Friday :: Feb 10, 2006

Toon Wars: Asking For Moderation


by pessimist

Since I began this topic last week [and continued it], many things have changed - especially the way I was intending on covering it. It has become such a large and complex issue that the only logical way to deal with it is to break it up into more manageable sections.

And so it goes. Today's first chapter (I hope to complete a second, but that isn't certain at this moment) is about the Muslim outrage over the cartoon blasphemy of Mohammad, but I have to present something else first. I am making a point by doing so, so bear with me:


Morgan Freeman: 'I want to be Satan'

[H]e's been the voice of God on so many occasions. He's going to be God again when the sequel to Bruce Almighty starts principal photography in a few weeks. When his voiceover takes us into War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise there is the sense of an all-seeing eye, a fatalistic and slightly sad one, casting its sweep across the lot of humanity.

Perhaps it's a reaction to the idea of having to be God again - divinity beckons mere weeks away, and the thought is probably exhausting. It's a money gig; Bruce Almighty is the most successful film he's ever been in (he has bitterly observed elsewhere that Dumb and Dumber made three times what The Shawshank Redemption grossed, both made in the same year). So he'll be God yet again, I say.

Has he ever thought of playing the Devil?

For the first time in the interview, Freeman seems to wake up. An energy comes into his voice that is quite different. It's about time, I carry on, he put on the horns and tail. He seems gripped by the idea.

"Who do you think God is," he whispers. "Think about it and tell me who you think the Devil is." He pauses. "Both sides of the same person," he nods, "they have to be."
There's a pause as the Destroyer of Worlds comes into view. His voice takes on a devilish hue - hubris, pride, power.
"You people - talking about the world at large - you astound me sometimes how ignorant you are about yourselves. Don't you know who I really am?" He lowers his voice to a hush, conspiratorially.
"And it's the Devil talking."

That rumbling tumult you hear in the background are the Fundamentalist Christians stampeding into the streets to loudly protest Freeman's demonic blasphemy against their righteous religious beliefs! They are ...

No? It's not? It is instead all of the Fundamentalist Christians stampeding to the theater to get tickets to see this as-yet-unwritten movie starring Freeman?

Ah! So!

I took this detour from the Muslim Cartoon controversy for a reason.

Despite what should be an affront to Christian beliefs - one I consider equal in importance to that expressed by Muslims over the Mohammad cartoons - even wacko morons like Fred Phelps and the in-bred Westboro Baptists [more on their antics here and here] aren't likely to take any outrageous action in protest over Freeman's comments.

You won't hear Pat Robertson calling for Freeman's assassination like he did Hugo Chavez [TWICE! - Hannity and Colmes video: here)]. You won't hear about James Dobson's rantings inspiring a listener to murder Freeman as is alleged concerning last week's attack in a Massachusetts gay bar.

These examples point out that, for the most part, even Jesusland Christians are willing to follow their beliefs and 'allow God to judge the sinners' for acts which they view as sinful, and not take Divine Retribution into their own hands.

It is no different with the world's Muslims

I know that comes as a seriously dissonant cognitive for our wrong-wingers, but I can present testimonial evidence to back my contention - and I have clickable links!

Can our wrong-wingers make such a verifiable claim for their assertions?

For example: In a recent comment thread, someone brought up the canard "Where are the Muslim protests against violence?" [no link provided to back up the claim that there was no Muslim outcry whatsoever against the rioting].

If one is only watching the FAUX 'News' propaganda channel, one will only see angry mobs throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Western buildings while burning Western (usually American) flags. One will not hear the voices against violence and outraged reaction that a cursory search on Google produced.

I guess such an action is beyond the abilities of the ubermenschen who make up the 101st Fighting Chickenhawk Keyboarders of the Yellow Elephant Internet Army, but I digress.

While most of the voices I present below are those of Muslims, I also include some American voices to show that not all Americans believe that all Muslims are all Osama-bin-Forgotten-wannabees. For instance:


THE ‘CARTOON RIOTS’: BIGOTS ON BOTH SIDES [subscription required]
By RALPH PETERS

February 7, 2006 -- RIOTS scorch the Islamic world as maddened believers protest Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Embassies burn, demonstrators die, crazed threats resound. Far more Muslims fill the streets than protested the invasion of Iraq. Astonished Europeans insist on their right to press freedom. Muslims are outraged at the willful violation of a widespread Islamic belief: The Prophet's image must not be depicted.
Now the confrontation's gone too far for either side to back down - and both sides are wrong.

