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 Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Europe's Uncivilized Act - A Right to Provoke ?


Nasim Zehra
(Nasim Zehra is adjunct professor at School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC.

Related article by Bertus Hendriks, "The Right to Provoke?" :

When the philosopher of the Enlightment, Voltaire, fought for the freedom of expression he did so in fighting the mighty and the powerful and paid for it by being imprisoned and exiled.

But this time, the perceived insult is coming from the Western world, which at present is clearly more powerful than the Islamic world.

It's easier to shrug off mocking and satire from somebody weaker than you.

This current situation seems like adding insult to injury.

However, that is no reason to give up on the principle of freedom of expression, which is a principle that also stands to benefit the citizens of the Muslim world.

While freedom of expression no doubt includes the right to provoke, is it necessary to deliberately provoke and hurt? The principle (freedom of expression) still needs to be upheld when attacked,
but it will gain greater acceptance worldwide if exercised with wisdom and sensitivity. - Bertus Hendriks
Read here for more

Read here full article by Dr. Nasem Zehra

There is no battle to be fought with those who indulged in the ugly act of deliberately insulting my Prophet.

I am numbed with outrage over this uncivilized act they have committed.

I would simply say to them, yours are no civilized ways.

This is their crass response to the growing post-9/11 anti-Islamic sentiment.

And for people in the business of opinion making to indulge in such reactive acts is extremely dangerous.

It is highly irresponsible.

These are people who must play the role of promoting greater understanding - pulling people away from extremist thought and action. Not join the vanguard of anger-prompted extremism.

Policy-makers and opinion-making community in the West have opted to conduct the discourse on terrorism using a terminology that has unwittingly but dangerously indicted the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world.

Terms like Muslim terrorists, Islamic terrorists and Islamic terrorism have led to the demonization of the Muslims and of Islam.

Whatever the European papers may claim they are upholding by ridiculing the Holy Prophet, they would have not contemplated doing so in a pre-9/11 environment.

Muslims make for easy targets. So does their faith.

This is a season of acute polarization. For example if the on-line responses of the public are any guide, this act of insulting the Prophet has unfortunately received widespread public support in many European countries.

The thrust mostly is that there is no reason to compromise on our value of freedom of expression, that if Muslims can't deal with this they must leave, that Muslims are hypocrites because they show no tolerance toward minorities but expect to be shown tolerance.

Deliberately defiling the Prophet is a highly irresponsible act.

It is bound to have negative social and political fall-out. It exacerbates the existing social tensions among the locals and the Muslim population.

It is the arrogance of these Westerners they will resent.

Like millions of Westerners who have opted to not view terrorists as a fringe phenomenon within the Muslims and instead referred to terrorism as Islamic terrorism, many Muslims too will wrongly implicate the Westerners across the board for this blasphemous act against the Prophet.

True the protests should have been calmer. Frenzied outrage was unnecessary and as were threats to kill.

But nothing justified the reprinting of those insulting cartoons across many European countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland.

The leadership in most of these countries has not been willing to contest the wisdom of publishing cartoons that are highly disrespectful to another people's faith.

In fact the degree of insensitivity of the Danish prime minister can be gauged from the fact that when after the September publication the Muslims in Denmark sent repeated requests to meet with the prime minister, he repeatedly ignored their request.

Essentially conveying "I really don't give a damn".

Subsequently the Muslim leaders repeatedly went to the Middle East and other Muslim countries and showed them what the Danish papers had done. Subsequently the reaction acquired these proportions.

The Fogh Rasmussen government has actively sought to dispel and block Muslim residents from Denmark.

The cartoon is just the tip of the iceberg.

The way many Europeans have selectively applied the principle of freedom of expression is intriguing.

When the ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan were criminally destroyed by the Taleban, the Europeans screamed murder the loudest. We all did too in the Muslim world.

If the freedom of expression is so sacred how many European papers have dared to support what the Iranian president said about questioning the reality of the Holocaust?

Islam abhors suicide bombings and terrorism. Increasingly Muslim leaders are condemning this openly.

Are the Europeans so generous in applying their concept of freedom of expression at the cost of causing great pain and injury to Muslim world?

These are not the ways of a civilized people. These are ways toward pushing for a grand and mad conflict of civilizations.

Will the European media see wisdom is stepping back and reviewing their dangerous notion of freedom of expression?

For now the limited apologies that have come were perhaps prompted by the widespread anger and protests emanating from the Muslim world.

But wisdom and true civilized behavior demands that we internalize the limits of our own freedoms where it begins to undermine the freedom of another.

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