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The Age of Unreason Mei 12, 2007

Posted by ummahonline in Kolum, Vox Pop.

By: Haris ZalkapliWe may never know why exactly the editors of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten decided to publish the cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad and what they hoped to achieve by doing so. One may also wonder why other newspapers in Europe decided to republish the editorial cartoons, supposedly in support of press freedom. But it is clear to all what the cartoons have caused.

The global debate on this controversy unfortunately uncovers the misguided views of many who are deeply entrenched in this controversy. From what I have seen, this debate is often cast in terms of freedom of the press versus Islamic syariah. This is also how many media cover the issue.

While following the debate, I came across a view which holds that non-Muslims have no obligation at all to observe the syariah, which means that the cartoons published the first time by Jyllands-Posten had nothing to do with Muslims, as it was a matter of press freedom.

This is actually not the issue at all. Those who made the decision to publish and republish the cartoons surely have no obligation to observe the syariah, but they have the obligation to respect religions, to act morally and ethically. Where do we draw the line if everyone has the right to offend? What is at heart of the issue is ethic.

In all parts of the world, there are values which people collectively hold sacred. A severe “punishment” by the society – which is often the harshest punishment of all – would surely ensue if anyone dares to cross the invisible line. One can only imagine what would befall anyone in the West who dares to even question the number of Jewish people perished in the Holocaust.

A great divide has been created by this issue. And from the irrational debate surrounding this controversy, we can safely say that both sides of the fence are responsible for this atmosphere of irrationality. Consequently, almost everywhere, the levelheadedness needed to address this issue seems all but lost in the middle of the chaotic debate. The world is already divided as it is. More and more people are seeing the world through the prism of us and them.

And what George W Bush and his neocon bunch have started is brought to a whole new level by the publishers of the offensive cartoons. Thanks to Bush and friends, many in the West see all Muslims as potential terrorist. Now the cartoons suggest that that is what Prophet Muhammad was all about. Publishing these cartoons and defending them as freedom of the press will only widen the divide, whether imaginary or real.

The controversy also unveils the fact that a large number of people on both sides of the debate see the others as an homogeneous entity, a one size fits all view. Immediately after September 11, 2001, we can see that attacks on Muslims in the West did not take into account the views of those Muslims. Muslims who were victimized included those who unequivocally oppose terrorism.

The cartoons seem to confirm that the prevailing view in the West is “terrorism is about Islam,” much as a group of Muslims see the whole West as a degenerate, immoral people.

Nonetheless, this controversy, while clearly demonstrating the arrogance of those supporting the publishing of the caricatures, also exposed what is wrong with the Muslim world. All the grotesqueries of the Muslim world are brought to the open for all to see.

Why do we only respond – usually emotionally and irrationally – to red flag issues, while other important issues such as our intellectual feebleness and the widespread disrespect for democracy and human rights in the Muslim world, seldom catch our attention? Do these issues not merit our precious time and energy?

We are moved to burn buildings, with the risk of hurting or killing an innocent bystander when offended by others but our own ills, brought upon by ourselves (or our leaders) hardly get any attention.

Nevertheless, I believe that there are many reasonable people, who are able to see beyond the unnecessary provocation defended by the lame excuse of freedom of the press, and the emotional, violent response.

Freedom of expression should not mean the freedom to offend any religion. And violent, emotional response can never be justified.

Unless and until we all learn to truly respect the others, we still have a long way to go in this age of unreason.



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