Even avowed Christian conservative columnists have a few issues with those who won't understand:


My problem with the rude, crude Muhammad cartoons
By CLARENCE PAGE

While there always is something in the paper that will offend somebody, we should try to avoid unnecessarily offending anybody. That's my problem with the Muhammad cartoons.
They seem to be intended primarily to do nothing more than provoke Muslims, including the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims who never did the cartoonists any harm.
Since the cartoons first appeared five months ago, I cannot help but wonder why the controversy is firing up now. I suspect that the cartoon uprisings, like similar eruptions we've seen in the United States, are not about the cartoons. They're really about those long-simmering fears, suspicions and resentments between Muslims and mainstream European society.

Recent riots in France indicated the great wellsprings of resentment just beneath the surface of this controversy. As turbulent as America's past has been, Europe has yet to deal nearly as well with its own boiling pot of diversity.

Over time, I expect Europe's fed-up cartoonists and its angry and resentful Muslims will find ways to share the same countries and culture. Until then, they have a lot to learn about each other — if they don't kill each other first.


Muslims judged by actions of few
Joe Berry

[A]ll Muslims don’t practice fundamentalism as do those that are so frequently of news interest. The entire Islamic faith is not to be denigrated.

But all Muslims should understand that everyone doesn’t agree with their dogma.

We see outlandish depictions of our world frequently, often they are politically charged and sometimes downright insulting, but folks don’t pour into the streets with fire bombs as a result. If Pat Robertson were to claim that Dumbo, the lovable flying elephant, is an instrument of Satan and should be “taken out,” all Christians should not be considered wacko. Similarly, all Muslims should not be held accountable for the actions of the extreme.

We will offend out of ignorance. We will be offended as well. Hopefully, we will deal with it well.

I turn now to the Muslim voices, many themselves Americans. They also hope that 'we will deal with it well' - but are afraid that we won't:


Cartoon controversy affects Muslims in the US

Locally, Muslims say the controversy affects them as well; however, they are not as actively demonstrating against it.

"The people here are afraid of what is going on against the Muslims. So they are afraid of doing anything that would be considered terrorists and they will then be chased and some how punished or something like that. People are just giving their statements but not going forth in demonstrations," said Daqiuddin Ahmed, Imam and director of the CNY Islamic Society.

One Muslim demands that the violence cease - immediately!


Islamophobia, Ashura and some cartoons
By Mohamed H. Sabur
Mohamed H. Sabur is co-director of the Qunoot Foundation and a University of Minnesota alumnus.

Stop. This madness, this destruction, this abhorrent violence needs to come to an end. Right now and today. The wanton destruction of diplomatic embassies, the burning of effigies and the calls for tit-for-tat responses to the horrendously offensive cartoons printed by Jyllands-Posten must stop here. Why? Because the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, the faith of Islam and the values of the world’s great religions instruct us to behave better than this.
[S]uch provocations on the level of the 12 infamous cartoons can not be a green light for hatred and violence.
These occurrences enrage some but should be viewed by all as opportunities for dialogue, for peaceful reconciliation and for the Muslim world to show its compassion toward removing the blindfold of ignorance.

Among the available expressions of ignorance is taking a prejudicial attitude toward all who live where those who offend reside. This author says that if Muslims want respect, they have also to give it:


Do Not Tar All With the Same Brush
Abdel-Rahman Hussein
Al-Hayat

In a time when feelings toward Muslim communities in the West are negative and racial incidents against Muslims are common, the publication of such photos can be deemed inflammatory. Not just because of the ignorance in the offence it would cause, but also because the timing (seven months after the London bombings) left a lot to be desired.

However, if we expect Westerners to not tar all Muslims with the "terrorist" moniker, we should do the same. It is easy to generalize for the sake of simplicity but care must be taken if people's safety is at risk. You do not lash out at one man for the folly of another. Therefore it is imperative that some thought is made before action is taking.

There are ways to getting your point across which doesn't include wanton destruction.
Numerous (non-violent) campaigns can be initiated to make clear that this sort of thing is extremely offensive to Muslims and to non-Muslims who believe in respecting the dignity of other people. Violence is not an appropriate response, no matter how high feelings might run, especially because this violence is directed towards people who were not involved, and may have even been as offended as Muslims in the matter.

