Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rioting over Free Speech?

Thousands of outraged Syrian demonstrators stormed the Danish and Norwegian Embassies in Damascus, setting fire to both buildings. As thick black smoke rose into the air, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, who shouted, "Allah-u akbar," Arabic for "God is great!"

I know very few Muslims. I lived next door to an apartmentfull of male Syrian and Iraqi students in Leipzig -- but this was back in 1997 and they were all pretty secularized. While bitching about Western degeneracy and loose German values, they'd be throwing down cans of Pozeiden (the cheapest beer available at the corner market) and discussing how to pick up girls at the disco. (BTW, I was just as hypocritical as they were, I just didn't talk my trash quite as loudly).

But must flames and riot and boycott result from the disconnect between the western value of freedom of speech and the Islamic belief that the prophet Mohammed must not be portrayed in a picture? How did we come to this? I mean apart from the fact that right-wing bigots in the west and fundamentalist Islamic bigots in the Middle East benefit from the hatred and division and are encouraging it? Here's a great column that's appeared in Egypt and Lebanon explaining why the culture editor of the Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons in the first place and decrying the lack of understanding in Muslim world of western values and free speech. "What should have remained a local issue turned into a diplomatic uproar that Muslims otherwise rarely provoke when fighting for their rights around the world. Perhaps the Muslim governments who spearheaded the campaign - led by Egypt - felt this was an easy way to burnish their Islamic credentials at a time when domestic Islamists are stronger than they have been in many years..."

And here's a comment from a left-wing paper in Germany: "Muslims between Copenhagen, Riyadh and Gaza have showed us again what we already knew: They take our Nikes and Cokes but they don't accept our culture of fun which ironically mocks," wrote Die Tageszeitung. "And when an editor in chief and a prime minister apologize for the cartoons, it has become clear again that Westerns are all mollycoddled cowards kneeling down in front of the enemies of freedom."


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