The Danish Cartoons Controversy – January / February 2006
- Community responses (updated with London demo report – 12th Feb)
- Remembering the Prophet & his example
- Sane Voices (updated 17th Feb)
- Freedom of expression & double standards
- Who are these agents provocateurs?
|On 30th September 2005, the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten printed 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him. These included various ridiculing caricatures of the Prophet: with a halo around his head depicted as the devil’s horns; in which he is holding a dagger in his hand, in front of two startled looking veiled women; and a fearsome looking man with a time bomb fuse embedded in his turban; the Prophet in a identify parade; one in which he is on a cloud, saying ‘Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins’ to a line of men. The images did not reflect any single positive aspect of Islam but rather played on the worst possible stereotypes of the religion and its prophet as woman-hating, violent and suicidal.The Danish Muslim community is not large – 150,000 strong (about 3% of the population) – and mainly drawn from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Turkey, Somalia, Bosnia and the Arab world. It has a high level of unemployment and accompanying social problems. The community’s organizations have been alert to a growing racist and Islamophobic sentiment. In January 2005, the country’s Supreme Court had ruled in favour of a supermarket chain that had dismissed a young Muslim woman employee for wearing a head covering. In April 2005, Queen Margrethe suggested that her Muslims subjects were a problem, because “religion is their entire life” and that they were not making enough efforts to integrate.In response to these challenges, a number of Muslim community groups held a coordinating meeting on Saturday 24th September 2005. The media headlines that weekend were dominated by pictures of a young Pakistani woman murdered in a Danish town as a result of a marriage-related feud. The community representatives gathering at the Bala Centre in Copenhagen were under no illusions of the way the incident would be used to ostracise all of them. Not a single political leader of note attended their meeting – the most senior being the mayor of Copenhagen. According to organizers, the Government had offered to create a national body for them – an offer they refused, seeking engagement rather than control.The cartoons of the Prophet published the following week was not an isolated journalistic happening, but rather the progression of an attitude of contempt and xenophobia.|
For older Muslims in Britain the Danish cartoons affair is a re-run of Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ twenty five years ago. Then as now, it was used by the chattering classes to focus on Muslims’ lack of a sense of humour, lack of tolerance and predisposition to violence. The difference now is that the controversy takes place in the backdrop of 9/11, the so-called War on Terror with its record of duplicity, human right abuses and loss of innocent life and the disproportionate anti-terrorism legislation – Muslims feel besieged and an easy target for the bully boys more so than in the late 80s. Muslims in Britain are at one with their co-religionists world-wide at being outraged by the drawings: it is a matter of courtesy and decency to respect someone else’s deeply held religious beliefs.
The representative body of Muslims in Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), has recognized the grave consequences if matters go out of hand. For this reason, it has issued statements calling on Muslims to keep their protest within the law and eschew completely any incitement to hatred:”Inevitably some elements may seek to exploit this current crisis to provoke negative or extreme reactions among Muslims. The MCB urges fellow British Muslims to exercise the utmost restraint in the face of these provocations. There may be elements that would want to exploit the genuine sense of anguish and hurt among British Muslims about the manner in which the Prophet has been vilified to pursue their own mischievous agenda. We would caution all British Muslims to not allow themselves to be provoked. They should respond peacefully and with dignity at all times” (Press release, 3rd Feb 2006).
The MCB’s fears were prompted by the demonstrators outside the Danish embassy in London carrying placards with offensive slogans – “butcher those who mock Islam”, ” Britain, you will pay, 7/7 on its way”.
For some Muslims such behaviour was playing into the hands of those who wished for Islam to be portrayed in the worst possible light. It remains a moment of crisis, because hot-heads and their clever manipulators could create a backlash so as to lead a community to oblivion. Several Muslim representatives attending a meeting of the MCB in Birmingham on 4th February 2006 urged that the best approach for Muslims in the face of provocations and insults was to behave like the Prophet would have – with dignity magnanimity and compassion. Reference was made to the Prophet’s experience at Taif and his response. Salma Yaqub, a respected voice within the community, urged the imams present to think carefully of the impact of their words on congregations – “we don’t need to prove who loves the Prophet most”. Of course all Muslims are deeply offended, but the need of the hour was to channel the community’s emotions towards positive action. Likely initiatives within the community will be meetings and other attempts to explain the life of the Prophet.
|Community initiatives – updated 12th Feb 2006Saturday 11th February – rally in Trafalgar Square ‘United against incitement, United against Islamophobia’, 1pm to 5 pm – organised by a broad coalition – for a report see Salaam blogs A cold afternoon at Trafalgar Square|
|A brief biographyThe Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, was born in Makka around the year 570. He found himself an orphan at an early age and was cared for by his grandfather. At the age of about 20 he began working as a merchant and became known for his trustworthiness. When he was about twenty-five years old he married Khadija, an older widow on whose behalf he had transacted business. They had four daughters, each of whom played a role in the early history of Islam, and two sons, both of whom died in infancy. He was drawn to contemplation and never joined in the idol worship of his people in the Kaaba in Makka. Instead he preferred a cave in Mount Hira in the outskirts of the city for prayer and meditation. He had commenced this practice while in his mid-thirties, and one night during Ramadan, when he was about fort years old, an angel appeared to him in the form of a man and ordered him toRecite in the name of your Lord who created-Created the human from an embryoRecite your Lord is all-givingwho taught by the penTaught the human what hed did not know before.Shaken, the Prophet fled the mountain in fear. The voice called after him, “O Muhammad, you are the messenger of God, and I am the angel Gabriel”. Fearing that he had become possessed, he was comforted by his wife. She consoled him, saying that he had always been a man of charity and generosity, helping the poor, the orphans, the widows and the needy, and assured him that God would protect him against all evil.
The revelation was soon followed by others about the one true God, who is known in Arabic as Allah. Eventually, the angel told Muhammad to begin proclaiming God’s message – in particular the need for man to live an upright life, and prepare through good deeds in this world for a Day of Judgement after which the sinners would be consigned to hell and the genuine believers would dwell in Paradise for ever more.