Denmark and the Danish people should not be held accountable for the decision of a newspaper to publish such a thing. Danish embassies and Consulates in the Middle East should not be torched to the ground; Danish people in the Middle East should not feel unsafe.

This is exactly the sort of reaction we fear when an attack occurs on Western soil.
How will they view Muslims living in that particular country? Will these Muslims be safe in the wake of such attacks?
If we do not want to be accused of the double standards we often feel is rampart in the West then we should take stock of how we react.

Many Muslim leaders are actively discouraging violent behavior in favor of economic action:


Muslim Americans split on cartoons
By Ayesha Akram
The Christian Science Monitor

"We are concerned that people are not responding the way the prophet Muhammed would want," says Rabiah Ahmed, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "He was the kind of person who would turn the other cheek if someone slapped him. He preached love and tolerance."
"When can we begin a civilized conversation, instead of this undignified and sometimes violent answer to what was quite simply an insult?" a member of the Progressive Muslim Union asked on an online forum.
Many of America's estimated 2 to 3 million Muslims are angry, but instead of throwing stones, they are calling for American-style protests, such as boycotts of Danish products like cheese and yogurt. The publication of the cartoons around the world has convinced Imam Abdul Ghani Radwan of the Al-Farouq mosque in Brooklyn to join with other New York area imams to persuade their congregants to boycott Danish products. "Muslims want no connections with such people," he says.

Another Muslim author has another view of what constitutes 'such people' - and rejects the idea of an economic boycott to boot:


How to respond to the cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed?
By Fatih Abdulsalam
Azzaman, February 5, 2006

I have had a look at the cartoons undermining the great prophet of Islam and humanity, Mohammed. They are not innocent. They are an attempt to destroy the picture of Islam as a mission of tolerance disseminating knowledge, science and coexistence among peoples and tribes.

In this view I am not pursuing the unlicensed and unqualified religious scholars and clerics of the 21st century whose interpretations have made Islam an easy target for arrows fired from the quivers of societies led by different ideas.

There is a huge gap between the identity of Islam and what many of his followers have chosen to be.
We the Muslims have not woken up to the extent of ruin we experience under that shadow of governments that have turned their states into hideouts and ganglands and not states that are proud of their peoples. Arab diplomatic missions are busy monitoring members of groups opposing their regimes who are in the first place afraid of their own people.

At the outset, those abominable cartoons are not the product of freedom of expression as some say. They are an upshot of the U.S. campaign on terrorism. This campaign has turned at least half of Iraq into wasteland under the cover of regional and international ‘legitimacy’ and we are awaiting the destruction of the other half.

However, there is yet another aspect to the issue. Muslims, generally speaking, are to blame for failing to carry the mission of their religion as a platform for principles consolidating world peace, promulgating virtue and respecting human rights particularly those of women. Muslims need dialogue – meetings, conferences, symposiums – to inform about the identity of their tolerant religion [and change] their current identity.

Boycott is not enough and perhaps Muslims themselves will be harmed because of it. Muslim countries do not have a solid economic base to stand on. What are we going to do if all industrialized nations opted to publish these cartoons? Would our countries survive without medicine, food, commerce and industry?

Economic concerns clearly and openly affect the opinion of this Philippine Muslim leader:


Muslim leaders mixed over cartoon protests

While he supports the Muslim world's outcry against the depiction of Allah's last prophet wearing a headdress fashioned into a time-bombed, Sultan Mandangan Darimbang advised Islam followers to "spare [Cagayan de Oro City] from all types of protests by joining similar actions in other Muslim areas."

To the Islam adherents who are seething in anger spawned the by cartoon satire, he said: "We should not be silent about it, as we know that we are being insulted by this act. But Islam believes in religious tolerance. We believe that there is no compulsion in religion. So please, let us avoid violence and be objective and respect all religions."

Darimbang also appealed to the local media "not to ignite the already volatile situation," admonishing the press to be "sensitive and prudent."

Darimbang who heads the Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board 10, is also member of the City Peace and Order Council, the city's security policy-making and coordinating body.

