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Enough dissecting of Muslim hearts! Time to search for the real roots!

By Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
14 February 2006

Not content with the daggers driven through the hearts of Muslims in the form of disparaging cartoons, the media - including the BBC - appears to be making up for not republishing them by contributing to the pain with a relentless campaign of dissections of the Muslim heart to prove that we ought not to be upset. Our feelings, they seem to suggest, are merely a result of denial and political manipulation. Little do people realise that this controversy was designed with the specific purpose of causing widespread uproar among Muslims and repulsion for Islam in Europe.

BBC swallows the "Children's Book" Gloss

Last week, in place of its Open Country programme, BBC Radio Four announced a "special programme" which they advertised with the following words: "Malcolm Brabant travels to Denmark to investigate the roots of the controversy". Instead of interviewing Mr Flemming Rose, the person who commissioned and published the cartoons, the programme focused almost entirely on blaming the controversy squarely on the shoulders of some Danish Muslims who "took the cartoons to the Arab world", as if to assume that in this age of satellite television and the internet, the cartoons would not otherwise have reached those Arab countries. These also happen to be countries that had extensive trade links with Denmark and fully staffed embassies in Copenhagen.

Mr Brabant relied on the popular spin that a children's book by Mr Kåre Bluitgen is at the root of the controversy. As the story goes, he could not find illustrations for his book, which had been intended "to promote a better understanding of Islam". Instead of investigating what potential relevance there could be between a children's book promoting understanding and a bomb-in-a-turban cartoon, journalists have by and large contented themselves with the easy option of swallowing the spoon-fed gloss offered by the real architects of this controversy. If the cartoons were commissioned by Mr Rose simply to help Mr Bluitgen find illustrations for his children's book, he would have no conceivable reason to select and publish "adult" content cartoons, i.e. cartoons of "bombs" and "virgins".

Unfortunately, the overreaction in various protests of some naïve young people in the Muslim community is now being used to justify the wholesale dismissal of the pain felt by most Muslims. The sentiments of millions are being dismissed as mere "government exploitation", whereas the facts speak for themselves: Muslims in forty countries - including Afghanistan, with its US-backed government - are protesting and innocent civilians are being shot dead by riot police.

BBC in bed with MEMRI

If journalists at the BBC were doing their job (that our licence fee funds) adequately, they would have discovered that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Sadly, they have continued to rely on selective sound bites. Mr Tim Whewell and the Newsnight programme (09.02.06) have relied on Irshad Manji, who is denounced by all mainstream Muslims, and the US-based, pro-Israel think tank "MEMRI" to repeat their one-sided coverage of caricatures in the Middle East. They failed once again to balance biased reporting with video clips and cartoons from the Israeli media, which routinely demonise Muslims and Arabs. Are we really to believe that the video clips provided by MEMRI, which were clearly marked in Arabic bath tajribi ("experimental broadcast") were objective selections?

There are two sides to this story and the BBC, so far, appears to be taking the easy option of accepting ready-made short cuts provided by pro-Israel activists instead of conducting original and objective research. If this is the new "balanced" methodology the BBC wants to adopt, then some might argue that it should be asked to broadcast clips from promotional videos of Palestinian activists as well, showing, not fictional blood libel (as they did in those questionable clips from MEMRI) but the actual slaughter of Palestinian children. Perhaps Newsnight and the BBC do not possess in their archive "clips" of the innocent boy Muhammad al-Durrah being shot dead in the arms of his father.

The BBC did not even attempt to contextualise the clips it showed of cartoons and of a drama production from the Arab world. Video is a very emotive medium and, in its use in favour of only one side of the story, it undoubtedly projected an unfair image of the Muslim and Arab world. (For an insight into the organisation known as MEMRI please see the article by Guardian journalist, Brian Whitaker, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,773258,00.html)

Conspiracy-of-silence accusation

The BBC's Today Programme (08.02.06) suggested that there might be a "conspiracy of silence" among Muslims in denying that pictures of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) exist. Carolyn Quinn quoted, in a condescending tone, a verse from the Quran and then followed it with an ignorant assumption that there is no distinction between God and the Prophet in Islam. If the BBC wants to talk about a "conspiracy of silence" then I suggest we look at why there are no high profile media investigations into the relationship between Mr Flemming Rose, the person who commissioned the cartoons, and Mr Daniel Pipes, the major Neocon pro-Israel activist who is, incidentally, keen to see Muslims kicked out of Europe out of fear that a time will come when they will begin to influence Western foreign policy towards Israel.