The number of his adherents increased gradually but the denunciation of paganism led to increasing opposition from his tribe, the Quraish. They were loathe to leave their ancestral beliefs and rights over the Kaaba. The early band of Muslims were boycotted and persecuted, some seeking refuge in Abyssinia (see below). The Prophet himself was set upon on more than one occassion, most notable when he visited the town of Taif (see below). His position in Makka became hopeless when his wife Khadija, and uncle Abu Talib, died in quick succession. In 622 the Quraish forced the Prophet to leave for the town of Yathrib (Medina). A city state came into being with a written constitution, guaranteeing rights for its various faith communities. The Prophet became its leader and despatched delegations to neighbouring kingdoms in Byzantium, Abyssinia and Persia with the message of Islam. In the year 629 the Muslims set out with large army towards Makka. The Prophet re-entered his native city without a struggle. He asked the vanquished people to assemble, and addressed them reminding them of their their religious persecution and hostilities for twenty years. He then asked them: “Now what do you expect of me?”. There was silence and a sense of shame. The Prophet proclaimed: “May God pardon you; go in peace; there shall be no responsibility on you today; you are free!” His only immediate demand was that the pagan idols around the Kaaba be destroyed.
The Prophet of Islam died in 632 aged about sixty. The revelations from God received through the angel Gabriel were collated and ordered by him into one collection, the Qur’an, that had been committed to memory by thousands of companions in his own lifetime.
Sources include: Islam, Empire of Faith – BBC, 2001; IslamiCity.com
|A contemporary accountO King! We have been a people of Ignorance worshipping idols, eating the flesh of dead animals, committing abominations, neglecting our relatives and doing evil to our neighbours. The strong among us would oppress the weak. We were in this state when God sent to us a Messenger from among us whose descent and sincerity, trustworthiness and honesty were known to us. He summoned us to worship the one true God, and to reject the stones and idols we and our fathers had been worshipping in addition to God. He ordered us to be truthful of speech, and to fulfil all the duties that were entrusted to us, to care for our relatives, to be kind to our neighbours, to refrain from unlawful food and the consumption of blood. He forbade us to engage in lewdness and lying, the devouring of the money of the orphan and the defamation of married women. He commanded us to worship the one true God and to assign no partners unto Him, to pray, to pay the purifying tax and to fast. We deem him truthful and we believed him, and we accepted the message he brought from God….A statement from Ja’afer ibn abi Talib to Negus, King of Abyssinia|
|A reflection on the current crisis in the light of the Prophet’s exampleWhile many Muslims once again fall into the reactionary trap set for them and confirm the thesis of the offending cartoons by exploding in rage and violence, we would do well to reflect upon the Prophet’s supplication in Taif. This is the dua he recited with shoes full of blood, wounds all over his body and after having been insulted, ridiculed and abused by the people of Taif to whom he had taken recourse seeking a place of refuge. Moreover, this occurs after three years of suffering a boycott at the hands of the Quraysh as a result of which Muslims were reduced to eating grass and leaves off of trees.The Prophet (s) as he walks out of Taif:”O Allah! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favour is of a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descend upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased. There is no power and no might except by You.”If those who claim to love the Prophet(s) so much that they are willing to infringe upon prophetic conduct with their blind rage and fury would reflect upon this prayer, it would be a guiding light for them and a clear instruction as to how a Muslim should respond to our current situation. It is also the only salve by which troubled hearts and souls will find peace. It will not be found on pickets and demonstrations – not that these should not be useful in making clear in a law abiding manner our reverence for the sacred and the divine and our indignation at the injustice and double standards of the European press.In my jum’ah khutbah today, I spoke on this prayer and while there were some whose hearts and eyes were cooled by it, it was obvious to me that there were many who were so caught up in anger that they could not hear.For whom does the Prophet’s saying: ‘Islam is good character’ mean anything anymore?Are we to revert to pre-Islamic tribal norms of vengeance and retribution rather than see this as an opportunity to turn hearts by sharing the example of our beloved Prophet’s centredness and compassion in the face of hate and enmity with those whose hearts are open? Are we to fall into the major sin of despair-fuelled violence rather than maintain hope as the Prophet (s) did when the angel of the mountains met him outside Ta’if following his supplication and offered to cause the mountains surrounding Taif to crumble over the town and obliterate it to which the Prophet (s) replied: ‘No, I hope that these people will one day come to worship only Allah and Him alone’?
Unless we have the centredness and the Allah-consciousness of the Prophet (s) by which every event whether favourable or unfavourable (in material terms) offers us the opportunity of strengthening our relationship with Allah, we will continue to be the victim of every ruse and ploy.
Rather than reacting with violence and rage we should intensify our work to share the beautiful and merciful message of the Deen especially now that the Prophet (s) is headline news. Let the Prophet’s prayer of Taif be printed in European newspapers as the example of his supreme magnanimity and patience.
Violence, death threats and fury only betray a lack of trust in the power and light of the sacred which is illustrated in the Prophet’s experience in the garden outside Taif when persons who overheard his prayer were moved by it to come to Islam. Moreover, on the way back to Mecca after this experience, many jinn who happened to hear the Prophet’s recitation of the Qur’an in his night prayer also came to Islam. And not long thereafter the Prophet (s) was conveyed on his night journey and ascent to heaven. Verily with difficulty comes ease.
Yet with the announcement by ’eminent’ Muslim scholars of a ‘Day of Outrage’, I fear we have become nothing but saboteurs. Why not a Day of Remembrance of the Prophet, Why not a Day of Tremendous Prophetic Character? Why not a Day of the Prayer of Taif?
I recommend that we circulate the Prayer of Taif at this time as an antidote to all of the madness and poison of rage, violence and emotional maelstroms. May Allah guide us to that which is right and grant us the tremendous fortune of seeing our enemies as our close friends (see Qur’an 41:34-36) to whom we have the duty of conveying the reverence and love of Allah and his Prophet (s). Ameen.
Source – Friday address by Luqman Ali, 3rd February 2006
Is the argument over the Danish cartoons really reducible to a matter of free speech? Even if we believe that free speech is a fundamental value, that does not give us carte blanche to say what we like in any context, regardless of consequence or effect. Respect for others, especially in an increasingly interdependent world, is a value of at least equal importance.
Europe has never had to worry too much about context or effect because for around 200 years it dominated and colonised most of the world. Such was Europe’s omnipotence that it never needed to take into account the sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes of those that it colonised, however sacred and sensitive they might have been…
But it is no longer possible for Europe to ignore the sensibilities of peoples with very different values, cultures and religions. First, western Europe now has sizeable minorities whose origins are very different from the host population and who are connected with their former homelands in diverse ways. If European societies want to live in some kind of domestic peace and harmony – rather than in a state of Balkanisation and repression – then they must find ways of integrating these minorities on rather more equal terms than, for the most part, they have so far achieved. That must mean, among other things, respect for their values. Second, it is patently clear that, globally speaking, Europe matters far less than it used to – and in the future will count for less and less. We must not only learn to share our homelands with people from very different roots, we must also learn to share the world with diverse peoples in a very different kind of way from what has been the European practice.
