MOHAMMED WATTAD/Only Muslims can change the world’s view of Islam


Only Muslims can change the world’s view of Islam
01/26/2015 21:0

Terrorism today stems primarily from Muslims in the name of Islam, and we cannot brush off accusations about our faith just by saying that the terrorists do not act in our name.

The recent massacre of journalists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris recalls the 2006 Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist. Meant to further debate about criticism of Islam and self-censorship, the caricatures were met with violent protests by Muslims worldwide.

The Danish flag was desecrated and embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran were attacked. Behind the scenes, Muslim religious and political leaders fanned the flames, inciting the violence and issuing death threats against those affiliated with the publication.

In both cases, the outrage stemmed from the depiction of Islam as a religion that promotes violence.

While Muslims found these cartoons offensive, the cartoons were drawn by Western journalists for Western audiences in a society grounded in democratic rights and freedoms, tantamount among these the right to free speech. And what is the essence of free speech if not the right to express disputed and even offensive views? Western courts have created important principles and a body of rich jurisprudence aimed at enlarging the right to freedom of expression that are applicable to benign speech as well as to that which offends, shocks or disturbs. As a result, governments can rarely, and only for the most compelling reasons, invoke the power to regulate public discourse.

Muslims are well aware of the rights and freedoms afforded to them in democratic societies, and this is precisely the reason many of them leave their Islamic homelands for the West. It is therefore with the utmost hypocrisy, audacity and impertinence that Muslims living in democratic countries react to criticism of their faith with threats, vandalism and violence. Simply put, what is good for them as immigrants is not good for indigenous populations.

For 1,400 years, Muslims have believed that God revealed the Koran to Mohammed, the final prophet.

As such, Mohammed did not found a new religion, but rather restored the original, monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition holds that Jews and Christians distorted the revelations God gave to their prophets by altering text, through false interpretations, or both. Muslims therefore believe that they are the only right and true religious people, and that all others must follow their faith. Failure to do so is blasphemy. This is why Muslims are sensitive to criticism.

Their sensitivities notwithstanding, if Muslims are to live among Westerners, it is they who must conform to the norms of the land, not vice versa. I can see no reason why the West should be expected to grant them license to enter or extend to them the rights and freedoms that apply to their citizens if they think they can live by a separate set of laws in their adopted countries.

Muslims are not the only target of religious criticism.

Examples abound of the Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other faiths being the subject of gross insult. Yet while these expressions have sparked outrage and anger, they are met with objection and denouncement: words are met with words in the marketplace of ideas. Only among Muslims are words of criticism met by the sword.

This predictable cycle proves exactly what the Dutch and French cartoonists sought to depict: the moral, educational and cultural bankruptcy of those who act barbarically in the name of Islam. The cartoons are not concerned with Islam, but with the way some Muslims exercise Islam. Nor did they create a perception. They merely reflected existing images created by extremists themselves, and those who tacitly support them, of Muslims as irrational, impulsive, logically incompetent, rationally illiterate and mentally handicapped.

While we may not want to admit it, these images are based on the stark truth as many see it today.

If this image is wrong, then we Muslims bear the burden to show otherwise. Terrorism today stems primarily from Muslims in the name of Islam, and we cannot brush off accusations about our faith just by saying that the terrorists do not act in our name. Nor can we resort to crying “Islamophobia” when the perception of violent, rights-abusing Muslims arises. For these images to change, Muslims must be at the forefront of countering Islamic radicalization in the Middle East and in our adopted countries. It is only then that the images of Muslims in satirical magazines will reflect a different reality.

**The author is a visiting assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine, Department of Political Science.