Or Maybe It’s Time to Burn Flags of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia
Koran Does Not Forbid Images of Muhammad – What’s Really Going On?
By Prabhu Guptara
ZURICH -- In view of Islamic outrage over the Danish cartoons, some might wonder, as I have, whether the Muslim world ought to make up its mind regarding whether it belongs in the modern world or whether it wants to continue to belong to the pre-modern parts of the world.
On reflection, however, I am convinced that the reaction to the Danish cartoons is being framed the wrong way around the world.
The matter has little to do with the issue of freedom of speech or the freedom of the press, whether in the West or internationally. The rules for that are more or less well settled in each Western country, as well as in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- even if those documents are not followed in many countries who are members of the UN, such as China and most so-called Islamic countries.
As we should all know by now, the Koran does not forbid representations of the Prophet (PBUH*), though some schools of thought among Muslims do so. There are images of the Prophet (PBUH) in a pulpit in Medina itself, in the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in museums in Bokhara, Samarkand, and Isfahan itself.
Most European museums have miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad. There have even been statues of Muhammad, and several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the U.S. Supreme Court, where he is honoured as one of the great “lawgivers” of mankind. The Janissaries -- the elite of the Ottoman army -- used to carry into battle a medallion stamped with the Prophet's head (sabz qaba).
As for images of other Muslim prophets, they run into millions. Two years ago, the Islamic Republic of Iran honoured the painter Kamal-ul-Mulk, who is famous for having painted a portrait of the Prophet (PBUH), showing him holding the Koran in one hand while the index finger of the other hand points to the Oneness of God. The rulers of Islam probably honored Kamal-ul-Mulk only because he had been exiled by King Reza Shah in 1940.
Therefore, logically, the Muslims who claim to be so upset about the Danish representations should not burn the Danish flag, because the Danes are after all infidels from whom Muslims should expect nothing better. Muslim fundamentalists should burn instead the Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Saudi Arabian flags, as these are flags of countries that claim to believe in Islam while violating these supposed Muslim strictures regarding what constitutes Islam.
In any case, the matter has little to do with asking people around the world to be “sensitive” to the religious concerns of their Muslim neighbours -- or, for that matter, other religious neighbours: Some people are sensitive, and so much the better for them; some are insensitive and so much the worse for them.
The matter has to do primarily with the need for Muslim fundamentalists to mobilize and motivate the Muslim masses in relation to their cause. And if they don’t find Danish cartoonists and newspapermen to use for this purpose, it is clear that they will find something else to do so.
Witness the fact that “in retaliation” for the Danish ones, some Muslim leaders have come up with anti-Jewish cartoons -- not anti-Christian cartoons or anti-modern cartoons or anti-liberal cartoons. As if the Jyllands-Post, the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), or its editor, or the people or government of Denmark had anything particular to do with Zionism.
In any case, Zionism (as Muslims understand it today) was a bogey inherited from Hitler’s fascists and their campaign to take power in Germany and has little to do with the real issues facing a resolution of the problems in the Middle East today.
Understanding the Danish cartoons as a “Zionist plot” is a remarkable bit of self-delusion on the part of individuals. However, for the key instigators of the protests -- the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and the Movement of the Exiles (Ghuraba) -- that kind of spin is merely yet another cynical manipulation of any fact or incident or idea that might somehow be possibly twisted to suit their purposes.
The modern world should expect such tactics from such organizations. What is worrying is when entire states get in on the act, as in Iran’s cessation of trade relations with Denmark.
Why ever would any country want to do so, when it should be clear, at least to the rulers of such countries, that there is a completely different political and cultural context in the West, where political parties do not control the press and media, either formally or informally?
The answer to that question is simple. The ruling elite in Iran too needs to use religious hysteria to continue to keep its people in thrall, at a time when the people are becoming restive, as they see through the religious masks used by their rulers to conceal their greed and corruption.
Increasing recognition of the true nature of their rulers is spreading in the Muslim world, along with a recognition of the material and civilizational benefits of the modern world, so the rulers need to find ways of distracting the populace with “threats” in order to “justify” putting in place ever more draconian measures to keep the population under their control.
If the leaders of the Muslim world really believed, for example, in the Palestinian cause, they would not have stopped funding the Palestinians simply because their then-leader Yasser Arafat supported Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kuwait. The claim of Muslim leaders to genuinely support the Palestinian people would have been easier to accept if they had created ways of continuing to support the Palestinian people while trying to influence Yasser Arafat.
Instead, for years and years, the only people around the world supporting the Palestinians financially were the European Union. So it should be clear -- at least to the Palestinian people -- who are their true friends and who are simply using their cause for their own nefarious purposes.
Similarly, it should be clear to Muslims who their true friends are in the current clashes and who are simply manufacturing and using “Islamic rage” for their own purposes.
* Note: PBUH is short for “Peace Be Upon Him,” a ritual way of indicating respect in Islam.
Prof. Prabhu Guptara, author and lecturer, is executive director of the Wolfsberg Executive Development Centre (a subsidiary of UBS) and a Freeman of the City of London. This article is adapted from Prof. Guptara’s blog at “Renaissance: Insights for Action in Today’s World” (www.prabhuguptara.blogspot.com).