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 A Double Ignorance of Islam and of Freedom
 Soheib Benche, France
 February 7, 2006

Following the publication of cartoons portraying the person of the Prophet, drawn for reasons of their own that may be malignant, the reaction of some Muslims is beyond surrealism.

Some "Muslim" governments and some "Islamic" organisations, such as UOIF (Federation of Islamic Organisations of France) in France for instance, are going as far as pathetically demanding official apologies from Heads of States in the countries where the cartoons were published. In France, this event has taken on huge proportions. This claiming, an unusual one in living memory of an Arab, raises many questions. These Muslims, do they ignore the Qur'anic teaching that incites us to transcend polemics? Have they not in their heart the verse: " and when ignorants shout at them ((i.e. the believers), they reply: 'Peace'"? Do they ignore that the Prophet himself suffered torments and most humiliating insults? When polytheists in his time called him storyteller and impostor, he did not break their neck, but he replied: 'God will judge between us on the day of reward'.

These Muslims, do they ignore that Islam, which translated and studied philosophies that were most atheist , which argued with ideologies that were most fearsome, destructive and inciting to doubt, this Islam cannot shiver today when faced with a bad taste grotesque cartoon.

Yet, a religion which is self confident and convinced of its strength cannot run away from critics and challenges. For how could the foundations of Islam tremble today in front of a futile provocation?

As for the other ignorance, it is even more serious.

These Muslims, do they ignore that the fullest freedom of expression is of common fabric to all thoughts, that it is designed for all beliefs, even the most problematic and difficult to assimilate.? All of us, whether beautiful or ugly, wise or mad, provocative or responsible , are entitled to it. Should one be reminded that it is thanks to this very same freedom of expression that Islam itself can raise its voice at any time in democratic countries ? Who prevents a Muslim, in France or elsewhere in Europe, to promote his values ? Who gets in the way of a believer who wants to publicize his beliefs ? Is it not the right of all citizens, including that of Muslims, to criticize any project or promote any action they want?

At the very time when Islam is earning a bad name in the West, it is thanks to this same freedom of expression that we Muslims can fully defend ourselves .

I am amazed at seeing a whole diplomatic mobilization, unheard of in Muslim countries, being used to put pressure on Heads of States and governments in order to obtain from them an apology and a mea culpa. Meanwhile, these same governments and these same heads of state have never been spared from the most hurtful satire and the most caustic cartoons.

When some Arab states boycott Denmark, this quiet and peaceful country, through diplomatic and economic measures, how can one understand their docility vis a vis the USA to which ,sadly enough, they are bound ?

As for the support of rabbis and of the Church in France, who displayed their solidarity, Muslims can only thank them sincerely. However one would really appreciate a similar solidarity for the men and women of Palestine, Irak, Tchetchnia and elsewhere, who are deprived of their fundamentals rights and are victims of assaults on their dignity.

The real question is elsewhere. What is at stake in fact, is the juxtaposition of two absolute rights: the right to hold religious beliefs that are totally respected, neither denounced nor stigmatized, and the right to express oneself at any time including the right to comment and critique specific social projects, and concrete political actions . As for the intimate and metaphysical convictions of people, I do not know whether it falls under freedom of expression. Let us think about it !

Translated from the French. Any mistake in the translation is the responsibility of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML).

Soheib Bencheikh is the former Mufti of Marseilles and Director of the High Institute of Islamic Sciences (ISSI), Marseilles.

From Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), February 7, 2006.