"We are trying to attract investors in the city and it would be a very discouraging prospect if we tolerate demonstrations here," he said, adding that local tourism is also at stake if the protests would turn violent.
Director Ombra Gandambra of the Office of Muslim Affairs branded the Danish cartoons as "insult" and a "direct assault" against the Muslim faith, and that "Muslims are hurt with this transgression." But he was quick to add that he was not encouraging demonstrations in the city, saying any Muslim faithful has the right to condemn the publications.

I'm sure that our wrong-wing wregulars would agree that there is a little self-interest in almost everything we do. Such has to be the case for this author's admonitions against the hypocrisy of protesting against Western intolerance while accepting that of brother Muslims:


Lighten up, fellow Muslims
Islam can take a joke, even a bad one, at the prophet's expense, writes Irrshad Manji.

Irshad Manji is a visiting fellow at Yale University and author of The Trouble with Islam. This comment first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

When Muslims put the prophet on a pedestal, we're engaging in idolatry of our own. The point of monotheism is to worship one God, not one of God's emissaries. Which is why humility requires people of faith to mock themselves - and each other - every once in a while.

At the World Economic Forum last month, in a session about the US religious right, a cartoonist satirised one of America's most influential Christian ministers, Pat Robertson. In the audience, chuckling with the rest of us, was a prominent British Muslim. But his smile disappeared the moment we were shown a cartoon that made fun of Muslim clerics.

When have we demonstrated against Saudi Arabia's policy to prevent Christians and Jews from stepping on the soil of Mecca?
They may come for rare business trips, but nothing more. Muslims have little integrity demanding respect for our faith if we don't show it for others. As long as Rome welcomes non-Christians and Jerusalem embraces non-Jews, we Muslims have more to protest against than cartoons.

For one thing, the Koran itself points out that there will always be non-believers, and that it's for Allah, not Muslims, to deal with them. More than that, the Koran says there is "no compulsion in religion". Which suggests that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as sacred.

Arab elites love such controversies, for they provide convenient opportunities to channel anger away from local injustices. No wonder President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon insisted that his country "cannot accept any insult to any religion". That's rich. Since the late 1970s, the Lebanese Government has licensed Hezbollah-run satellite television station al-Manar, among the most viciously anti-Semitic broadcasters on earth.

Similarly, the Justice Minister of the United Arab Emirates has said that the Danish cartoons represent "cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression". This from a country that promotes its capital as the "Las Vegas of the Gulf", yet blocks my website - muslim-refusenik.com - for being "inconsistent with the moral values" of the UAE.

Presumably, my site should be an online casino.

The next Muslim author calls upon Muslims to rise above the pettiness of the offensive cartoons, for there are more significant issues that need their attention:


A Muslim Call From Europe For Faith in Civility
By TARIQ RAMADAN

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born philosopher, is one of the leading Muslim voices in Europe. A visiting fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, and senior research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation in London, he is author of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2005).

We — in both the Western and Muslim worlds — are at a crossroads. The false divisions being drawn are threatening to destroy the bridges our shared common values have built.
We are in dire need of mutual trust.
The crisis provoked by these caricatures has shown how the worst is possible when two worlds of reference become deaf to each other and succumb to the temptation to define themselves against each other.
This is a disaster that extremists on both sides will not fail to use to further their own agendas.
To those of you who cherish freedom, who know the importance of mutual respect and who understand the necessity of opening constructive and critical debate, I say this: If you are not ready to stand up, speak out and be more committed to resisting the dangerous currents of our times, we can only expect sad and painful tomorrows.

What is really at the heart of this sad story is the capacity to be free, rational and reasonable, in regard to both one's own beliefs and those of others. Most Muslims feel that the hurt caused by the caricatures was simply too much, and it has been good for them to be able to express it and important for them to be heard. However, it is also necessary for Muslims not to forget that Western societies have known public derision, irony and criticism toward religious symbols and even God for the last three centuries.

Even though such attitudes are nearly unheard of in Muslim majority countries, it is imperative that Muslims learn to keep a critical intellectual distance when faced with such provocations. Muslims must not let themselves always be driven by passionate zeal and fervor. What is welling up today among Muslims is as much excess as it is insane. The obsessive demands for an apology, the calls for boycotting European products, and the threats of physical and armed reprisals are totally excessive — and these excesses must be rejected and condemned.