Europe has little experience of this, and what experience it has is mainly confined to less than half a century. Old attitudes of superiority and disdain – dressed up in terms of free speech, progress or whatever – are still very powerful. Nor – as many liberals like to think – are they necessarily in decline. On the contrary, racial bigotry is on the rise, even in countries that have previously been regarded as tolerant. The Danish government depends for its rule on a racist, far-right party that gained 13% of the seats in the last election. The decision of Jyllands-Posten to publish the cartoons – and papers in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere to reprint them – lay not so much in the tradition of free speech but in European contempt for other cultures and religions: it was a deliberate, calculated insult to the beliefs of others, in this case Muslims.
This kind of mentality – combining Eurocentrism, old colonial attitudes of supremacism, racism, provincialism and sheer ignorance – will serve our continent ill in the future. Europe must learn to live in and with the world, not to dominate it, nor to assume it is superior or more virtuous…
Europe is moving into a very different world. How will it react? If something like the attitude of the Danes prevails – a combination of defensiveness, fear, provincialism and arrogance – then one must fear for Europe’s ability to learn to live in this new world. There is another way, but the signs are none too hopeful. [Extract]
…As we condemn the violence on the streets, perhaps we should take a moment to understand the hurt in the hearts of the great majority of Muslims who did not engage in violence.
For Muslims, the mere rendering of an image of Muhammad is sacrilege. The portrayal of Muhammad in a pejorative fashion is to them an inconceivably offensive desecration, on the level of what would be for us the defilement of a Torah scroll. Because it was done in newspapers across Europe, it was a slap in the face repeated thousands of times.
Perhaps it’s a question of respect, not freedom. Freedom of expression theoretically protects the right of a non-Jew to desecrate a Torah scroll. Yet we would all view freedom of expression as a hollow defense to such a vile act.
Some say Muslims can’t take criticism and simply don’t understand freedom of the press. In my own limited experience, that has not been the case. For the past year I’ve written a column in a Muslim newspaper, Muslims Weekly, in which I’ve criticized suicide bombing, the treatment of Jews under Islamic rule, the anti-Jewish rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even Muslims Weekly’s own reporting about Israel. But it was all done with respect, an informed appreciation of the wonderful benefits that Islam conferred upon the Jewish people, along with a willingness to look at our own imperfections together with those of the other.
Regardless of whether or not the European press was constitutionally free to publish the offensive images, the act was a blatant and vulgar act of disrespect to Islam. Such insults no doubt contribute to the frightening specter of a clash of civilizations.
What can we do as Jews to lessen the hostilities? Perhaps, just perhaps, a little respect would help. Rather than ripping the wounds wider with editorial musings extolling freedom of speech and condemning violent protests, is it not time for a bit of healing?
The pages of this Jewish newspaper present a place for a small start by showing Muslims right here that though we too have the freedom to say anything we like, we choose to convey respect to our Muslim cousins. Printing something positive about Muhammad best does this.
There is a space between romanticizing the past and vilifying it. There is a time to focus on the dark side of history and a time to view the other in the best light. There is a time to cull from our rabbinic writings the good our sages saw in Islam and there is quite a bit of such sentiment recorded. We Jews need to learn to be more flexible, pursuing the claims of Jews expelled from Arab countries and criticizing anti-Jewish TV programs and cartoons in the Muslim media, while at the same time displaying gratitude for all the good Islam did for us. There is a time to jump over our pain and see the humanity of the other. That time is now. Let us start:
There is a Hadith (oral tradition concerning the words and works of Muhammad) recorded by Bukhari in the name of Amer Bin Rabiha that reads as follows: “A funeral procession passed us and the Prophet stood up for it. We said, ‘but Prophet of God, this is a funeral of a Jew.’ The Prophet responded, ‘rise.’ ”
One can search the writings of the ancient non-Jewish world for a more powerful example of a public display of respect for the humanity of the Jew. There simply is no more powerful statement than the single word uttered by Muhammad nearly 14 centuries ago. Extract From the Jewish Weekly, New York,
…The group best placed to sense the gravity of this moment is that of European Muslims. More than anyone else, they must be acutely aware that the depiction of Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist and sexist goes beyond a general demonization of Muslims to a direct assault on Muslims in Europe. Surely, even the most assimilated must realize that the demand that they accept not just the principle of free speech but unconditionally support its every use as the price of political and social acceptance in Europe is a thinly disguised demand that European Muslims renounce their own freedoms and capitulate.
It is difficult to ignore the emerging European consensus that it is not just freedom of speech, but Europe’s secular civilization, that is at stake. It recalls times when both left and right have portrayed empire as a necessary defense of civilization, at first equated with Christianity and later human rights.
Is there a way out of this confrontation, other than calling on European governments to ban the publication of cartoons? I fervently hope there is. And this brings me to the source of my current bafflement.
Every morning, as I read the paper or surf the internet, I anxiously look for significant European voices — not from government but from the world of the intellect and the arts — that would distance themselves from this particular attempt to promote Islamophobia as an exercise in free speech. I eagerly await signs of a lively debate within European civil society, one that will break the current impasse with testimony that the intellectual and political children of those who fought fascism in Europe have not lost the ability to recognize and the courage to fight hate speech in a different form. I eagerly wait for them to exercise their freedom of speech.
For now, unfortunately, free speech is being used on both sides of this controversy, on the one hand as a license for hate speech, and on the other as a way to trigger a broader contest that would echo a ‘clash of civilizations.’ If there are passionate defenders of free speech on both sides, there are also those who recognize that this issue has the potential of driving a broader political agenda. It is time the defenders of free speech pay attention to the latter effect. The exercise of free speech has never come free of consequences, for one and all. This is why every society defines that which is offensive which you may have a legal right to say, but will morally refrain from saying; but should you not, then it should not be surprising that it offends most decent people.
The Western democracies, so keen on exporting their political model to the rest of the world, seem to be perfecting the art of shooting themselves in the foot.
The cartoon affair, which showed Danish democracy as religiously illiterate at the onset and by last week’s end defensively bigoted, was preceded only two weeks earlier by President Jacques Chirac of France announcing that any (presumably Islamic) nation that supported groups that tried to use terrorism and weapons of mass destruction against France should expect a nuclear response.
In an age when a terrorist group could at best detonate a “dirty bomb” – conventional explosives wrapped around some stolen nuclear waste – and kill at most a thousand people, or biological weapons like the anthrax letters that killed all of half a dozen people in the United States over four years ago, Chirac was showing a European democracy at its most tendentious, not to say callous and barbaric.
Recently, democracies seem so intent on revealing an ugly side that present practice might dissuade non-Westerners for all time.
