Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

What Defames Islam?

Roland Clarke

The cartoon crisis is another tragic historic milestone – perhaps on a par with 9/11 and the Iraq war. Like these two earlier events, this one has escalated tensions between the Muslim and ‘Christian world’ (better term: ‘western civilization’).

In the wake of the cartoon crisis, Muslims feel they are once again victims of western prejudicial attitudes. They believe that the principle of religious sanctity – particularly in relation to Muhammad – should be upheld in western nations. The grounds on which Muslims feel these caricatures of Muhammad are insulting, has a kernel of truth to it. Nevertheless, there has been considerable dishonesty and hypocrisy shown by Muslim leaders who’ve been integrally involved in this story.

Let me explain. Two months after the ‘insulting’ cartoons were printed in Denmark, Ahmed Abu Laban, leader of the Islamic Society of Denmark, took the 12 offending caricatures and compiled them into a booklet – along with three fabricated cartoons – which were far more insulting than the original ones. He and another imam showed this booklet to three highly reputed Muslim leaders in the Middle East; Amr Moussa – Arab league Secretary, Sheikh Mohammad Sayyad Tantawi – Grand Immam of Al Azhar, and Yusuf al Qaradawi – Sunni Islam’s most influential scholar. By showing these cartoons to these eminent leaders, Abu Laban harnessed their support towards promoting a groundswell of spontaneous(?) Muslim protest against the Danish newspaper.

If Laban was a man of integrity, "Why did he resort to using three hoax cartoons to bolster his argument?" The fact is: Abu Laban believes "mockery against Mohamed deserves the death penalty."(*) Convinced of this, it seems he rationalized it was insignificant to add some fake cartoons to his booklet. And, besides this, Islamists, like Abu Laban, regard lying as a permissible tactic of war (Jihad).

Unfolding events have shown how effective Abu Laban’s strategy was. It enraged Muslims so much that they attacked American bases in Afghanistan which had no real connection with the Danish newspaper and resulted in the deaths of 11 Muslims – most, if not all of them, killed by Afghani security forces.

Abu Laban and his colleague have been questioned about who gave them these three fabricated cartoons, but they have refused to identify the culprits. However, they claimed that the false cartoons were genuinely Danish and had been added to "give an insight in how hateful the atmosphere in Denmark is towards Muslims."(*) Subsequent research has revealed that one of these cartoons was fabricated and it is doubtful the other two are genuine Danish productions. The one allegedly portraying Muhammad with a pigsnout was from a photo of a pig squealing contest in France.(*) Holding this kind of contest at a carnival seems very strange to me, as I’m sure it does to many other readers, but that is exactly what it was.

The BBC notes "the ‘pigface’ photocopy was later filmed in Gaza at the end of January when gunmen took over EU offices, and so somehow it had been lifted out and given importance."(*) This BBC report concludes that the ‘pigface’ picture "does seem to have played a role in the raising of the temperature."

Bear in mind that this glaring example of dishonesty is not alone. The report that was circulated by Abu Laban purported to want "stable relations, and a flourishing Denmark for all that live here." But it also maligned Danish people saying, "If you say that they are all infidels, then you are not wrong." (BBC, ibid)

It is inexcusable that Abu Laban has circulated inflammatory lies but there is something else Muslim leaders have also been guilty of. They have been hypocritical in how they responded to two different newspapers which published the same cartoons of Muhammad. They condemned the Danish editor while turning a blind eye to the Muslim editor of El Fagr who published six of the original 12 caricatures (17 October 2005).

Notice how intense has been the condemnation against the ‘offending’ Danish editor and the ripple effects of these protests against the Danish embassies and exports, not to mention other countries. Why was the Muslim newspaper editor not rebuked, charged, shutdown (or whatever) for committing essentially the same wrong? Does this not smack of double standards and hypocrisy?

It is important to note that the editor of El Fagr criticized these six cartoons - as printed - "but it did not incite hatred protests" according to the Freedom for Egyptians blog(*). No ‘spontaneous’ outrage broke out until 3 months later when Abu Laban’s efforts at stirring up widespread protest had taken effect. Apparently the people organizing the riots did not know of El Fagr’s article or if they did they overlooked it. However, as this hypocritical story is being publicized more widely I fear there may be serious consequences for the editor. As of this writing, the ‘offensive’ issue of El Fagr (#21) has been removed from their website but all the other issues up to early February 2006 can be seen. {Note: On 15 September 2008 we observed that the website has become totally defunct.}

What is clear from all this is that a double standard has been applied to editors of papers that published the ‘offending’ cartoons. Several editors operating in Middle East or Muslim countries have been shut down and punished, while others seem to have escaped the wrath of Islamists. The dishonest reporting and lobbying of certain Muslim leaders has certainly fanned the flames of these raging protests, precipitating a global crisis that is causing destruction and death.

Speaking to fellow Muslims who are responsible for provoking violent protests, senior cleric Mohammed Usman of the Ulama Council in Kabul, Afghanistan, declared, "these rioters are defaming the name of Islam."(*) Some readers might wonder whether such a strong rebuke was necessary. Bear in mind that these violent protests resulted in 11 Afghans being killed and similar protests elsewhere have killed several dozen more people. This sharp rebuke from a leading Muslim calls to mind the opening question of this article, "What Defames Islam?" The answer is clear: Violence against embassies, churches and individuals committed by Muslims because of cartoons mocking Muhammad discredits Islam.

In conclusion, "How should Christians and Muslims behave in this crisis?" "How should we respond when a revered leader is mocked?" Indeed we might do well to ask, "How did Muhammad and Jesus Christ respond to mockery?" The following short articles provide valuable background information to help you explore these vital implications: (1, 2). A more detailed analysis of Muhammad’s response to mockers is available here.

Two other articles which provides useful background information to this cartoon crisis are available here and here.