Cartoons then, deadly now

The Straits Times says Western media is naiive in defending freedom of speech at the cost of total destruction

Straits Times
Thursday, February 9, 2006

For a week now Muslim protesters in the Islamic world and the Christian West have shown they took crude depictions of Prophet Muhammad as an insult to the faith, an intended provocation. They needed to defend its sanctity. Most have been peaceable about it and in so doing, will have exposed the tawdry sham of the mainly European newspapers which justified publication on the reasoning that free expression was "sacred." Showcase stupidity is the papers' privilege to exhibit, but Islam's followers did not have to match it by rising to the bait. Those rioters who have damaged property and provoked accidental shooting deaths in Afghanistan, of all the sorry places, have done Islam no favours in what would seem like an interminable quest for understanding between Islam and Christendom. A ranking member of the Afghanistan ulama council said yesterday these rioters were "defaming the name of Islam," as the use of violence could not be justified, even when the Prophet was derided. Such healing remarks, and appeals for calm by the leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia, should be carried to the far corners of the Muslim world. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has come as close as any quarter could to speaking for the whole of the decentralised Muslim family when it, too, decried the violence in a joint statement put out with the United Nations and the European Union.

But would the vocal minority of hothead Muslims listen? They must. Resort to rabble-rousing displays, as a substitute for restrained expressions of hurt, can only reinforce latent prejudices among other faiths and cultures that some Muslim individuals are incapable of managing unemotional disputation. The governments of Syria and Iran arguably have been exploiting the anger to deflect difficulties they each face with the Western world over unrelated matters. For most offended Muslims, their point has been made. The prime minister of Denmark, where the cartoons first appeared, has expressed bewilderment at the outburst. One hopes he has taken the time to learn something of the messy world outside tidy Denmark. European governments and media organisations which persist in their quixotic view of the affair as a defence of freedoms like expression need to think hard. How could it profit their societies to agitate the people, if obliquely, in a cavalier attitude towards Islam?