Iranians burn a Danish flag outside of Danish embassy in Tehran on Feb. 5, during a demonstration against the publication of the controversial cartoons. (AFP Photo)
Jylland-Posten’s cartoons insulted Islam and Muslims, under the veil of “freedom of speech“, for the cheap publicity of its newspaper.
Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten’s short form Jyllands-Posten--literally the Jutland Post--is the largest-selling newspaper in Denmark. The paper is historically known for taking a clear rightwing line. In the 1920s-30s, the paper was infamous for its sympathy for fascism and German dictatorship. When Mussolini in 1922 became the leader of a fascist coalition government in Italy, the paper wrote: “The very strong man, that Mussolini absolutely is, is exactly what the misruled Italian people needs.“ In 1933 the paper even argued for the introduction of dictatorship to Denmark.
With this background, Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 published 12 satirical images of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).This led initially to a diplomatic dispute, and now into a full-blown crisis between the western world and Muslims. The resulting controversy has led to the withdrawal of ambassadors by Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria from Denmark, as well as consumer boycotts of Danish products in several Islamic countries.
The paper maintains it has the right to print the cartoons (and whatever else it likes), saying that Islamic fundamentalism cannot dictate what Danish newspapers are allowed to print. This opens a Pandora’s box for the exact meaning of “freedom of speech“, and to ascertain whether it has any boundaries or not. If it is without boundaries, then boundaries need to be set to avoid such incidents, or if it has some boundaries, they should be respected.
Lebanese Shiites march during a ceremony to mark Ashura in southern Beirut, Feb. 9. (AFP Photo)
The society in the West has given rise to freedom that it feels should be acceptable to everyone. This freedom gives the right to make a conscious decision, but at the same time does not offer any boundaries in terms of morality and values. When we consider “freedom of speech“ as an integral concept in modern liberal democracies, it is understood to outlaw the censorship.
Although free speech is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, they fail to implement the boundaries set for it.
The concept of “free speech“ was put forward by philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), who was a French political thinker and historian. He championed liberty and democracy. He observed that: “When an individual announces an unpopular opinion, he or she may face the disdain of their community or even be subjected to violent reactions.“
Jyllands-Posten is facing the same reaction from not only the Muslims but also the civilized nations and champions of democracy.
Tocqueville also made statements based on his theories that reflect the West in his era. Based on the current situation of the world, following are few of them:
- “The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.“
- “Muhommed (this is how Tocqueville spelt the Prophet’s name in the original text) professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general relations of men to God and to each other--beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith. This alone, besides a thousand other reasons, would suffice to prove that the former of these religions would never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst the latter is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods.“
This is what the West thinks in general about Islam and the Muslims. It is this democracy that Tocqueville proposed, based on which Jyllands-Posten printed the cartoons. The world is under the assumption that its form of democracy will prevail, and Islam will not. History will reveal who prevails.
Therefore, based on Tocqueville’s views on democracy, the world moved on to implement his theocracy. However, under the current situation, the right to freedom of expression is not unlimited.
Under the international law, restrictions on free speech are required to comply with a strict three-part test: they must be provided by law; pursue an aim recognized as legitimate; and they must be necessary (i.e., proportionate) for the accomplishment of that aim. Amongst the aims considered legitimate are protection of the rights and reputations of others and prevention of defamation. ’Defamation’ is used internationally, but under civil and legal terms it encompasses two basic concepts, i.e. slander and libel.
Under the English and American law, and systems based on them, libel and slander are two forms of defamation of character, which is the tort (breach of contract) or delict of publishing (meaning to a third party) a false statement that negatively affects someone’s reputation. Delict is a French word and a legal term which, in some civil law systems, signifies a willful wrong. Delict is a willful wrong committed by Jyllands-Posten.
“Freedom of speech“, if used for the benefit and in the interest of a community, can:
- promote the free flow of ideas;
- limit the ability of the state to subvert other rights and freedoms;
- endure a system of checks and balance, therefore, good governance;
- promote a marketplace of ideas, which includes, but is not limited to, the search for truth; and
- encourage an individual to discover himself, thus helping him in the self-actualization process.
These reasons encourage us to promote “free speech“. They provide a widely accepted rationale for the recognition of freedom of speech as a basic political or civil liberty. However, this liberty needs to be checked and should remain within the parameters set by the Civil Laws.
According to Theodore Roosevelt, no paper published here or abroad should be permitted circulation in this country if it propagates anarchist opinions. Jyllands-Posten has promoted development of anarchy, not only for Denmark but also abroad. With the publication of the cartoons, the country’s business has dropped, it has brought shame to Denmark, and has caused law and order situation in other countries.
The controversy began in September 2005, when Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons in response to the difficulty of Danish writer Kare Bluitgen to find artists to illustrate the prophet of Islam in his children’s book. After an invitation from Jyllands-Posten for around forty artists to give their interpretation on how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) may have looked, twelve different caricatures chose to respond with a drawing each. These twelve drawings portrayed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in different fashions. These drawings also help us to understand how the West sees the prophet of Islam and their level of familiarity with Islam.
The most controversial drawing shows Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be upon Him) with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb. This shows that Islam is a religion propagating terrorism as per the propaganda of the West, and the Kalima shows its link with the religion. At the same time, it is an eye-opener for the Muslims to face the reality about how the West feels about Islam.
Another drawing shows Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with “Stop Stop vi er lobet tor for Jomfruer!“ (“Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!“), an allusion to the promised reward to martyrs.
Another shows the artist, wearing a turban with the proverbial orange dropping, with the inscription “publicity stunt“. In his hand is a stick drawing of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). An “orange in the turban“ is a Danish proverb meaning “a stroke of luck.“ This clearly depicts that the cartoons were published entirely with malice for the purpose of publicity.
