In the aftermath of a worldwide Muslim campaign to collectively go berserk over unflattering caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad recently reprinted in several European newspapers, the Europeans seem to have discovered that there are indeed things to stand your ground on besides opposing the United States.
The caricatures, originally printed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September, were intended to lampoon “intolerance among Muslims and links to terrorism,” according to a recent edition of The New York Times. The refusal to pull the caricatures by the various European newspapers that reprinted them in late January has sparked massive protests across the Muslim world.
In Islam, it is one of the highest forms of blasphemy to depict the Prophet Muhammad in any but the most general manner. The reason for this was to prevent Muhammad from being depicted as divine. To Muslims, Muhammad was many things, but he was not divine, a sentiment underscored by the reported statement of Muhammad’s successor and first Caliph Abu Bakr, “If you worship Muhammad know that he is dead. If you worship God know that he is alive.” Thus it has become blasphemy to depict the Prophet in any manner other than the most basic. In any image where the Prophet is present he will always be clad in white with no facial features present.
I think it could have been possible to point out the areas where some believe Muslims can be hypocritical-and they are legion-without ridiculing the Prophet. I’m not personally offended by it since I’m not a Muslim, but I still think it was in very poor taste. Having said that, I think the refusal of the European newspapers to pull the caricatures was absolutely the right decision. Free speech and a free press -something the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world has yet to embrace-are essential to free societies. It’s one thing if I think what they did was in poor taste; it’s another to say that either they don’t have the right to print them or that they should remove the images under pressure from legions of self-righteous hypocrites.
Terrorists explode bombs in the name of Islam and there are just words. Americans and other westerners are beheaded in the name of Islam and there are just words. But print an insulting cartoon and look out-riots, burning embassies, kidnappings and demands that some of those involved in the printing of the cartoons be executed.
It’s not the mark of a reasonable people to absolutely lose their minds just because someone insulted them.
It’s the mark of the pathologically insecure.
Scott Wacholtz is a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.