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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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  THE CARTOON CONTROVERSY-III -The Aftermath -JP Sharmas  
 


The rage of the Islamic Ummah having subsided to normal levels it would be appropriate to reflect on the convulsions that gripped the major part of the world for more than a month. Among the many questions that need to be pondered over are (a) What was the whole fuss about? (b) Were the massive protests justified? (c) What have the protests achieved? and, (d) Will the events of Feb-March 2006 have any significant influence on the course of relations between the Muslim and non- Muslim communities in the foreseeable future?

THE PROVOCATION

What developed into a virtual clash between the Muslims and Christians of the world was a simple dispute between a Danish newspaper and the Danish Muslims (who comprise about 5% of the country's population) who felt offended by some cartoons published by the paper. The Muslims had the right to protest by all legitimate means and to seek redress in a court of law which they did. But having failed to get the results that they desired they sought the help of the rest of the Muslim world to compel the Danes to do their bidding. Regrettably, not only the militant Islamist organizations but also governments of many countries and the broad mass of Muslims the world over readily joined in the effort to impose their will on Denmark.

WERE THE VIOLENT PROTESTS JUSTIFIED?

The debate in the international press was largely focused on the issue of freedom of expression and the limits, if any, that should be placed on it. Most of the participants in the debate seemed to have ignored the fact that in every country it is the law which prescribes the limits within which the press can exercise its freedom. Any party desiring any change in the law can certainly press for the changes it considers desirable but it must use only lawful means for the purpose. Pressure from external sources also should be exercised through legitimate channels like diplomacy, trade relations or media criticism. In the cartoon affair neither the ends nor the means appeared legitimate.

Disputants sympathizing with the protests broadly appeared to argue that nothing should be published which may provoke people to resort to violence. The question naturally arises-- which people? The people who would have seen the publication in the normal course or those living in distant lands who would have no occasion to see the supposedly offending item? And what if the anger is not the direct and proximate consequence of the publication but contrived after months of preparation by an international combination of religious fanatics! Would this not, in effect, mean that nothing shall be published anywhere in the world which may at some time in the future be decreed as deeply offensive to the susceptibilities of some religious group some where in the world?

The assertion of the well-educated-well-placed US based Mr. Ehsan Ahrari (Asia Times Online 4 Feb 2006) is worthy of special attention:

"…. No one should be allowed to be disrespectful about anything remotely associated with Islam. Having an open discussion regarding the Islamic faith is perfectly acceptable. Insulting Islam is not. .."

Mr.Ahrari does not seem to be bothered by the fact that neither West Europe nor USA is as yet governed by Islam or that none of the religions followed by the majority of the citizens of American or West European countries demands or is accorded the kind of absolute and universal deference that Mr. Ahrari demands for Islam. Does he really expect the unbelievers to be respectful towards a faith which prescribes slaughter and eternal hellfire for them just because they are unbelievers? It is also difficult to see how the "open discussion" regarding Islam generously permitted by him can materialize within the confines of the parameters prescribed by him. Where would he draw the line between insult and argument if a critic starts drawing out the skeletons in Islam's cupboard? In fact Mr. Ahrari seems to substantiate Christopher Hitchens'dictum;

" …. But if he (the Muslim) claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent.. …, he seems to say, For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death."

Several learned scholars and journalists have tried to find a completely different justification for the protests. One group, for example, tried to eliminate the religious angle altogether by explaining the protests as the response of an oppressed people to the racial discrimination and insults suffered by them and not that of devout Muslims against the blasphemous cartoons. The record of the "oppressors" and the "oppressed" was conveniently forgotten.

Surprisingly, not many commentators referred to the necessity of observance of the golden rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) in the field of interfaith relations as between individuals though some did indeed refer to the perpetual denigration of other faiths by the media in Palestine, Syria, Egypt and other Islamic countries. Much of the prevailing acrimony would be obliterated if reciprocity could be adopted as the rule for governing relations between people and religions.

WHAT HAVE THE PROTESTS ACHIEVED

The protests have resulted in both gains and losses for Islam. The major gain was to reinforce the concept of all the Muslims of the world as being members of a single community of believers-the Ummah, irrespective of differences of ethnicity, nationality, colour and sect etc. and their identity as Muslims taking precedence over all other identities. The protests were also successful in convincing most politicians and media managers in Europe and USA that their commitment to freedom of expression must be subordinated to the practical necessity of avoiding the grave damage to life and property that angry Muslims could inflict on the western societies. The fury of the Islamic mob has proved itself to be more convincing than the logic of the western liberals.

The debit side is also substantial. While the Islamists have succeeded in intimidating the Western governments as also the media but in doing so they have awakened the non-Muslim people of the West to the threat posed to their civilization by the aggressive march of Islam. While the scared governments are agonizing over better strategies to promote integration of Muslims, attitudes of many host western societies towards Muslims have perceptibly hardened. Parties pursuing leftist/liberal multi-culturist agendas seem to be set to lose popular support leading to the rise of rightist parties to power. Immigration procedures and welfare spending norms are in the process of being made stricter.

