Much ado about a few cartoons:
“Free speech and enlightenment versus fanaticism and religious intolerance”
Enormous outrage and riots with deaths in the Islamic world – just because of a few cartoons in a European newspaper? And in this country the basic principles of the enlightenment and the democratic world should likewise be at stake if publication of the cartoons is blocked?
The caricatures of Mohammed express a simple political message. As the German newspaper Süddeutschen Zeitung put it:
“The message is clear: Islamic terror is not the act of radical dissenters. The terrorist ideology is the religion itself. So the religious founder Mohammed becomes the top terrorist.” (2.11.06)
– What Muslims get worked up about is the political standpoint that the caricatures illustrate. This standpoint is taken by the world-politically decisive nations in relation to the Arab-Islamic states, as well as in dealing with their immigrant minorities from these countries. As everybody knows, the trans-Atlantic allies have resolved to impose a “new world order” on the region between Morocco and Indonesia, in particular on Iran and Syria, the “rogue states” identified by the USA. Hence, they have not only decided to massacre the terrorists and opposition groups operating with the best of religious consciences, but also to teach a new political culture to the people from whose midst these terrorists and opposition groups originate. These people must no longer put their trust in religious authorities and leaders; instead, they have to recognize that they are bound by the customs that rule the modern capitalist society of paid employment and democracy and to submit to them in practice. It is not only the orientation of these nations towards world politics that is to be corrected, but their Islam-legitimized internal structures as well; this is imposed by extortion, and if necessary force. This has been understood by the cartoonists: They illustrate the proscription contained in the western security policy for the Islamically-inspired mental attitudes and lifestyles which deviate from the democratic-free-enterprise legal and behavioral codes. It is by no means just a joke about the religious narrow-mindedness there – which the customers themselves did not order.
– The people who have migrated from these “problem states” to the western metropoles of world capitalism are also faced with the suspicion of sympathy for Islamic terrorists. They are suspected of being a disruptive element in “our western civilization” on account of the “influence” of their native countries’ cultures. The illustrations point at their deviant religious customs, whereby the suspicion is confirmed that in their feelings and understanding they have still not “arrived” in their new home countries, lacking the loyalty with which the local state powers innately subordinate their natives.
The caricatures are only an occasion for the outraged reactions in the Islamic world. The reason for the moral turmoil is the image of the enemy that is held there of the “west”: it is viewed as godless and decadent, though materially superior and therefore unshakeably arrogant. In this way, Muslims explain the wretched living conditions in their countries which arise from subordination to the world market commanded by this “west”:
– the wealth of the capitalistically successful nations is made clear to them as a standard and at the same time withheld;
– the majority, particularly the young, are forced into the status of a capitalistically useless population, thus a global “relative overpopulation.”
– They fail in their interests – in the Islamic states that have turned to the west – because of their more or less pro-western rule or else
– they come to grief – in the “rogue states,” in conjunction with their declared anti-western rule – under the machinations of the imperialist foreign countries.
The aggrieved construe this as a violation of the honor they possess in their character as members of a great community of foot soldiers chosen by the Almighty. For the people of some nations, the memory that their practical attempts to free themselves from the western imperialist powers always ended in failure adds up. So the political will to bring about a world-politically respectable Arabian – or even reaching beyond Arabia – pan-Islamic power, one that is respected as an equal by the “west,” is relegated to the realm of the devout imagination and, to the extent that it is still active, pushed into the terrorist underground. Meanwhile, parts of this Islamic region – Afghanistan, Iraq – are militarily occupied by the “west,” others are disempowered, and “regime change” based on the model of these two countries is announced.
All this, taken together, gives a lot of reasons for enmity against just this “west.” That people charged with religious pride see the confrontational approach of the “west,” not least against their traditional pious ways of living and thinking, as a “crusade” against their Almighty, is indeed off the mark. But this does not distinguish them especially from the morality of the imperialist nations which want at all costs to wean them from their anti-western inclinations and to bring them freedom. Rather, what distinguishes them is their powerlessness, which becomes obvious when they take insults to their prophet in a western newspaper as an occasion for a “just retaliation”: Their hostility is vented in impotent rage at symbols of the much-hated “west.” By contrast, the peoples of the “west” can confidently rely, as far as the violence required to support the imperialist needs of their nations is concerned, on the extortion power and force apparatuses of their regimes. And for the necessary moral excitement about false governments and wrongly polarized masses of peoples, they have the professionals of the fourth estate.
