Islamic diplomacy to avert blasphemous cartoon competitions

Unless we foster religious harmony, tolerance and patience, no one will achieve the goals of peace and stability in any corner of the world, as Dutch anti-Islam politician decision to hold Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), cartoon competition at his party’s parliamentary offices did hurt the cause of fostering global unity against terrorism and fanatics. This provided an opportunity to all those circles who perhaps oppose this global unity against terrorism in Muslim countries in general and Pakistan in particular. After his decision, protest rallies and the publication of condemnation statements in the media were in progress throughout the Muslim world.

There is no place for violence, aggression, injustice, insult and disgrace in any religion, faith or belief. All religions, holy books and divine messages through all means and ways advocate love, respect, tolerance, patience and justice. Only terrorists, criminals and evil people, irrespective of race, religion and colour are blaming Islam and other religions or holy books and personalities for the promotion and support of heinous criminal and terrorist acts where as the recent act of Dutch politician has not been condemned by those who talk of themselves as guardians of world’s peace.

World leaders must realize their responsibilities at this crucial stage for bringing an end to violence, aggression and terrorism. This will be made possible only through the promotion of trends of religious harmony, patience and tolerance. The Party for Freedom (PVV), which has previously called for the Quran to be banned, said the contest had been approved by the country’s counter-terrorism agency. In 2016 Geert Wilder was convicted of inciting hatred and discrimination after asking supporters whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans” in their country. When the crowd shouted back “fewer”, a smiling Mr. Wilders answered: “Then we’ll fix it.”

Obviously, this opens the avenue of discussion for where to draw the line when it comes to freedom of speech. Does it mean being disrespectful towards a religion and a religious figure? Regardless, after the spread of the news, the outrage had been massive. Muslims have taken to twitter to talk about their anger and disappointment. For a Muslim, the sanctity, respect and honor of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) is above all else. The drawing of any cartoon or image of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) is in fact slander and open defamation, blasphemy.

Associating false provocative images is neither “freedom of speech nor freedom of expression”. Geert Wilder’s action of disrespecting Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him), degrading Islam and hurting Muslims worldwide was bigotry. After the strong reaction Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders said he is cancelling plans to hold a contest for cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), he said the controversial contest would not go ahead following death threats and concerns other people could be put at risk. Mr Wilders, who lived for years under round-the-clock protection because of death threats sparked by his fierce anti-Islam rhetoric, said he did not want others to be endangered by the contest he had planned for November. The contest, where thousands of people marched towards the capital. The government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest.

The country’s Prime Minister, questioned Mr. Wilders’ motive for organizing the contest and said he did not support the planned contest. Rutte’s comments came after angry reactions in Pakistan to the proposed contest, which Wilders plans to hold in November in his right-wing Party for Freedom’s heavily guarded offices at the Dutch parliament. Authorities in Pakistan have lodged a diplomatic protest against Wilders’ plan, calling it an attempt to defame Islam. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi put out a saying the “issue has been resolved due to effective diplomatic efforts of the Federal Government”. In a press conference, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the cancellation was an achievement for Pakistan. “However, we still need to devise a global strategy against such attempts in the future,” he said. Prime Minister Imran Khan “In his victory address, said that he wanted to create a Medina state in Pakistan. In the Medina state the punishment for blasphemy is death, which is also sanctioned by the constitution of Pakistan. World should now be informed that this would be the fate of anyone who insults our prophet,” he added.

“The cancellation of the blasphemous cartoon competition is indeed a triumph for Pakistani foreign policy, but the government should now focus on a more long-lasting solution to an issue that keeps popping up regularly, which they need to push at the OIC,” former foreign minister of Pakistan Khurshid Kasuri said while talking to foreign media. “Individually, they would struggle to get things moving at the UN, because the European leaders there say that their citizens have freedom of speech although they have criminalized Holocaust denial,” he added.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also condemned this cartoon competition to depict the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “While the whole world faces religious extremism and terrorism and needs peace, dialogue and tolerance, it is time to put in place internationally binding legal instruments to prevent incitement, racism, discrimination and religious hatred,” said OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen. “Freedom of expression does not mean offending others’ religions, which contradicts the universal principle of respect for religions”, he further said.

All the said efforts resulted in cancellation of this controversial competition but there is need to have more consolidated approach. There should certainly and amalgamated effort to avert such incidents in future. Freedom of speech cannot be used to wound others. The announcement of anti-Islamic competition was deeply insulting to a beautiful religion. However, freedom of speech is also intended to protect religion. Without free speech, other freedoms including the freedom to practice religion are endangered. We should believe that freedom of expression should not be misused as means to attack or hurt public sentiments or religious beliefs.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine September 2018.

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