How Far Can Hate Go?

Hans Magnus Enzenberger considered Islam to be the only violent movement capable of acting globally. Moderate Muslims feel that a radical minority seeks to speak for them.

The fuse coming out of Mohammed’s turban has set the Muslim world on fire. The controversy unleashed by the publication of twelve caricatures of the prophet Mohammed on September 30, 2006 in the Jyllands-Posten has brought the Christian and Muslim worlds face to face. According to the editor of the Danish newspaper, the pictures were done by artists “ in order to find out if there was more self-censorship in Denmark than was commonly believed….They did not break Danish law but clearly they offended many Muslims and for this we apologize”. After protests in Denmark and efforts by 11 ambassadors from Muslim countries to make the Danish government take action against the newspaper, the pictures were taken to the Middle East by a delegation of Danish Muslims to show to religious leaders. In December, at the summit meeting of the Islamic Organization Conference in Mecca, the leaders of 57 countries condemned “the increasing hatred against Islam” and “the use of freedom of expression as an excuse to defame religions”. Then the demonstrations began. The Danish editor made it clear: “We will not apologize for the cartoons because we have the right to publish them. Were we to apologize, we would be defrauding many generations who fought for the freedom of expression and other civil rights. The cartoon where Mohammed wears a bomb in his turban has been a special target of criticism. But it is a way of describing the problem of fanatical Islamic terrorists who make the connection, between their attacks and the religion itself”.

After the drawings were published in Norway on January 10, the spiritual leader of the Moslem Brotherhood called for a commercial boycott of Denmark and Norway. Demonstrations followed in many Moslem and European countries. 13 people have died. Danish and Norwegian embassies have been set on fire – in Syria, with the apparent approval of the government – and, in Afghanistan, NATO troops have been attacked. Some of the demonstrations against the cartoons have been converted into protests by groups and governments who have the opportunity to promote their own political agendas.

The conflict is between a society that respects freedom of expression and a society that believes that some things must never be expressed. Are they compatible, a respect for religious beliefs and freedom of expression? The German Minister for Home Affairs pointed out that state intervention would be “the first step towards restricting the freedom of the press”. The Norwegian Prime Minister said that his government cannot ask to be excused for what is published in newspapers. The French Minister of the Interior commented that “political cartoons are, by their own nature, excessive, and I prefer an excess in a cartoon to an excess of censorship”.

There have been reprisals against the press: the Egyptian owner of France-Soir fired the French editor for publishing the cartoons. The staff of the Jyllands-Posten have been threatened with mutilation, and prices have been put on the heads of the artists. Two hundred members of the Iranian parliament threatened to issue a fatwa (religious decree) calling for Muslims to kill those who drew the cartoons. “It seems they haven’t learnt of the miserable life of the person who wrote the Satanic Verses……if Salman Rushdie had been killed they wouldn’t have dared publish the cartoons”.

The Danish newspaper is dismissed for being politically right wing. Does only the Left enjoy freedom of expression? People say the West was intolerant five centuries ago, therefore we must be patient with Islam. They say there has to be a dialogue, but who speaks for Islam? Who speaks for the West? The leader of Hezbollah exhorted his followers in Beirut to continue to demonstrate until there is legislation in Europe against insulting Mohammed, although in Europe there are no laws against insulting Moses, Jesus, the Buddha and other religious figures.

When the Muslim leaders insist that western governments control the media, it is obvious that they have not the least idea of what freedom of expression means. Saying that this freedom cannot be allowed because it could incite radicals to violence is to give those radicals the power to impose their will upon the world.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia spoke of “the enormous abyss that has opened up between Islam and the West”, attributing it to western policies towards Iraq, Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oil. But he does not mention the Islamic terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and the London, the suicide bombers, the kidnapping and decapitation of innocents transmitted on television.

Moderate Muslims in Europe feel that their voice has been silenced by a minority of radicals who seek to speak in the name of all. In Der Spiegel, Hans Magnus Enzensberger charactarized Islam as the only violent movement capable of acting globally. The movement has a sophisticated grasp of the media and puts forward “fixed ideas it owes to its communist enemy; that history is determined by rigid laws, that victory is inevitable, that traitors and those who deviate from the path should be exposed. In the long run the most devastating impact will not be felt in the West but on the religion in whose name the Islamists act”.

The Iranian newspaper Hamshahri called for cartoons about the Holocaust (although Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that the Holocaust is a myth, and has asked for Israel to be wiped off the map). How far can religious hatred go?