Science - February 9, 2006

In the news / Danish cartoons

Last Sunday the Muslim rage about Danish anti-Islam cartoons came to a climax. In the Lebanese capital Beirut the Danish consulate went up in flames and pictures of furious crowds shocked the West. While the Muslim world cut their ties with Denmark, the Danish authorities called upon the freedom of speech. But, to what extent is freedom of speech an answer for a Lebanese Muslim?

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Mazen El Solh has travelled the world. In fluent English he tells about the times he lived in the international enclaves of Rome, Morocco, Cairo, and in Beirut in his native country Lebanon. For the last two and a half years he has been in Wageningen for his MSc in International Development Studies. Normally he would be interviewed about his ideas on the news in Lebanon. But because of the sensitive topic, Mazen wanted to write his own plea.

‘Personally I strongly disassociate and condemn the violence and burning of the embassies that occurred in Beirut. When I noticed the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed I was shocked at the lack of condemnation for a deliberate provocation. Muslims all over the world, extremists and even moderates, feel that Islam is being targeted and defamed and this cartoon is further indication of an alarming pattern of provocation. “Islamphobia” is a reality unfortunately; and it greatly distorts the image of Muslims all over the world. There is this ultra-‘nationalist’ right wing fervour that is evident that tries to convince the West that Muslims want to change the way they live, and want to change their very values for them. This idea is preposterous, and is antagonistic towards the Muslim populations that exist in the West.

‘It is often overlooked but I believe it should be made clear that the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, is an independent right wing newspaper. I find it ironic that a paper that was at one point “infamous for its sympathy for fascism and understanding of the German Nazi dictatorship” (according to Wikepidia, The Free Encyclopedia - Jyllands-Posten) is giving Muslims a lesson in freedom of speech…

‘The mere drawing of the prophet is regarded as blasphemous by Muslims, thus drawing him and depicting him as a terrorist can only be seen as an incitement against Muslims. Many western leaders have given half-condemnations of the caricatures. I say “half-condemnations” because they have often said the pictures are regrettable but we have freedom of speech in the West. It is interesting why this lecture on the freedom of speech comes in defence of caricatures insulting Islam, whilst no one would give a lecture on freedom of speech for media that is anti-Semitic, Nazi or fascist (which is even a crime in certain European countries!).

‘When the Iranian President denied the Holocaust (which I do not agree with by the way), he was met by a global outcry by world leaders, none of these leaders defended the man’s right to free speech. The Muslim world, I believe, wanted a similar response from world leaders not a patronizing lecture.

‘It is important in our critical time today that we try to diminish and negate those that try to polarize the world between East and West, whether it is Islamic extremists or those ultra right wing nationalists. The ‘West’ has to dissociate themselves from those right wing elements that seek hostility with the foreign world. And the ‘East’ has to dissociate themselves from the Muslim extremists and those that incite violence. Unfortunately such provocations from both sides reinvigorate extremists on both sides. We have to learn not to rally around these provokers but rally around those that believe in tolerance and coexistence in dignity.’

Mazen El Sohl

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