The spectre of European Christians being reduced to a demographic minority by faster breeding Muslims is now being talked about more openly .The Italian government is understood to have announced financial rewards to white Italian women for producing children. Some proposals to deny citizenship or right of residence to undesirable persons are also stated to be under consideration.

The Long Term Consequences

Whether the cartoon storm will pass off as yet another aggravating episode in the interaction between Islam and the West or whether it will have some more profound consequences must remain, for the present, a matter of conjecture. Waking up to the harsh reality that immigrant and would-be immigrant Muslims in the West European countries would have to bear the brunt of the heightened antagonism of the host societies the Danish imams and their supporters changed their tune to present themselves as favouring only peaceful protests. Having used the Muslims of the third world to demonstrate Islam's destructive power some West based Islamic clerics went to the extent of blaming the eastern Muslim masses for having brought shame and humiliation on the Western Muslims. Torn between the conflicting pulls of the better material life made possible by living in the West and wanting to cling to their inherited cultural values, the immigrant Muslims will find themselves compelled to discover the compromises necessary to enable them to continue to enjoy both.

EUROPEAN ISLAM ?

While the Islamic clerics are adamant on the need for the Western Muslims to continue living in segregated cultural ghettoes, the subdued voices of rationalist Muslims for the reform / reinterpretation of Islam are now becoming more audible. Dr. Khashan of the American university in Beirut feels that the uproar over the cartoons has given the Muslims an opportunity to start a debate among themselves about religious reform. According to Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, a lecturer at Kuwait University, Muslims living in the West have failed to repay the kindness of the countries that accepted them, and instead have followed the lead of the Muslim clerics and threatened to attack these countries from within. He adds that Muslims in the West must declare that they accept Western values and sever their ties with Muslims in the East, and with the religious clerics.

Foremost among those advocating creation of a European version of Islam is the immensely popular, suave and sophisticated, 42 year old Geneva based Professor Tariq Ramadan, whose grandfather Hassan Al Banna, had founded the Moslem Brotherhood in 1928 and whose father Said Ramadan established and ran the Geneva Islamic Center till his death in 1995

THE REJECTIONISTS

Ramadan has many admirers in the western academic circles. Time magazine included him in the list of 100 most influential persons of contemporary world. His critics however believe that besides being a charismatic charmer Ramadan is a Taqiya (dissimulation) specialist who speaks in many voices depending on the audience and wants to lull the westerners into accepting peaceful Jihad. There are many who argue that Islam can neither coexist peacefully with any other faith nor can it be reformed. While the cartoon protests were raging, a group of 12 writers, journalists and intellectuals including Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Ali Hirsee, Irshad Manji and Bernard Henry Levy issued a Manifesto Against Islamism declaring

" …Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

"We reject cultural relativism, which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. ….."

As many of the signatories to the manifesto were already well known as critics of Islam, the manifesto did not have much impact.

DR. WAFA SULTAN'S INTERVIEW

The biggest international media splash in the Cartoon controversy was made by an interview aired on 21 February 2006 by the popular Arab television network Al Jazeera, better known for its occasional broadcasting of videos of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. The interview featured Dr. Wafa Sultan a Syrian-American psychiatrist and Dr. Ibrahim al-Khouli, an Egyptian Islamic scholar. Born in a traditional Muslim family in Syria, Dr. Sultan became disenchanted with her faith in 1979 when as a medical student at the Aleppo University she saw some Moslem Brotherhood zealots gunning down her professor in the classroom shouting "Allah o Akbar". She migrated to USA in 1989. According to the New York Times, Dr. Sultan won the admiration of the reformers for "saying out loud in Arabic and on the most widely seen television network in the Arab world ,what few Muslims dare to say even in private." Following are the main points made by Dr. Sultan ;-

"The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs in the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs in the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat woman like beasts, and those that treat them as human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete."

"…….The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said 'I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.' When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash and began this war. In order to stop this war, they must re-examine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for 'takfir' and fighting the infidels..

"…..The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues to rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a mosque, kill a Muslim or burn down an Embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they can demand that humankind respect them."

Dr. Sultan's interlocutor could do little by way of countering her assertions beyond accusing her of blasphemy.

EPILOGUE

Like many others who dared to openly criticize Islam, Dr. Wafa Sultan has received numerous threats to her life. Rationalists can however derive some satisfaction from the fact that the stifling stranglehold of political correctness and fear seems to have been loosened to some extent. Even more significant is the fact that the Arab and Muslim world has tolerated the telecasting of some of the harshest criticism of Islam. That itself is no small progress.

…….J P Sharma


The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

 
     
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