Thursday, March 27, 2008

Avoiding a counterproductive response to 'blasphemies

Al Makin , Opinion and Editorial, The Jakarta Post, 03/27/2008 12:08 AM

The burning issue concerning those who have irritatingly used sacred Muslim symbols, including sciptures and prophets, to express their insensitive opinions reached the 11th summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Dakar, Senegal earlier this month, forcing Muslim leaders throughout the world, including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to respond (The Jakarta Post, March 15).

Islam, one of the world's largest religions, cannot be divorced from its followers -- Muslims. Owing to this, the latter, to facilitate their devotion and practices in modern times, have actively created 'Islamic culture'.

Islam has become an inspiration, if not the basis, for the creation of many new cultures across many nations in the world, as has been the case with other religions, including Christianity in the western world.

The vital point to be made here is those who "attack" religious symbols also attack other cultures.

In scholarly tradition, works that criticize certain cultures or traditions must be accepted, particularly when new findings benefit the community, for example, by promoting new levels of self reflection and self-improvement.

However, the results of some recent derogoteory outbursts aimed at other cultures' symbols remain unclear, besides from their clear provocation of those attached to religion of the decried symbols.

What is clear is that many protesters of the pictures published by Danish cartoonists, a film by Theo Van Gogh and Aayan Hirsi Ali and an unseen film by Geert Wilders have used these examples to justify their own stereotypical views.

Such protesters recalled the "conspiracy theory" that the West, together with Christians and Jews, aim to attack Islam, if not annihilate it altogether.

In doing so, the protestors have blamed the West for the many problems they are currently facing resulting in many taking this damaging stereotype to heart.

The following questions must be directed at those who continue to produce sarcastic material in full awareness of the consequences: Do they wish to spread this stereotype throughout the world?; Do they wish to see the stereoytpe given legitimacy?

Many of those who value reason and love peace hope such fears do not materilaize.

Unsympathetic critics have merely succeeded in increasing unfounded hate. Online debates have proven this, their content frequently distubing and their comments often irrelevant, but we can not ignore them because they contain real opinions.

It must be clear to anyone, whether religious or not, that there can be no place for hatred or racisim if different cultures are to exist peacefully.

Wilders' statement is provocative and is not representitive of Europe, nor any one of its constituent countries.

How can you ban the Koran when even European universities perform strgent reaserches on Islamic history, texts and religious practises.

Those most involved in such researches have shown great respect for the Muslim community, they wish simply to conduct an intellectual study of religion and culture, not to destroy of the subject matter of their own research.

From what I have felt day-to-day amid citizens of Mannheim and Heidelberg here is that most individuals have no interest in discussing sensitive religious issues. These are the people seen in the trains going to and from their offices or schools every day.

They do not really care about these issues, they prefer less irritating and more constuctive areas of conversation.

If everyone really suffered from Islamophobia, how could Muslims in this country survive?

Indeed, not all Muslims agree with the reactions to these materials have committed, calling to boycott the Netherlands products, burning its flags, and spreading the stereotypical views. It is noteworthy that the vast silent majority of Muslims do not want to exaggerate the above issue too much, rather willing to develop mutual understanding between Eastern and Western cultures.

It is not true that moderate Islam does not exist, as Wilder puts it in his interview. He knows that. Many Muslims, indeed, are liberal, progressive, and critical. Does he want to see his assumption to happen?

Whereas the beliefs hold by many who want mutual understanding among various cultures can perhaps be threatened, the wisest solution is expected. As regard to the call from OIC's summit, taking legal action to those who committed "blasphemies" seems unrealistic and perhaps counter-productive.

Imagine among the possible side effects to come, as this can be used to persecute any Muslim critics themselves, whose scientific, scholarly, journalistic, or aesthetic works aim at the betterment of Muslim community.

Indeed, Muslim community needs to evolve, as the Western one have done so in the spirit of enlightenment. In this vein, Islam as a basis for Muslim cultures and traditions also needs critical insights, and they should not be considered as Islamophobia.

The writer is lecturer of State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta and currently Ph.D candidate at Heidelberg University under the sponsorship of DAAD (Deustche Akademische Austauschdienst). He can be reached at nabiy13*