They understand their business at least as well as the militant teachers of the people in the Islamic countries do theirs: They interpret the turmoil as one single attack on one of their supreme values, free speech and freedom of the press, indeed “freedom” in general, and sound the journalistic counterattack. They fill their mouthpieces with avowals that “with us,” in the western system of values, freedom of the press belongs in the place where the Islamic fanatics want to see their prophet, and clarify for their audience what kinds of people Muslims are: With their furious protests, the roused Islamic world, or rather its agitators, reveals itself as fanatical enemies of freedom; they disqualify themselves as opponents of the values which the free world has already long ago explained to be global and generally binding; they oppose the liberal consensus of the modern family of peoples – and thereby confirm exactly the need for reform which the USA has announced for quite some time and its uncompromising and vigorous democratization initiative, which they have to comply with: free speech needs to be taught to the disciples of Mohammed.
This furious commitment on behalf of the universalism of the western system of values has a ridiculous side. Our entire freedom and cultural life should hang on the discretionary powers of chief-editors to print caricatures of a founder of a religion? The unimpeded freedom to smirk at the idol of foreign believers should be the value which separates our enlightened modern era from the dark ages? That this should be – rationality? In the midst of a world whose daily operations are determined by private investment decisions and whose order is defined by the strategic decisions of commanders over nuclear weapons, everything should depend on newspaper cartoonists being able to do their commissioned work as crosses their minds and wanted by their wealthy clients?
On the other hand, the excited advocates of free speech are quite correct with their ridiculous harping on principles: the idealizing invocation of the democratic constitutional principle of free speech sharpens the contours of the enemy image of intolerance, of Muslims who remain in the depths of the Middle Ages, which the free “west” has identified as the swamp of Islamist terrorism. That’s why it has given itself the missionary work of draining the swamp. Precisely in its exaggerations, the aptly construed dispute over principles reflects the fundamental enmity which the allied world order powers have announced to the anti-western pockets of resistance in the Islamic world, in which they include the local power structure and the – democratically seen – indecent set-up of the local societies. Here the fetish of freedom of the press serves as a possibly suitable ideological banner for the “crusade” ethos of the imperialist cleanup which the U.S. and its willing as well as less willing assistants have undertaken for the area and put on the global political agenda. Merely by pointing to freedom of expression and tolerance – opposition can not be tolerated – the superiority of “our” system is thumped on, conversely disqualifying all those who violate them as “enemies of democracy,” and moreover as enemies and obstructors of the “progress of civilization” in general – thus extremely dangerous.
This comparison between relations in the “west” and those in the Islamic “arc of crisis” compares nothing, but raises the procedures of bourgeois-democratic rule in their idealized version to absolute norms, before which the practice of rule in the much-maligned oriental states disgraces itself as an abyss of evil. This aggressively self-righteous view of the world is the productive force of an image of the enemy which is no less a moral fundamentalism than the ideologies of the opponent. The announced enmity appears in the idealizing light of a mission against a lack of freedom, as though its reason is the incompatibility of “cultures” and the “liberation” of Muslims from the paternalism of intolerant preachers of hate and “medieval theocracy.” However, the real enmity of the “west” has quite different reasons – this is already exhibited by the fact that it is able to live quite well with Islamic rules which do not want to separate state and religion at all, as for example with the Saudi royal family, as long as they are able to keep their devout people quiet with Islamic “indoctrination” and “dictatorial” force, across decades-long supervised sovereignty and exploitative access by the west. The “clash of civilizations” between Occident and Orient – between pompous celebration of free speech and freedom of the press here and rioting religious mortification there – does, however, still provide good services for the fight of the “west” against its enemies in the Islamic world: far from enlightening itself and its audience about the reasons for the enmity of the imperialist forces of order against dissenters in the “third world” and, vice versa, the Islamic members of the opposition who fight from a position of powerlessness by means of terror against the western superior powers, the enlighteners in the lands of freedom manufacture from the powerless hate of the many aggrieved parties there a living image of the enemy of “those underfoot”: So they spread and strengthen the conviction that it is high time that a whole region of the world is “brought to reason.”
[Translation of an analysis by GegenStandpunkt on Radio Lora Munich, Feb 13, 2006]