Muslims must inspire peace, not incite war
To what extent did Muslims provoke the publication of caricatures of prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten? The answer was possibly brought home to me years earlier by a student in my class on "Understanding Islam" at the University of Hawaii's Outreach College.
On the day following the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, attack, this young student, dismayed like the rest of us by that demonic event, asked, "Wouldn't the world have been a better place had Mohammed not been born?" Although taken by surprise, I could see how he had been provoked by the senseless killing of thousands at the World Trade Center and elsewhere.
Adding the more recent suicide bombings in Bali, Karachi, Nairobi and other places the world over and the coldblooded murder of hostages by extremist Muslims in Iraq, we can see how Jyllands-Posten was provoked to publish the unfortunate caricatures of the prophet -- all linking him with violence.
Ironically, Mohammed was so sensitive to the issue of provocation that once, while sending a reconnoitering mission, he stressed, "Do not do anything to provoke them against me." And now, 1,400 years later, some of his followers are provoking the entire non-Muslim world against him.
Thus, shouldn't Muslims be angrier with extremist Muslims for hurtling Mohammed's name to such abysmal levels?
It would be a shallow understanding of Islam to believe that anyone's ill wishes can affect someone else's soul; instead, they might simply ricochet. Love and hate cannot be commanded; these emotions simply reflect one's feelings towards others. Regrettably, there is probably downright hatred for the violence non-Muslims perceive was taught by Mohammed.
The violent Muslim protest against "Satanic Verses" in the 1980s did not stop people from reading that book; instead, book sales rose exponentially. Similarly, the current protest against these caricatures has probably increased Jyllands-Posten's readership. It has already prompted other European newspapers to publish those caricatures.
Other ways linking Mohammed with violence also might be crafted. Did the scores of Muslims killed in demonstrations against both book and cartoons die in vain? Isn't it remarkable that we never hear of extremist leaders being killed in such demonstrations? Do they simply "disappear" after inciting the mob? Shouldn't they be held accountable for what their followers do?
This unruly Muslim protest stands in sharp and shameful contrast with the highly admirable, dignified and cool-headed response by Buddhists when, in 2001, Afghanistan's extremist Muslim government destroyed the priceless Bamiyan Buddha carved into a cliffside. By that stance, Buddhists earned much admiration the world over.
Muslims underscored their double standard in matters of respect for founders of various religions by not protesting that totally unprovoked destruction of a Buddha statue.
The silent majority of Muslims must speak out in peaceful support for sanity, objectivity and cool-headed dignity. While character assassination of the founder of any religion is deplorable, peaceful protests drive home a stronger message than mob violence.
Following a similar pattern, frenzied Shia and Sunni Muslims will probably and regrettably kill each other hysterically as they protest and counter-protest the Feb. 22 destruction of a Shia mosque in Iraq without the guilt of any party being established. Isn't it possible that some foreign power could have masterminded that mosque's destruction?
While class discussion following his searching inquiry might have helped the young student realize that practices of some Muslims should not be taken to represent Mohammed's teachings, I wonder whether the recent violence has made him revert to his original wish.
Saleem Ahmed is the author of "Beyond Veil and Holy War: Islamic Teachings and Muslim Practices with Biblical Comparisons." He is president of the Pacific Research Institute on Islam, a new organization to research the Quran, chronological sequencing of its verses and the historical context of their revelation.