Copyrighted material


by Baradan Kuppusamy

on Muslim cartoon protests

(IPS) KUALA LUMPUR -- Delegates at an international conference here entitled 'Who Speaks for Islam? Who speaks for the West,' were inclined to blame the ferocity of reactions against the cartoon controversy, which gripped the world this past week, on the 'war on terror' in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cartoons, depicting Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist and first published in a Danish newspaper, dominated the two-day conference which ended Saturday. The timing of the meet was a matter of coincidence.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, current chairman of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), urged Muslims and the western world to join hands against fringe elements in both societies that, he said, are "hell bent on keeping U.S. apart." He called for bridges to be built so that "the West will speak for Islam and Muslims speak for the West."

Badawi declared possession of the cartoons illegal. Meanwhile, the Borneo-based paper Sarawak Tribune, which reprinted the cartoons, was shut down. The paper had to apologise for what it called an editorial oversight.

Badawi blamed the "hegemony of the centers of power in the West" for the widening chasm between Islam and the West. "They (Muslims) see the subjugation of Palestine as an indirect concretization of this hegemony. They see hegemony manifested directly in the attack upon Afghanistan and in the occupation of Iraq."

At the same time, said Badawi, the West wrongly equated Islam with violence. "They think Osama bin Laden speaks for the religion and its followers. Islam and Muslims are linked to all that is negative and backward," he said, adding that the United States-led 'war-on-terror' has widened the chasm.

Badawi told delegates from 100-odd countries that "those who deliberately kill non-combatants and the innocent; those who oppress and exploit others; those who are corrupt and greedy; those who are chauvinistic and communal," cannot speak on behalf of Islam.

"We must acknowledge that in the West, principles such as freedom and equality have found concrete expression in the rule of law, public accountability, acceptance of political dissent and respect for popular participation. However, for a lot of Muslims today, this is not the face of the West that they see," he told an audience of academics and policymakers.

Anger against the cartoons has been muted in this multi-ethnic country that officially practices 'Hadhari,' a moderate form of Islam on the appeal of which, Badawi enjoys a solid electoral mandate, controlling nearly 90 percent of the 217 seats in parliament.

Prominent among the foreign delegates was former Iranian president Muhammad Khatami who, in comments to reporters, said that he hoped lessons had been drawn from the caricature controversy. 'The Muslim world has reacted to this issue and if this policy continues, we will be engaging in continuous violence," he warned.

While Malaysian newspapers were full of the rage that swept the Muslim world over the week, none of the anger was reflected in this country's many mosques.

Badawi himself expressed sadness at the mischief the cartoons have caused and went out of his way to say that Malaysia would not boycott Danish products unlike many other Middle Eastern countries.

The only official sign of discomfort was when Danish ambassador Borge Petersen was 'summoned' and told that Malaysia deplored publication of such insensitive cartoons.

Denmark has, in fact, requested Malaysia's help in restraining Muslim rage at the European nation whose media first published the caricatures of Prophet Mohammed but was quickly reprinted by media in other countries.

Malaysian foreign minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said, on the sidelines of the conference, that he took a telephone call from his Danish counterpart Per Stig Moller seeking Malaysian support in containing the rage.

Albar vowed that the fires raging around the world over the cartoons "would not find kindle wood here in Malaysia."

Leading Malaysian Islamic thinker Chandra Muzaffar credits the quietness in this country to a lack of fear and insecurity among Malay Muslims.

"Unlike the other Muslim countries caught in the eye of the storm, Malaysia is free of the hegemonic consequences of big powers that are experienced by Afghanistan and Iraq for example," said Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World or JUST, a voluntary agency dedicated to inter-ethnic peace.

"Malaysia is relatively free of the negative consequences of hegemonic trends," he told IPS.

Muzaffar said social justice, religious harmony and reasonably good governance in Malaysia are the key reasons why the sense of loss and deep grievances, seen in other Muslim societies, is absent here.

"Muslims here don't feel dispossessed or have the same fear that Islam is under threat as Muslims in other countries like Palestine or Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.

Muzaffar agreed with Badawi's view that the war on terror has aggravated Muslim insecurity. "Western media images and commentaries have reinforced the erroneous equation of Islam with terror. This explains why some of the offensive cartoons of the Prophet published in the Jyllands-Posten made that link," he said.

"But equating Islam and Muslims with violence and terror is not new. It has been going on for a long time," Muzaffar said.

"What Muslims have been witnessing in recent years is the stark consequences of global hegemony reflected in the slaughter of innocent Muslims in Palestine and Iraq, the humiliation of occupation and subjugation, the treachery of double standards and the machinations of exclusion and marginalization," he said.

"It explains to a great extent the explosion of violent fury in different parts of the Muslim world over the abusive cartoons. It is anger that is driven by more than their boundless love for Mohammed," he said.

At the close of the conference, Malaysia's deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the majority of mankind had allowed a few people to voice biased opinions because "we have allowed them to speak for us."

"The terrorist who straps a bomb to his chest and blows up a shopping mall," does not speak for Islam any more than does a "newspaper editor who sees fit to ridicule a holy prophet who is venerated by more than one billion people around the globe," said Razak.

Razak dismissed talk of a 'clash of civilizations,' saying this need not happen if fundamental fault lines between the Muslim and the Western worlds were adequately addressed.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   February 13, 2006   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.