All that democracy appears capable of at the moment, to quote Professor John Dunn of Cambridge University in his magisterial new study of the subject, is to make “Europe’s bigotries and parochialisms a global world-historical force, instead of a mere local deformity or a continental stigma.”
Alas, for all its failing, the world has no better idea, as Winston Churchill famously declared. The 20th century saw all sorts of experiments, including fascism, socialism, anarchism, monarchism, Marxism and theocracy – and all came undone. Out of the ferocious competition between political ideas democracy came out well on top.
But today, as Dunn writes, “the term democracy has become (as the Freudians put it) too highly cathected: Saturated with emotion, irradiated by passion, tugged to and fro and ever more overwhelmed by accumulated confusion.
“To rescue it as an aid in understanding politics, we need to think our way past a mass of history and block our ears to many pressing importunities.”
We need to know far more about democracy than we do. President George W. Bush, for example, has declared that, “the reason I’m so strong on democracy is democracies don’t go to war with each other.” Indeed, much academic research has proved his point and it is an important and good one. But democracies have a terrible record of going to war against non-democracies, often on the flimsiest excuse.
….Today some of us like to think, as Pericles did in his great oration on the subject, that democracy gives society its sobriety of judgment, respect for wisdom, the pride necessary for its economic energy, generosity and even its respect for taste and responsiveness to beauty. But we are engaged in a perpetual fight against its worst elements.
…the cartoon depicting Muhammad as a terrorist is a crude racist stereotype. The implication is that every Muslim is a potential terrorist. This is the sort of nonsense that leads to Islamophobia.
Muslims have every right to protest, but the overreaction was unnecessary. In reality, the number of original demonstrators was tiny: 300 in Pakistan, 400 in Indonesia, 200 in Tripoli, a few hundred in Britain (before Saturday’s bigger reconciliation march), and government-organised hoodlums in Damascus burning an embassy. Beirut was a bit larger. Why blow this up and pretend that the protests had entered the subsoil of spontaneous mass anger? They certainly haven’t anywhere in the Muslim world, though the European media has been busy fertilising the widespread ignorance that exists in this continent.
How many citizens have any real idea of what the Enlightenment really was? French philosophers did take humanity forward by recognising no external authority of any kind, but there was a darker side. Voltaire: “Blacks are inferior to Europeans, but superior to apes.” Hume: “The black might develop certain attributes of human beings, the way the parrot manages to speak a few words.” There is much more in a similar vein from their colleagues. It is this aspect of the Enlightenment that appears to be more in tune with some of the generalised anti-Muslim ravings in the media. [Extract]
…We Danes have grown increasingly xenophobic over the years. The publication of the cartoons had little to do with generating a debate about self-censorship and freedom of expression. It can be seen only in the context of a climate of pervasive hostility toward anything Muslim in Denmark.
There are more than 200,000 Muslims in Denmark, a country with a population of 5.4 million. A few decades ago, Denmark had no Muslims at all. Not surprisingly, Islam has come to be viewed by many as a threat to the survival of Danish culture.
For 20 years, Muslims have been denied a permit to build mosques in Copenhagen. And there are no Muslim cemeteries in Denmark, so the bodies of Muslims have to be flown back to their home countries for proper burial.
Recently the minister for cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen of the Conservative People’s Party, asked scholars, artists and writers to create a canon of Danish art, music, literature and film. The ostensible purpose was to preserve our homegrown classics. But before the release of the canon last month, Mikkelsen revealed what may have been the real purpose of the exercise: To create a last line of defense against the influence of Islam in Denmark.
“In Denmark we have seen the appearance of a parallel society in which minorities practice their own medieval values and undemocratic views,” he told fellow conservatives at a party conference last summer. “This is the new front in our cultural war.”
Were it not that a majority of Danes actually believe in this Islamic threat, it would seem to be an outlandish pretext. But they do. When the Danish flag was burned in Arab countries, the reaction in Denmark was outrage and calls for standing even more firmly behind Jyllands-Posten. The center-right government gained support in polls, as did the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, without which the government would not have a majority in Parliament.
Now, the general view, expressed in the press and among a majority of Danes, is that the Muslim leaders who led the protests in Denmark should have their status as citizens examined.
But the real story is that they and their followers ran out of options. They tried to get Jyllands-Posten to recognize its offense. They tried to enlist the support of the government and the opposition. They asked a local prosecutor to file suit under the country’s blasphemy law. And they asked ambassadors in Denmark from Muslim countries to meet with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
They were rebuffed on all counts, though a state prosecutor is currently reviewing the case. But, really, what choice did they have?
This is not the only example of Denmark’s new magical thinking. After the flag burnings, the Danish news media began to refer to the white cross on the flag’s red background as a Christian symbol. There was something discordant about this, for we have come to connect the flag less and less to religion. Denmark is one of the most secular countries in Europe. Only 3 percent of Danes attend church once a week. [Extract]
Two decades ago, the American Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan referred in an interview to Judaism as a “gutter religion.” Ferocious condemnations from Western leaders and media commentators followed instantaneously, with most not only asking him to apologize and retract his slur but demanding also that other African-American leaders publicly disassociate themselves from Mr. Farrakhan.
The cartoons in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten which, among other things, portrayed the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist who also offered virgins to suicide bombers, were infinitely more explosive than Mr. Farrakhan’s words. But no major Western figure has condemned their publication even though these have angrily united the Muslim world in a way no other issue has in recent times.
Such double standards aside, the absence of such condemnation by any Western leader is the principal reason that protests have continued to escalate and in a few instances turn violent. The protests started after months of unsuccessful efforts to get the Danish government to address the issue.
Those best placed to prevent the demonstrations from turning violent were Muslim leaders themselves. But the leaders of most Muslim states are unpopular, U.S.-backed dictators who believe they can gain domestic leverage by letting their people’s passions play out on “safe” issues such as this.
Muslim reformers could also have been a restraining influence against the resort to violence. But most have been effectively silenced by the wars, occupations, annexations and other crimes being committed against Muslim states by the West since the 9/11 terror strikes.
The violence used by some groups enraged by the cartoons is understandable, but both wrong and counterproductive. Nevertheless, it is being portrayed out of all proportion to its relatively small scale.
The net result of the violence in some of the anti-cartoon demonstrations is that many more mainstream Westerners will be convinced that Muslims are an intolerant and violent lot who pose a threat to their free world, deepening the anti-Muslim phobia that the cartoons promoted to begin with. It is the cartoons’ continuing republication in numerous other European publications that has sparked outrage among Muslims and convinced most of them that the cartoons are part of the demonizations that previously paved the way for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which are now being proposed in some quarters against Iran and Syria.