It would have been, and it remains, preferable for Muslims to expose their grievances against the Jyllands-Posten caricatures — which are as much clumsy as they are stupidly nasty — to the general public without roaring anger, and instead wait until a more reasonable debate could be opened.

At the same time, it is also irresponsible to invoke the right to freedom of expression in order to give oneself the right to say anything any way one wishes against anybody one chooses. Despite recent claims to the contrary, it is simply not true that in Western societies everything is permitted in the name of freedom of expression.

But do the Muslims believe that, in America, everything is permitted in the name of something more sinister?


The real truth behind the cartoons fury
By Rami Khouri
Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper.

The most consistent source of Arab-Islamic angst in the past two centuries, Western colonialism, has now run up against the resistance of the single most consistent form of indigenous identity and anti-imperial opposition: cultural and political Islamism.

The cartoons, including one depicting the prophet's headdress as a bomb, are only the fuse that set off a combustible mixture of pressures and tensions anchored in a much wider array of problems. These problems include the cartoons themselves, provocative and arrogant European disdain for Muslim sensitivities about the prophet Muhammad, attempts by some Islamist extremists and criminal-political elements to stir up troubles, the Europeans' clear message that their values count more than the values of Muslims and a wider sense by many citizens of Islamic societies that the West in general seeks to weaken and subjugate the Muslim world.

This was coupled with European political and press leaders telling the Islamic world that Western freedom of the press was a higher moral value and a greater political priority than Muslims' concern that their leading prophet not be subjected to blasphemy and insult.

This is not primarily an argument about freedom of the press in Europe, much as our dashing European friends would like to believe it is. It is about Arab-Islamic societies' desire to enjoy freedom from Western and Israeli subjugation, diplomatic double standards and predatory neo-colonial policies.

The difference this time is that the natives in the south are not helpless and quiescent in the face of the West's large guns, disdainful rhetoric, or insulting cartoons.
Muslims, Arabs, Asians and others today are much more aware of the policies of Western states, concerned about their goals, angry about Western double standards, able to resist through the use of mass media, political, and other channels, and willing to stand up, fight back, and assert their right to live in freedom and dignity. The message from the Arab-Islamic heartland is that the 19th century has officially ended.

Many ordinary citizens in the Arab-Asian region see the European position on Iran's nuclear industry and the victorious Hamas party in Palestine as moving closer to American-Israeli positions that grossly discriminate against Arabs or Muslims.

Coming after the American-led assault on Iraq, this explains why large majorities of people polled in Arab countries just three months ago believe that the main motives of American policies in the Middle East are "oil, protecting Israel, dominating the region and weakening the Muslim world".

This author tends to agree:


Consider the Muslim view in this clash over cartoons
The West's 'absolutes' have limits in the Islamic world
By EHSAN AHRARI

Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Va.-based defense consultancy, who writes frequently about issues in the Middle East and South Asia.

In a world that is more of a global village than ever before, there must be compromises. Muslims make a point of not insulting Christians about their faith. As a quid pro quo, a similar courtesy is warranted toward their religion.

Among Muslim regimes, the dominance of the United States and the West has been taken for granted. And in those countries, there is little hope about the prospects of political change and economic progress. Moreover, the rot of authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption has been so entrenched that people cannot realistically aspire to be free, prosperous or see prospects of technological advance.

To most Muslims, the West appears content about the state of backwardness, obscurantism and darkness that currently prevails in Muslim countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
And along comes bin Laden, who voices anger over the state of affairs in the world of Islam. People do not necessarily buy into his murderous philosophy of transnational terrorism, but they agree with his criticism of what is wrong with the world of Islam and why it remains backward.

Economic and socio-political reasons are seen as more to blame for the use of religious intolerance and disrespect as a means of keeping a minority in their place than merely as a double-standard for projecting the (im)morality of elites:


Outrage born from a broader sense of alienation
By Carol Eisenberg in New York

Why did these particular drawings provoke such a storm?

"I would argue that the genesis of this whole controversy has a lot more to do with the position in which Muslims find themselves in Europe than with Islamic theology," Dr Omar Safi, associate professor of Islamic Studies at Colgate University in New York, said. "I think that some of the same kinds of questions that Europeans asked about Jews a hundred years ago are now being asked of Muslims. Namely, can these people ever be proper citizens of Europe if their loyalties and allegiances lie elsewhere?"

Progressives in America face similar accusations from the wrong-wing, but I digress.

