The current chaos, the damaged Danish embassies, and the war of words is despicable. This includes condemnation of what started the riot, the decision to publish and test passions, the threats of violence, the actual violence, the suggestions of violence and the general crystallization of a non-issue into an issue.
Unbelievably, we find pitted here, in a false confrontation, the passion for human freedom and the freedom of human passion.
Which is more dear to us – freedom or passion?
It is convenient for people who believe less or not at all in a religion to condemn the religious passion. In Europe, this rests on the polarization between the politics of state and the power of the church, and rests on a history of defamation of Muslims and Mohammed when the Muslim culture was in the ascendant looking down on Europe.
Muslim societies, in their current distressing decay, look up to western societies – this is but natural – yet without having experienced the anti-church-like ethos that characterized the emergence of the republic in violent persecution of monarchy, aristocracy and ecclesiastical culture.
Paradoxically the Muslim reaction today is only a little less violent than the butchers of the French revolution, and the public opinion and anger is but the voice of the masses, against the hegemonic republican-secular state institutions now ascendant in Europe.
In the intervening periods, all Islamic societies in their own diversity have absorbed republicanism and democratic elections in moderate doses, as modern sources of legitimacy, if not so much in the interest and public opinion of their respective polities, then definitely in response to opinion of western friends, whose influence is but all-pervasive at the moment.
Through all this, the passion and veneration for the teachings and character of Mohammed and what he achieved, even though it lasted for a very brief period, has survived intact. This fact has no relation to the hagiographic defamation that is presented to dispute the character of Mohammed. For Muslims in general, in all cases, the veneration and respect for Mohammed supersedes all other disputes which are either trivial or just plainly false. Such is the inspiration of the last prophet. The passion for Mohammed lives. The reaction of the Muslim world is testimony to this.
Yet Mohammed himself would not have sanctioned this reaction. In Muslim accounts of him, we hear about a gentle soul, a herder of goats, a recluse, famed for the qualities of his word, distressed by those who would not listen, someone who would ignore personal insults and physical injury to himself, who would, in making contracts, give the benefit to the other, and in making judgments use a gentle intellect.
Mohammad would also not have sanctioned much of the Muslim history and politics that followed. Yet the sublime ideas of the Quran that Gabriel brought down to him, in a final revelation in line with preceding prophets, became a uniquely rational religion that emphasizes restraint and moderation, and humanity above tribal custom.
In the face of internal dissent, decline of societies, a colonial legacy, and oppressive governments hostage to hegemons, which have caused centuries of bitterness, such is the continuing legacy of Mohammad for ordinary Muslims – a rational passion for sublimity on earth. Freedom of expression is not under threat. Under threat from all sides is the passion for the sublime that inspired the freedom in the first place.
The chaos needs to stop at any cost.[ADBLOCKHERE]
An interesting discussion followed this article when it was first posted at Desicritics on February 06. It was among the Editors’ Picks at Desicritics on 17 February 2006.