When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of twelve Muhammad cartoons [see them here] on September 30 the editors probably never imagined that ten weeks later Kashmir would come to a standstill because of them. Yet that is what happened yesterday. On Thursday Kashmir, a Muslim province of India, went on strike to protest the Danish newspaper publishing the cartoons. According to Islam it is blasphemy to depict the prophet.
The strike was called by a separatist group, but was supported by the Kashmir bar association and other organisations. The authorities made elaborate security arrangements to maintain law and order. Shops were closed to express anger over the caricatures of the prophet. In some places there were clashes, and people threw rocks. “Most Muslims feel deeply affronted,” said Abdur Rasheed, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kashmir Observer.
Last week Danish citizens were warned by their embassy to keep away from Pakistan, where tension is also running high over the cartoon case. Danes better keep out of Kashmir, too. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) said in a statement that the Danish editors “by resorting to such acts have given enough evidence that they are against Islam.”
While the Danish cartoon case keeps escalating, up to the point that even the United Nations have interfered (not to defend freedom of speech but to criticise the Danish paper for alleged racism and “islamophobia”), the Western mainstream media, with some exceptions, have hardly reported the affair.
Despite the mounting pressure and the lack of international support, the Danish government has not given in to demands that it apologize for the publication of the cartoons by one of its country’s newspapers. The UN, however, apologized in a letter by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Canadian Louise Ardour, “deploring” the “lack of respect towards other people’s religion.” The letter was an attempt to appease the UN’s Muslim members, who gathered this week in Mecca for a meeting of the 56 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and unanimously condemned the Danish “insult to Islam.” During the same OIC meeting, patronized by the Saudi King Abdullah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, proposed that the state of Israel be “moved to Europe,” in particular to provinces of Germany and Austria.
However, as the OIC also called for moderation and an end to terrorism, its meeting was well received by Western nations. Speaking for the entire European Union, the British Foreign Office issued an official declaration, saying that it “strongly supports the call by the Muslim leaders, at the OIC summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, for a forward-looking vision for the Muslim world. The whole international community stands with them in their staunch rejection of those who distort the noble faith of Islam. We join them in celebrating the values of Islamic civilisation. Their values are our values. We share their unequivocal condemnation of terrorism and their determination to combat it.”
In France, meanwhile, Muslim extremists and leftist radicals are mobilizing to prevent the Jewish French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut from giving a lecture in Lyons on 15 December. The extremists, who are supported by ‘intellectuals’ such as one Michel Bellet, a professor of economics at the University of Saint-Etienne, accuse Finkielkraut of “racism” and venting “criminal hatred” because in a number of interviews he said that the rioters in the French suburbs last month were not “youths,” as the mainstream media invariably called them, but “blacks,” “Arabs” and “Muslims” whose behaviour would have been decried as fascist if they had been white.
Though Finkielkraut apologised for these remarks in the left-wing newspaper Le Monde, the turmoil raised by his remarks has been going on for three weeks now, forcing the philosopher to remain cloistered at home. It is taboo to mention the ethnic identity of criminals and vandals.
Last Sunday, however, Finkielkraut received full support from France’s Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. “Monsieur Finkielkraut is an intellectual who brings honor and pride to French wisdom [...] If there is so much criticism of him, it might be because he says things that are correct,” Sarkozy said. He added that Finkielkraut “does not consider himself obliged to follow the monolithic thinking of many intellectuals, which led to Le Pen winning 24 percent in the elections.”
Perhaps if Sarkozy wins the French presidential elections in 2007, the country will follow the courageous example of Denmark, where Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has also refused to give in to demands that he take steps against “islamophobia” by curtailing freedom of speech.