Jyllands-Posten Cartoons: Feeding the Clash of Civilizations

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Commentary
Jyllands-Posten Cartoons: Sparking a Clash of Civilizations

The Jyllands-Posten cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad have sparked a global culture clash being seen around the world. Brussels Journal has done an exemplery job covering this event as it unfolds and their article, “The War is On“, is among others a must read.

The implications on Islamic terror is profound, as the the Wretched has noted: “The holy grail of every agitator is to find an issue on which both sides are unalterably opposed. Radical Islam has found it the blasphemy of Mohammed and ironically gave those who would rouse the West a mirror issue of their own: the blasphemy of censorship and the extinction of freedom of speech.”

The Clash of Cultural: A Counterpoint

What is missing in the conservative blogosphere is any serious analysis about what is the perspective of the “other side”. In today’s Asia Times Online, Ehsan Ahrari presents us with this view. Aharai is a respected strategic analyst, former professor at Armed Forces Staff College and has written written numerous papers for the US Military’s Strategic Studies Institute. His views, though contrarian to many in the West, should be taken seriously.

Here are excerpts from Ahari’s “Cartoons and the clash of ‘freedoms’“:

What seems to be notably different about the era after the terror attacks in 2001 is that no subject, and nothing, is sacred in the West, especially when it comes to Muslims and Islam.

In Austria, it is against the law to make any statements denying the occurrence of the Holocaust. But one can say anything about Islam and get away with it. Aren’t Muslims right when they take the position that there is an open season against their religion, and that the exercise of freedom of expression is used only as a “civilized” excuse for insulting them?

In the West, freedom of expression is considered sacred. For a number of people, that freedom might even be regarded as absolute, thereby allowing an individual to insult even someone’s faith. Two issues must be clearly understood regarding this controversy. First, for Muslims, nothing and no one is above Islam. No one should be allowed to be disrespectful about anything remotely associated with Islam. Having an open discussion regarding the Islamic faith is perfectly acceptable. Insulting Islam is not. That old adage about disagreeing without being disagreeable (or offensive) is fully applicable here. Second, not many understand in the West that a requirement of the completion of the faith for Muslims is to love and respect the Prophet of their religion. That might also be an alien notion, especially among secular Westerners for whom freedom of expression has remained an integral part of their secular puritanism.

Freedom of speech is indeed a noble idea. To state that it should have no limits (or that it should be absolute) may be a useful academic exercise, but one should also keep in mind that such an exercise of freedom could also lead to the same kind of deleterious consequences as when one screams “fire” in a packed theater. Thus it is not enough to couch the whole argument about drawing caricatures of the Prophet under the rubric of freedom of speech, and thereby dismiss (or even be derisive about) the religious sensitivities of millions of Muslims. Why is it that the golden rule related to the insanity (or illegality) of yelling “fire” in a packed theater is not being applied here? That, in the final analysis, is the question the Western zealots of freedom of speech should answer. (Empahsis mine)

Read Ehsan Ahrari article over slowly. And then go over the quote from the Wretched again. It seems both cultures are at an impasse, but in the long run who will acquiescence?

The gulf and difference in values, assumptions and perception between millions of Muslims and what the West (esp. the sacredness of the freedom of speech) is not to be underestimated. This is a real division that exists between the cultures and a wedge that fundamentalist at both sides can drive and finally nail down to make the “Clash of Civlizations” a defacto truth.

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Update: The Brussel Journal points out that maybe the idea of freedom of speech being a sacred law in the West (at least in Europe) is not so true as it seems. Paul Belien, the author, has a point.

Update2: Tariq Ramadan discusses his own view of the matter here: Cartoon Controversy is not a Matter of Free Speech, but Civic Responsibility

2 comments

  1. Ahrari provides much needed perspective, but often crosses the line from explaining to apologizing/ excusing–something I’m afraid is far too typical of Muslims.
    Take the statement that “Muslims refrain from insulting Christians about their faith” fails to take into account that Christians, in large part because of their faith, are subject to violence and death, not mere insults, at the hands of radicals throughout the Muslim world.
    And one need only look at the racist cartoons in the Arab press and antisemitic TV programs to see the hypocrisy in these protests– insulting Jews as a race and a religion is acceptable, but for others to insult Islam as a religion.
    What these people fail to see is that Christians and Christianity are frequently mocked in secular media in Europe and the US; Christians are offended, no doubt, but rarely react violently.

  2. StrategyUnit

    Patrick, thank you for commenting. You are correct, Ahrari, sounds like an apologist at times. Still, I felt the stronger points of Ahrari’s argument needed to be put out there.

    Tariq Ramadan has done his own response to the “Satanic Cartoons”. I think he takes a similar route to Ahrari, as well:
    http://www.digitalnpq.org/articles/global/56/02-02-2006/tariq_ramadan