To Westerners who wonder why Muslim sensitivities should trump free speech, Muslims respond with accusations of hypocrisy.

"The West likes to frame this as a free speech issue, but there are many categories of restricted speech: for instance, eight countries in Europe ban speech denying the Holocaust. You can call our prophet a terrorist, but you cannot question the Holocaust?" said Muqtedar Khan, of the University of Delaware.

Many Muslims see the drawings' publication as a deliberate attempt to insult them as they perceive themselves to be a stigmatised minority in Europe and a humiliated civilisation in the Middle East.
"You can't understand the response in isolation," said Dr Faroque Khan, of the Islamic Centre of Long Island. "At such a sensitive time, when many Muslims view the war in Iraq as an occupation of an Islamic country by Western powers and fear growing sentiment against immigrants in Europe, this is a kind of spark. People see it as an attack on the core of their faith."

One Virginia cleric thinks that returning to their faith might work to quell the unrest of the Muslim:


Area Muslims dislike cartoons, violence

Islamic leaders in the Roanoke and New River valleys are upset by the European caricatures that depict the Islamic Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, but they also denounced the violence unleashed in reaction to the drawings.

“Clearly, the naked fact of cartoons of the prophets taken in isolation would hardly provoke this reaction. But it is seen as one more in a series of insults and injuries,” said Caner Dagli , assistant professor of religion at Roanoke College. “The publisher invited cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to make a point about free speech and censorship.”

But he and Islamic leaders in the region do not condone the violence erupting in Afghanistan and the Mideast. This includes riots, diplomatic skirmishes and calls for boycotts of Danish goods by some Muslim leaders.

“You don’t react to these things with violence and anger. It is not sending the right message and not shedding the right light on Islam,” said Sedki Raid, director of the Islamic Center at Virginia Tech and an electrical engineering professor.
He said peaceful approaches, such as education and dialogue, are required to handle these issues more delicately. “Most of these issues start with ignorance on both sides to issues of sensitivity, background and cultures."

Imam Ibrahim Hamidullah, leader of the Clarence Sabree Islamic Center in Roanoke, said the violence places Islam in an unflattering light.

“What you have going on right now is due to the culture, not the religion of Islam. All actions should be good and righteous,” he said.

“The main problem with many Muslims is we have gotten away from studying and reading our holy books."

Take out the specific reference to Muslims, and I contend that this statement applies to most who would oppress others for their own gain.

But, again, I digress.

This group of New Jersey Muslims agree that most of the problem is that Westerners don't understand Islam or its adherents well, and feel that should be corrected:


Area Muslims detest cartoon

New Jersey Muslims chastised European newspapers for printing cartoons they say defame Islam and the Prophet Muhammad but called violent protests by Muslims overseas counterproductive.

"Muslims don't approve of the depiction of the prophet," said Fakhruddin Ahmed, a West Windsor resident. "But there's absolutely no justification for the riots and violence and burning of embassies. The prophet would have condemned it."

Hesham Mahmoud of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee's New Jersey chapter called both the cartoons and the ensuing violence inappropriate. "The violent reactions or threats by few people as a result of such offensive and uncivil caricatures are not justified," said Mahmoud. "However, trying to justify these cartoons that promote nothing but hate is at best outrageous."

Mahmoud said he applauds U.S. media organizations for not reprinting the images. "It was very imprudent to publish those pictures," said Ibrahim Mansour, a sophomore at Rutgers University. "It's not an issue of freedom of speech; it's a direct attack on Muslims. All these cartoons did was to further polarize things."

In response to the drawings, Iran's best-selling newspaper announced yesterday a contest for readers to submit cartoons about the Holocaust, and a Belgian-Dutch Islamic political organization reportedly posted a drawing of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler on its Web site.

Mansour said cartoons can be a dangerous tool because they often perpetuate stereotypes. "It's been a pretty trying time for all the world's Muslims," said Mansour. "A dialogue is desperately needed."

These New Jersey Muslims try to explain:


Cartoons, riots offend N.J. Muslims

Like many Muslims in North Jersey, he is caught between two opposite poles -- the anti-Islamic sentiments some say the drawings represent, and the fury they unleashed among Muslims worldwide. "I'm definitely offended by the cartoons," said Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, a Denville-based think tank. "And I'm equally offended by the hysteria and violent response to them."

