A few religious drawings trigger global standoff between Europe and Muslim world

The controversy over the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed has been going on for nearly a week now as more European newspapers published cartoons. The dispute began in September last year, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a dozen cartoons.

Angry protesters in the Middle East are burning the Danish flags and boycotting the Danish goods. Where are the limits of the freedom of the press? Could the publication of a dozen cartoons be the last straw? Below are the viewpoints by Geidar Jemal, Sergei Kazennov and Boris Makarenko.

Geidar Jemal, a chairman of the Islamic Committee:

In my opinion, this is yet another example of the notorious double standards. Maintaining that the Holocaust differs from the official version of the events is a crime in today’s France. Europe has long been boastful of its freedoms and a total lack of taboos. But Europe has plenty of taboos. Therefore the claims for the unlimited freedom of the press are groundless. And the reaction of the Muslim world is adequate. The Muslims will cease to be the Muslims if they allow a junky newspaper to denigrate their sacred objects.

As regards a political solution to the drama, the Western side would point out that the Muslim side lacks a representative to take part in a full-fledged conciliatory dialogue. The Muslim street is a real representative, a true force. The point is that the situation in the Muslim society is completely opposite to that in the Western society. The Islamic world of politics is populated by bureaucrats of the postcolonial period, they can be likened to Bush or Blair. The people are a true force, the values of Islamic society live in the hearts of the people, not in the institutions. That is why the Western public opinion will never understand the Muslims.

The anti-Islamic caricatures, which were published for no apparent reason, are a provocation. There is a variety of lobbyists in Europe who are keen to stir up trouble between the Muslim world and the Balkan countries. Both Denmark and Sweden used to have very close relations with the Muslims. There must be someone who wanted to break them up.

I believe the whole controversy was created by U.S. lobby in order to condition the public opinion and politicians in Europe to an eventual acceptance of aggression against Iran. The U.S. aimed to cast doubt on protests against another act of U.S. aggression. I am confident that the U.S. has already decided to invade Iran. It is also quite clear to me that the U.S. is very interested in exerting influence on Europe’s public opinion with regard to a predictably unanimous response to yet another aggression to be launched by Washington.”

Sergei Kazennov, head of geopolitics section of the Institute of International Economic Relations under the Russian Academy of Sciences:

“From my point of view, some things are unfit for caricatures. They should not used as subjects for caricatures not only because of security reasons or fear of losing one’s job.

The whole Europe have suddenly decided to show how progressive it is. As for me, I believe there is a big difference between a lack of culture and progressiveness. After all, a newspaper is not a private thing, and self-censorship is required for the press.

Palestinian immigrants now constitute a considerable part of the population in Scandinavia. Their religious views should be respected. “Mohammed” is the most popular name for the newborn Muslims in today’s Europe. Though I do not regard myself as being far too tolerant individual, and despite my perception of the European civilization as rather Christian one, I do believe that the European community has long turned into a pluralist society. No way the Muslims can be ejected. I believe Europe has already reached the point of no return. In the past Europe needed cheap labor to keep the Volkswagen assembly lines rolling. If the amount of immigrants exceeds 5 percent, they can not integrate into a society, according to present-day sociologists. Even if the first immigrants are grateful for getting a residence permit and a job in a civilized country, the next generations will express emotions of a different kind.”

Boris Makarenko, first deputy director of the Center of Political Technologies:

“Needless to say, the freedom of expression is the fundamental value for all Europeans. That is the main point concerning the issue. You can publish the cartoons like that but you’d better not.

On the one hand, the Europeans have a score to settle with the Muslim world. On the other hand, the Muslims too have a score to settle with Europe. Besides, there are millions of Muslims living in Europe.

Europeans share two opposite opinions at the moment. Some maintain that the freedom of expression may not be compromised in any way. Others hold that tolerance and respect are an inalienable part of democracy.

I would say that both sides are overreacting, it goes to the publication of the cartoons and indignation that followed. Europe’s attempts to play an innocent fool asking “what’s all that fuss about?” look rather inappropriate.

A female artist was convicted in Israel a few years ago. She drew a caricature of Islam, it featured a pig. The authorities convicted both the artist and the newspaper, which published the cartoon. The defendants were found guilty because the authorities could appreciate the risks of throwing stones when living in a house made of glass.

No doubts about it, you should not go to extremes. Displaying antireligious paintings in a gallery is not the same thing as publishing them in a newspaper, a public locale. A small Danish newspaper is one thing. France Soir is totally different. The French daily is one of the largest newspapers with a large number of subscribers, many of them are Muslims.

Now Denmark will have to wag its tail for a long while. Denmark is not a very big political player in the Middle East though a hefty part of its imports are destined for the region. It was a little bit funny to hear Russia calling for a boycott to Danish-made goods because a decrease in the number of Russian drinkers of Tuborg would not have impacted Denmark anyway. This time the situation is different. A potential loss of the lucrative share on the Middle East dairy products market would do a lot of damage to Denmark.

Most dire consequences of the controversy look obvious. The cartoons may be the last straw in the overheated brain of some Muslim youngster who would set about his own jihad.”


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov