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Muslims Deserve the Same Respect as Christians and Jews
Last uploaded : Wednesday 15th Feb 2006 at 19:24
Contributed by : Efgar H Bronfman


New York, New York -

Although freedom of religion and freedom of speech are both fundamental rights, they sometimes come into conflict with each other, as is the case with the caricatures recently published in the Danish newspaper “Jyllands-Posten” depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This has provoked uproar among Muslims, not just in Denmark, but across the Islamic world as it is widely understood that Islam forbids the depicting of Muhammad.

The issue at stake here is not “self-censorship”, which Flemming Rose, the newspaper’s culture editor, claims has befallen Europe since the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. It is whether respect for other religious beliefs, traditions and practices really applies to everybody, including Muslims.

We prefer the word “respect” to “tolerance” because to be “tolerated” is not a positive notion, and in addition “respect” is not a one-way concept; it is mutual. If the cartoons in question were deliberately made and published to provoke Muslims and to stir up public opinion in Denmark, as Rose seems to suggest, something has gone wrong.

What the cartoons managed to do was to offend all Muslims instead of focusing on those fanatics that actually merit criticism.

Sometimes, provocations are necessary to wake people up. Over the past 30 years, the World Jewish Congress has been no stranger to that. But religious customs, practices and beliefs should be respected by followers of other religions and nonbelievers alike, because this is a prerequisite for being respected oneself.

Although freedom of speech is an indivisible right, the law may make it an offence to shout “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium as this might cause a panic and physical harm. Words and actions which predictably provoke strong reactions and anger — however unjustified this may be — should be limited at least when it comes to religious beliefs.
Mutual respect and understanding between members of different religions is the key to ending hatred and to creating a better world. We consider desecration of any holy book an insult to ourselves. Desecration of the Qur’an, the Torah, or the Christian Bible, or any religious site should be offensive to all of us. Mutual respect means just that: You respect me and what I stand for, and I respect you and what you stand for.

To consciously provoke and offend the fairly small Muslim minority in Denmark was wrong. Yes, immigrants must integrate in their host societies, be they Muslims, Jews or Christians, while retaining their own identities, beliefs, customs and faiths. Parallel societies can easily become a breeding ground for fanatics, zealots and, ultimately, terrorists. Immigration sometimes fails because immigrants do not make enough effort. But sometimes, it is also made harder because of an intolerant and harsh host country.
It is the job of governments and lawmakers to make sure that immigrants are not treated as newly conquered (as some populists suggest), but with respect. Those who make an effort to integrate should be welcomed with open arms and they should be allowed to make more than just financial contributions to their new countries’ tax coffers.

Over the last two thousand years and until the creation of the State of Israel, Jews have always been a small minority in every country they have settled in. Our ancestors have suffered from pogroms, rampant anti-Semitism and finally the Holocaust.

Lies about Jews, the Jewish faith and traditions have never disappeared. In fact, they are staging a comeback, especially in “Western democracies” which we thought had become immune to anti-Semitism after the horrors of the Holocaust.

Nonetheless, Jewish intellectuals and politicians have always been at the forefront of fighting for human rights, democracy and free speech. But there are limits to the letter that should be respected, and publishing materials considered offensive by a small religious minority is going too far. Democracies are tested on how they treat their minorities.

Over the decades since the publication of the Second Vatican Council declaration “Nostra Aetate”, the Catholic Church and the Jewish community have been engaged in dialogue with each other. This is a successful example of how centuries-old prejudices and hatred can be overcome by listening to one another instead of just talking about the other.

Christians, Jews and Muslims are all children of Abraham, and we should learn what we have in common. After that, our differences might look less significant.

We need to restrain ourselves in what we say about other religions, in how we judge other faiths. We don’t need new laws. We cannot restrict freedom of speech. We need to restrict ourselves. Otherwise, in the end, we will be restricted.

Edgar M. Bronfman is New York President of the World Jewish Congress.

Source: Arab News, February 1, 2006

Visit the website at www.arabnews.com

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service – Partners in Humanity.


Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


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