Nizar Nasser, who listens all day to radio reports about the protests in his Islamic clothing warehouse on Paterson's Railway Avenue, argued that "violence wasn't the solution." But he said that he understood the feelings behind it. "If you don't bother [Muslims], they're not going to bother you," he said. "But throughout history, there's always someone hurting them, and they react."

The cartoons added to the sentiment that Islam is under attack, said Mohammad Qatanani, imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County. "Muslims all over the world, they believe that their religion is targeted," he said.

Waheed Kahlid, a prominent member of Darul Islah mosque in Teaneck, sees the cartoons as one more in a laundry list of injustices to Muslims -- from their detention in U.S. jails, to denial of their visas, to wiretapping of private citizens' phone lines. He worries that beyond projecting a negative message about Islam, the cartoons will further incite Muslims throughout the world. "It's going to divide us further apart," he said "It's going to make things more difficult to resolve."

Still, Muslims in the U.S. won't be incited to violence anytime soon, said Assaf. The chance that Muslims here will take to the streets or participate in riots like the ones that occurred in France last year is slim, he said.

"We tend to be more educated, have more rights and have assimilated more," said Assaf. "We do feel that the laws are there to protect us."
For leaders who worked hard after 9/11 to depict Islam as a religion of peace, seeing a cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb, and then footage of rioting Muslims, has been frustrating. "Globally, it affects the Muslim community," said Faiza Ali, a former director of the New Jersey Council of American Islamic Relations. "It's going to be harder to battle those stereotypes. I guess people who don't know about Islam would assume it's a violent religion."

Qatanani and other Muslim leaders have spoken out against the violence in their sermons and encouraged more peaceful forms of protest such as letter writing, e-mails and educating non-Muslims about the prophet. The Council on American Islamic Relations condemned on Tuesday the announcement by an Iranian paper that it would publish cartoons lampooning the Holocaust. Last week, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called for "an open and constructive dialogue" and condemned any violent reactions to the Muhammad cartoons.

"We got hurt, but we should react in the right way," said Hiyam Rimawi, vice principal of Al-Hikmah Islamic School in Prospect Park. "The right way to react is to reach the people and show them that [of] all the prophets -- one God sent them. Give them more knowledge."

This author calls upon Muslim beliefs to support the idea that more understanding is the key to settling the dilemma:


Muslim tradition of forgiveness
What would Muhammad do about offensive cartoons?
By IBRAHIM HOOPER

Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

We all, Muslims and people of other faiths, seem to be locked into a downward spiral of mutual mistrust and hostility based on self-perpetuating stereotypes. This unfortunate episode can be used as a learning opportunity for people of all faiths who sincerely wish to know more about Islam and Muslims. It can also be viewed as a "teaching moment" for Muslims who want to exemplify the prophet's teachings through the example of their good character and dignified behavior in the face of provocation and abuse.

As the Quran states, "It may well be that God will bring about love (and friendship) between you and those with whom you are now at odds."

There are some for whom that has already happened.


Danish Muslims Say Enough Protests over Cartoons

Iranian-born barber Farzan Khatami has listened to reports of the anti-Danish protests across the Muslim world this week and he is sure of one thing -- the violence has to stop soon. He was personally offended by the cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammad, and says he feels discrimination on the streets of Copenhagen every day. But enough is enough. "Fire and stones are taking things too far," he said as he cut hair in his salon in a Muslim district of Copenhagen.

At the same time, he blames Danes and the Danish media for showing ignorance towards Muslims' religious sensibilities and believes demonstrations were justified. "I've had a job since I came to Denmark 26 years ago, but if I walk out on the street I'm still just an immigrant," he says.

Khatami's views put him in the Muslim middle ground, among those who are outraged by the cartoons but also feel that violence has taken the protests too far. And in that middle ground he is joined by many of Denmark's 180,000 Muslims.

While they have felt the brunt of racial discrimination in a country whose government has cracked down on immigration, they also fear for their future and do not want the protests to spiral out of control, putting them in the crossfire.

Najat El Ouargui, 26, a Muslim theatre worker who helped organise a march on Sunday calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis and more dialogue, said hostility towards immigrants had been rising "for at least two years".

"The cartoons became an emotional trigger, the final straw," she said. "Muslims are tired of being criticised in Denmark. You can't keep picking on one group and not expect them to react."

