Here is my letter, which was published in the Guardian newspaper, on the fuss caused by the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad:
“Very many Muslims find themselves cringing between the charging rhinos of militant secularism and unreflective Islamism. On the one hand, the offending cartoons insult our most sacred values. This is not a question of free speech. In associating the Prophet with terrorism they only repeat in more grotesque form an allegation that has repeatedly been made. This last attack, following an endless stream of negative imagery emanating from Hollywood or CNN, and real attacks on Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, have been too much for some of us. But it is clear that most Europeans do not understand why the cartoons are so hurtful. The response called for is intelligent engagement with the media, not violent threats. Some Muslim countries also need to ensure that their own treatment of religious minorities is exemplary, according to Islamic principles, before they complain. And if Muslim countries wish to take political action against their enemies they should start by expelling the military bases of powers occupying Iraq.”
Although I found the cartoons offensive, I found the response more so. Some British Muslims made life even more difficult for the rest of us by holding up signs praising the tube bombs of July 2005. Nigerian Muslims attacked churches. Muslims rioted, threatened, and burned.
At times it seemed that the ‘leaders’ of Muslim countries were playing the cartoon thing up, for their own corrupt reasons. In Syria a mob burned the Danish embassy, conveniently showing
a). Islamists that the regime was on their side, and
b). The US that if the Syrian regime falls, these embassy-burners are the kind of wild animals the world will have to deal with.
In Syria embassies do not burn unless someone in charge has given permission for this to happen. And since when has the Syrian regime been a defender of Islam? Not so long ago Syrians used to be too scared to visit the mosque, or wear a beard or a hijab.
In the Gulf country where I currently live there were articles in government-controlled newspapers encouraging a boycott of Danish goods, and supermarkets dutifully stripped these products from their shelves. This despite the fact that it was a private Danish newspaper that printed the cartoons, not the Danish government. Meanwhile, Gulf supermarket shelves continued to groan under the weight of American and British products. The military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and military, financial and political support for the Israeli occupation, most definitely are the responsibility of the American and British governments.
A case of giving the people something to be angry about in the hope that they’ll keep quiet about much more serious things.
So far, the stupidest ‘leader’ in the Pope controversy has been the Pope himself. But this morning I read that churches in Palestine (not even Catholic, but Orthodox) have been firebombed, and that an Italian nun has been killed in Somalia. Please God, let the Muslims deal with this latest chapter in an intelligent and civilised way.
The Quran says, “We do not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”
At Brian Anthony’s excellent blog on living in Syria http://www.readingeagle.com/blog/syria/ a poster quotes the previous Pope.
“... we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions...”
John Paul II. Sunday, 12 March 2000
And the excellent Karen Armstrong comments here: