According to the explanation given by the editors of the Danish broadsheet Jyllands-Posten, which first published the offending cartoons against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was meant to initiate a reasoned debate about self-censorship, when a local author could not find artists to illustrate his book about Muhammad (PBUH). Reportedly the paper published a series of cartoons along with an article arguing that “self-censorship…rules large parts of the western world”. Later, news papers in 9 Christian nations and 1 muslim country (Jordan) re-published the offending material. In law a repeat publication is like the original. To me this appears very simplistic; could it be more in the nature of an attempt at provocation aimed at generating an Islamic response, which could later be exploited politically for internal purposes?
Look at the timing of this event – Hamas, a party of the masses, which is defined as a terrorist organization by the west, has won the elections in Palestine; Israel and the aid giving nations and organizations have suspended payment of taxes (collected by Israel) and aid assistance to the Palestinian Authority, so as to paralyze the new government, led by Hamas. What happens to the much trumpeted Bush advocacy about propagating democracy in the Islamic world? Does it mean “democracy”, in which elections bring in a party, which is approved by the US? If this is the prescription, then I am afraid the Bush policy is flawed because it has in built seeds of conflict for the US policy in the mid-East. Secondly, the Iranian nuclear imbroglio pits the western world into another tension with the Muslims. Thirdly, there is an on-going world wide operation against Islamic militant organizations, euphemistically called the “War on Terrorism”. Within these larger events are small side shows like the operations in Waziristan or the recent bombing of Bajaur in Pakistan. The insurgency is increasing in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Central Asia, violent and despotic regimes are kept stabilized presumably till the energy resources get irrevocably integrated into the western economy. The map below indicates the progress in the extraction of the oil and gas from central Asia.
It can be argued, that the Islamic world is facing an imperial drive by the west, which aims to isolate those forces that would resist such an imperial re-structuring for resources. I do not understand why the western world should be so defensive? Natural resources one way or another, have to be utilized in the long run. I am certain that the benefits accruing by dealing with the west will be far greater in financial terms than what is on offer from others; however, where the west gets bogged down is its fear of populism. Now this is where policy re-engineering needs to be done. More on this some other day.
J.S Mill, wrote in his essay “On Liberty”, that the advantage in permitting the expression of diverse opinion in the press is, “As one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can now be needed, against permitting a legislature or an executive, not identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to them, and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be allowed to hear.
But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…”.
Obviously, the support for the presence of difference of opinion advocated by J.S Mill and forming the philosophical underpinning in the present case as the basis for the publication, would relate to the experiential world of policies and opinions, which are open to empirical verification. I am afraid that discussion on matters of belief would appear to be outside the pale, since there is no one accepted principle in such matters, which is based on verification. What truth was being postulated by the publication of cartoons – a new law of thermodynamics?
The initial Danish reaction was un-characteristically negative when it said, “No religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society”. Islam is not dogma, it is a religion and a way of life for more than 1.5 billion people. Further, the claims of the Danes and Norwegians that the offending cartoons fell within the ambit of democratic right of free and fair discussion is totally unfounded. The cartoons are pure sacrilege and meant to ignite the feelings of Muslims over a matter of belief. I wonder what will be the reactions of the 9 offending nations, if their nationals are put to harm – in the event of that possibility taking place, would they like to try the publishers and the authors for conspiracy to commit murder by provoking the Muslims? Would they like to try the same persons for economic crimes against their countries, when the Muslim countries retaliate and boycott imports and create un-employment. The Danish food conglomerate Arla, for example, exported $ 487 million worth of commodities to the Middle East in 2005. Obviously, the official explanation is wanting. There are obviously other reasons.
President Bush in his recent State of the Union address said that a broad clash of civilization can be avoided. I wish it was possible. Samuel Huntington, while discussing the conflict between Islam and Christianity, feels that its main cause lies in the failure of Muslim states to generate employment amongst the fast growing ranks of the youth, who out of despondency shift to radical solutions. Secondly, the West’s simultaneous efforts to universalize its values and institutions to maintain its military and economic superiority has generated intense resentment.
The West claims that its society is based upon secularism. An analysis of such claims will show that is not true. Culturally, these states remain deeply embedded in Christianity. In both Denmark and Norway, Lutherism is the official state religion. Norway, which is in the forefront of the cartoon controversy is deeply evangelical. Article 2 of the Norwegian Constitution declares, “All inhabitants of the realm have the right to free exercise of their religion…. (However), The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the state. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same…” What about the right to chose for the young Norwegian, when he grows up? Obviously, his or her democratic right has already been usurped.
The news letter began by attempting to find the real motives behind the printing of the sacrilegious cartoons. This analysis shows that the plea taken by Denmark that it involved the right to freely express one’s opinion is wrong in matters of belief. The act is provocative and plainly conspirtorial and could be the precursor of pain and damage to innocent citizens of these nations. One would not wish any harm to come to them. However, such events play into the hands of religious zealots, who wish to radicalize them. Both Denmark and Norway should see through this game; unless electoral politics prevents them from soul searching. Their societies are up against a huge challenge too.
This act has done great harm to those, who want to build bridges between Islam and Christianity. The only hypothetical political advantage perhaps will be to get an affirmative vote in their respective parliaments to enlarge their military contingents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US is demanding it. This provocation may help them to deliver politically.
If the intention is to end the crisis, the Nordics and others can apologize for printing the cartoons and enact laws, which prevent future inter-religious hatred. Such controversial acts bring more death and destruction and endangers inter-religious harmony.
To give teeth to this demand for legislation and good governance, why dont Islamic members of the OPEC levy a tax of a few cents per barrel on the export of oil to the offending states? Since Norway is an oil producing country, consider an import ban on its manufactured imports into the Middle East and elsewhere. The money so collected from the first measure should be spent on charity in the poorest Muslim communities around the world. The measures should last till legislation is enacted against creating religious hatred.