At prayers, leading Danish imams have been conciliatory, stressing the feelings of gratitude toward Denmark many Danish Muslims feel, while underlining the obligations Muslims have to defend the Prophet against attack.

Near Copenhagen's central station, the former "red light" district where Halal butchers and kebab shops have replaced many old tattoo parlours and sex shops, Nafi Selmanovski drank coffee and spoke out against the Muslim boycott of Denmark.

He said Muslims in Denmark understood the laws on free speech but believed publishing the drawings was insensitive. Actions like the boycott and embassy attacks could only worsen the situation, however, and Denmark should not reply in kind.

"It's no good using economic pressure -- not importing their oil for example -- that would only worsen things," he said.

"I hope that we won't see more now, for both Muslims' and Danes' sake."

"We're all in this together" seems to be the theme for this Muslim author's discourse:


The perspective of a Western Muslim
By Ahmed M. Rehab
Ahmed M. Rehab is director of communications for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago.

As a Western Muslim who fully identifies with both worlds, I have watched the Danish cartoon fiasco unravel with shock and dismay. Both parties at the root of the controversy are making a mockery of their own values as they purport to expose the shortcomings in one another--and they are dragging all of us in with them.
These cartoons have been exploited--if not devised--as agents to drive a wedge between a predominantly Christian Western society and Muslims in the West and around the world.
So long as Western and Muslim societies allow themselves to be defined by those among them who seek self-affirmation by negating the other, clashes are imminent. We should remain ever-vigilant of inciters who attempt to cast Islam and Christianity into competing football clubs and their adherents into worked-up hooligans who clash in artificial and petty rivalries.

Those who classify themselves as civilized should play no part in condoning or perpetuating this scheme, rather they should champion a dialogue of understanding between the Muslim world and the West. Both civilizations have contributed much to our world, each can offer much to the other.

I'll save the last testimonial to this Muslim teen:


Muslim teen: Heartfelt pain
Mariam Zeini
February 8, 2006
Mariam Zeini, 16, is a junior at Timber Creek High School, Orlando, Florida

In response to the caricatures that have deeply scarred the billions of Muslims of the world:

Violence is not the answer. The killing of innocents and violent rioting do not solve anything, and they are against the teachings of Islam, a peaceful religion. In Islam, if you kill one life, it is as if you killed all of humanity.

It should be acknowledged, however, that the caricatures in question hit a spot in the hearts of all the Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad is so dear to us; Muslims are taught to love him above anyone else.

If someone dearer to you than your father or mother were represented inappropriately, how would you feel?
Imagine if someone made cartoons that were cruelly making fun of Jesus or Moses. Would it be accepted? In Islam, Muslims are not even allowed to draw pictures of Muhammad, out of respect for him.

In addition, these cartoons are lies that distorted passages in our holy book, the Quran, and portrayed Islam as a violent religion. Islam does not teach violence, though some followers maim the words of God and use God as an excuse to act violently.

Yes, there is freedom of speech, but not when it infringes on the feelings of the masses, and not when it is created to incite hatred, which it very much has done. Islam is not at all against freedom of speech.

As a teenage Muslim, I am sad that the world is in such chaos. All that is asked is an apology for the emotional grief the cartoons have caused all over the world.

We now return to our wannabee-Prince of Hollywood Darkness, who casts some last Pearls of Unintentional Wisdom at our feet:

Does he get annoyed by people thinking he is a good guy and somehow better than other people? There's a wince. "I know better," he says in a resigned way. "We're pretenders, we know we're pretenders. What scares me is actors who forget they are pretending."

Pretense is behind much of the world's ills, as it is used to distract and confuse and provide an advantage to to the abuser. When it works, it tends to reinforce the idea that it will always work, no matter what history teaches. That tends to lead to self-delusion, prejudice, and overt hostility.

Take away the hype surrounding most issues, and reasonable people can work out a solution to most problems. From the sort of messages I'm reading here, I believe that understanding between Western and Muslim people is possible. It is already underway, as Muslims become acclimatized to Western ways without abandoning their beliefs, and Westerners get used to Muslims in our societies.

It can be done, no matter what the Taliban or the Televangiban want us to believe. After all - they are the real pretenders, and they have forgotten they are pretending. That is what scares people.

Especially the wrong-wingers.


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