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There Is No Justification for Violence in Response to Offensive Cartoons

By Nader Habibi


The Muslim world's anger at the European newspapers that have published offensive caricatures of Prophet Mohammed is understandable. This anger, however, does not justify the violent attacks on European diplomatic missions that we have witnessed in recent days. Those who carried out these attacks in Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and elsewhere have damaged the image of Islam and Middle East. They have also damaged the interests of Islamic countries. There were many alternatives to violence that these people could have used to register their anger and some of these options were already underway. Grass-root groups in several countries have called for a boycott of Danish products. Many Middle Eastern governments have filed formal protests with Danish government. Some political groups organized peaceful protests. Continuation of these non-violent protests would have been far more effective than setting the Danish or Norwegian embassy on fire.


Those who took part in these attacks and the political/religious leaders, who encouraged them, have ignored several important facts. First of all anyone who is familiar with the political institutions of European countries knows that the media are not controlled by the government and their editors do not coordinate their content with government officials ahead of time. The governments of Denmark and Norway were not responsible for the publication of offensive caricatures. Indeed they would have probably opposed the publication of these cartoons if they had any control over the media, to protect their countries' trade and investment links in the Islamic world.


Second, in the past two decades European nations have adopted a sympathetic policy toward the Palestinian cause despite criticism from the United States and Israel. Europeans have called for the withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories and creation of an independent Palestinian State. Furthermore on several occasions in the past two decades European Union has put economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel in support of Palestinian rights. It must also be remembered that continental Europe joined the Arab world in 2003 to oppose the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. The violent attacks on European embassies might have an adverse effect on European public opinion toward the Palestinian cause and other issues of interest to the Islamic nations.


The intellectuals, scholars and public opinion leaders of Islamic countries have a moral duty to speak out against these violent attacks. They should help channel the pubic anger toward peaceful means of protest which are likely to be more effective in the long-run. If those who oppose these violent attacks remain quiet the world might come to the conclusion that the extremists who put embassies on fire represent the entire Islamic community. We know that is not the case. They should also speak out to inform and educate others in their communities about the adverse costs and consequences of these acts.


When right-wing extremists in Western countries wage unfair attacks on Middle East or Islamic World (a problem that has intensified after September 11, 2001), it is heartwarming to see some fair-minded intellectuals stand up and challenge their extremist views. The Islamic countries also need a similar group of moderate groups to challenge the excesses of anti-Western extremists in their communities. The Muslim countries have many grievances about the Western nations' foreign policies toward Middle East and many of these grievances are legitimate. Not every event, however, justifies a violent reaction. If Muslims are asking some European countries to apologize for the offensive cartoons, the governments that failed to protect the European embassies during recent demonstrations must also apologize.    


About the author:
Nader Habibi is the director of Middle East and North Africa Service in the economic consulting firm Global Insight.


... Payvand News - 2/9/06 ... --

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