Instead of justifying a comparison of the offensive cartoons with 13th Century drawings (BBC Today Programme, 08.02.06) in what appeared to be an attempt to make Muslims look ridiculous, the BBC needs to compare the rhetoric of Mr Rose with that of Mr Pipes. Only then would people in both the Muslim and Christian worlds wake up to the real challenge at hand. So far the controversy seems to have progressed precisely as intended by its instigators.

The Real Root of the Controversy

In 1997 when an Israeli woman was criticised for publicising cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a pig standing on the Quran, Daniel Pipes defended her actions: "The person who put up the posters engaged in what we in the United States would consider protected speech. Our government is supposed to endorse the right peaceably to distribute written materials, no matter how much it may execrate their contents... The rules of free speech protect not nursery rhymes or paeans of goodwill but nasty, sacrilegious, and abhorrent discourse. For over two centuries, the U.S. government has consistently forwarded free speech, and did so against far more fearsome adversaries than fundamentalist Muslims. It must recover from Mr Burns' very unfortunate rant and again and always stand up for this principle". (Pipes, 25.07.97, http://www.danielpipes.org/article/284) A link to that highly offensive Israeli cartoon still exists today at danielpipes.com.

To get to grips with the current problem, which has the potential to escalate into something grave for both the Muslim and Christian worlds, we need to find its real roots instead of compounding it with ignorant spin masquerading as informed journalism. But before I proceed I must offer a word of caution about "conspiracy theories". In my observation of people's attitudes towards conspiracy, they seem to congregate into two broad groups positioning themselves at one of two extremes. At one end are those who read conspiracies into everything, whilst leaving very little room for God and His plans. I find these people exceedingly frustrating; they are despondent because they fail to grasp the complexities of our world, the sophistication of human nature and, more importantly, God's ever-present and gracious power. "They plot and plan and God too plans... But the best of planners is God" (Al-Quran 8:30).

Having said that, I find those at the other extreme equally frustrating. These are the people who may be labelled "accident theorists"- people who would like us to believe that all occurrences in our world are random, arbitrary and accidental. From the Big Bang to the Big Crunch and everything in between, they refuse to accept the existence of any propensity in human beings to cooperate with one another in secrecy, and deny the existence of something known popularly as "strategic planning". These are people who live in the bliss of ignorance, and revel in showing condescension to those who refuse to join them in placing their heads in the sand. For them, the pro-Israel activists attacking Islam and Muslims around the world are innocent victims of Muslim paranoia.

Both of these extreme positions are unhealthy for the mind and are counter-productive for a vibrant and progressive community. The mind stagnates with the oversimplifications made by both groups. As Muslims we need to maintain a healthy balance between paranoia and naivety, acknowledging the possibility and probability of strategic planning, especially when the evidence is overwhelming. We cannot allow our minds to be kept in straight jackets, fettered by the fear of being labelled conspiracy theorists. We must consider what it would mean for the pro-Israel activists to be given a guarantee that Muslims would not question their motives, and whenever someone did, that he or she would be promptly dismissed as a conspiracy theorist by other Muslims.

A natural point of departure is to understand the mindset of the person who set the ball rolling in the first place: Mr Flemming Rose. Contrary to his claim that he was ignorant of Muslim sensitivities before commissioning the cartoons, "the cartoons [were] not a provocation to insult Muslims" (International Herald Tribune, 01.01.06), he had been studying Islam and Muslims and promoting the works of Daniel Pipes for several years before he decided to commission the forty artists to draw the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Thanks to an article penned by Rose himself (Jyllands-Posten, 29.10.04) in praise of Pipes, we are not only able to obtain a reasonable picture of the kind of relationship the two men enjoyed but we are also able to see the flow of ideas from Pipes and their impact upon Rose's mind.

