Sharif Hafez, university professor in Egypt, expresses here his view on the publications of caricatures of the prophet Mohamed in a newspaper in Denmark. He argues that there is a double standard in Europe when it comes to freedom of speech. This is according to Hafez frustrating above all for educated secular muslims who are losing ground to more radical muslim groupings.
In the beginning of this whole matter, I didn’t really care much about the entire issue of your cartoons, and I actually used to defend you, based on your secular standpoint, that I well know, since I have been born and raised in the West. However, and since you have republished the cartoons, as a reason, that I have found silly, I was internally forced to write, since I thought, now, you must understand the real message stemming from within the Muslim world.
Newspapers in the Denmark republished the “provocative” cartoons of prophet Mohamed because the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, was threatened by 3 extremist Muslims to be assassinated. Those 3 extremists where arrested.
But, rather than confront this issue through “civilized” means, you chose to provoke more than one billion people for the extremism of 3 people among that large amount.
You chose collective punishment of more than a "billion" of people, of which the majority would probably disagree on threats to kill, rather than dialogue! You chose collective punishment that we are used to, while watching Israel bomb a whole state, for the ills of some! You used a strategy used by imperialists and occupiers, to show how much a concept of "FREEDOM" is important to you, while the other´s FREEDOM is not as much important. Hence you must ask here, if that is really freedom or not?
It is good to know, that the Danish people who chose to do so, are among the most tolerable people in the world, who think that wearing the headscarf in Parliament poses no problems.
However, and on the other hand, they erased by publishing these ignorant cartoons human history. Since what might be the difference between middle age European warriors, before the Westphalia agreement or Nazi officers and what you did? You, a civilized country, chose to face extremism through extremism! So, is that a European lesson to be learned? Should I face crime through more crime? Should I face racism through more racism? Should I face fundamentalism through more fundamentalism? Well, I have to tell you, that this is the reason of war mongers, not civilized people and that is no FREEDOM!
How can a people, any people, risk their interest for a belief that is not really greatly attacked? You can publish against the oppression of any. You can publish as you wish. But we "begged" you not to show our sacred Prophet in a bad way. This man is THE most important man for us. This man is the greatest symbol for all Muslims! Do you think that freedom means to disrespect someone, so as to show you are free?
So, the Danes, don’t care about their interests within the Muslim world? The Germans, as their interior Minister made an announcement, thought to be ignorant at the beginning but then clarified, that his words were taken out of context, know well that the billions of dollars they get for selling their Mercedes and BMWs to the Muslim world, and the more vital interests, are more important than a "relative" concept of freedom!
Do you see it that way? Or are you planning to invade us, if we don’t agree with you, so to show us another version of operation “Freedom Iraq”? Well, that was the Bush administration´s definition of freedom, and Iraq is a clear picture today of anything but freedom! Can´t people in the Muslim world, just put up an internet site attacking your "sensible" symbols, since you do have sensible symbols that are forbidden to be attacked according to law? Of course they can, but I would not support that, since that would be the same as you do: reaction on the way to human disaster hindering world peace!
Politically speaking, I’m a follower of a symbol of peace: Mohamed Anwar El Sadat. He is a man who taught the world the meaning of peace, scarifying his life for millions of people to live without wars and blood.
However, what I see today and coming from YOU in the Denmark, is a call for a cultural war that might eventually turn to be a real war, where people lose their lives. Why? Will that be in defense of freedom then? Will that satisfy you at the time? I have to tell you here, that you are fulfilling the agenda of the ignorant "Clash of Civilization" which shows, that people, when they get civilized, turn into evils of war not angels of peace!
Through history, people have started fighting for something, to end up fighting for something else. That was the same thing, but it altered the original meaning through its evolution through time. President Gorbachev has taught us a great lesson in history, when he abandoned Soviet communism, since it turned through history to be a different thing, taking Soviet citizens towards deterioration. Sadat took a courages decision when he flew to Israel, since he saw that war with Israel would be a cycle that will never end. He saw the Jungle and not the tree. He saw a vision and not the picture. These decisions take much courage.
However, the question remains: Do you have the courage needed to stop publishing these cartoons, to respect the liberty, freedom and peace of the other, as well as YOU and by doing so, not endanger an inch of your freedom? Can you take the extra mile for coexistence, peace and understanding of differences between different people and cultures?
