Flemming Rose, an editor from Denmark’s largest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, reacted to news that Danish cartoonists were too afraid of Muslim militants to illustrate a new children’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad, by doing exactly that, putting Denmark’s policies of tolerance to the test by commissioning a series of illustrations of Muhammad.
In response thousands of Muslims in Denmark marched in protest demanding the newspaper be “punished”, though interestingly an Iranian woman, Nasim Rahnama, has organised counter-protests in support of the editor, managing to secure one hundred and fifty signatures affirming freedom of expression.
As I have mentioned before, when I see more people like the commendable Nasim Rahnama taking a stand then I may conclude that things are improving and perhaps modern Islam is not a blight on any tolerant society it comes into contact with. But as it stands, clearly it is the ignorant bigots who can put the largest mobs on the streets and that is why the actions of editor Flemming Rose need to be strongly applauded. It is hard to overstate the importance of confronting intolerant Islam on a cultural as well as a political level.
So when Muslim scholars attack the newspaper for its cartoons:
Lawyer and author Shirin Ebadi, who received the Nobel peace prize in 2003 for her fight for human rights and democracy in Iran, told daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten that its decision to call for and print twelve caricatures of the Muslim prophet might have been a well-intentioned attempt to prompt a dialogue on democracy between Muslims and non-Muslims in Denmark. The effect, however, had been the opposite, and in fact risked harming democracy’s cause in Islamic countries.
‘I would like to stress that I do not personally have any problems with cartoons like these,’ said Ebadi, who is a devout Muslim. ‘The problem is the way the subject is approached. It splits more than it unites.’
But that is exactly the point: it is intended to ‘split’ rather than ‘unite’ and the importance of unity is vastly overrated. No one who values tolerant pluralistic western values should be seeking some sort of compromise with bigotry. There should be no attempt to ‘unite’ with the people who marched in Denmark demanding the government ‘punish’ Jyllands-Posten, in fact they must be confronted.
And please, the scholar is making a category error because it has nothing to do with ‘democracy’. Even if a democratic majority do not want to see cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad appear in the newspapers, it is still wrong to try and use the force of law to prevent it. Dislike the idea? Fine, do not buy the damn newspaper. The issue here is liberty and democracy is far from a synonym for that.