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How the West is Killing Voltaire

by Nadeem Azam

"When I saw the actual work online, I was gobsmacked. Among the cartoon portrayals of Mohammed were a man with a bomb as a turban, a scowling, scabbard-wielding Osama-lookalike, and a figure on a cloud in Heaven, addressing the smoking remnants of newly arrived suicide bombers: "Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins."

There is a difference between upsetting the applecart and carpet-bombing the whole orchard. The submissions printed in the paper were certain to incite uproar, if only because it's considered blasphemous in Islam to depict Mohammed in any manner. What was JP editor Carsten Juste thinking?"

Geoff Olson, newspaper cartoonist


Outrage over gratuitously offensive caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) led to protests across the Muslim world The Mohammed cartoon incident a few months ago shows that the world is at a crossroads. One resulting from utter stupidity and of the West's making.

The issue was that Islam bans images of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) on the basis that such would encourage idolatry. If you visit a mosque you will find it extremely spare when compared to European churches, synagogues or east Asian temples. The idea is simple - one worships God and not things.

Rendering images of the blessed Prophet Mohammed, as reprehensible as it is to Muslims, is one thing: ridiculing him is about the most hurtful thing that can be done to a believer and digs a spear into the totem pole of his or her identity. By gleefully depicting the founder of their faith as a terrorist as Jyllands-Posten and other European newspapers have, they have caused more offence to a Muslim than were they to have published the most abhorrent vilification of his or her mother or father.

As European newspapers have been trying to ram down everybody's throats, such considerations don't fly in Western society. While the media in Muslim countries needs to be sensitive to Muslim concerns, the European press has a carte blanche to publish what it likes. The West has a firm secular tradition which allows satire and criticism of religious belief. One has a right to blasphemy, heresy and apostatism.

Discussing the issue, Le Figaro recently asked "where are you, Voltaire?" Well, Europe, you are killing Voltaire. And Descartes. And Spinoza. And Rousseau.

And Derrida.

Jacques Derrida was born a French Jew in Algeria. He suffered a miserable youth - he neither fitted in with the Algerians nor the French - after all, he was a Jew. Rather than developing outright resentments, Derrida chose a path in life to undermine prejudice. Deconstruction is Derrida's major contribution to Western linguistics and culture. It has had a significant impact and serves as a cornerstone to post-modernism (in as much as the thought of a "cornerstone" could be tolerated by post-modernists).

Derrida's deconstruction had the effect of disassembling text to reduce it to meaningless scribblings. Fundamental to deconstruction is the idea that every idea expressed in virtuous terms has behind it unarticulated pre-suppositions. When one draws out those pre-suppositions, one can find biases and contradiction inherent to cultural supremacism. The assertion of a virtue is shown to be an oppressive act. In short, deconstruction invalidates any cultural supremacism. "Truth" is only a by product of cultural bias rather than being the product of rational discourse and analysis.

If one accepts deconstruction as a valid form of linguistic analysis, then one accepts its repeatable results as valid. In that you have the fundamental idea that has fueled the Western Cultural Revolution of the last 30 odd years - one in which Universities and cultural institutions have been largely purged of cultural reactionaries who oppress others by asserting cultural truths as universal truths. All this has been done in order to have the most tolerant and free society possible - or so it was intended.

Were the Western world to accept or even just tolerate Islamic civilisation, a much-needed peace could have developed between the West and Islam as colonialism became a distance memory. The West could have lived by Voltairism and Derridaism and the Muslim world by its doctrines, But time and time again the former insists on asserting its supremacy. There are hoodlums in the Muslim world who are happy to retaliate with vitriol, but in most cases the blame firmly lies at the feet of the instigators in the West.

When they are not forcing Muslim countries to open up their economies to McDonalds and Burger King they are telling Muslims to not get uptight about Baywatch and Dirty Teens 7 being beamed into into their living rooms, when they are not giving their client state in the Middle East which has illegally captured the third holiest site in Islam $5.5 billion a year in aid to continue its brutalities they are sucking ever increasing amounts from the world's poorest countries for the interest on loans taken out thirty years ago, when they are not invading a Muslim nation to secure its oil supplies for their SUVs they are celebrating their right to publish caricatures which they know would inflame every Muslim from Casablanca to Jakarta.

As the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world keep experiencing, the Dominant Civilisation will not accept the idea of "live and let live". For half a millenia it has had overwhelming might in the military, economic, political, media and intellectual spheres; no matter how ferociously it has denigrated and destroyed other civilisations, be it the Aztecans, American Indians or Zulus, their weakness has meant repercussions have been few and far between. However, times have changed. The enslaved and colonised have managed to rid themselves of some of their shackles, yet Master-jee has difficulty accommodating to the new reality. He is still taken aback when the native American, the black African or the "Mohammedan" lifts his hand to guard himself from another reddened cheek.

The publication of the cartoons demonstrates the West will not abide by a benign world order of mutual understanding and respect: it insists Muslims accept its pre-eminence and its secular values. Such an assertion is an oppressive act - it asserts Western truth values takes precedence over non-Western ones. In an environment where the Muslim is the subject of ridicule and hatred for being intolerant, one must ask the West why it insists on ramming its secularist dogma down other people's throats (witness the banning of the hijab in supposedly-liberal France).


By insisting on continuing to assert its hegemony even fifty years after the end of colonialism, it will elicit fear and frustration in the Muslim world and among already- marginalised Muslims in the West. That could lead to a backlash and then we really will be a Huntingdonian End Game. As Milan Vodicka wrote recently in an article about the caricatures in the Czech paper Mlada Fronta Dnes: "a battle between two civilisations is unfolding before our eyes" .

Tolerance of intolerance will become the dagger that killed Derrida and Voltaire.



"So now what are we going to do? ... Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?"

Former US President Bill Clinton

"The lies (Western slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (Mohammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only."

Thomas Carlyle in 'Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History', 1840


Jyllands-Posten supposedly published the demeaning caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) to initiate a discussion. You may take up the newspaper's request to stimulate a debate by telephoning them on +45 87 38 38 38 or +45 33 30 30 30 or writing to the following email addresses: debat@jp.dk redaktionssekretariatet@jp.dk, kultur@jp.dk, jpmaster@jp.dk and navne@jp.dk.

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