Burning embassies is not the way [Archives:2006/921/Opinion]

February 16 2006

By: Tawakkol Karman
As Muslims, we have nothing to be alarmed about in terms of freedom of speech, as we are the ones provided with wisdom and the miraculous Qur'an.

We are not to call for tyranny and bans on freedom. It is obvious that we cannot stop publication of what we view as indecent in our sacred faith. The telecommunications revolution and future sciences tell us this. Let me say frankly that demanding closure of the Danish newspaper that insulted our prophet and the other newspapers that followed suit is a lack of common sense. Yet, failing to make use of Western freedom of press and other technologies to show the West the values of Islam is intellectual failure and a guilt that should not be linked to Islam. However, adopting censorship in dealing with the West is a woeful mistake against Islam and our prophet.

It is certain that official bodies were behind the rage that spread throughout the Arab world. Yet, governments were the main inciters of the people, undertaking to magnify the insult and determining the method of retaliation as well.

It remains skeptical whether those who burned the Danish and Swedish embassies in Damascus and Beirut were politically, rather than religiously motivated. The stylish slogans used in demonstrations hid other things. God did not order the burning; it is not the prophet's norm. Even if it was voluntary public rage, it undoubtedly contributed to spreading offense and paved the way for future prejudicial behavior. The result of burning embassies and treading on flags is the self-same objective these drawings wanted to highlight. It was their intention to say that Muslims are terrorists and their religion is a peril to Western civilization.

What was the outcome of these enraged behaviors? Obviously, it was not to respond to the insult. It was even prudent not to provoke it. However, it was a basic ideal in the media profession. Some of those deprived of journalistic fame and lacking any fans tend to seek fame by insulting pillars of humanity. In most times, their publications will remain unread, rendering them to be the editors and the readers.

However, things take a different turn if they are met with angry reactions, as their readership surely will increase. Now that the Danish illustrations have been read widely and other cartoonists have followed suit by adding more drawings, a question arises about the wisdom of such enraged reactions, reenacted in Sana'a, Amman, Rabat and Cairo. Do we expect to burn these cities' embassies and ban their trade? It is certain that the aim of all this was not to receive an apology or to wipe out the offense. Like the old racist, extreme, hidden agenda, it was the desire to rupture dialogue with the West, to draw a wedge and stir up religious, societal and cultural conflicts. Yet, the common interests of these groups that came together pose a great threat to humanity at large and the Islamic nation and authorities should be aware of their danger. They should not follow in their tracks and they should avoid the irrational artificial conflicts they often arouse.

I do not want to belittle or be indifferent to the insults to our prophet (pbuh). I denounce insulting our prophet and announce that my heart is filled with his love. Yet, I refuse that his position should be employed for ignoble political gains. However, I protest being used as a tool because of this love to spread the offense and turn naive individuals into heroes. The drawers of these illustrations were made famous by our actions and more light was shed on their drawings as well.

The agenda of burning embassies and treading on flags has its objective, of which seeking an apology for defaming our prophet is not among them at all. Yet, apology or no apology, officially financed conferences, seminars and debates will not stop.

The concurrent burning of the embassies in Beirut and Damascus did not come out of the blue. Those who still dream and long for the 'old days' are seeking to restore them through hatred and incendiary actions. I am aware that it is rather unsafe to say such things and there are many who advise that it be overlooked. Yet, it would be a misuse of religion to ignore it because our religion is a complete network of values and principles.

Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist and heads Women Journalists Without Constraints (WJWC).