Cartoons Provoke Anger Across Muslim World
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JONATHAN MILLER: Insults now added to the injury of losing an election, Palestinian gunmen, an offshoot of the Fatah faction, redirecting their fire at the European Union today. Calls for restraint from Brussels unheeded, they warned that the EU offices were closed, retaliation, they said for publication of the offending pictures in a growing number of European papers. “We give the Danish, French and Spanish governments 48 hours to apologize, or else,” they said.
They went on to threaten to bomb European offices and churches in Gaza. On the West Bank Norway was forced to close its representative office today — in the last few minutes, news from the city of Nablus that a German citizen has been kidnapped – earlier, gunmen reportedly searching hotels and apartments for foreigners.
Outraged has spread like a virus. Tunisia and Morocco have confiscated copies of the newspaper, France Soir. The cartoons have now been published in seven European countries, but not so far in Britain.
Presidents, government and religious leaders the length and breadth of the Muslim world have joined the chorus of criticism, even as far as Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Muslim leaders from Denmark, where a newspaper first carried the 12 cartoons in question, have shown them to leaders of the Arab League in Cairo.
SPOKESMAN: This is one of the pictures. They imagined that this is our Prophet Muhammad, a blind man.
JONATHAN MILLER: Depicting the image of the prophet is prohibited in Sharia law to prevent idolatry.
SPOKESMAN: They imagine that our Prophet Muhammad — they are imagining his head as a bomb. This is the source of terrorism. Not anywhere else, but he is the main source for terrorism; that’s what they want to say in this picture.
JONATHAN MILLER: And this is where the trouble started. A well-intentioned Danish children’s book on the life story of Muhammad, but when its illustrator demanded he remain anonymous because on the cover he had drawn the prophet’s face, the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, went out of its way it wasn’t scared to do so, turning the Danish prime minister into another western hate figure.
Now other European newspapers have followed suit, escalating this supposed clash of civilizations, citing what they say are legitimate European cultural traditions, like freedom of expression, although many broadcasters still fearful of depicting the images in detail.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I don’t know exactly why –
JONATHAN MILLER: The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, contrite on Al Arabiya satellite TV, top story; he condemned the cartoons, but said he had no control over the press.
On the rival al-Jazeera, lengthy reports, the cartoons not shown though, predicting anger across the Muslim world at Friday prayers tomorrow. At the French newspaper, whose Egyptian Christian owner sacked the managing editor last night, the editor-in-chief now denouncing censorship; nothing to say sorry for, he said.
SERGE FAUBERT, Editor-in-Chief, France Soir (Translated): It is out of order that we present our apologies for anything. We fully assume responsibility for what we did. This paper is proud to have done so. I’m proud of the journalists, of France Soir.
JONATHAN MILLER: And as the EU has threats of consumer boycotts in the Arab world, tonight a weekly newspaper in Jordan, a Muslim country, boldly provocatively reprinting the cartoons explaining context. Muslims of the world be reasonable, the editorial urged, the Jordanian government branding this move a big mistake and threatening legal action.
JEFFREY BROWN: And with me to look at the growing tensions raised by this story are: Mohammed Younis, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which promotes civil rights for American Muslims; and Stephan Richter, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, an online daily that focuses on international politics and culture. He’s a German citizen who’s lived in the U.S. for 25 years.
And welcome to both of you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Younis, starting with you, why has a set of cartoons upset so many people?
AHMED YOUNIS: Well, first, it is Ahmed Younis, just a quick correction.
JEFFREY BROWN: I’m sorry.
AHMED YOUNIS: This goes to the very core of who we are. This transcends boundaries of religiosity; it transcends boundaries of tradition and culture. Muslims come from everywhere around the world.
Only 20 percent of us are of Arab origin, and really what we’re attempting to say is: This is exactly what Muslims around the world have been saying consistently, that when our prophet is attacked, when the very basis of how we see ourselves is attacked, we see ourselves as the followers of the Prophet Abraham, the Prophet Moses, the Prophet Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, all respected equally, all revered equally, and when those individuals are attacked or when God is attacked, then we feel that our very identity, the very core of our beliefs are under assault, and the only thing that we can do in response is to speak out for our rights.
JEFFREY BROWN: And as best you can tell, does this strike Muslims across the board?
AHMED YOUNIS: Absolutely. This does not discriminate against anyone. Again, religiosity, how conservative or how liberal someone is, has nothing to do with this. This is the tradition that has been set by people who call themselves Muslims, regardless of how they live their life day to day. And the Prophet Muhammad set an example, for instance, in the Medina Constitution of comity between people of multiple faiths when he was the person that had the privilege and the leverage of power.
And really it is very interesting that people say this is an argument between the traditions of freedom of expression in the West, and the traditions of Islam and Muslims, when, in fact, one of the primary goals of the Sharia, the law of Muslims that is promulgated by individuals, is the protection of freedom of speech, the protection of the products of the mind, which is a blessing of God, but there is a difference between freedom of speech and the responsibility of speech, both by the speechmaker and by the authorities that are responsible for an amicable exchange between different members of a society.
JEFFREY BROWN: Stephan Richter, you were able to talk to people in Denmark and in Europe. What do we know about the paper that started this and their reasons for doing it?
STEPHAN RICHTER: Well, there are really two stories. One is the one that you point to, the start and where we’re at now. At the start, it was probably a gratuitous effort on the part of the Danish paper; it is a conservative paper, contrary to the good traditions of editorial cartooning, where you need to have some current action, I mean, the images shown about the prophet.