In this revealing article, originally published in Danish and now available on Pipes' website (http://www.danielpipes.org/article/3362), we learn that Rose visited Pipes in 2004. The location of Pipes' Middle East Forum think tank is a closely guarded secret. Journalists cannot attend unless they receive a special invitation. It is housed on the tenth floor of an anonymous Pennsylvania skyscraper, with no signs advertising its presence. Rose, being one of those special invitees, wrote about his visit to the Middle East Forum and his conversations with Pipes. In his introduction he plunges straight in with a scare tactic popular among pro-Israel activists:

"Mr Pipes spoke and wrote about the threat of Islamists long before September 11. Already in 1995 he observed that they had initiated an undeclared war on the U.S. and Europe." [Emphasised] (Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten, 29.10.04.)

This is followed by a description of Pipes' voice as "soft as velvet". Evidently Rose, at the time of writing, was fully aware of the negative impact that Pipes' activities were having on Muslims. He reminds his readers:

"[Pipes] has caused an uproar in academic, left-wing and certain Muslim circles. When Pipes talks about militant Islam at universities, his critics threaten with uproar and boycott. His appointment last year by President Bush to the board of the government's think tank, US Institute of Peace, triggered great clamor, and it is not coincidental that there is no name sign on the front door of the think tank's office." [Emphasised] (Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten, 29.10.04.)

Anyone who visits Pipes' website, let alone his office, and has conversations with him would undoubtedly be aware of the controversy he routinely causes. I am amazed that journalists at the BBC have not had the nerve to question Mr Rose's sincerity when he pretends that he had no idea his cartoons would cause such an uproar. In the Newsnight programme (02.02.06) Rose said that only "some of the cartoonists" he commissioned "made satirical cartoons". What he failed to explain is: why did he choose precisely those cartoons to publish as opposed to all the others, when he had prior knowledge of Muslim sensitivities and of previous uproars?

Europe should be alarmed about Islam

Claims that Europe is being swamped by immigration and that "the continent should be majority Muslim within decades" (Pipes, 23.11.04) would be dismissed as crack-pot racist theories by any objective journalist who knew the actual statistics. They would not be worthy of comment or, at the very least, would be brushed aside. However, our Danish cultural editor, Mr Rose, took a different approach. For him, this is serious intellectual thought so deep that it should be translated into Danish and published in his newspapers. He writes:

"Pipes thinks. He is amazed that Europe is not more alarmed about the challenge that Islam poses, considering plummeting birth rates and a weakened perception of its own history and culture. This is one of the biggest stories of our time. The reactions in Europe are bafflingly relaxed. There is much denial at work. It is paradoxical that Muslims, coming from countries that are weaker in economic and political terms, within rich and strong Europe show more cultural ambition than the Europeans themselves. That baffles me as an American. Europe has been the driving force of history throughout the past 500 years, but now it looks as though that era has come to a close." [Emphasised] (Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten, 29.10.04.)

Creating Repulsion for Islam

As for strategy, the most revealing paragraph of the article deals with the need to create repulsion for Islam in the minds of people. Included is strategic advice from Pipes on how to challenge Islam. In this article Rose has not only confirmed his interest in interfering in Muslim affairs but he is also expressing, through his choice of words, tacit approval for the suggested strategies and methods. Quoting Pipes, he writes:

"Daniel Pipes concludes.... We have millions of Muslims on our side. If you look deeply into this matter, the current conflict is one that must be fought out and won within the Muslim world." According to Daniel Pipes, it is now important to find alternative leaders and ideas that can take up the fight against militant Islam. "In the confrontations with fascism and communism, we were victorious because we managed to marginalize the enemy's ideology, making it look repulsive in the eyes of the majority." [Emphasised] (Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten, 29.10.04.)