The cartoons have also highlighted the role that media play in inflaming passions through double standards. The condemnation of Mr. Farrakhan’s comment apart, there is frequent media outrage expressed about cartoons printed in the Arab world that depict Jews as murderers or Nazis. In Western Europe, there are in fact clear limits to “acceptable free speech” — the most relevant here being that people can be, and are, imprisoned for denying the Holocaust of Jews at Nazi German hands.
….The war on terror is producing new terrorists by the thousands. Support for Western policies in other key Muslim states has plummeted to yet lower levels. Hamas has overwhelming Palestinian backing, Iranians are united behind their leaders’ determination to pursue atomic energy especially when archenemy Israel has nuclear weapons, and Presidents Mubarak and Musharaf are facing intense political challenges in Egypt and Pakistan.
The West seems completely incapable of getting hold of issues which would provide it traction in the Muslim world, nor is there any evidence that it wishes to do so, better public relations excepted.
To avoid further disaster, the West must fashion a global vision that will win the support of the vast majority of world’s Muslims, who are moderate and have historically embraced the West. The Muslim world needs profound change as well, but until it is less threatened by the West, its reformers will continue to be on the defensive. [Extract]
…The racist provocation by Jyllands-Posten is just the latest episode in the paper’s right wing history.
When the fascist Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922, the paper wrote, “The very strong man, that Mussolini absolutely is, is exactly what the misruled Italian people need.”
In 1933 the paper argued for dictatorship in Denmark, saying, “We must assume that a majority of the voters wish for dictatorship as the only solution to the administration of the state.”
More recently, Jyllands-Posten has lent its support to right wing forces in Danish politics. On 16 March 1992 Henrik Christenson, a leading member of Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Denmark was killed by a bomb planted by Nazis. The right wing press in Denmark initially claimed that Henrik had been making explosives.
In the 2001 election, Jyllands-Posten played a crucial role in support of the victorious right wing Venstre party. It has since supported the governing coalition led by prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen – which includes the rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Danish People’s Party.
A number of its journalists have been employed as “spin doctors” by the government. [Extract]
The origins of the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed do not lie in an attempt to offer contemporary comment, let alone satire, but the desire to illustrate a childrens’ book. While such pictures would have been distasteful to many Muslims – hence why no illustrator could be found – the cartoons are in an entirely different league of offence. They are all unfriendly to Islam and Muslims and the most notorious implicate the prophet with terrorism. If the message was meant to be that non-Muslims have the right to draw Mohammed, it has come out very differently: that the prophet of Islam was a terrorist.
Moreover, the cartoons are not just about one individual but about Muslims per se – just as a cartoon portraying Moses as a crooked financier would not be about one man but a comment on Jews. And just as the latter would be racist, so are the cartoons in question.
That does not in itself mean such cartoons should be banned. One relies on the sensitivity and responsibility of individuals and institutions to refrain from what is legal but unacceptable. Where these qualities are missing one relies on public debate and censure to provide standards and restraints. Hence, where matters are not or cannot easily be regulated by law one relies on protest as well as empathy. This is how most racist speech and images and other free expressions (e.g., the use of golliwogs as commercial brands or British television’s Black and White Minstrel Show) have been censured – rather than censored – away.
Sometimes legal intervention is also necessary. For example, when there is a serious risk of incitement to hatred; or when the “fighting talk” is likely to inflame passions and risk public order; or when it is likely to reinforce prejudice and lead to acts of discrimination or victimisation.
In recognition of this, the British parliament passed a bill on 31 January 2006 to protect against incitement to religious hatred. Yet it was only passed after members of both houses of parliament – supported by much of the liberal intelligentsia – forced the government to accept amendments that weakened its initial proposals. A key sticking-point for the critics – that incitement must require the intention to stir up hatred – reveals a blind-spot in liberal thinking that the Danish cartoon case amplifies.
If the intention of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was not to cause offence, there clearly was a purpose of trying to achieve some kind of victory over Muslims, to bring Muslims into line – especially as it has recently emerged that the same paper refused to print cartoons ridiculing Jesus because they risked giving offence to some Christians (see Gwladys Fouché, “Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons”, Guardian, 6 February 2006).
The Danish editor cannot plead ignorance of what the effects on Muslims would be, for the whole exercise was premised on the view that a collective effort involving twelve cartoonists was necessary to withstand Muslim opposition. As for the republication of the cartoons across continental Europe, this was deliberately done to teach Muslims a lesson.
But the cartoons themselves are a trigger rather than the main issue, for everyone – Muslims and non-Muslims – “views” them (whether literally or imaginatively) in a wider domestic and international context that is already deeply contested. From the Muslim side, the underlying causes of their current anger are a deep sense that they are not respected, that they and their most cherished feelings are “fair game”. Inferior protective legislation, socio-economic marginality, cultural disdain, draconian security surveillance, the occupation of Palestine, the international “war on terror” all converge on this point. The cartoons cannot be compared to some of these situations, but they do distil the experience of inferiority and of being bossed around. A handful of humiliating images become a focal point for something much bigger than themselves.
This at least helps to explain if not condone some of the violent protests in several Muslim cities, and the language of some of the initial protestors in places like Copenhagen and London. Such behaviour is wholly unacceptable and does great damage to the cause of the protestors and to the standing of Muslims in general. Yet while violent protests do not win Muslims many friends, they are not the principal reason for a lack of sympathy for Muslims. Much more real estate has been burnt and more lives lost and endangered in protests in, say, Detroit or Los Angeles; in cases like that protest has been understood by many commentators and politicians as legitimate rage to be addressed by positive socio-economic policies.
Two factors are critical to the lack of sympathy for Muslims in Europe. First, there is a lack of recognition that the way that Muslims are treated is a form of racism – after all it is less than fifteen years ago that Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality and most British anti-racists denied that the vilification of Muslims was a form of racism. Most of continental Europe has hardly begun to have that debate. The suggestion that Muslims are not the subject of racism because they are a religious group is a nonsense when one considers that the victimisation of another religious group, the Jews, is paradigmatic of many peoples’ understanding of racism, especially on the continent.
The second reason is the idea – prevalent amongst anti-racists, the progressive intelligentsia and beyond – that religious people are not worthy of protection; more than that, they should be subject to not just intellectual criticism but mockery and ridicule.
The idea is that religion represents Europe’s pre-enlightenment dark age of superstition and clerical authoritarianism and so has to be constantly kept at bay. Look at how Richard Dawkins in the recent Channel 4 series, The Root of all Evil, traduces faith by identifying all religious people with the worst cases.
