. However, France, ever so proud of husbanding Europe's break from its feudal past, is not prepared to let Muslim girls wear an innocuous piece of clothing, such as a meter long head scarf, or hijab, in their schools. That Muslim expression of free choice is deemed a threat and an affront to French secularism, which until now was believed to be far more resilient.
But France, and for that matter others in its league in Europe, is not prepared to admit that secularism essentially means that you give quarter to others' beliefs and values and assign them the same value and prestige as you do to your own. Had there been room for `the other' in European secularism France wouldn't have banned the wearing of head- scarf by Muslim girls as an affront to its liberte.
European thinkers boast of Europe's `migration' from religion and religiosity. They argue with obvious elan that religion has been consigned in Europe to the dustbin of history like so many other archaic notions and ideas. As the veteran British journalist, Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent recently, Europe may be Christian in name but Europeans practise their faith more in its avoidance. That is not an exaggerated statement. What else would otherwise explain deserted churches in a country like Holland, for instance, being converted into a place of recreation and, in some instances, night clubs opening in them.
Therein lie the seeds of a clash of religions, if not exactly of civilizations, between the European pride of forsaking religion and the Muslim tradition of taking their religion seriously, dead seriously in some cases.
Western thinkers proudly proclaim that the West has struggled, ever since the Reformation five centuries ago, to acquire the right to trash religion and make fun of religious deities and heroes. There is no way, they argue, that the West would barter away this freedom to make fun of any cult or religious figure as a matter of choice.
But in an increasingly interconnected and shrinking world — shrinking down to the level of a global village — no freedom is unlimited any longer, not even the absolute freedom of sovereignty. So just as a heightening global sense of reverence for fundamental rights and civil liberties of human beings across national boundaries and frontiers is trumping the classical sanctity of sovereign right of a state, unrestrained freedom of speech or expression is becoming a licence if devoid of regard for others' rights and sensitivities.
Prince Karim Aga Khan, who is highly regarded in the West as an epitome of a moderate Muslim, put the perception gap in the western mind about Islam most succinctly in an interview with a Canadian journalist. He called it a `clash of ignorance' and not of civilizations. He couldn't be more right. There is so much ignorance among the educated western men and women about Islam. What is worse is that there is hardly an effort, individual or organized, to learn about a religion practised by one fourth of humanity, and practised with such devotion and reverence.
However, Denmark is not suffering as much from ignorance as from a festering antipathy against Muslims and Islam bordering on paranoia. The editor of Jyllands-Posten knew exactly that those horribly distasteful and provocative cartoons of the Prophet of Islam would offend Muslim reverence of their Prophet and hurt them no end. And yet the paper didn't shy away from treading so roughshod on the raw nerves of Denmark's 140,000 Muslims, and 1.3 billion of their peers across the globe.
Not that the paper or its editor was ignorant of how strong religious sensitivity was. Two years ago, the same paper and the same editor had refused to publish a caricature of Jesus Christ as being too explosive. Anything even remotely suggestive of doubting the Holocaust or questioning the mythical figure of six million Jews supposedly slaughtered in Hitler's pogroms is taboo as anti-Semitic and thus not to be touched with a barge pole.
Muslims, however, have been fair game for the Danish government and its press for years. The events of 9/11 seem to have given a carte blanche to the Danish authorities and their media to stereotype Muslims as terrorists and anti-liberal with impunity. The `crusade' against the Muslims in Denmark has enjoyed royal patronage of, no less than Queen Margrethe. Last April, as reported by London's Daily Telegraph, she went on record calling on her subjects to stem the tide of Islam in Europe because there is "something scary" about the "totalitarianism that's part of Islam." She went on to say, "We are being challenged by Islam these years, globally as well as locally... We have to show our opposition to Islam and we have to, at times, run the risk of having unflattering labels placed on us because there are some things for which we should display no tolerance."
Understandably, with the head of state denigrating Muslims in her kingdom and beyond, with such relish and exuberance, the Danish press and other news media may have felt fully entitled, if not duty-bound, to join the fray in Muslim-baiting. Jyllands-Posten could well be obeying the Queen's command by providing its readers with a crude weapon to go for the Muslim jugular — all in the line of freedom of expression.
Denmark, with a Muslim presence of less than three per cent of its population, has been ahead in the pack of European countries where fascism is on the rise. It has shown the way to other European countries how to lift the draw- bridge and shut out Muslim immigrants at its gates. It has also been a pioneer in legislating Islamophobic laws to tighten the screws on the voiceless Muslim immigrants already inside the country.
The current government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is in coalition with the neo-fascist Danish People's Party that has long advocated expelling all Muslim immigrants from Denmark. Little wonder that Rasmussen arrogantly refused to meet Muslim ambassadors based in Copenhagen and, to date, has stoutly refused to apologise for the grievous hurt that his country's licentious press has caused to the world Muslims.
The Muslim stereotype of a `terrorist-friendly' people is being beefed up with special legislations, the latest being from the UK that makes any `glorification' of terror a crime, without even defining `terror' or its `glorification'.
This is in addition to insults, injuries and outright invasions of Muslim lands by neo-imperialists on flimsy and patently false premises. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq are the festering wounds inflicted on the body politic of world Muslims under the West's undeclared new `crusade.' Iran, Syria and Sudan are in the hair-triggers of imperialists itching for newer adventures in the Muslim world in order to stamp the superiority of their `civilisation' and way of life over anything Islamic. Strategies are already in place to starve the Palestinians because they have committed the `crime' of electing Hamas to power.
Muslims in the West and the rest of the world are furious over the cartoons because they rightly see these as the tip of an iceberg submerged not too deep below the surface. They see the iceberg drifting at an alarming pace to wreak more damage on the world of Islam out of sheer depravity and vengeance. They have good reason to feel disturbed.
The response, of economic boycott of Danish goods and dairy products, by Arabs of the Gulf and by the Iranian government is the right retribution which should knock the fear of God in the hearts of the Danes and their like-minded peers in the western world. In this interdependent world of ours nothing hurts more than a bite into one's bread and butter. The Danes would soon learn it to their cost. Two million dollars a day in lost exports to their dairy industry should make them realize what a gross error it was to provoke Muslims who had done no harm to the Kingdom of Denmark.
The writer is a former ambassador. Source: The Dawn, Karachi - 2 March,