Friday, February 17, 2006

Let's try to get beyond caricatures

Opinion, International Herald Tribune
Friday, February 10, 2006.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

JAKARTA The distasteful cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, first
published in Denmark in September 2005 and subsequently reproduced in
other media, continue to spark a chain of reactions ranging from
peaceful protest to violence in many Muslim communities.

The international community must work together to put out this fire. A
good start would be to stop justifying the cartoons as "freedom of the
press," which only hardens the Muslim community's response. Another
vital step would be to discontinue their reproduction, which only
prolongs the outrage.

To non-Muslims, the image of the Prophet Muhammad may only be of casual
interest. But to Muslim communities worldwide, it is of enormous
spiritual importance. For the last 14 centuries, Muslims have adhered to
a strict code that prohibits any visual portrait of the Prophet. When
this code was violated and their Prophet mocked for the purpose of
humor, Muslims felt a direct assault on their faith.

Reprinting the cartoons in order to make a point about free speech is an
act of senseless brinkmanship. It is also a disservice to democracy. It
sends a conflicting message to the Muslim community: that in a
democracy, it is permissible to offend Islam.

This message damages efforts to prove that democracy and Islam go
together. The average Muslim who prays five times a day needs to be
convinced that the democracy he is embracing, and is expected to defend,
also protects and respects Islam's sacred symbols. Otherwise, democracy
will not be of much interest to him.

The cartoon crisis serves as a reminder that all hell may break loose in
a world of intolerance and ignorance.

The global community needs to cultivate democracies of freedom and
tolerance - not democracies of freedom versus tolerance. It is tolerance
that protects freedom, harnesses diversity, strengthens peace and
delivers progress.

Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many in the Western world have shown
increasing interest in the Islamic world. Yet this interest has not been
accompanied by a greater knowledge and understanding of Islam. In
December last year, the summit of th e Organization of the Islamic
Conference in Mecca lamented "the feelings of stigmatization and concern
over the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia around the world as a form
of racism and discrimination."

The West and Islam need not collide in a clash of civilizations. Many
Islamic communities comfortably embrace some Western habits.
Correspondingly, Islam has become the fastest-growing religion in some
Western nations, including the United States. The Western and Islamic
worlds can conscientiously work together to nurture a global culture of
respect and tolerance.

The international community must not come out of the cartoon crisis
broken and divided. We need to build more bridges between religions,
civilizations and cultures. Government leaders, religious figures and
ordinary citizens can go beyond supporting religious freedom - they can
express solidarity with those who are defending the integrity of their
faith.

We also need to intensify interfaith dialogue so that we may further
tear down the walls of misunderstanding and mistrust - an undertaking
that Indonesia has actively promoted.

Muslims around the world also have responsibilities. No one - certainly
not Muslims - will be better off if the current crisis descends into
open conflict and more bloodshed. The best way for Muslims to fight
intolerance and ignorance toward Islam is by tirelessly reaching out to
non-Muslims and projecting Islam as a peaceful religion. We also need to
be forgiving to those who have sincerely apologized for offending Islam.

Indeed, at this difficult moment, Muslims might emulate the Prophet
Muhammad's well-known qualities in dealing with adversity: composure,
sound judgment, magnanimity and benevolence.

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