You are empowering radicalism, and make moderates like me and others, hide in the dark. You are radicalizing the Muslim world, and making a man like Bin Laden shout up loudly and say: "I told you!" If the attempt on Kurt Westergaard has failed, then you are inspiring attempts on all moderates in the Muslim world. However, these attempts will be successful at most, and these moderates will die, because of your own ill version of "FREEDOM"! How can one face terrorism and radicalism, while those, like you, who are supposed to be more open minded, don´t ask the vital questions to react?
What you defend is not the concept of freedom. It is the disrespect for more than a billion of people throughout the world. To tell you the truth, I have discovered that you are no better than Bin Laden or Bush! Either we believe in what you believe in or you will publish the cartoons! Like Bush: Either you are with us or you are not with us! You are committing a crime of “Terror of Thought”!
On the other hand, we don’t ask you to believe in Mohamed or Islam, but just show us respect needed, by not publishing these ignorant cartoons! However, we are supposed to be wrong and you right! I have learned in the West that one should respect differences of opinions, however you are proving that you have deceived me, teaching me something you, yourself, don´t believe in!
You didn’t even take the time, to ask a vital question: Do the majority of Muslims support those who threatened the cartoonist? Does the Majority of Muslims support the killing of anybody like that in reference to Theo van Gogh or threats to Salman Rushdie?
Well, even you never asked, I would like to tell you that the answer is: NO! We don’t support these terrorists! But you never cared to ask! Why? Why and you are that educated and a tolerant society? I don’t have the answer! However, you might give me an answer that I might consider, since I have learned not to react to opinions spontaneously, but after much thinking, especially when it comes to my freedom and more so, when it comes to the freedom of my beloved people and country!
From my experience and dealing with people from different cultures, being born and raised in the West (Germany) and learned in the USA, and traveling through many Western countries, including the Denmark in 1997 within what was known at the time as the "Copenhagen Initiative for Peace" with Israel, I can tell you with great confidence, that Easterners, including Muslims, are more open minded when it comes to foreigners!
I’d like you to ask the majority of people who have been to Muslim states on the way they were handled. Please publish the answers, because I know, they are in our favor, unless you ask chosen people!!! Now, let us see the other way around, and ask the opposite question. I myself have seen many ultra-nationalists in “West” Europe and in the United States, and more wonderful persons, that I keep friendship with till this moment.
If we just talk about the obvious agenda of the neo-cons in the United States, who have made a war against terror lose its meaning, to hunt down some of those Muslims held, who have nothing to do with the whole issue, and sexually abuse prisoners in Abu-Gharib or else, while in the same time calling with much confidence for Democracy, just as you are calling for freedom!
I won’t deny that there are bad people here in the Muslim world. But don’t tell me that you are all saints and angels either! Wherever you go, you will find bad or good, but you are still punishing us all, for the sake of "FREEDOM"! I can´t see your logic anymore!
Now, doesn’t Ahmadinejad have freedom to verbally attack the Holocaust, and say it never existed? Common now! You are defending the concept of freedom, so let him say whatever he wants! It is only freedom, that is interpreted according to YOUR definition not mine! Isn’t it?
Well, I honestly, don’t believe that is his freedom and I myself have many Jewish & Israeli friends whom I dearly respect, and who like me, are against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms. I know you in Europe, have a law against anti-Semitism.
However, let me tell you something new for you to learn. I’m no less Semite than the Jews. If you didn’t know, then that is important information for you here! You have attacked me with these cartoons, since I’m a Muslim too, and unlike you, I have read Islamic texts, and know that prophet Mohamed was not a war monger like Bin Laden, but a peacemaker, and those Muslim fundamental lunatics, don´t represent him! Therefore, you have shown disrespect to me!
Finally, you are defending the concept of Freedom. You stand against anyone who disrespects the Jews in concern to the Holocaust! You don’t want to retreat from publishing the cartoons which disrespect me as a Muslim! Okay! Then I have to tell you the final conclusion here:
You don’t see me equal to Jews, since you disrespect me, and respect them! You have read half a book of history and intentionally refused to read the rest! So, that simply means: YOU ARE RACISTS! I refuse to deal with racists, and therefore, despite being a moderate, and despite loving you, I have to defend my dignity and FREEDOM, since freedom is a relative concept!
Therefore I can’t go on writing, since you are people that deal according to double standards and have to apologize to the whole Muslim world and not publish these cartoons and make a similar law to that of anti-Semitism, for the Muslim symbols, since I’m not an ape but a human being too!
Sharif Hafez is an assistant professor of middle eastern politics and political islam in Giza, Egypt.