Free speech and its discontents
Posted by Administrator on February 13, 2006

Making the episode a 'teachable moment'

By Adeeba Al-Zaman
Last week, local Muslim organizations protested The Inquirer's decision to publish one of the cartoons that has sparked rioting around the world. The cartoon was accompanied by a statement that read, in part, "We believe it is important for readers to be able to judge the content of the image for themselves." The Inquirer invited protest organizers, as well as groups not involved with the demonstrations, to submit their opinions on the controversy.

American Muslims are certainly disturbed by the cartoon controversy and are concerned at the lack of civility of the "civilizations" involved.

Indeed, those who published the cartoons intending to provoke a reaction, and the violent extremists protesting the cartoons are making a mockery of their own values as they purport to expose the shortcomings in one another - and they are attempting to drag moderates who are open to dialogue in with them.

Many are concerned that the cartoons originally published last fall in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten indicate a culture of intolerance and hatefulness that we saw in Germany in the 1930s. For Muslims in America and abroad, the cartoons appear to be evidence of the increasingly Islamophobic state of the world.


Extended News

Free speech and its discontents

Making the episode a 'teachable moment'

By Adeeba Al-Zaman
Last week, local Muslim organizations protested The Inquirer's decision to publish one of the cartoons that has sparked rioting around the world. The cartoon was accompanied by a statement that read, in part, "We believe it is important for readers to be able to judge the content of the image for themselves." The Inquirer invited protest organizers, as well as groups not involved with the demonstrations, to submit their opinions on the controversy.

American Muslims are certainly disturbed by the cartoon controversy and are concerned at the lack of civility of the "civilizations" involved.

Indeed, those who published the cartoons intending to provoke a reaction, and the violent extremists protesting the cartoons are making a mockery of their own values as they purport to expose the shortcomings in one another - and they are attempting to drag moderates who are open to dialogue in with them.

Many are concerned that the cartoons originally published last fall in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten indicate a culture of intolerance and hatefulness that we saw in Germany in the 1930s. For Muslims in America and abroad, the cartoons appear to be evidence of the increasingly Islamophobic state of the world.

Many Muslims are stunned that the West appears interested in the exercise of so-called free speech at any cost, even turning back a hundred years of proud civil rights history. Has the West, in fact, committed itself to "never again" allow the systematic alienation and attack upon any culture, any faith tradition or any nation?

Also, many Muslims are horrified that extremists around the world have so easily manipulated this situation to create violent, and even deadly, riots. Several American Muslim leaders have commented that this behavior is in direct violation of the Prophet Muhammad's example, which Muslims are bound to follow. They call for us to be conscious of Muhammad's words: "The best amongst you are those who can reign themselves in when angered," and follow the Koran's guidance: "Goodness and evil cannot be equal. Repel [evil] with something that is better" (Koran 41:34).

The values that the prophet preached and engendered are the reason we as Muslims love him so passionately. His ability to forgive and seek meaningful ways to build bridges of understanding is sorely needed on both sides in today's conflict.

So how do we move from here?

Western and Muslim societies cannot allow themselves to be defined by the extremist minority in this conflict. People of all faiths in the West and in the Muslim world can succumb to a downward spiral of mutual mistrust and hostility or view this disturbing episode as a "teachable moment" that should not be wasted.

Because it is the responsibility of Muslims to share with the world who Muhammad was and what he taught, American Muslims are launching an educational initiative to do just that.

Today, at noon, CAIR-Philly and other organizations are scheduled to announce the details of the Explore the Life of Muhammad campaign (www.cairphilly.org). In cooperation with local interfaith and Muslim groups, this initiative will focus on educating the public on the life and legacy of Islam's prophet, through town hall meetings, lectures, movie screenings, and the distribution of free books and DVDs over the course of the year.

Philadelphia Muslims believe opening the channels of education and dialogue is essential to eradicating ignorance and nurturing understanding. As we move forward, we must remember the teaching of the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad that the best way to respond to an act of evil is with an act of goodness.


Adeeba Al-Zaman (adeeba@cairphilly.org) is communications director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Source: Philly.com