This understanding of religion is deep in the culture of the centre-left intelligentsia and is what is being appealed to in the current sloganeering around “freedom of expression”. That’s why, when Muslims counter by citing what Europeans regard as acceptable limits to freedom of speech (e.g., the imprisonment of holocaust deniers), it cuts little ice; for no one actually disagrees with limits to freedom of expression as such, it is just that some will not limit it in the field of religion. In this, liberals are no less following a creed, indeed are no less fundamentalist, than some of those who they want to be free to abuse. [Extract]
…The Western World likes to think that it is inviting other cultures into a peaceful and enlightened atmosphere of civility. But the ‘strangers’ invited in may well be dismayed to discover that this peacefulness and enlightenment seems to include licence to express some very unpeaceful and unenlightened attitudes to minorities of various kinds. Just what kind of ‘civility is this? the newcomer could ask.
…Enlightened attitudes are – understandably – seen by minorities as a refusal to believe that others take their convictions seriously. And, as the Independent on Sunday observed in an insightful editorial comment, ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ is the immemorial alibi of bullies – anti-Semites, racists, misogynists.
So many of our moral standoffs are a confrontation of mirror images. Foolish and offensive attitudes among opponents or strangers ought to show us something of ourselves. If Western and Islamic societies face each other in a furious, smouldering stalemate, everyone ought to be asking questions about how the marginalised and the minorities are treated. We ourselves have to face what Islamophobia means; some Muslim societies have to face their issues with minorities or their collusion with anti-Semitism – as many, many Muslims fully recognise.
“I used the word ‘civility’ earlier on and it is a good word to use in this place. Civic and civil life develops because cities develop, plural communities in which commercial, cultural and intellectual exchange creates mutual bonds and shared patterns of political life. Cities means citizens. Civility is the condition of patient co-operation between strangers. It is not the wholly-owned subsidiary of Western enlightenment – there is a huge literature on Muslim cities of the Indian sub-continent, or of our own Middle Ages – but a project we – all of us – need to work on together; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, secularists. The bully and the victim, the vicious circle of violence, scorn and resentment and revenge are the opposite of civic life. The citizen, giving and receiving respect, is what the life of this city and any city takes as its ideal. We can honour that and work for it to be the ideal for all of our societies. [Extract]
….I appreciate a remark by Ismaël Ferroukhi, a Moroccan-born French film director. “We’ve had our share of criticism of Islam,” he said a year ago. “I’m no longer willing to accept any more of it. It feels like shooting at an ambulance.”
In the West, most non-Muslims are simply unaware that Muslims personally feel deeply hurt by attacks on what they as individuals hold dear. What is perhaps even more important to apprehend, given the extent of the present uproar, is that non-Muslims are totally ignorant of the feelings of humiliation and subjugation that nowadays are so prevalent among Muslims and Muslim communities, contributing to an enhanced sentiment of solidarity among Muslims worldwide….
In Europe, many second- and third-generation youngsters within migrant communities from Muslim countries – and sometimes their parents, too – are increasingly turning to religion in their search for certainties and recognition in an uncertain and complex world. They embrace Islam as their new identity, just as born-again Christians in the United States embrace the Bible. Deepening religious commitment and a rise in identity politics is a worldwide phenomenon caused by the rapid transformation of societies. It is a quest for recognition and identity.
For Muslims, both in the Arab world and in Europe, religion is what keeps them upright. It is the source of their dignity. One should always tread carefully when people’s dignity is involved. When the steppe is burning, you don’t fan the fire. Unless you want to prepare the way for extremists, who in the end will be the only ones to benefit if peoples and cultures are pitted against one another – both in Europe and in the Muslim world. [Extract]
This staged clash of fundamentalisms now has an audience of billions. The climax is likely to be grisly. European journalists have got the show fight they wanted, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, sought out controversial cartoonists to create caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed, not because they had something bold and compelling to say, but simply to enrage, like bullfighters goading a bull. Other newspapers have reprinted the cartoons in a supposed act of solidarity. What they have done, in fact, is belittle freedom of expression. They have taken something precious and turned it into a licence for the intelligentsia to behave like yobs.
These liberal warriors, high on conceit, want to demonstrate that Muslims can never be a part of Europe, because, well, they are too backward to hoot aloud when their revered prophet is shown with a bomb for a turban. I am not amused either, so should I pack the bags?….[Extract]
Nobody has an absolute right to freedom. Civilisation is the story of humans sacrificing freedom so as to live together in harmony. We do not need Hobbes to tell us that absolute freedom is for newborn savages. All else is compromise.
Should a right-wing Danish newspaper have carried the derisive images of Muhammad? No. Should other newspapers have repeated them and the BBC teasingly “flashed” them to prove its free-speech virility? No. Should governments apologies for them or ban them from repeating the offence? No, but that is not the issue.
A newspaper is not a monastery, its mind blind to the world and deaf to reaction. Every inch of published print reflects the views of its writers and the judgment of its editors. Every day newspapers decide on the balance of boldness, offence, taste, discretion and recklessness. They must decide who is to be allowed a voice and who not. They are curbed by libel laws, common decency and their own sense of what is acceptable to readers. Speech is free only on a mountain top; all else is editing.
Despite Britons’ robust attitude to religion, no newspaper would let a cartoonist depict Jesus Christ dropping cluster bombs, or lampoon the Holocaust. Pictures of bodies are not carried if they are likely to be seen by family members. Privacy and dignity are respected, even if such restraint is usually unknown to readers. Over every page hovers a censor, even if he is graced with the title of editor.
To imply that some great issue of censorship is raised by the Danish cartoons is nonsense. They were offensive and inflammatory. The best policy would have been to apologies and shut up. For Danish journalists to demand “Europe-wide solidarity” in the cause of free speech and to deride those who are offended as “fundamentalists . . . who have a problem with the entire western world” comes close to racial provocation. We do not go about punching people in the face to test their commitment to non-violence. To be a European should not involve initiation by religious insult….[Extract]
This week Parliament, supported by the liberal intelligentsia, decided that religious hatred was a lesser problem than racial hatred and could be effectively dealt with by weaker legislation. Events in the world are testing this view. While some want to demonstrate their right to provoke religious people, others want to demonstrate their right to be provoked. The ideal that there might be a culture of mutual respect looks forlorn, but are we also to give up on the second best of conflict-avoidance?
“In any case, satire should check the powerful, not hurt the powerless. The underlying causes of the Muslim anger is a deep sense that they are not respected, that they and their most cherished feelings are ‘fair game’. [Extract]
…. There seems to be almost universal agreement that these cartoons are offensive. There should also be universal agreement that the paper has a right to publish them. When it comes to freedom of speech the liberal left should not sacrifice its values one inch to those who seek censorship on religious grounds, whether US evangelists, Irish Catholics or Danish Muslims.
