Religious beliefs conflicting with secular principles is not a new concept: it happened many times in the past and it still continues to happen through out the world. The Danish cartoon controversy is one of the good examples showing this conflict. It was triggered by a Danish author, Kare Bluitgen, wanting artists to illustrate Muslim prophet Muhammad for a book that he was set to publish. He approached three illustrators, who turned down his offer, because the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in human form is forbidden in Islam, and artists were afraid that they would pay with their lives for doing so.
The president of Danish Writers Union, Frants Iver Gundelach, claimed this to be a threat to free speech. Taking Gundalach’s words into consideration, Jyllands-Posten, the largest newspaper in Denmark approached forty cartoonists to portray Prophet Muhammad and in response received twelve cartoons showing him in various acts of violence. It suggests that Islam is intrinsically violent and irredeemable. It posits all Muslims as potential terrorists. In other words, it fuels that hatred against Muslims and constructs them as ‘evil Others’ (Sardar, 2006).
On December 21, 2005 Robert Spencer took a stand to support free speech by writing ‘Thou Shalt Not Draw’ (Front Page Magazine) and focusing on the controversy created throughout the world due to Danish cartoons. He clearly points out that similar kind of conflicts have happened in the past involving other religions and every time the battle has been won by the free speech. He further says free speech, passed on to us from our ancestors, is a hard earned freedom that we must protect at any cost.
If people decided not to say something out of respect for a religion that is not their own, then they will be giving up the First Amendment without realizing it. Even though Spencer in his article clearly states his opinion by taking a stand to support free speech, he neglects discussing any solutions to the problem, solutions as simple as an apology, educating both sides and dialogue between both sides. As a major part of democracy, free speech was created to help people talk out and freely express their opinions, but sometimes free speech can also be insulting and offensive. “Freedom of expression is not a stream without banks.
It has its own borders that separate freedom from chaos and distinguish between the right of someone and the violation of the right of someone else” (Ibrahim Nawar, P. 1). One has to know what to say and what not to, this sense of self restriction can only be obtained through education. One doesn’t have to use freedom of speech in order to prove they have it, as there is nothing courageous about using it to ridicule the beliefs of one of the weakest sections of your society. Freedom of expression, including the freedom to poke fun at religion, is not just hard-won human right but the defining freedom of liberal societies (Kathy Gill).
In the conflict of Danish Cartoons, both the sides behaved in an unwanted way heating up the situation: just to get back at the West, Islamic community took violence as a weapon and the Western community republished the cartoons just because they believe in free speech. Education, playing an essential part to one’s character, could instantly solve this problem. The question of hate speech is very serious and reactive in Muslims and believers of other religions. Cultural differences and a peaceful coexistence between different cultures and religions can be achieved through multicultural society.
The first step towards peace and unity is respecting other values and cultures. Educating both the Western and Islamic society on each others cultures and values is one of the solutions to the problem. The Islamic community needs to understand that they live in a democratic world and freedom of speech is in western community’s blood, so if they do not agree with what is being said then violence is not the solution, in fact it will make things worse. Angry Muslims should make their demands clear and purse the right way to achieve these demands. They should know alternative ways to react to an insult other than violence.
They should seek help from the law: “If the law can be used to defend the sacred notion of the Holocaust, then it can be used to protect the sacred territory of one of the great religions of the world” (Sardar, 2006). I believe this can only be done through educating Muslims about the law and other non-violent alternatives to deal with such insults. In my opinion the media would be the best educating source as it is the most influential and the best brain washer yet available, if wanted it can change the way one thinks in the shortest time possible. This would ensure that extremists know how to react when a situation like this arises again.
The Western society is no exception; they need to understand that freedom of speech comes with restrictions; they just can not go around insulting people without facing any consequences. People have to learn that respecting ones belief is the best way to achieve common ground; therefore they have to restrain themselves from projecting hatred or offensive style of speaking. The western public can be educated by the government; I believe it would be the best educational institution for this sort of situations, because it is capable of punishing media for reporting irrelevant news and spreading hate speech.
For example, Jyllands-Posten published Danish Cartoons were not reporting any news, but were testing the Islamic community and proving that free speech was still powerful (Cline, 2006). The cartoons were republished by other European newspapers – “also not for the purpose of provoking and insulting, but because, like the Jyllands-Posten, they believed that freedom of expression was under assault from extremists using violence and intimidation. They were showing solidarity with the Danish press by taking equal responsibility for the publication rather than engaging in self-defeating self-censorship… ” (Cline, 2006).
By republishing these cartoons, I guess they helped to turn the Muslim anger to a real frustration, people who “provoke the feelings of others, who are different, are practically calling for social tension” (Ibrahim Nawar, 2006, P. 2). In my opinion it would be really helpful for the media to not project hate speech, as it is the most influential part of everyone’s life. Media should not be the only one to be restricted by the government, but public should also be restricted by restricting free speech itself: government should ensure that what people say is not going to insult large masses of people.
People should be free to speak his/her mind as long as they don’t offense large masses of people, which ensures that one of the man’s most powerful and crucial right, free speech, is being used in a more productive way. Therefore, educating both sides not only avoids conflicts, but also guarantees good relations between the West and the Middle East. Even though future problems can be solved by educating both sides, it does nothing to the problem that already exists.
However, the conflict between the two sides can be solved much more easily through dialogue. A dialogue not only ensures better understanding, but also enhances trust in each other, putting an end to disagreements and conflicts. Particularly in the Danish Cartoon controversy, a dialogue would have made each side understand the purpose of their actions. The West would explain the reason for the cartoons being published in the first place giving a chance to the Islamic community to justify its violent actions.
This way each side reaches a common ground minimizing this sort of situation to arise again An apology to the Islamic community is the easiest solution to the problem. I consider it wrong of Jyllnads-Posten to publish the cartoons in view of the fact that it wasn’t reporting any kind of news or a world conflict. The only thing the Muslims were seeking from the beginning was an apology, and because Jyllnads-Posten started this controversy, it was only fair for them to apologize. Had it apologized the conflict wouldn’t have even started.
Spencer in his article makes it clear that free speech has to be preserved at any cost: “freedom is imperiled internationally more today than it has been in recent memory. ” (Spencer 2005). He seems to think that hard-won freedoms would be wiped out if multiculturalism is supported, ones freedom in such situation must be protected so that it’s not given up voluntarily. Furthermore, he implies that if people decided not to say something out of respect for a religion that is not their own, then they will be giving up the first amendment without realizing it.
However, he fails to realize that if unconditional free speech is allowed then the world would be in chaos. If everyone were to act like Muslims in similar controversy like Danish cartoons then there would be constant protests and violence every where. This is where education, dialogue and an apology come in to solve the problem; these three actions will make people aware of the situations where free speech is to be used and where it is to be restrained.