Prophet Mohamed Cartoons and Freedom
“For me, this problem is much deeper because in the Islamic world you are not allowed to criticize Islam. For example, I am an atheist, but I am not allowed to declare my atheism because I can be jailed or discriminated from society or killed. I have a lot of friends who were forced to leave the country because they converted to Christianity or became atheists or agnostic,” – El Mehdi, who is from Morocco and works as a movie maker and activist, said while speaking to me about the cartoons that were made about the prophet of Islam, Mohammed.
For El Mehdi, the problem is much deeper, because it is not just about cartoons or depicting the prophet, but it is somehow about a clash of civilizations. El Mehdi continued, “For the Muslim World (I came from the Muslim world, but I am not a Muslim) it is kind of insult and offensive to make these kind of caricatures, but for the Western countries it is something that they are used to. In the West, there is no problem between Christianity and freedom of expression because they depict their prophets and insult them. But for the Muslim world, they are not used to freedom of speech and are not used to freedom of expression.”
Does this conflict over these cartoons a sign of the Clash of Civilization? If it is, how can this clash be prevented? The aim of this article is to understand this problem more through the perspective of some young people from around the world and also suggest some plans on how to prevent this problem in the future from being repeated.
Freedom is something we all like, want and need. Freedom is more than an idea. Freedom is what makes humans live. Sometimes we sacrifice our lives so that we breathe freedom. If freedom is that important, then why are some people against it? It is a strange question. This question might itself be a logical fallacy. However, this question might be very logical when we see people killing other people for expression their ideas. When the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist with a bomb in 2005, many protests and attacks on embassies followed. I interviewed Rasmus Olsen, a young man from Denmark who wants to study journalism, for this issue who defined freedom as having to say what one wants without having the fear to be attacked. When I asked Rasmus about the cartoons, he answered, “I think people should be allowed to print whatever they want, and I think there should not be any laws against criticizing religions. I think most of the drawings, especially those of 2005, show kind of a lack of respect because they were not creating a good debate through, for example, how we should talk about religion and how Muslims should be integrated here in Denmark. So, if a drawing creates some good debate and evokes some people to participate in the public debate, I think it is ok to print them. Otherwise, if it just to say, ‘I think prophet Mohammed is stupid,’ that really does not send an intelligent message. So, I think these cartoons are wrong but I do not think we can make laws against them because it would be suppressing the freedom of speech.” So, these cartoons were wrong, but making laws is not the solution.
Recently, the French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, also published caricatures about the prophet Mohammed, and then a terrorist attack followed against the newspaper. So, what does all this mean? Are these people against freedom of expression? Or maybe there is more to this. One should ask: Are these cartoons freedom of expression and speech or are they hate speech? Snorri Hjalmarsson, a young man from Iceland, had a different perspective. He defined the cartoons as hate speech. “I think those who made these cartoons believe that freedom of expression and speech are limitless, but in my opinion they went a bit too far. They took that far that it clashed with other people’s freedom of religion. The cartoons are a bit of both the freedom of speech and hate speech. For me, I would say it is hate speech, but still technically it is part of the freedom of speech. Those people believed they were practicing their freedom of speech when they did that,” Snorri explained. So, basically maybe the problem is not only the Islamic world after all. Maybe the journalists also went too far as Snorri suggested. However, if both sides are wrong, then how can they come to a compromise?
Rasmus had some plans on how to bring these two different perspectives closer to each other, “For the journalists and the Danes who printed these things, we should start in primary school and secondary school and open our education system to the world and say instead of just studying Christianity, we should study all the world religions. We then understand why the people in the Middle East think differently than from us and then you take that further to the journalist education. So, we can call this a culture exchange class. On the other hand, the Muslims should get a better of communication of what happened. So, there is a lack of communication because there are big parts of the Middle East where there are uneducated people, who cannot read and who cannot get proper access to the media. They get the governments’ picture of those stories, and this provokes hate. So, we should have better media and better education for people in the Middle East.” Similar to Rasmus, Snorri also thought education is the solution, “The solution is education. Educate journalists about Islamic beliefs and respecting other cultures. I do not think making laws restricting freedom of speech would help anything. That would even bring more conflict.”
However, can education prevent the clash of civilizations? El Mehdi believed education can prevent this conflict but it is a long process, “It is a long process. It starts with education. In all the Muslim countries we suffer from the same things. We suffer from corrupted leaders, who are backed by the West. We need a radical change first. We can never have freedom of expression and speech without changing our governments. At the same time, the West needs to learn about the things that offend the Muslim community. So, it is both sides.” After all, El Mehdi believes that the cartoons are not a problem in themselves but it is the reaction of the Muslim society that makes it a problem. For El Mehdi the solution is education, but that education cannot be attained without a radical change of the governments.
The Muslim countries have many of their own problems. Most people in these countries have a hard time accepting each other let alone accepting someone who is from outside their world. That is why countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria are overshadowed with blood. However, the Western countries also have too much pride in their ideas and principles. Sometimes in the name of freedom they violate other people’s freedoms. Sometimes in the name of justice they enslave others. Sometimes in the name of freedom of expression they insult others. With all this conflict inside and between these two civilizations, a Clash of Civilizations is not something that is inventible. Peace and love can be the norm with the right education, and this right education can be brought about by young people who want to change the governments, the media and world.