Of late, Lars Thorsen, a member of the ‘Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN)’ tried to desecrate the Holy Quran in Norway. The outrageous attempt was foiled by the reaction of a young man who swooped upon the agitator and thereby stopped the act.
Thanks to world media that this time the attacker was not wholly blamed as has evermore been the custom.
In 2010, Terry Jones, a Pastor in the US also blatantly disrespected the Holy Scripture with impunity.
Such incidents have continuously been happening and possibly with states’ tacit backing ostensibly with the objective to agitate the emotions of the Muslims who endearingly keep the history of giving strong reactions to the blasphemies.
Some years ago, when Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, published 12 blasphemous cartoons that became the cause of unrest in the Muslim world, the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appeared on TV to defend the case for freedom of expression.
The then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, too, joined the fiery discourse by her support. She said, “We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.”
Doesn’t it seem to be the implementation of the famous discourse by Samuel Huntington? In 1995, he presented a theory while rebutting the thesis of Francis Fukuyama that future wars will not be fought by tangible enemies – nation states, rather by intangible foes – opposing cultures (the West and Islam).
In the wake of 9/11, the facade of world-stage witnessed an altogether different model from the one erected by cold-war era and the “new world order” in 1990’s. This is here the theory of Samuel Huntington seemed quite replicated. George Bush’s use of the term “crusade” just 5 days after the twin-towers-attack to define America’s upcoming military missions sent perilous alarm bells for the start of a new epoch where the West will confront Islam with affront.
Historically, the Muslims have had a peculiarity – they can easily be incited when their holy personalities and the scripture are treated irreverently. This trait was dexterously exploited. They were termed extremists and terrorists when they exhibited reactions without consuming an iota of thought to the root-cause. Charlie Hebdo shooting and several similar attacks by the Muslims were clearly in reaction to the profanity published by the press.
All this is done in the name of “freedom of expression”. The query is if this much trumpeted “freedom” stretches to infinity with no bars or limitations. To me, freedom is not without limits. Explicitly, it is like a plant that needs pruning every now and then so that its wayward braches do not bruise the passers-by.
Constitution of every free nation on this globe imparts freedom to its citizens in many walks of life – but even that freedom, too, has certain limitations. These limitations and curbs, in fact, beautify the image of freedom, without which freedom will grow out to be willfully menacing for the humanity, to say the least.
One cannot hurt the feelings of somebody or a community by naming one’s doing as freedom of speech. No explanation can be as vivid as that expressed by a US Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “The most stringent protection would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing panic.”
Now move fast to 2012 and the subsequent years reaching the current time. In this era, the hate against the Muslims in the West reached unprecedented crescendo. Attacks on Muslims and their places of worships have become norms with little or no condemnation from the world leaders and the United Nations.
Last year, the 3rd of April was fixed in the UK as “Punish a Muslim Day”. Letters were distributed to the residents of East London, Midlands and Yorkshire carrying directions for the task. There were a wide range of activities aimed to target the Muslims including removing headscarves from Muslim women’s heads and beating men in public. Such incidents were widely seen on the streets, which later proliferated to other European cities as well.
Let us now talk about the anti-Muslim activities in the US. A recent American report entitled “Anti-Muslim Activities in the United States: Violence, Threats, and Discrimination at the Local Level” tracked some 757 anti-Muslim incidents across the US from 2012 up to the present day. It is the most comprehensive and up-to-date source of publicly available information about anti-Muslim activities at the state and local level in the United States.
These games, crafts, manoeuvred hate, clash of civilizations have to stop. World organizations can play roles if they are made to perform independently away from the influence of powerful states; or else, I fear the world will continue to be a turbulent place where the individuals with states’ clandestine support will keep targeting the other communities for adherence to a peculiar creed.
Muhammad Tahir Iqbal
The writer is an educationist and historian.