But the right to freedom of speech equates to neither an obligation to offend nor a duty to be insensitive. There is no contradiction between supporting someone’s right to do something and condemning them for doing it. If our commitment to free speech is important, our belief in anti-racism should be no less so. These cartoons spoke not to historic sensitivities, but modern ones. Muslims in Europe are now subjected to routine discrimination on suspicion that they are terrorists, and Denmark has some of Europe’s most draconian immigration policies. These cartoons served only to compound such prejudice. [Extract]
I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong. [Extract]
In a week when many celebrated the defence of free speech in the racial and religious hatred bill, but then had to swallow the consequences of liberty with the BNP court-case victory, we are presented with another challenge. Islam is known as a religion of peace. In light of the controversial publication of Danish cartoons showing the prophet Muhammad, here is an opportunity to engage with a bemused public and sceptical press about Islam and to recognise that in a liberal democracy arguments must be won through engagement and not intimidation. The Evangelical Alliance supports the Muslim Council of Britain for distancing itself from violence. As Christians we understand only too well the pain still caused by seeing one’s faith ridiculed, but urge Muslims to defend their beliefs through dialogue. [Extract]
These are tense times. Protests against the publication in Denmark and elsewhere of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed have spread worldwide and there will be more today. Meanwhile in Britain the government was defeated on parts of its bill to ban religious hatred, so that threatening language will be illegal, but insulting and abusive words won’t be. None of this could have been predicted a mere twenty years ago. Most people thought Europe would become almost completely secular. Instead, religion has returned, centre stage.
How should we respond? Speaking personally, my mind goes back to childhood. I went to Christian schools. I was, then as now, a committed Jew. You would have thought that I would have felt awkward, embarrassed, isolated or made fun of because I was different. None of these things happened. Not once was I insulted or bullied or made to feel less than the Christian children. Years later, thinking back, I realised why. The school took its faith seriously, and because they did, they took my faith seriously too. Knowing what faith meant to them they could understand what my faith meant to me.
That, it seems to me, is the challenge at the heart of our multifaith societies. Never before have we lived so closely with people whose cultures and sensitivities are so different from our own. It’s as if the whole lexicon of anthropology has come to life and we’re living in the middle of it. Many schools I visit have children from as many as forty or fifty different countries. And the children I meet have a wisdom that sometimes we adults lack. They feel enlarged, not threatened, by diversity. They know not to assault someone else’s deeply held convictions. Like the Christians of my childhood, they know that each of us cares deeply about something but not the same thing; and they try to respect that fact.
Civilization needs civility. Judaism says that putting someone to shame is like bloodshed. At the end of every prayer we pray, we ask God to guard our tongue from evil. The only way to have both freedom of speech and freedom from religious hatred is to exercise restraint. Without that, we can have one freedom or the other but not both.
Law alone won’t solve the problem. The real question is: can we learn to respect what others hold holy? Can you respect my faith? Can I respect yours? These things can’t be legislated, but they can be taught. Free speech is one thing; responsible speech another; and a free and gracious society needs both. [Extract]
|1. Danish paper baulked at Jesus cartoonsDanish paper ‘Jyllands-Posten’ at the centre of the current controversy, apparently refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ. The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ in 2003, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny. The cartoonist Zieler has revealed he received an email back from the paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.”(Source: The Guardian On-line, 6th Feb 2006)||2. French Judge’s actions on fashion advertIn March 2005 France’s Catholic church won a court injunction to ban a fashion advertisement based on Leonard Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’. The judge said the ad was “a gratuitous … act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs.” The church objected to the female version of the fresco, which includes a female Christ, used by clothing designers Marithe et Francois Girbaud.
(Source: BBC On-line, 11th March 2005)
|3. The New Statesman – A Kosher ConspiracyIn January 2002 the New Statesman published a front page displaying a shimmering golden Star of David impaling a union flag, with the words “A kosher conspiracy?” The cover was widely and rightly condemned as anti-semitic. It’s not difficult to see why. It played into vile stereotypes of money-grabbing Jewish cabals out to undermine the country they live in. Some put it down to a lapse of editorial judgment. But many saw it not as an aberration but part of a trend – one more broadside in an attack on Jews from the liberal left.A group calling itself Action Against Anti-Semitism marched into the Statesman’s offices, demanding a printed apology. One eventually followed. The then editor, Peter Wilby, later confessed that he had not appreciated “the historic sensitivities” of Britain’s Jews. I do not remember talk of a clash of civilisations in which Jewish values were inconsistent with the western traditions of freedom of speech or democracy. Nor do I recall editors across Europe rushing to reprint the cover in solidarity (Source: Gary Younge in The Guardian, 4th February 2006)||4. Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of ChristPrior to the general release of the film, there was talk of the efforts being made to have it banned. Dr Yitzchak Schochet, associated with the Chief Rabbi’s office was reported as stating: “This film should not be shown. I hope they ban it” (Daily Telegraph, 27 February 2004). Neville Nagler, of the Jewish Board of Deputies, said: “It would have been better if this film had never been made”. Gaza Vermes, formerly professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford University declared, “I hope I will never be obliged to see something so dreadful again” (The Guardian, 27 February). Rabbi Julia Neuberger did not fail to make a disparaging reference that is easy to decipher: “Violence is also increasingly used to impose the power of one faith group over another – violence in the name of God. Does Mel Gibson want to adulate the use of violence in God’s name even more?” (The Guardian, 19 March 2004). The Israeli Supreme Court was reported as giving consideration to banning the film – after all the Israeli Board of Censors had recently banned a documentary on the battle in Jenin .|
|5. Censoring the theatre – PerditionIn 1987 Jim Allen’s play ‘Perdition’ was ditched by the Royal Court Theatre because it raised sensitivities by discussing Zionist collaboration with the Nazi regime. Still bitter after the experience seventeen years later, Ken Loach remarked “as its first director I can say that the essential story the play tells – of collaboration of some Zionists with the Nazis in Budapest in 1944 – was not challenged and stands as historical fact…the torrent of misinformation about Jim Allen’s play came from those who objected to the political critique of Zionism and the consequent dispossession of the Palestinians” (Source: Letter to the editor, 23rd December, 2004, The Guardian)||6. Censoring the Theatre – The Death of KlinghofferAccording to the Private Eye: “The Wiesenthal Centre conducted a world-wide campaign against all productions of John Adam’s ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ – on the grounds that it portrayed the hijack of the cruise liner Achille Laoro in neutral, even handed terms that failed to denounce the Arabs as devils and failed to eugolise the Jewish passenger they killed as a saint…when eventually Scottish Opera bravely took on Klinghoffer…the Wiesenthal Centre went on the offensive again, defaing everyone involved with the production as ‘moral midgets’ and demanding an audience boycott to teach them a lesson”.|