Given these excerpts and the events of the last two weeks, should we continue to give Mr Rose and the pro-Israel activists the benefit of the doubt? Is it still unreasonable to question whether Rose's cartoons were part of a strategic ploy to create repulsion in the minds of Europeans for Islam and Muslims? Is it unthinkable that this stunt might be part of the ongoing campaign to force a reformation on Islam by discrediting those with genuine attachment to the faith and replacing them with pro-Israel "Muslim" activists such as the gay campaigner Irshad Manji (Newsnight, 09.02.06), Benador's sidekick Amir Taheri (Sunday Times, 12.02.06) and others more subtle in their approach but equally dangerous? (See my articles pertaining to the two above individuals at http://www.occri.org.uk/articles/Taheri280705.htm and http://www.occri.org.uk/Articles/QuestionsforBBCProducers.htm)

This is a mission not an error of judgment

If Rose were objective and had made a genuine editorial error of judgment, like most modern European gentlemen he would quickly have retracted the cartoons and apologised upon realising the pain he had caused. But as we have seen, he instead embarked on a zealous mission to exploit his actions by drawing attention to the divisions between Muslims and Europeans. Instead of apologising, he began to speak about immigration. In the Newsnight programme (02.02.06) he argued, unchallenged, that:

"These cartoons have given impulse to a very important debate about immigration in Denmark and now we are starting to debate, by this example, on the one hand how much the receiving community should compromise on their own values and standards when they receive people of foreign countries, immigrants, refugees, and on the other hand how much must the immigrants have to give up of their own cultures.. It's problematic if some Muslims require of me that I, in the public space, in the public domain, submit myself to their taboos. In that case I don't think they are asking for my respect, I think they are asking for my submission."

In Rose's claim that the cartoons have "given impulse to a very important debate about immigration" is there not a strong resonance with Pipes' amazement that Europe is "not more alarmed about the challenge that Islam poses"?

Sadly for Rose, "the millions of Muslims" on his side promised by Pipes failed to materialise. They did manage to bring together a small group of confused Muslims to demonstrate in favour of the publications in Denmark but the millions did not rally to Rose's rescue.

The Clever Retreat

Eventually, some commentators did begin to ask Rose some uncomfortable questions, such as querying his relationship with Daniel Pipes. In response to another question, this time from a reporter of the International Herald Tribune, Dan Bilefsky, he said that "he would not publish a cartoon of Israel's Ariel Sharon strangling a Palestinian baby" (IHT, 01.01.06) despite claiming that there should be no limits on free speech.

When placed under this harsh spotlight, Rose's reaction was suddenly to declare that he was now willing to publish Iranian cartoons about the Holocaust. He was then conveniently discharged from his position as editor of the newspaper. People around the world are now expected to believe that had he remained editor, he would have published the Iranian Holocaust cartoons. I think not! One cannot "fool all of the people all of the time". The truth has a stubborn habit of surfacing when you least expect it.

Where do we go from here?

So far, it appears that almost everything has gone to plan: the "alarm" was raised in the form of a cartoon that pierced the hearts of Muslims all around the world; the reaction has created "repulsion" in the minds of many native Europeans; and strange Muslim "reformers" have raised their heads and are trying again to step into the shoes of traditional, mainstream, Islamic scholars.

Commenting on the cartoon crisis, Pipes wrote: "It certainly feels like a clash of civilizations. But it is not... Moderate, enlightened, free-thinking Muslims do exist... they look to the West for succor and support... they eventually will have a crucial role in modernizing the Muslim world" (Daniel Pipes, "Making sense of the cartoon jihad", National Review Online, 07.02.06).

It is noteworthy that anyone who disagrees with Pipes' version of Islam is promptly labelled a "militant Muslim" or "Islamist" irrespective of their methodology. In 2001, he described Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, universally respected by all Muslims, as an "important Indian Islamist" while citing the Shaykh's advice to Muslims in the West that a life of taqwah [piety] will attract people towards Islam (Daniel Pipes, The Danger Within, Commentary, November 2001).

