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In the Name of Miss Liberty: Hunting the Bird of Freedom

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This is the first article in a series titled “In the name of Miss Liberty” which seeks to highlight various issues humanity face today regarding the case of Liberty. I shall start with the case of freedom of speech.

1. Brief Chronology
On September 30th, 2005, a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten - which represents the right wing in Denmark - published 12 cartoons illustrating Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.) in offensive and insulting ways.

The 12 cartoons were submitted to the newspaper following an invitation from Flemming Rose - the magazine’s cultural editor - to a group of illustrators in order to illustrate Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.), and were published within an article about self-censorship and freedom of speech, describing - criticising - the difficulty that faced Kaare Bluitken - a Danish writer - on finding artists to illustrate his educational children’s book about Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.)

On October 9th, leaders of the Muslim minority in Denmark - who represent about 3.7% of the total population - demanded an apology from the newspaper, but there was no response.

Later, the ambassadors of 11 Arab and Islamic countries in Denmark tried to resolve this issue with the Danish government by sending a letter to Anders Fogh Rasmussen -the Danish Prime Minister- dated on October 12th, but he refused to meet them and sent a written reply - on October 21st - mentioning that he can’t do nothing as this will violate freedom of speech in Denmark.

This was another point that served to heighten the crisis. The Islaamic world began to know about this issue, and demonstrations started everywhere: from the Middle East, passing by Africa, Asia and ending within Europe itself.

Muslims protested against those insulting cartoons, calling the Danish people to apologise. Neither the Danish newspaper nor the Danish government listened to reasonable calls, and therefore a popular - not governmental - call for boycotting Danish goods started to materialize  throughout  many Islaamic nations worldwide as of January 26th, 2006.

Such boycott - accompanied by the demonstrations - started in the Middle East at first, and then quickly spread to other countries within the predominantly Islaamic world as a spontaneous reaction from Muslims towards insulting their symbol, Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.). Some violent actions took place, however, like torching the Danish embassy in Syria and the Danish consulate in Lebanon on February 4th and 5th, respectively.

On January 30th, Jyllands-Posten published a statement of apology to Muslims. The same statement of apology was re-published again on February 10th, but the majority of Muslims did not accept it because the magazine didn’t apologise for the insulting cartoons; rather they apologised for making Muslims feel angry. The English version of this apology read as follows:
“On 30 September last year, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten published 12 different cartoonists’ idea of what the Prophet Mohammed might have looked like. The initiative was taken as part of an ongoing public debate on freedom of expression, a freedom much cherished in Denmark.

In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.”

More than 60 major European newspapers re-published those cartoons - after this crisis began - in order to support Jyllands-Posten, hiding behind freedom of speech, while some other Middle Eastern newspapers re-published them too. This cartoon row led to a crisis between the Western and Islaamic worlds - including the Arab one - and has not stopped by the time this article was written.

2. Freedom: as a whole package
First of all, I want to start with defining the word Freedom. Away from any formal definitions, I see freedom as a bird; such a bird needs two wings plus a medium to fly, and a final destination to reach. Therefore, freedom itself is not the goal; rather it is the only right path to reach such destination. In the light of this concept, terms can be easily defined as follows:
* The two wings are sense and responsibility;
* The medium is the freewill of people; and
* The destination is the welfare of the humankind.

Only when communities - individuals, governments and organisations - understand this wide meaning, real freedom will take place among the whole community, and will guide it to the destination of the productivity by all means; either intellectually or physically. In parallel, it will guide such community to establish strong bonds with other communities worldwide for the welfare of humankind.

3. The Matrix of Irresponsibility
This crisis revealed that humanity - in the 21st century - still has mentalities that don’t understand the previously mentioned wide concept of freedom. Such mentalities try to deal with issues from their own perspective, even if their acts caused serious problems or affected the freedom of the others.

I wonder how an editor-in-chief, and cultural editor of a widely read newspaper in a civilised country didn’t try to read something real about Islaam before criticising it, or publishing illustrative cartoons about its symbol. The newspaper just concentrated on extremists Muslims who don’t represent Islaam. I also wonder how a book author didn’t read something real about Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.) before trying to introduce him for Danish kids. I finally wonder how some people do not understand the wide concept of freedom; it is very scary how they hide behind Miss Liberty and act - in the name of her - in such irresponsible ways. Poor Miss Liberty!

Maybe some westerns are not aware that Islaam decries any kind of threats towards any human being; Muslim or otherwise. Therefore what had been illustrated in those cartoons did not represent the real Islaamic faith and, consequently, is regarded a racist view of Muslims. In parallel, torching the European embassies - by some angry protesters - is not accepted from true Islaamic values. That’s why al-Qaeda acts are not welcomed among the majority of Muslims, as violence never solves a problem.

On the other hand, maybe some westerns are not aware also that Islaam - as a lifestyle not only religion for 1.5 billon Muslims - had granted freedom - by all means - for all people who live within the state, no matter the colour of their skins, their races, and wither they are Muslims or Not. Furthermore, freedom of speech is an integral part of this freedom package; therefore it is granted in Islaam according to the wide vision of freedom I explained above.

For that matter, I do believe that no one should be persecuted for his opinion as much as it respects the freedom of others. This was clearly mentioned in the articles 19 & 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which applies to all means of expressing opinion like books, articles, cartoons, plays, websites/blogs...etc.

