Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Parallel Universe - aka, the Middle East.

I woke up this Sunday morning to an amusing piece of news. The Iranian government wants some members of the Danish parliament to APOLOGIZE to the Muslim world for a recent 're-publication' of the cartoons about Prophet Muhammad, pbuh.
I had to laugh. It was not a happy laugh, but the one that tells I am too tired to get upset, that i am almost ready to give up, or the one that means I am thinking 'when will this stupidity stop?'.
But then it dawned on me. Of course the Iranian government is not stupid, it just exists in a parallel universe - a sort of 'bizzaro' world, for those who used to read superman comics.
In case you do not follow the news, here is the scoop.
Few days ago, the Danish authorities discovered a plot by three idiots who thought they are performing their religious duties and doing you, me, and the rest of Muslims in the world a great favor by allegedly planning to kill (yes; kill - this is not a typo) one of the cartoonist who published the distasteful cartoons about our Prophet 3 years ago. In a show of support from their fellow artists, several Danish newspapers decided to republish the cartoons.
Do I like the cartoons? No. Do I think the cartoonists, both initially and on republication are provocative? Yes. Do I think anyone has the right to stop them from doing that? Definitely not, unless of course they live in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or any of the other countries that exist in that parallel universe I mentioned earlier, where you are told what you can say, what you can do, and what you are allowed to believe in. That is why many Muslims live here, and not there.
Now, the nine Danish members of the Parliament have been scheduled for some time to visit Iran to raise issues regarding human right abuses, and the Iranian nuclear program. Of course, the Iranian government has the right to receive them, or not to receive them. But rather that stating that they simply would not accept the members of Denmark's foreign affairs committee to discuss what is internal Iranian affair, " two days before the scheduled trip, Tehran demanded the MPs condemn the cartoon on their arrival in Iran.".
"A condemnation and apology would help convince the Iranian people that Denmark's authorities had distanced themselves from the action"
, Iran's parliament said in a letter to Danish MPs.
I guess Iran feels the Danish elected officials should feel morally at fault for their citizens' use of the guaranteed right of freedom of expression. Don't you think that it is the Iranian government that should feel at fault for restricting the freedom of expression of their own citizens? Should not the rest of the rulers of the middle east share with the Iranian government the sense of shame and guilt for depriving their own people of almost all universally accepted human rights? I guess they don't.
That brings back the issue of the parallel universe they live in: the universe where universal human rights are not that universally accepted, where expressing what you think is evil, contradicting your government is immoral, and where a government ruling one oppressed people feels it has 'moral authority' to dictate to democratic governments how they should behave with their own citizens.

Some of us would say no one expects anything better from dictatorships, and they are right. But what hurts me more is that I frequently feels that the sense of entitlement and moral superiority is not limited to those governments. For a case in point, and on this same lucky Sunday, the British Guardian published an interesting report. One hundred and eighty thousand people demand to remove images of the Prophet from a Wikipedia article.

Before you rush into thinking that the images were the same insulting cartoons, and say that cartoons like these have no place in an intellectual and a semi-academic product like Wikipedia, let me correct you. The images in question are not the infamous cartoons. They are 'artistic paintings' produced by Muslim Ottoman and Persian artists 500 years ago, at a time when some Muslim communities felt there was no disrespect to the prophet in drawing his face, and that there was no scriptural prohibition on doing that.
Arrogance and sense of extreme entitlement does not even begin to describe the request made by those 180,000 individuals.
  • The drawings were made by Muslims 500 years ago when this was acceptable.
  • The images of the paintings are part of academic and history article.
  • Wikipedia does not owe Muslims anything.
  • Arabic Wikipedia does not carry them.
  • No one forces any Muslim to stare at the pictures, or even use Wikipedia at all. One can always set the web browser not to display images.
  • The prohibition on the Prophets picture is not scriptural, and was not implement throughout Islamic history.
And yet, 180,000 individuals felt they have the right to demand that Wikipedia do what they feel that as Muslims 'we are entitled to'.

Why would they think like that? The parallel universe theory seems like a tempting explanation here as well.
But on a serious not, it is disheartening to see Muslims behave like that. Those individuals are at least somewhat educated, likely 'youngish', understand English, hopefully know what Wikipedia is, and feel that they have the right to express their opinion freely (which is good), and yet could not see the irony in their request.
They most likely were not the people on the streets of the Arab and Muslim world in 2005 burning Danish flags, and wagging swords in the air in a comical threat to the West. They belong, more or less, to the current or future intelligentsia of the Muslim population. Yet I cannot help but think that they reacted emotionally - though not physically - in a way identical to those ignorant ones that made the embarrassing scenes we all remember on the streets 3 years ago.
If our intelligentsia is to think like that, I cannot blame the Iranian government for its stupid behavior.
And that is truly sad.


For the full articles check below::
Danish MPs refuse cartoon apology - BBC
Danish Papers Reprint Muhammad Cartoon - CBS
Wikipedia defies 180,000 demands to remove images of the Prophet - The Guardian
Danish cartoons 'plotters' held - BBC

1 comment:

  1. I think the Iranian govt may be doing this for local political consumption. The other stuff being done on behalf of muslims is silly or dangerous.

    It's too bad too many issues which are non-issues exist. Don't these people creating issues have anything better to do? They need to kick back, relax, and spend time with their families.