Culture of freedom or immorality of mockery?
The publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) widens the gap that previous similar unfortunate happenings have opened between the two worlds: the Islamic world and the West. To trace the crisis between the two worlds simply to the release of the cartoons would be either a serious understatement or a deliberate misrepresentation of reality. To grasp the true nature of the crisis and to find out the genuine causes behind it will require a more global approach that takes in consideration the recognition of the following fundamental facts:
1) Unremitting aggression : The publication of these derisive cartoons is linked to a chain of preceding artistic, literary, and intellectual productions, which testify to the same persistent carelessness about the sensibilities of the Muslims, and to a relentless offending of their feelings. Besides the numerous wicked profanatory acts that targeted the Holy Koran, and the crusades waged against the local traditional schools and their programmes and methods of teaching, there have been many appalling and horrifying scenes of soldiers inflicting the worst forms of cruel treatment on Muslim prisoners, thus venting the most brutal sadistic feelings on defenceless captives. Such behaviours do not go without recalling the long history of assaults, which started with the Crusaders, passing through the Inquisition, and culminating in the imperialistic enterprise, which robbed the peoples of the Islamic World of their lands and resources, disrupted their local modes of production, and annexed them to a strange history, thus perpetuating a state of restlessness and backwardness. The harm inflicted on the populations of Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Chechnya and Iran witnesses to the continuation of the calamitous Western penetration in the heartlands of Islam. No wonder, then, if the West is perceived by the down-trodden as being the epitome of injustice, hegemony and double-standards. Any provocative act originating from the West, whatever its nature or size, is likely to spark the feeling of anger and resentment in the hearts of those peoples. Much as they are the expression of a strong condemnation of the abject act of desecration which targeted the most sacred symbols of Islam, the demonstrations that have shaken the streets of the Islamic World are, at the same time, the expression of a growing mood of indignation and dissatisfaction with unwanted Western hegemonic interference in the Islamic World.
2) Perpetuation of stereotypes about Islam: the inherited stereotypes continue to shape Western perception of Islam and to play a major role in defining the nature of the relationship between “self” and “other”. The shocking cartoons, which aim at mocking the prophet of Islam, are a clear indication of the firmly established stereotype which associates Islam with aggressiveness, fanaticism, barbarism and self-enclosure. Even if we concede that the targeting of the Prophet (PBUH) might be ascribed, in the best cases, to an alleged form of ignorance of the gravity of the act and the degree of hurtfulness, we cannot concede that the portraying of Islam does not feed on images deeply ingrained in the Western framework of perception. Truly the West has not yet got rid of its medieval legacy when it comes to the perception of Islam; neither the triumph of secularism, nor that of rationalism has renewed the perception of Islam in the West. No wonder we still encounter a considerable number of Western voices and categories of intellectuals using the defense of the values of democracy, freedom and liberalism as smokescreen to inject life in old erroneous perceptions of Islam, and to reinvigorate the traditional hatred towards Muslims, and credit the old lies about Islam with new sense.
3) Abusing freedom of expression : Western thinkers, politicians, artists and journalists put forward the claim that freedom of expression—as one of the most inalienable human rights—is an absolute freedom. However, there is a flagrant paradox when it comes to the application of this freedom: it is undeniably true that the course of freedom runs smoothly when the object of expression is Islam and Muslims; but as soon as it is suspected that the issue might suggest the slightest hint at “anti-Semitism” or “revisionism”, swords and pens will be brandished by those same advocates of freedom of speech to call for all necessary measures of repression. Curiously enough, when it comes to these issues, they resort to court in order to hush loud voices and to smother free thinking. So, it goes without saying that freedom of speech is not as absolute as it is pretended to be; nor is it left with no watchdogs to protect it from all kinds of abject misuse. Suffice it, as a proof about what we are saying, to hint at the number of restrictions, both ideological and political, meant to limit the freedom of speech in the West. These restrictions prevent the expression of all kinds of opinion and thought which go against Western choices and orientations. Besides these political and ideological restrictions, there are restrictions emanating from international Law and constitutions; they are meant to warrant the human dignity and the right to cultural diversity and difference, and to protect religious freedom. Among these, we find restrictions that are of a moral and ethical nature; they are predicated upon basic shared human beliefs in eternal values capable of catering for the dignity of individuals, and opening a space where the chances of cultural coexistence and communication between different peoples are increased.
Judging from all that has been said, and facing the dangerous debacle of values which threatens the security of the world society, it seems that the issuing of laws, even though necessary, is not sufficient to protect all religions from humiliating assaults, and to eradicate the roots of the crisis. A good legislative framework might be considered as a first step towards the limiting of gratuitous provocation and the absorption of growing public anger. Yet, this is not enough to free Western behaviour of the traces of a long tradition of hegemony and imperialism, nor to change the highbrow intellectual attitude adopted towards Islam and Muslims, or to perceive Islam and its civilisation through prisms, other than the prisms of its medieval erroneous perception. A change in the Western attitude toward Islam and in the perception of its images can be attained through a change in predominant modes of culture and education. It goes without saying that only a serious thinking activity can re-educate us into another culture and convince us of the necessity to accept the challenging of our models of education. It is incumbent upon thinkers to explore the field of collective perception, to analyse its main constituents, and to shed light on the mechanisms of its functioning. Besides, a serious thinking activity can help us rethink and re-examine the erroneous conceptions about laws and freedom, and to establish the right pillars upon which a good system of relationships between different parts can be edified.
For all the reasons cited above, and proceeding from a strong sense of intellectual responsibility and indefectible commitment to the values of coexistence, we--the members of the “Circle of Wisdom for Thinkers and Researchers”--call on honourable wise thinkers from both worlds: Islamic world and the West, to assume the above-mentioned burden of enlightening the world and re-educating it by resorting to the deconstruction of the stereotypes that nurture Western perception, and by uncovering its condescending attitudes towards the peoples of the Islamic world. We invite them as well to focus on the fallacious character of irresponsible uses of culture of freedom, which unfortunately do not but reveal the worst forms of immorality likely to open the doors for more crises, and incur catastrophes on our world.
President : Pr. TAHA Abd Arrahmane
Translation : Dr. Khalid HAJJI