If the "seed of repulsion" is allowed to grow, whilst naïve Muslims continue to react precisely as the architects of these provocations intended, and idiotic "reformers" continue their onslaught on mainstream Islam, the prospects for multi-cultural cohesion in Europe will certainly be bleak. The global village will become a very unpleasant place in which to live. To avoid this, Muslims, as well as native Europeans, need to wake up to the challenge of the psychological warfare that is being waged against them by a small number of well-placed institutions dedicated to the service of Israel.

To the Peoples of Europe

To the peoples of Europe, I say that Muslims still love and respect their Prophet (upon whom be peace) with a genuine love that is hard to express in words. Indeed, it is difficult to find comparisons in today's world to convey the intensity of this sentiment. Perhaps the public emotion in Britain for Princes Diana upon her death, coupled with the respect for the Queen mother, can begin to help elucidate the point. These were people who had relatively little impact on the daily lives of those who adored them and yet I doubt that there would be any newspaper in Britain today that would publish a derogatory cartoon of either of these women. But to grasp a glimpse of the attachment Muslims have to their Prophet, one would need to combine the feelings of respect and love for these two women in the British consciousness and multiply it a hundred times over. The Prophet's words and deeds impact the lives of Muslims around the world every day in countless ways, from the way they greet each other in the morning to the last words they pray at night. He is for them the perfect example of guidance and compassion, and is dearer to a Muslim than himself and his own family.

While I cannot speak for that tiny group of Muslims who have given up hope in your ability to listen to them, and have chosen instead the path of bombs, I am pleading here the case for the vast majority of sincere Muslims. These are mainstream Muslims who have come to these lands in peace. Many of us are here seeking refuge from oppression and hardship and if, as a token of our gratitude, we wish for your hearts to explore our faith, it is grossly unfair to interpret this gesture as "wanting to destroy you". Indeed it is counterintuitive to seek the destruction of a people and the amity of their hearts simultaneously.

In recent times, the likes of Daniel Pipes, sadly, have remained successful in convincing many among you firstly, of our supposed plans to destroy you and secondly, of another, equally absurd, logic i.e. that Muslims are on the brink of taking over Europe and turning it into a prison. All this, when the truth is that Muslims are fleeing to Europe from persecution and hardship all over the world. Muslims constitute more than 70 per cent of the world's refugees. The irony is that whilst Muslim villages are wiped off the face of the earth, towns bombed to smithereens, lands usurped, countries colonised and millions displaced, the propaganda machinery of those responsible is telling the world that Muslims are about to invade and conquer whole continents, with Europe being first on the list.

The time has come for peace-loving and sound minded people to step forward and say: enough is enough! For how much longer should we allow our governments to be manipulated with fabricated evidence into making unwise decisions (e.g. illegal wars)? And for how much longer should we remain silent while our media broadcasts coverage so biased that it undermines decades of hard-earned credibility in minutes (e.g. the BBC's reliance on MEMRI)?
At a time when Parliament is debating bills on "glorification" and "incitement", should we continue to ignore acts such Pipes' glorification of the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a pig in 1997, and his inciting words to Rose in 2004? According to Pipes, Europe needs to be "alarmed" about the Muslim presence, the way to raise that alarm being to create "repulsion" in the minds of people. The ID cards that the British Parliament yesterday voted in favour of would not help Europe identify those "clever" institutions that are bent on sparking a clash of civilisations.

To the Muslims of the World

To Muslims, I say that the time for a sharp learning curve has come. Time and time again we have been manipulated into behaving like pawns on a chess board. The enemies of Islam study our history. They know that this precise technique - of insulting the Prophet (peace be upon him) - has been employed in the past to successfully undermine us. In Muslim Spain, there was a coordinated campaign of sending people to stand outside mosques after Juma (Friday prayers) to curse the Prophet (on whom be peace). The aim was to provoke an excessive reaction and create friction between Christians and Muslims. Sadly, it worked. This campaign was the beginning of a long process that eventually culminated in the forced removal of Muslims from Spain altogether.

