By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
9 June 2015
European countries not only have a strange and disturbing stance on “freedom,” they consistently apply double standards with regards to bigotry. Whereas many have strict laws against anti-Semitism and blasphemy, Islamophobes are often permitted free rein to insult Islam, disrespect the Prophet and foment anti-Muslim hatreds under the banners of free speech or freedom of expression.
Allowing citizens to exercise their freedoms is one thing, but standing back when their expression is maliciously directed at others should not be tolerated in any decent society. Such “anything goes” attitudes have resulted in extreme right wing parties, racist parties, being given platforms to spout their hate-filled propaganda that is lapped-up by the weak-minded.
And those parties, as well as Neo-Nazi groups, are gaining ground in the United States and all over Europe, particularly in France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Holland, where the up-and-coming Party of Freedom is headed by the man I believe to be an outrageous hate-monger, Geert Wilders.
Wilders has advocated banning the Quran, instituting what he terms “a head rag” tax and some years ago, he released a short film anti-Islamic film titled “Fitna”. Wilders was tried and acquitted for inciting hatred against Muslims. The judge actually ruled that the defendant’s statements were “acceptable within the context of public debate” and although they were “gross and denigrating” they had not fuelled hatred.
Last December, a public prosecutor in The Hague announced that the populist Dutch politician would be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred against the country’s Moroccan community that he has referred to as “scum”. But no trial date was fixed and it seems charges have been dropped. In May, Wilders was the keynote speaker at a contest for drawings of the Prophet in Garland, Texas - billed as “a free speech contest” - that was interrupted by gunmen. And now because the Dutch parliament refused to exhibit those cartoons, he plans to display them on TV. The consequences of beaming those sacrilegious scrawls around the world could have devastating consequences.
Digging Their Own Graves
Personally, I think those countries mentioned above are digging their own graves, both socially and politically. The right-wing capitalizes on people’s fear of the other, which expands during an economic downturn. If the day comes when Wilders’ party, or others of the same ilk, succeeds in winning elections, communities will be split, minorities discriminated against and there will be violence in the streets. There is a very fine line between freedom and anarchy. But if those in charge of European states edging towards fascism are unable to see the writing on the wall, without wishing to sound uncaring, that is not really my problem.
My concern rests with the unwillingness of predominantly Muslim countries, particularly in the Arab World, to send a clear message to countries that give a platform to those who make a living out of attacking my beloved faith, Islam, that doing so is unacceptable.
As for the imbeciles, whose mission in life is to draw offensive cartoons of the Prophet, despite knowing full well that depictions of the Prophet Mohamed are strictly forbidden in Islam, they are merely beneath my contempt. Islam, the world’s fastest growing religion with 1.6 billion adherents, is not hurt by their actions.
What is disgraceful is the blessing they receive from governments that claim any restriction on their activities would breach their personal freedoms. As Arabs and Muslims we cannot accept such an excuse because disrespecting our religion, which we have a duty and a religious obligation to defend, is a red line that cannot be crossed. Freedom is not unlimited and especially when one man’s freedom can provoke another’s pain and anguish. That is the dog-eat-dog law of the jungle.
Just As Guilty
The U.S. is just as guilty of failing to pass laws forbidding public spectacles of bigotry designed to incite hatred, such as a Texan pastor’s ‘Burn a Quran Day’, the cartoon contest in Garland and anti-Islamic advertisements plastered on New York City buses. Why? Because bigots and racists are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of expression. Even the anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist Ku Klux Klan, with a long history of bombing and burning enjoys First Amendment rights to rally, march and field candidates for political office.
We Muslims, on the other hand, would never ridicule other religions – and here I am talking about the faithful, which should not be confused with terrorists who distort Islam’s message and use it to justify their crimes. One of Islam’s strengths is its tolerance of other faiths and its belief in God’s messengers - Moses (Moussa), Jesus (Isa) and the Prophet Mohammed, who gave us God’s word guiding every aspect of our lives. Islam not only reveres Moses, Jesus and Mohammed but all God’s messengers and, moreover, respects the Peoples of the Book – Christians and Jews. And all we ask is for Islam to be respected in turn. If that respect is not given willingly by our Western allies, then the Muslim World must demand it or else.
In 2012, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) responded to the “Innocence of Muslims”, a U.S.-made video defaming the Prophet that ignited heated protests in various Muslim countries and heightened anti-American sentiments.
“Incidents like this clearly demonstrate the urgent need on the part of states to introduce adequate protection against acts of hate crimes, hate speech, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation and negative stereotyping of religions and incitement to religious hatred as well as denigration of venerated personalities,” said Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.N. on the OIC’s behalf. His U.S. counterpart replied saying, “Religious dignity is best protected when there is free speech…”
I would appeal to the OIC, the Arab League and the GCC to petition those countries that are havens for smirking bigots, racists and haters and make it clear to them that there will be a price to pay if public defamation of the Prophet continues unimpeded and goes unpunished.
Governments of all Islamic countries, including those within the Arab world, must stand strong and unified on this point; they must insist that the West passes appropriate laws so that this disturbing and dangerous trend, which is not only injurious to Muslim sensitivities but also a gift to radical recruiters, is brought to an end.
The vilification of Islam is not something that any Muslim leader can cover his eyes or his ears to avoid for the sake of good relations. We would not accept a friend who insulted our mother, so why should we tolerate allies who give a green light to their citizens to insult our Prophet and our Holy Book, which is far worse?
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.