As a Western Muslim who fully identifies with both worlds, I have watched the Danish cartoon fiasco unravel with shock and dismay.
Is this a manifestation of the clash of civilization that political scientist Samuel P. Huntington has predicted for so long?
Or is it precisely the opposite: a clash of the uncivilized?
Both parties at the root of the controversy are making a mockery of their own values as they purport to expose the shortcomings in one another–and they are dragging all of us in with them.
Under the pretense of testing the limits of freedom of expression, the cartoonists and the European newspapers that published their work have, for a moment, invoked flashes of Europe’s ugly past.
It is hard to note the shameless and bigoted stereotyping in the cartoons and not think back to the anti-Semitic depictions that engrossed Germany in the 1930s. Like today’s cartoons, the ones back then began as a medium that offered a voice to European disenchantment with a religious minority living in their midst, whose growing influence many viewed as a direct threat to traditional European culture and values.
The freedom of expression claim certainly took a knock when the Guardian recently revealed that the same Danish paper that published the 12 Prophet Muhammad cartoons refused to publish cartoons lampooning Christ three years ago “on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers.”
As such, I think that self-respecting Muslims are well within their rights to object, but how some have chosen to do so has dismayed me no less than the cartoons themselves.
Under the pretense of rising up to defend the honor of the Prophet, some Muslims have resorted to actions that would have shamed him.
Muhammad’s greatest legacy is the values he came to preach. He put the importance of these values above his own person. It may even be said that his personal eminence was but a consequence of his being a messenger of these great values.
Today, many of these very same values are brought to disrepute, not by insignificant Danish cartoonists, but by Muslim societies. Yet no one takes to the streets in defense of those values that were dearer to the Prophet Muhammad than his own image.
Muslims would do well to consider angry and destructive mobs as a personal insult to the Prophet, who preached that “the best amongst you are those who can reign themselves in when angered.”
Muslims would do well to consider vindictiveness as an insult to the Prophet, who preached that the best way to respond to an act of evil is with an act of goodness.
Muslims would do well to consider empty expressions of rage as a personal insult to the Prophet, whose emphasis on contemplation and positive solutions catapulted his community from the margins of civilization to a resplendent center of innovation and achievement.
We Muslims have to reassess our commitment to our faith and values, realizing that these values take priority over symbolic gestures, as important as they may be. Perhaps if we Muslims had obsessed over the values of our Prophet as we hav! e over the mention of his name or the use of his image, we would never have had to defend his person.
So what is next?
So long as Western and Muslim societies allow themselves to be defined by those among them who seek self-affirmation by negating the other, clashes are imminent. We should remain ever-vigilant of inciters who attempt to cast Islam and Christianity into competing football clubs and their adherents into worked-up hooligans who clash in artificial and petty rivalries.
These cartoons have been exploited–if not devised–as agents to drive a wedge between a predominantly Christian Western society and Muslims in the West and around the world.
Those who classify themselves as civilized should play no part in condoning or perpetuating this scheme, rather they should champion a dialogue of understanding between the Muslim world and the West. Both civilizations have contributed much to our world, each can offer much to the other. In the recent pa! st, leading Muslim organizations in the U.S. have repositioned themselves to assume that role. They are willing and able. It is time they be fully engaged.
Ahmed M. Rehab is director of communications for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago.
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