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The Time For Speaking Up
Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

was passed up by the Danish Prime Minister.

By Linda E. Edwards

Rana Partap, writing in the Express of Feb. 11, 2006, said in The Letter of The Day, that it was time for moderate Muslims to speak up. I would like to suggest that the Danish Prime Minister passed up an opportunity to Speak Up against the publication of the cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed, when the ambassadors of three Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and one other, went to see him in horror over the cartoons, one allegedly depicting the Prophet wearing a bomb as a turban.

My background for this comment comes from three sources, an extensive article on the issue published by the London Guardian; a talk given by His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the USA, and brother to King Abdullah, in Houston on Feb. 7th; and a reply to a question raised by a member of the audience to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen of India at another forum in Houston, Texas on Feb. 8th. Both of these events were covered by the media and were attended by hundreds of people.

According to the Guardian of London, a Danish writer of a child's book on The Prophet was seeking an illustrator for his book, and a number of people declined, for fear of incurring the wrath of Muslims. According to Prince Turki, Muslims are forbidden to create any depictions of The Prophet or of God. They are people of The Book, or Abrahamic people, but only Christians depict pictures of God. The Jews do not do this either.

According to the Guardian, one person decided to do the illustrations anonymously. So the issue and its possible consequences were being discussed long before the storm broke.

That is when a Danish newspaper decided to test the waters by commissioning the twelve notorious cartoons, which it published, to much pain and horror.

Now, there are about 200,000 Muslims in Denmark. Did the writer of the book seek their leaders opinions on whether doing the illustrations would cause a problem? Was it possible to do a book on The Prophet depicting the well, Maccah as it was and is, a pilgrim walking to the Hadj and not do The Prophet? Of course it was possible. Did the writer choose this path? No. Did he consult any Muslim about possible problems? Not so recorded, probably not. Did the newspaper commissioning and planning to publish the pictures check with any Muslims? Not so recorded by The Guardian of London.

Now when the cartoons came out, to much indignation, but before the riots started, the three ambassadors went to see the Danish Prime Minister to complain, and allegedly to ask that the publishers be punished. It is reported that they were brushed off by the Danish Prime Minister, whose country is part of that world conscious group called the European Union, and which depends heavily on Middle East oil. Maybe he thought the cartoons were funny, maybe he thought they were fussing about small potatoes, but that, it seems to me who has never held any ambassadorial post, is not how to treat three countries who are offended and enraged by something people in your country have done to them. He did not apologise. He could have stalled for time, promising to investigate and get back to them. He could have expressed regret, but apparently he gave them his Freedom of The Press Speech, and they perceived that as unrepentant arrogance.

Some Danish Muslim clerics then took the pictures to the Middle East and showed them to people there. Then, regretfully I use the words, the shit hit the fan, then some other staunch members of the European Union Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and even far away New Zealand decided to publish the pictures to show solidarity with the idiotic behaviour which was already causing offense. (I note for the record that all the countries named had their hands dirty with the treatment of the Jews in WWII. All except New Zealand. Switzerland has always claimed neutrality, but it benefited from Hitler's banking of stolen Jewish gold there, and did not return these treasures until a decade ago. Hardly clean hands, I would say. Now this.)

This only added fuel to the fires of anger raging in the Middle East, about the continued state of affairs in Palestine, about Sharon's "imprisonment" of Arafat in his headquarters until long after medical help could do him any good, about the state of aparthied existing for the Palestinian people, and the Iraq and Afghan wars.

After a few Danish Embassies and factories in the region were sacked and burnt, and the European Union Headquarters in Palestine occupied by angry young men waving guns, the Danish Prime Minister had a change of heart and apologized for the publication, and the newspaper expressed regret for the hurt it had caused but not for the publication. Freedom of the Press, it seems, is to be interpreted as freedom to offend one billion Muslims worldwide, and Rana Partap wants to hear from moderate ones of them.

Is she presuming that moderate Muslims would have found the cartoons funny? Cut them out and put them on their wall, perhaps? Get their children to colour them in Muslim kindergartens throughout the world? And have them become a "Newspaper in The Classroom" project? Or does she expect them to condemn the actions of the hotheaded young men in Palestine, while equally hot-headed young men in Europe are re-publishing the cartoons after they have been deemed offensive to all Muslims? Does freedom of the press really include deliberately trampling on the sensitivities of the world's people?

And now, the question as responded to by Mr. Amartya Sen of India. India, he said, has a long tradition of multiculturalism. It was originally a Buddhist (200BC) country, then during the reign of Ashoka, and later Shah Jehan, India enjoyed long periods of prosperity and learning under the Khans (Muslim word for King). India prefers to live peacefully with the eleven different religions that prosper there, and he condemned the publication of the cartoons. Now, he is an economist, not a politician by trade, and he was speaking as a thinking man.

Prince Turki al Faizal was of the opinion that any depiction of any other important Muslim figure, could have been considered funny, but there is nothing that any Muslim, devout or not, moderate or conservative would have considered as less than extremely offensive in depicting The Prophet in cartoons. The depiction as portrait would be offensive. It is forbidden. The cartoons were worse.

Now the writer of the proposed children's book has his answer. What will he tell the children about that austere faith where people stop their taxis-driver and passengers-to answer the call to prayer, where the fanciest boutiques will stop a million dollar deal when the Imam calls out Allah O Ackbar! in order to close for prayer? Where a young man playing international soccer will stop to pray on the field? Where a basketball superstar, unable to function away from his faith, goes home to his country for a retreat, brings his family to his hometown in the USA, creates a large prayer room in his house, then goes on to lead his team to two NBA Championships, and in celebration, builds the largest mosque in Houston? This is the Nigerian, Hakeem Elijawon. He has given interviews in his home, and reporters have agreed not to take or publish pictures of his family. He is a good Muslim. Now someone should ask him, as a "good Muslim" living in the west, how he feels about the publication of those pictures. I have known in the corporate world, Muslims, moderate Muslims, whatever that may mean, who will not even have a mouthful of water during a day long series of business meetings; and so, we stop early, so that they could break the fast with family.

I have three "good Muslim" female friends. Educated, sophisticated, world traveled women. They were all offended by that action of some insensitive westerners in faraway Denmark. I remember too, that Turkey's entrance to the European Union was blocked by some people who felt that the EU was for white Christian countries. They called it something else, however, smoke-screening as usual.

That the Muslim world used its connections to orchestrate anger should not be surprising. We do it with Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the "Willie Horton" political ads of some years ago, and every year African Americans remember that Dr. Charles Drew, the discoverer of blood plasma might have lived if the white hospital he was first taken to after his accident, had not denied him treatment because of his race.

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. Nonetheless, I have added New Zealand to my list of places I am not likely to visit. Prior to this, I felt the opposite way. The first New Zealander I met was at Trinidad and Tobago's Independence Celebrations in 1962. He was a short, smiling, affable Minister of Education. Since then, I have met some Maoris and have admired the music of Te Kiri Kanawa, the opera singer. Now this.

I live in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world, and my money can only go to places that practice that as much as possible. New Zealand's newspaper could have left this fight alone in case Imran Khan ever went there to play cricket.

Leadership has its responsibilities, and the Danish Prime Minister dropped the ball.



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