In the wake of the controversy surrounding the Muhammad cartoons, it is not freedom of expression that is under threat, but the right to human dignity, argues Tom Kenis.
So it's come to this.
The prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, was a bomb-toting lunatic – which is something we all now know thanks to the enlightened judgment of some second-rate Danish newspaper. How come no one thought of this before, or cared to tell the general public about the veritable sea change in historic thinking this entails? As taxpayers, we have a right to know these things.
But seriously, though. Has our free western press finally stooped to the assumption that painstaking analysis and actual news is beyond the reading public? Has freedom of speech degenerated into the crude portrayals churned out for the masses in Nazi Germany?
Some solemn questions arise about the state of our solid democracies. My conscience is heavy with this and our collective scruples are besmeared by some obviously not-very-talented artists. So far, I've always assumed that the far right in its most recent political incarnation would somehow adapt to the prismatic Europe that's has emerged over the past few decades and the shrinking world we now live in.
It seems more vigilance is demanded.
Relations between Islam and the West are fraught with difficulties and differences and this stems from many reasons, both historic and contemporary. It is imperative we ask how and why this has come about, and how we can deal with it sensibly. It seems that, in the race to overtake decades of unhelpful silence on the subject, some are abusing the opportunity for an agenda that an overwhelming majority of Europeans abhor.
Reactions here in Ramallah, where I live, have been somewhat muted. No visible protest actions have taken place and two lightly armed policemen guard the Dutch mission forlornly. The usual “Welcome!” greets you when you enter the local vegetable market near the city centre. No foreigners have noted any maltreatment or verbal abuse.
However, Palestinians are quite unanimous in their rejection of the cartoons which they consider to be insidiously racist, so much so that Palestinian Christians feel targeted by them as well.
I feel ashamed and would like to apologise for the erring views of some of the inhabitants of my continent. They do not represent Europe, like the 9/11 hijackers do not represent Islam or the Middle East. Implying that over 1 billion people on this planet are inherently prone to violence and suicidal folly is not part of the proud tradition called freedom of speech. It's a verbal preparation for the clash of self-fulfilling prophecies.
The newspapers that have printed this cartoon are guilty of libel and of incitement to hatred and violence, unworthy of any self-respecting democracy.
It's been suggested that the best reaction to these cartoons would be to ignore them outright and not grant any semblance of weight to the views expressed therein. I say, let's get back to the real issues now.
Tom Kenis works for a Palestinian NGO in Ramallah. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Sasshay. Republished with the kind permission of its author.