This is the core of Islaam, which Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.) came with - as the last messenger from Allaah Almighty to Mankind. I don’t believe in generalising therefore I’m not afraid to say that some Muslims didn’t understand those basic facts themselves; however this is not the fault of Islaam or the majority of Muslims as I mentioned before [4th issue.]

4. Mix and Match
On the other hand, I want to highlight a basic fact, which we forgot through this controversy. People - whoever they are - are bound to act either rightly or wrongly , therefore, criticising their acts is not bad; it is another healthy sign for freedom of speech as long as it respects the people themselves, and aims for the welfare of the community. This applies to all people, from all races and religions.

However when it comes to the prophets - all prophets - limits should be placed. Prophets are not normal people whose actions are subject to our criticism. They are the messengers of Allaah Almighty to humankind, and Islaam ordered Muslims to believe and respect all of.

This is why Islaam rejects any kind of criticism for any and all prophets by any mean, in addition to its prohibition of portraying their images by any mean. This is a basic fact of the Islaamic faith that should be understood by the western people.

In light of this simple fact, I don’t agree with the some voices which compare publishing those insulting cartoons to publishing cartoons about Holocaust. The two cases are completely different, as we are talking here about prophets. This doesn’t mean I deny the holocaust, simply because no one can deny such genocide against innocent people - both Jewish and others.

On the other hand, I don’t see cartooning Holocaust as freedom of speech, simply because this was genocide against innocent humans. Here we see another wrong idea from Felmming Rose when he stated that he might re-print Iranian cartoons of the Holocaust, and therefore he was sent on leave February 10th. Even if he returns back: sorry sir, you’ve missed the whole point.

Another point: If those Jyllands-Posten insulting cartoons were criticising normal Muslims - in this unacceptable and insulting way - the majority of Muslims would felt angry as this is not the real image of Islaam, so what about insulting Prophet Mu’hammad (P.B.U.H.) himself, who is considered the most important symbol of Islaam in parallel with Holy ’Qur a~n?!

Furthermore, it’s not our problem that westerns criticise Jesus on a daily bias - as the magazine mentioned in its apology - or that they are secular communities. They are free to choose whatever they like, however freedom doesn’t’ mean that you apply your own values to other civilisations.

That’s why Muslims felt angry, insulted and started boycotting because you - Flemming Rose and your magazine - didn’t try to understand those basic facts before publishing your article and cartoons.

5. A Call for Solution
As the crisis expanded, I believe that a package of reasonable and serous actions should be taken in order to reach a solution:

A. The U.N. Role: In a previous article - in the 6th issue of I-MAG - I suggested that the U.N. should take an effective role in the welfare of Humanity, as this was the main goal of establishing this organisation. For that matter, not only Articles 19 & 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be clearly defined but also international laws should be legislated and enacted to prosecute anyone who insults any prophets and other religious symbols, not only prosecuting those who deny the Holocaust.

B. People’s Role: Beside those laws, people - whether individuals, governments or organisations - must totally understand the wide concept of freedom as mentioned early in this article. It’s a matter of finding the meeting points as I’d previously mentioned [I-MAG’s 6th issue.]

C. Civilisations’ Role: Another basic fact which I think everyone knows well is that people are not thinking the same way because they come from diverse and different cultures. However I do believe that nations should sustain each other, not only cooperate with each other.

Therefore I don’t agree with Samuel Huntington’s theory about The Clash of Civilisations which he introduced in 1993. I don’t agree about the concept of clashing because Islaam came with a global message of urbanising Earth. Such urbanisation will never take place unless civilisations start to find effective ways to sustain relations with each other for the welfare of humankind.

This principle of cooperation and sustainability was clearly mentioned in the Holy ’Qura~n: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made `you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allaah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allaah is Knower, Aware.” [The Holy ’Qura~n, the chapter of Al’hujuraat: 13]. It was successfully applied during the Islaamic civilisation when Europeans were living in the darkness of Middle Ages. However civilisations rise and fall as we know.

Today we are living within the Western Civilisation, which we - Muslims - don’t have problem with on contrary to what some people think; we do respect the others, and don’t force anyone to join Islaam. The issue, therefore, is the attempt to apply Western values to our societies. Every civilisation has its own values that must be respected.

In parallel, who said that civilisation is only the technology? Civilisation is a complete package which contains morals, cooperation, and understanding each other. Without this package, humanity will face dark future, and will face worse actions in the future, but only if we didn’t find a better way to communicate and interact.

D. Humankind: We are in need of real efforts from people - Muslims and Westerns - who still care about humankind to overcome this crisis. It’s very sad that we are still facing problems of misunderstanding in the 21st century. Muslims want to guarantee that this will not take place in the future, because insulting our prophet (P.B.U.H.) or our ’Qura~n is unacceptable no matter what.

Anyway, George Bernard Shaw stated; “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” I totally agree with him and want to add: when someone makes real apology for a fault he made, he is really civilised, even if he doesn’t read or write. Finally, what I’m pretty and truly sure of: the world after September 30th, 2005, will never become again like the day before. I wish to see it changing for the better of humankind, not the contrary.

 


Quotes:

 

“The arrow belongs not to the archer when it has once left the bow; the word no longer belongs to the speaker when it has once passed his lips.”
Heinrich Heine

“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Albert Einstein

Hicham Maged -

Hicham Maged [Hishaam Maajid] has a bachelor's degree in architecture and urban planning and design.

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