|7. SolzhenitsynSolzhenitsyn came under fire for his book ‘Two Hundred Years Together’ in 2003 when Jewish leaders were offended by references to the role of their co-religionists in the Bolshevik and Stalinist purges.||8. ScienceIn 2001 a paper in the journal ‘Human Immunology’ was removed because its finding that Jews and Palestinians had a close genetic relationship! (For details see Nature 414, 382).|
|9. HistoryMP Ruth Ellman, vice-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Council against Anti-Semitism, successfully blocked a lecture by Tony Martin, professor of Africana at Wellesley College, Massachusetts at a GLA sponsored event, because he had spoken at two Holocaust revisionism conferences (Jewish Chronicle, 17 October 2003).||10. Christian AidIn 2003, pressure was put on Christian Aid to stop the display of an art work by John Keane because it depicted the death of 12 year-old Muhammad al-Durra shot by Israeli soldiers. The Board of Deputies and other bodies had complained that this art work was causing “hatred of Jews”. So it is best you take heart, Mel, stand by your religious genius and be prepared for pressures to come. Father Kit Cunningham observes about your work: “This film is not anti-semitic. Any who say that it is are intent on stirring trouble. Jewish organisations protest too much, and are keen to personalise any historical facts” (The Guardian, 19 March 2004).|
|11. French politician Sarkozy’s actionsWhen French Interior Minister Sarkozy’s wife published her biography in 2005 – in which she revealed details of their private life – Sarkozy summoned the publisher and ordered 25,000 copies to be pulped. After a recent dalliance with a political journalist he threatened to sue anyone who published her name.||11. Virginia v. Black, USA, 2003In a Klu Klux Klan rally, one Barry Black set fire to a cross – and the Supreme Court ruled this to be an expression of violence and hate against black people unsustainable by society. The burning of the 25-foot high cross was deemed a political statement. Hate speech (or conduct) is not protected speech (or conduct).|
|12. Otto-Preminger Institut v Austria, 1994In Otto-Preminger Institut v Austria, the European Court of Human Rights affirmed the right of the Austrian government to seize a film that portrayed Roman Catholic and other religious beliefs in a disparaging way. The European Court held that the Austrian government had the right to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of beliefs under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s approach supports the position that the state can act against methods employed by some, which have the effect of inhibiting the freedom of others. The screening of the film was sufficiently public to cause offense to the religious beliefs of others. The European Court held it was therefore appropriate for the state to seize the film.|
Every few months, the Muslim community is assured that it will be demonized and cast in the worst possible light because of the actions of some useful idiots in its ranks, who deliberately seek to provoke public outrage:
“[John] Major is a legitimate target. If anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don’t think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death.”[ This obnoxious statement was made by Omar Bakri of Hizb Tahrir, who later split from this group to form the Al-Muhajiroon in 1996. At the time of the split he was reported as seeking “to concentrate on penetrating the predominant Pakistani community” (8th February 1996, The Guardian).
a month before the London Mayor elections, an electoral hustings meeting convened by the Public Affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain was interrupted by young men associated with Bakri’s Al-Muhajiroon. In an unprecedented display of bad behaviour at the London Islamic Cultural Centre, its members pushed past the registration desk and threw eggs and flour at the speakers – including Susan Kramer – and shouted slogans along the lines that voting was evil.
the 9/11 hijackers are described as the ‘Magnificent 19’ by Al-Muhajiroon.
Union Jack burnt outside the Islamic Cultural Centre, London. The BBC reported that “20 British-born members of the extreme Islamic organisation Al Muhajiroun” were responsible. This inexcusable conduct provided a valid opportunity for civil society leaders like Trevor Phillips to initiate a public debate questioning multiculturalism.
a conference “to commemorate the 9/11 hijackers” is announced by Bakri. “We want the world to remember this operation [9/11], that lifted the head of the [Muslim]nation…a cry of jihad against unbelief and oppression” (9th September 2004, The Guardian). The conference was never held, but at no point from 1991 onwards was Bakri ever arrested as a threat to public order – he left the UK in August 2005 and is currently in Syria.
a General Election electoral hustings organised by the Muslim Council of Britain in the Library hall of the Islamic Cultural Centre is disrupted, and its Secretary General jostled. The Times reported, “Chanting slogans in English and Arabic, they stood on chairs and shouted insults at Iqbal Sacranie… accusing him of apostasy in urging people to vote. They then handed out leaflets which read: “Voting for any political party … will guarantee your seat in hellfire forever.” An internet address was provided for the ‘Saviour Sect’, considered a successor organisation to the disbanded Al-Muhajiroon.
“Lords and MPs, bate scholars, police, ISBs, MCBs, configurations of these stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet, microphone in their holster warmly greet believers with salaams and outstretched arms then on the radio speak say our boys are British soldiers and pray for them” – lyrics from hip hop group Blakstone’s CD ‘Dark Dayz’. The reference to ‘British soldiers’ prompted by MCB’s reception for the British army top brass at the Islamic Cultural Centre, London a couple of months earlier.
outrageous posters and placards outside the Danish Embassy, London on Friday 3rd February. The Guardian reported that the “Al-Ghuraba, an offshoot of al-Muhajiroun, organised the protest outside the Danish embassy in London on Friday, after which Scotland Yard received more than 100 complaints” (6th February 2006). A week later on 15th February, MPs voted to retain a controversial clause in the Terrorism Bill that criminalised ‘glorification of terrorism’.
|“Officials see the prevention of attacks and the use of robust means to make it known to radicals they are being watched as more important than the preservation of harmonious relations with the Muslim community” (Financial Times, 20th January 2005)“US authorities were exasperated at the way that Abu Hamza was allowed to preach to a large crowd of radical followers every Friday outside the Finsbury Park mosque. But for a British spook, this kind of weekly photo opportunity is worth its weight in gold, and probably far harder to find with Abu Hamza now in custody, pending extradition to the US” (The Guardian, 26th August 2005)|
|“There are always the few elements, the agent provocateurs, that will be brought in and jump into the fire and try to use the most outrageous language” – Iqbal Sacranie of the MCB condemning the nature of the protest outside the Danish Embassy in London on 3rd February 2006 (Metro, 6th February August 2005)|