When I began writing several hours ago, having just turned off the Six O’Clock News in my car, I was pretty angry. I was foaming about the way Muslims have to react so stupidly every time a red flag is waved in front of us. Just after I became Muslim seven and a half years ago, another convert told me that the action we had taken was a bit like jumping on board a sinking ship. Days like this remind me of his analogy. But I’ve had dinner now and I’ve surfed a few blogs and suddenly noticed that it’s actually very hard to find Muslims saying anything stupid. All I see are the silent images on the BBC.
The cartoons in question were first published four months ago in Denmark, apparently to test the boundaries of freedom of expression. Perhaps Denmark had already established these boundaries when it’s Supreme Court ruled that a supermarket chain had the right to sack a young Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf to work. Of course, we can’t say this; it’s changing the subject. No, the newspaper in question, Jyllands Posten, consulted the Danish theologian Professor Tim Jensen before publishing the cartoons, according to Zaman Online. He responded with the advice that the cartoons should not be published, pointing out that “It will offend Muslims and only cause pointless provocation.” So the newspaper went ahead and published them anyway.
On 20 October 2005, the BBC reported that ambassadors of ten Muslim countries had complained to the Danish prime minister about the newspaper’s cartoons. Then the story disappeared for three months, only to reappear when Arla Foods announced it would have one hundred redundancies after its sales in the Middle East fell to zero. In this bizarre twist to the usual sanctions regime, Danish companies were pleading for a food-for-oil programme. Thus the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, chipped in to criticise the papers that re-ran the cartoons. Why did they re-run the cartoons? Did they, too, need to establish the boundaries? Were they still in doubt? Of course not. Nothing stirs fame like controversy. So away they wave with the red flag.
All day, the BBC has been stirring the story. The Today programme on Radio 4, then the World at One and PM. On the One O’Clock News on BBC1 TV, Darren Jordan introduced the package in sombre mood, we listened as the reporter told us that another clash of cultures, like that seen with the Satanic Verses, “was developing fast”, then Darren turned to the other camera with a smile and told us how to contribute to the debate online. While the sales of Lurpak continued to plummet, a self-righteous media began to fight back, chanting death to the enemies who have no respect for pointless provocation. Calls to boycott Middle Eastern goods quickly faded, however, when it was realised that the only Middle Eastern goods available were oil and stale baklava.
Apparently there has been a massive wave of protest across the Middle East. One involved a group of men pouring lighter fluid over a Danish flag which appeared to be made of tissue paper before setting it alight. In another scene, men whose convictions were so strong that they had to hide their faces beneath scarves surrounded the EU offices in Gaza and fired bullets into the air, gaining prime time airing on the Six O’Clock News and BBC Online. But rolling into Luton, the BBC filmed men walking out of a mosque looking scarily unperturbed. Even the non-Muslim asked for his opinion on the street seemed oblivious to the media frenzy unveiling around him. Unprepared, he stuttered something about nothing and shrugged his shoulders.
Personally I believe there must be better ways to honour our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, than to violently demand a non-Muslim newspaper observes Islamic principles of not depicting the Prophets. Islam has always prohibited this because it wanted to prevent its followers from taking them as objects of worship down the line. That’s not unreasonable, if you think of the way Iconography has been used in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity. But would we not be better off honouring Muhammed, peace be upon him, by living as he lived, trying to curb our anger and observing patience? But then again, that seems to be what Muslims are saying on the blogs I’ve read. Only time will tell, of course; tomorrow’s Jummah and we’ll see if we have a ritual bonfire of tubs of Lurpak in the car park. We’ll see.
On the other hand, the BBC was making much of the democratic right to cause offence in the civilised countries of Western Europe today. Unlike those ignorant, backward Muslims over there with their quaint ways and failure to appreciate satire, Denmark is a land of enlightened souls doing nothing but exploring their boundaries. Yes indeed, Denmark is such a pleasant civilised land that a radio station in Copenhagen had to have its broadcasting licence taken away in August last year after calling for the extermination of Muslims. Whilst exploring the boundaries of freedom of expression, Kaj Wilhelmsen told listeners to Radio Holger: “There are only two possible reactions if you want to stop this bomb terrorism – either you expel all Muslims from Western Europe so they cannot plant bombs, or you exterminate the fanatical Muslims which would mean killing a substantial part of Muslim immigrants.” As Queen Margrethe of Denmark is quoted as saying in her autobiography, it is time to take the challenge of Islam seriously: “We have let this issue float around for too long, because we are tolerant and rather lazy.” You see: we in the civilized West are much too tolerant to behave like those flag-made-of-tissue-burning, sanction-wielding brutes over there.
Sorry if I speak out of turn, but the whole extravaganza reeks of hypocrisy – on all sides.
Meanwhile East Africa is currently suffering from a severe drought, which is threatening to put up to 2.5 million people in Kenya alone at the risk of famine. It might be time to shift our attention in that direction and come up with a positive outcome instead.