The above drawings printed by Jyllands-Posten of Denmark insulted Islam and infuriated Muslims. Some of the cartoons were also reprinted in other Western democracies like France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and many other European newspapers.
The world in general knows that picturing Jesus is acceptable in the Christian religion, but in Islam picturing its prophet is not acceptable. JyllandsÐPosten went one step further and produced drawings, which depict the feelings of the West against Islam and the prophet of Islam.
Although Jyllands-Posten maintains that the drawings were an exercise in free speech, many consider them as provocative, racist and Islamophobic. In particular, one drawing depicts the prophet of Islam as a terrorist, implying that all Muslims are terrorists. As explained earlier, this is not freedom of speech but defamation and can be challenged under the civil law.
Jyllands-Posten has painted this picture of Islam due to the underlying reasons:
1) For increasing sale of Jyllands-Posten:
By targeting Islam and the prophet of Islam, Jyllands-Posten can produce a media controversy. This will create a debate and increase the sale of the newspaper. Furthermore, the paper’s name will become famous worldwide.
2) Lack of knowledge about Islam and hatred for Islam:
If Jyllands-Posten and those who printed these caricatures would have the slightest idea what martyrdom means for a Muslim, they would have never attributed the statement of the prophet of Islam that “he’s run out of virgins for suicide bombers“. Muslims do not die for meeting a virgin in the heaven.
They die to safeguard their religion and honor. At the same time let me reiterate that suicide is forbidden in Islam and we cannot justify suicide bombing by any means. No one wants to die, and willfully take the life of others. It is the circumstances that provoke people to practice such an act.
Islam is the fastest growing religion. The West is wary of Islam and fears that it will overtake their concepts and ideologies. Therefore, all attempts are made to disgrace it.
A boy holds the Holy QurÕan on Feb. 11 near Place de la Republique in Paris, during a demonstration of Muslims to vent their anger over satirical images of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a day after Denmark's ambassador to Syria temporarily left the country over security fears. Banner reads: "Freedom of religion, stop the insults" (l) and "Dont' touch my faith". (AFP Photo)
3) Abuse of “freedom of speech“:
Freedom of Speech does not mean that you insult or promote hatred and racism, or defame someone. Jyllands-Posten must realize that it has abused the phrase “freedom of speech“. The proponents of “freedom of speech“ must come up and counter the daily’s racist attitude and promulgate international laws under their charter to ensure that such incidents are not repeated.
4) Coining new terms like Islamists and radical Islam by neocons:
Radicalism or Islamists is a term used to describe ideas or actions thought to be hyperbolic and unwarranted. In terms of ideas, it is often used to label political ideology far away from the perceived political center of a society. In terms of actions, it is often used to identify attempts to use aggressive or violent methods to cause political or social change. However, in case of Islam, there is no radicalism, as painted by the West.
Islam is a complete religion and its practitioners have a center of authority and guidance, i.e. the Holy Qur’an.
5) For the purpose of amusement:
If the purpose of the cartoons was to provide an opportunity for people to laugh, the purpose has not been served. Instead of amusement, it has angered people and flared the flame of hatred for the West. Respect of an individual’s beliefs and values is the foremost feature of humanity. The press has to play a responsible role to lead from the front. The cartoons by Jyllands-Posten were not at all amusing, but aimed at dividing the global village into they and us.
6) Immigrant Muslims in Denmark:
The cartoons in Jyllands-Posten also point to the picture that the Muslims in Denmark have painted of their Danish counterparts. If any corrections need to be undertaken by the local Muslim population, time is now ripe for their implementation.
Although the Danish prime minister has gone on public to apologize on behalf of the country, Jyllands-Post has apologized for hurting the feelings of Muslims but not for publishing the cartoons. This shows the cleavage between the West and Islam.
The Jews have strongly marketed their Holocaust and not only the Jews but also the West rebut anyone who speaks against it, even of the stature of ex-Malaysian prime minister or the Iranian president. They masterly utilized the media to create a wave of sympathy for themselves and finally created Israel and are ruling the world at the expense of Americans. Muslims need to learn how to capitalize their sufferings.
With the current wave of anti-Islamic depiction of Jyllands-Posten, although the Americans and Britishers did come up with condemnations, a centralized action as those taken by the Jews needs to be undertaken. There are European laws against anti-Semitism, but none against anti-Islamism.
Historically it was the Arab Muslims who provided protection to the Jews against the Christian crusaders. Now the onus is on the Jews to support Muslims against this verbal and ideological abuse by the West. Will they come forward? Probably not, and the Muslims have to fight this battle alone and they will win only if they follow the preaching of the prophet of Islam and have faith in Allah.
Traffic light rules are made to prevent accidents. When a car crosses red light, it either gets a ticket or meets with an accident. Boundaries have to be set up for all the acts that we do in our lives. Freedom of speech is good, but it should not insult others. To all those who defend the printing of these caricatures: Freedom of speech is fine, but why use this freedom to insult billions of people and make them upset?
An act of terrorism conducted by a person of any other sect is not applied to the whole followers. The same should stand true for Muslims. Muslims are being targeted presently, as they provide the best alternative path to follow. It is now up to Muslims to safeguard their honor and religion from the hands of those who are disrespectful to not only their religion but to a person whose name is said and written with the words “Peace Be Upon Him“.
People in the past have also insulted the prophet of Islam and will continue to do so. As Muslims, our prophet has left behind his deeds for us to follow. If Muslims have to fight this war waged against them, they have to unite as a reckoning force, both economically and politically, and grab the world media attention. Under the current circumstances, we have to use our brains and not our hearts to fight this battle.
Minhaj A. Qidwai is a medical doctor, with Masters in health and business administration from USA