You know, some months ago, there were reasons to perhaps display them, but right now in a series of them, it is questionable cartooning because they just wanted to prove that it can be done, and the editors in various papers are saying, really, it is a domestic question because the conservative paper wanted to inflame some of the anti-immigrant sentiments in Denmark, of that paper of conservative parties, conservative papers and conservative parties, as anywhere in Europe on the progressive and conservative front are closely aligned.
So they wanted to do some cheap domestic gain, and in that context it was not a legitimate means of journalism; at the same time, compared to everything that you said very eloquently, there couldn’t be bigger disagreement because the logic of your position, while you talk about benevolence and understanding and so in, is basically that one culture sets up a global standard under which anybody has to live.
And, in Europe, for example, they report cases in France last fall where Jesus was depicted naked, with his — with a naked erect member with a condom on, and the court in France — there are lots of Catholics who were incensed by this –they took it to the court, and the court said, look, this is absolutely distasteful; we can understand that lots of people don’t enjoy this, would have preferred not to have this published but, and this was the newspaper Liberation, but as a matter of separation of church and state, freedom of speech, all of our traditions established over the last 200 years, we have to put the freedom of expression over anything else.
JEFFREY BROWN: You’re putting it in a way — I want to read a quote from the cultural editor of the Danish paper, he said: “This is a far bigger story than just the question of 12 cartoons in a small Danish newspaper. This about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with the modern secular society; how much does an immigrant have to give up; and how much does the receiving culture have to compromise.” Is that a fair way of seeing what’s going on?
AHMED YOUNIS: Absolutely. Let’s remember that many of these countries are having a tremendous amount of difficulty integrating their Muslim communities for different reasons; in Belgium because of the differences of culture between the North and the South, in France because of the lack of the role of religion in the public discourse, many of these countries are having problems with their Muslim minorities.
And let’s not forget this is the same Europe that had a genocide against Muslims ten years ago, so the idea that these will not inflame hate; these will not inflame crimes; these will not inflate a response against the Muslim community is very much not true.
And secondly, integration is the way of tomorrow. Whether its Tariq Ramadan in Europe or the American Muslim community here, to develop an identity that is germane to the country of which those individuals live and is perceived as organic and legitimate within the classical discourse of Islam, and perceived by Muslims around the world to be legitimate within the classical definitions of Islam, this is the goal of Muslim minority communities in the West.
And these types of cartoons and this type of discourse hinders our ability to integrate our communities in a way that is healthy for ourselves, and healthy for the society generally.
And so when we come to assess this type of free speech, of course it is free speech. No one is asking any government to muzzle their individuals, but what we’re saying is, in the current climate in global discourse about Islam and Muslims, an immediate response that attacks at the very core of this type of hate mongering is required by those who have privilege and leverage in society to ensure that we don’t fall down a slippery slope of losing those who we are trying to engage with.
JEFFREY BROWN: Stefan, you’re seeing it from the side of the country who has a value into which this must be balanced?
STEPHAN RICHTER: Right. And I think in an American context what is very important is the war on terror that the president has tried to advocate to close ranks between Europe and the United States has not resonated well. But when it comes all of a sudden to a situation where basically standards of Saudi Arabia are for press freedom or non-freedom there are dictated into the life of every European, and the freedom of expression; that’s where the Europeans draw a line.
So this current debate is really leading to the clash of civilizations in a manner that is far more intense than the world wars – the war on terror was — because all of a sudden the issues that are up, you mentioned immigrants in Europe — certainly what we forget in the United States, Muslim immigrants often from India and Pakistan are much better off financially than those in Europe.
In Europe there is a lack of willingness of integration, which is a big issue, and the big issue of gender equality. You know, in Germany you have cases now where people applying for a residency permit are asked, do you believe in the equality of women and if you don’t, you don’t get residency permit.
There is all of a sudden a tendency in Europe of drawing a line, and this is among liberal people; this is not conservatives – this is about people who have always preached integration of cultures, but it has really become – come to a very touchy point.
And, you know, we agree on the principles but not on the application because you still maintain there is one religion that has a higher standard because of its self-perception over all others and can establish a global standard and on that basis it won’t work.
JEFFREY BROWN: We just have a moment. So I just want to let you briefly respond to this. Is it possible to tamp this down, or does it spread, because we’ve seen in the last day statements by government officials, by the editor of the paper. Where does it go?
AHMED YOUNIS: Absolutely it is possible to bring this down by engaging with the vast majority of moderate Muslims. This is not about Saudi Arabia’s perception of the issue. It’s about – and you know, we’re speaking of counterterrorism policy.
Muslims, American Muslims, Muslims in Europe, Muslims generally must be at the apex of any counterterrorism effort that will be successful, any engagement of hearts and minds that will be successful, and cartoons like this and similar discourse offend those who we need the most in any sort of counterterrorism, national security, engagement of hearts and minds public diplomacy program, and once we exclude those people and alienate them, we are heading down a road of a lack of engagement and a lack of discourse, and that is not good for America or the West.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Stephan Richter.
STEPHAN RICHTER: That’s a good point, but moderate Muslims also need to take the battle into their own societies, into the structures, into Saudi Arabia and so on. And that’s what’s missing because you have plenty of Middle Eastern Muslim papers that are full of viciously anti-Semitic cartoons every day, and this is the law of two standards, and that doesn’t work because we really need to apply all standards that you advocated also into those societies, and then we can make it work.
AHMED YOUNIS: And I think the majority of Muslims would agree with that. And our track record is clear, whether it is the Taliban with Buddhist temples or attacks against Christian communities in Muslim countries, we’re very consistent, religious freedom is for everyone, not just for ourselves.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ahmed Younis, Stephan Richter, thank you both very much.