I got a call from the BBC
yesterday inviting me to be a guest on their show "World Have Your Say
." I was given the opportunity to ask a some questions of two major figures in this whole Muhammad cartoon scandal. On hand to field my questions were Arnaud Levy (the editor of the newspaper France Soir
, which published the cartoons early in the controversy) and Danish Imam Mustapha, spokesman for the European Committee for Prophet Honouring. The Imam and other Muslim clerics in Europe spearheaded the effort to distribute these images in the Muslim world.
Aparently I sent the the show's producers an email and I must have written something smart because they seemed pretty eager to get me on. I was a little tipsy when i sent that email, I don't even remember what I said. But still, I was flattered and happy to oblige. After all what better way to get to the bottom of this story, than to pose questions directly to the protagonists themselves? What a scoop!
My chat with the Imam was terribly disconcerting. He was the spokesman for Muslim cleric's organization that almost single-handedly ensured distribution of these images in the Muslim world. I wanted to know what did he hoped to accomplish by taking these cartoons public. It seemed like a fair question, a good place to begin. He was having nothing of it. After hearing him ramble incoherently for a while the BBC reported stepped in and reminded him of my question. I must confess that what I found so troubling about the Imam's reply is the anger in his voice and the voracity with which he avoided adressing my questions. The transcript of our chat follows. (For Audio click here, you'll have to hear it to believe it)
We have Jay on the line from New Jersey in the U.S............
First of all, this story is definitely getting a ton of play in the media here in the United States, umm, but I really don't believe that these pictures of Muhammad--which are causing so much controversy--really inform a negative stereotype of Muslims as much as watching people buring down embassies does, quite frankly. I guess my question for Imam Mustapha is what were your motives, what were you hoping to accomplish by, ummm you know, encouraging distribution of these images in the Middle East? There's so much energy going into these protests--aparently three people were killed today at a protest in Afghanastan--I guess I'm wondering if you're trying to encourage some kind of dialogue or were you, you know, just trying to get people angry?
Can I have a word now?
Yes actually, I mean we have to make something clear, to clarify something which is very very important. Nobody has to tell about freedom of speech because, in the Bible, ummm, in the Old Testament, God I mean Allah was speaking to Satan and gave him the chance to clarify what he said to Adam. Freedom of dialogue isn't freedom to insult, insulting Islam! You can criticize, you're not supposed to believe in Muhammad if you don't like to! But criticizing, but you can criticize, but it's insulting. So if you're insulting something else, I mean, Mr. Levy tried to run away! I mean, he praises loudly Hitler for example, for what he did to the Jews, he can not of course, not....
Ok, but Imam with all due respect, We've asked you to answer Jay's question......
What his question was? Yesterday our committee, we have welcomed, umm, since we are starting this, we have started with the dialogue now. We have welcomed the call of the (Danish) Foreign Minister and State Minister and let's together and make a delegation and, well, because I am living in Denmark I want only peace for my country, the country I'm living in.
Do you take any responsibility for the lives lost and the damage done?
Eh, no! I should not take any responsibility but I condemn what's happening, but actually if anything is happening--harm I mean--the damage at the embassy it's because of you (refering to Levy) not because of us! This newspaper is hurting 1.2 billion of Muslims who, at least, I mean, being civilized to say, "I'm sorry, I did not mean that." An expression we can accept. As for the violence, it's not in my hands to stop everything. But we have welcomed that that we have sent a letter to foreign minister, that we are calling for dialogue. Then we can sit together and make a dedication to go and stop this. It's only crazy people who like what happened in Iran! Nobody likes, very hurting what's happening and we are very sorry for what happened because the people, but we can not control all of them. And about the prophet Muhammad, these big writers and thousands of others, they know he's our prophet.....
Ok, Imam, let me stop you there 'cuz we've got a lot of people who want to get on and speak with you. But let me give Jay a brief opportunity to respond. Jay does that answer your question? Is that sufficient?
Not really Sir, but let me take this opportunity to apologize if you and your Muslim brothers and sisters took offense at these images. But I don't wanna make this a free speech argument. What I am suggesting that all this response to the controversy, which i believe you, umm, I believe was sort of predicated on your own ambition. It's, you know, a lot of energy and attention is going toward this and no one is thinking about, um, all this wasted effort. This isn't going to get the Danish troops out of Iraq, this isn't going to address the Palestine question, this isn't gonna accomplish any of the goals of the Muslim community here or abroad. Or is it?
Are you trying to say that, to suggest that Muslims aren't putting enough effort into protesting against violence of hostage-taking, this type of thing? Is that what you're getting at, Jay?
Not, not exactly. What I'm saying is that I find it very curious that there is such an uproar over comics. Maybe this is my own culture-bound western sensibility, but quite frankly-- instead of ostensibly inciting violence-- maybe a more appropriate response would have been for the Imam to challenge Muslim cartoonists to parody Danish culture.
Reporter: Thanks Jay very much indeed.
Is it me or is this guy nuts? Here's the mouthpiece of the radical Muslim cleric's organization that made it their business to inflame tensions in the Muslim and Arab world with these cartoons, and he's trying to tell me that he seeks to encourage peaceful dialogue between the east and west. Sounds like a bunch of hooey to me. I hate to say it, but chatting with a radical Imam really reminded me who the enemy is here.
Listen for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
I cross-post this on my own site