The Danish government’s
attitude toward the blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him) published by a newspaper in the country should not
be dismissed lightly as it is typical of the manner in which Western
governments and intellectuals treat topics related to Islam. The
lethargic reaction of the Muslim governments to the European newspaper’s
outrageous treatment of the Prophet too deserves censure.
It was on Sept.30 last year
that a popular Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 caricatures
of the Prophet. Matters were further exacerbated by the chief editor of
the newspaper who in a comment expressed his “abhorrence” at the
veneration of their Prophet by Muslims.
The drawings were more than a
shock to the 180,000-strong Muslim community who represent three percent
of Denmark’s population. The Muslim diplomats in Copenhagen felt
outraged. Eleven of them held a meeting and demanded an immediate
apology from the newspaper.
As the chief editor refused
to comply with their demand, the envoys requested a meeting with the
prime minister of the country to register their protest at this insult
to Islam. Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to meet them but informed the
envoys through his office that since the issue involved the freedom of
expression his administration could not interfere in the matter. They
were told to resort to legal action if they desired.
On learning about the affront
to the Prophet, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic
Conference Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu wrote to the Danish prime minister
and the top officials of the European Union and the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) requesting them to stop the
hate campaign against Islam and take a stern stand against attempts to
malign the Prophet. The gist of their response was that nothing could be
done to stop the campaign, as the freedom of expression was the
cornerstone of the Danish democracy. In the meantime the ambassadors of
the Muslim nations in Geneva complained to the Human Rights Commission
saying that the Danish newspaper was inciting racism and hatred against
the Muslims. The commission agreed to look into the matter and prepare a
report by the 24th of this month.
At the Islamic summit meeting
held in Makkah last month, the Muslim leaders discussed the issue and
expressed deep concern over the media campaigns against Islam and the
Prophet. The participants emphasized the responsibility of all
governments to guarantee respect for all religions without allowing
anyone to make the freedom of expression a cover for insulting a
After three months of
silence, the EU commissioner for Justice Franco Frattini commented that
publishing such cartoons was not a wise move as such acts would only
inflame passions and encourage extremism in Europe.
While 22 Danish ambassadors
with working experience in Arab countries criticized their government
for its stand on the issue, a delegation of Danish Muslims representing
21 organizations visited Cairo and met with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and
the secretary-general of the Arab League. The foreign ministers of the
Arab countries too criticized the negative attitude of the Danish
government. The OIC secretary-general informed Danish authorities of the
OIC decision to boycott a Danish exhibition entitled “Impressions of the
Middle East” the cost of which was to be shared by Denmark and some Arab
countries. He asked the Muslim countries to stick to this decision to
register their protest against the European country’s position in the
Finally, the Danish premier’s
response came in his New Year message to the nation in which he said
that his government condemned any expression or conduct that offended
the sentiments of any community. If the Copenhagen authorities thought
that this was the end of the matter they were mistaken. It is quite
evident that the wound is too deep to be healed by some generalized
statements issued reluctantly.
In the meantime some Muslim
organizations in Denmark filed a suit against the newspaper. The public
prosecutor refused to admit the case on the ground that the publication
of the cartoons came under the purview of the freedom of expression,
which enjoys legal protection in Denmark. The issue became more
complicated with another conservative Christian daily in Norway
reproducing the cartoons.
It is not surprising that
some media persons behave impudently against the symbols of Islam as
fanatics and hatemongers are found in every society, particularly in the
West and often their intolerance of Islam rises above the voices of the
intellectuals who speak with reason and fairness. What is most
disturbing is the careless attitude of the Danish government, which
should have taken a stand consistent with justice and public decency.
No system of law in the world
claims that desecrating the symbols of Islam and the Prophet, or any
other religion for that matter, is the right way to exercise one’s
freedom of expression. The freedom of expression is conditional on
Anglo Saxon and Latin legal
systems, apart from the Islamic law, give protection for the freedom of
expression as long as it serves the interests of society as a whole and
does not lead to inflaming passions and disrupting social harmony. The
highest constitutional courts in the United States stipulate that the
freedom of expression is guaranteed only as long as it carries a minimum
of redeeming qualities.
Every legal system considers
it a crime to abuse and malign others. Abusing is an aggression on
another individual. Abusing the Prophet of Islam is a serious crime
because nearly one quarter of the world’s population believes that he is
the Messenger of God. Dr. Ahmad Kemal Abul Majid, an expert on
international law, said that even if an offending publication can’t be
hauled into court of law there was a moral and political obligation on
the part of the government to condemn such acts in the interest of the
religious and cultural diversity of a country.
It is also disturbing to note
that the Muslim governments have not been forthright in expressing their
displeasure at the Danish government’s reluctance to condemn the affront
to the sentiments of Muslims.
Are we to understand that
abusing the Prophet is a less serious offense than an insult to an Arab
head of state that would have triggered angry reactions accompanied by
withdrawal of ambassadors and threat of severing diplomatic and economic
relations. Should it not be feared that official silence over such
issues in the Muslim and Arab world would play into the hands of
extremists in the Muslim communities who are waiting for an opportunity
to choose the path of violence .
The Danish drawings also
reopen the question that is often raised whenever the topic of the
relations between Islam and the West comes up: Really who hates whom?