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The controversy surrounding the cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad has given rise to several propositions that deserve to be debated.
It is said that Muslims are trying to force non-Muslims to live by Islamic taboos.
Muslims in the West are only asking that democracies live up to their rules — exercise freedom of speech with the concomitant responsibility of self-restraint, and also respect people of all faiths or no faith at all.
This is not a new proposition. It has always been a balancing act between competing rights.
That's why Jyllands-Posten's publication of the offensive drawings was "juvenile," in the apt phrase of a New York Times editorial. That's why most dailies in Canada and the U.S. have refused to reprint the cartoons (not because they are "afraid," as some polemicists say).
It is said that only the fundamentalists and conservatives are offended.
The offence is broadly felt. Some take to the streets, millions don't. Critics include such "moderates" as Hosni Mubarak and Hamid Karzai.
Many non-Muslims are upset as well, including the Vatican ("an unacceptable provocation") and Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk of France.
It is said that the controversy raises doubts about whether Muslim immigrants can be integrated in Europe.
From a Canadian perspective, I find this particularly specious.
We have in the past spouted similar nonsense about Catholics and Jews, and also against the Chinese, Japanese, Italians and other "unassimilable" groups.
In hurling this charge at Muslims, the Europeans are exposing their own bigotry.
It is said that Arabs/Muslims are being hypocritical in criticizing the cartoons since they routinely demonize Israel, even Jews.
I said so myself in the Sunday column. But later I thought it to be an argument of limited value. It says, in effect: "Since they do it, we can do it, too."
No, we ought to conduct ourselves by our own democratic standards (see above).
It is said that the Muslim reaction to the depiction of the Prophet constitutes selective outrage because Muslim artists have drawn the likeness of him.
Some have through the ages, mostly in miniatures. These are stored in the famous Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul or other collections. Most, however, do not show his face. The few that do are relics of history. The ban is now widely accepted and observed.
That should suffice as a guide to our democratic conduct. Otherwise, it will be open season on the belief systems of others. Today it is Islam, tomorrow it may be some other faith.
It is said that there would have been no uproar had some Danish Muslim leaders not gone to the Middle East to drum up support.
They had every right to seek allies, anywhere. They were not out stoking violence and are not responsible for it. The real culprits are those who created the controversy.
Moreover, the small Muslim delegation went abroad only after both the newspaper and the government had refused to listen to their concerns.
(Memo to media everywhere:
When the people you have offended come calling, see them. It's just courtesy and does not amount to bowing to pressure. In fact, in this business we routinely listen to the rich and the powerful, whereas it is the marginalized that need more of our attention.)
(Memo to the editors of Jyllands-Posten:
If you were striking a blow for freedom of speech, why did you grovel once the economic boycott started to bite and you felt the domestic heat? And if you are indeed sorry, how come the cartoons keep cropping up in other publications, presumably with your permission?)
It is said that the consumer boycott of Danish products is misplaced, in that it hurts innocent Danish businesses and workers.
It does. That's always so with boycotts. And economic sanctions.
The 1991-2003 sanctions on Iraq killed nearly 1 million innocent Iraqis, half of them children.
One does not justify the other but the context is not irrelevant.
It is said that no grievance justifies violence.
But the biggest victims have been Muslims — 11 dead so far, killed by their own anti-riot police in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. That speaks to the pathology of Muslims.
But that's not what's driving the narrative here. Rather, it is the damage caused to Danish embassies and the fear of terrorism that conflates all Muslims with terrorists.
This, too, is selective outrage.
Friday, February 10, 2006