A polling website (yougov.com) praised by Daniel Pipes as "reputable" for suggesting that there are 16,000 active Muslim terrorists in Britain (frontpagemagazine.com, 25.07.05), has recently been asking people some interesting questions about the cartoon controversy: "Did the sight of the protestors make you angry?" 58 per cent said yes. "Can Muslims in Britain coexist peacefully with other religions?" 63% said no (Sunday Times, 12.02.06).

Whilst I cannot confirm that there is coordination between Daniel Pipes and the YouGov poll, I can certainly see that this line of questioning would be very useful for someone who has a settled ambition to create repulsion for Islam and Muslims in the hearts and minds of individuals in European society. He would be keen to know the extent of his success. In addition, polls surveying opinion can often play a significant roll in influencing opinion and that in itself, I am sure, would be of great interest to Pipes.

Based on what I have presented here, much of the Muslim response to this provocation has served the wishes, and perhaps plans, of Pipes and his supporters. While some actions taken were necessary and wise, we have had demonstrations with naïve placards, embassies burnt, companies that had nothing to do with the cartoons boycotted and websites of innocent people in Denmark attacked. The irony in this is that while we focus our anger and attacks on Europeans, Israel continues to enjoy ever-friendlier relations with Muslims countries and its companies boom with business in our markets.

With our actions so far we have watered Pipes' "seed of repulsion" in the hearts of a few individuals and it has now grown into a towering monster trampling on the heart of Europe. Of course, it is hard to find time to think and space to act responsibly when daggers pierce our hearts and cut its strongest string: our love for RasulAllah (sallahu alaihi wasallam). But that first impulse to crush the dagger should soon be tempered by the call of wisdom that looks for the hand holding the dagger, the body to which that hand is attached and most important of all, the mind that controls that body. To defeat that mind we need to understand how it works and what its ambitions are. We need then to respond in ways that the wicked mind could never have predicted. In the received wisdom from the Prophet (peace be upon him) is his warning that: "A believer should not be stung from the same hole twice" (Bukhari).

This time we are conscious of what happened in Spain and, God willing, we will not allow history to be repeated. We must decide that instead of focusing all our energies on attacking the dagger, and thereby creating "repulsion", we will now show the world why our pain is so great. With wise words and beautiful example we will explain why "The Prophet is preferable for the believers even to their own selves..." (Al-Quran 33:6).

This will not be achieved by shouting at them in the streets, but by inviting and speaking softly to people in our homes, in our offices, in our mosques and in our conference halls. Let the world see the beauty of character in the life of Muhammad (s). We will take lessons from the Prophet's example when he visited Ta'if. In addition to ridicule, the people there pursued him in a mob and pelted him with stones so much so that he began to bleed. Thereupon, he turned to God and prayed:

"O Allah! I make my complaint only unto You regarding the feebleness of my strength, the insignificance of my devices, and my humiliation in the sight of people. O You, the Most Merciful One! You are the Lord of the oppressed, You are my Lord. To whom would You entrust my affairs? To a stranger who would scowl at me? Or to an enemy who would control me? If you are not displeased with me, then I do not care (about any hardship), but an ease bestowed by You will be more accommodating to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your countenance (by which all darkness is dispersed and all affairs of this world and the hereafter are kept straight), from the descent of Your anger or the coming of Your wrath. I seek your pardon in order that you may be pleased with me. There is no power nor strength except in You."

A powerful angel came swiftly offering the option of destroying the town with the surrounding hills. The Prophet's (s) reply was: "No, do not crush them. Even if they do not accept me, perhaps from their progeny some may one day worship God." Muslims of the Subcontinent are direct beneficiaries of that merciful decision taken by the Prophet (s) in the sandy outskirts of Ta'if. Muhammad bin Qasim, who took Islam to the Indo-Pak Subcontinent, was a descendent of those people inhabiting the hills of Ta'if.

"We have not sent you (O Prophet) but as mercy to all the worlds"
(al-Quran 21:107)