Denial, double standards and destroyed lives
The writer is a physician and freelance columnist residing in Toledo
Denying the Holocaust got David Irving prison time but ridiculing
the Prophet of Islam got the shelter of freedom of speech. What's
wrong with this picture? The West is so proud of its democracy,
freedom and justice. Why is there now its selective application?
From Indonesia to the United States the Muslim world is livid;
the camera lens is unable to totally encapsulate the teeming
protesters. And with mob mentality taking over, there has been
violence and deaths. And while their fists and placards dance on the
television screen, quietly, in Vienna, British historian David
Irving has been sentenced to three years in prison for denying the
Holocaust. Irving appeared shocked at the sentence and said that it
was "ridiculous" that he was being tried for expressing an opinion.
"Of course it is a matter of freedom of speech…I think within 12
months this law will have vanished from the Austrian statute book,"
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the UK's Holocaust Educational
Trust welcomed the verdict. "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism
dressed up as intellectual debate. It should be regarded as such and
treated as such," Ms Pollock told the BBC. Very interesting, indeed!
So one cannot even think that the Holocaust did not happen; here it
is not just freedom of _expression that is at question it is
veritably the death of freedom of thought!
So David Irving's neurons need little shackles until he repents
and the chains are released. But the Danish government invokes
freedom of speech, impenitent, in the face of furious Muslims. To
the non-Jew the Holocaust is one of the greatest tragedies in
history; it has no apparent religious significance. To the
non-Muslim, Muhammad (peace be upon him) may have been the most
influential man in history according to Michael Hart author of The
100: A Ranking of The Most Influential Persons in History but he was
just a man. Either side has difficulty seeing the other's
And yet why is freedom of speech given the power to offend and
destroy? Since when did self-_expression supersede the value placed
on life itself? The Holocaust defines Jewish psyche in much the same
way that the life and sayings of Prophet Muhammad shape the lives of
1.5 billion Muslims. Both are sacred to the respective faiths. They
should be made impermeable to cheap shots. Jews across the world
have been successful in this aim, as several European countries as
well as the United States have passed laws making Holocaust denial a
It is entirely reasonable for Muslims, as represented by the
OIC(Organization of Islamic Conference), to ask for a passage of
resolutions within the United Nations, and legislation within
respective countries the world over that would outlaw denigration of
any faith and any religious figure. Fatwas demanding the
cartoonist's death have a rabid ring to them and work only to
undermine the credibility of its issuers.
On a different yet related note. My little Toledo town is
essentially the back of beyond as far as world affairs go. But
lately it has been rocketing to national limelight, almost two days
in a row. First there was the summary closure of Kind Hearts, a
charity that had done a marvelous job even in earthquake ravaged
Pakistan. The same allegations of funding money to Hamas have been
made, and investigations and formal charges will be made later.
Right now it is padlock and shutter time. The dedicated gentlemen
that ran Kind Hearts are suddenly jobless and headed to more than
the unemployment office.
Toledo Ohio had barely recovered from that shock when the
media-tsunami hit on February 21. Three men ages 24, 26 and 42 all
Toledo residents, one an American citizen of Jordanian descent, the
other a naturalized Egyptian and the third a naturalized Lebanese,
have been arrested on charges of conspiring to kill American forces
in Iraq as well as President Bush. The three men are unknown to the
Muslim community at large and appeared to have been very private
people. They were learning to work explosives and took to practicing
shooting at a local range, according to the allegations.
I can't live with the thought of the many lives destroyed by the
madness that is going on around us. Why would seeming adults hold
competitions to defame the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? Why
would Iran stoop to the same level and hold competitions to
denigrate the Holocaust? The Jyllands-Posten editor admitted that
had he known the impact of his decision he would never have hit the
send button for the cartoons. He also apologized. Why doesn't the
Danish government apologize? Why do the crowds in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Nigeria break and batter the property of their own
countries? Why did the police open fire on a protesting crowd?
"I put my savings into buying a motor bike so I can do a job that
involves riding all day, now it has been burned and I still have to
pay the installments…" said a despondent bystander surveying all the
bikes and buses that the crowd had burned. Geo TV was gallant in
posting a request for names and ID cards and listing of property
lost during the protests so that there is governmental compensation.
In 2003 the American government, on the behest of Bill O'Reilly,
the ultra-right wing TV talk show host, arrested Prof Sami Al-Arian,
placed him in inhuman jail conditions for two years and caused him
incalculable damage due to the poor treatment of his diabetes during
his incarceration. Finally, in December 2005 he was acquitted of
charges of funneling funds to Hamas, but remains in custody pending
deliberation on the other charges. His life though was effectively
Colorado lawyer Brandon Mayfield, a revert to Islam, was charged
with the Spain train bombings, on the basis of a fingerprint, even
though Spain said it was not his. He was arrested, imprisoned for
several months and then tried and acquitted. Justice was served, but
his life has not been.
Former army Capt James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at the US prison at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was arrested on suspicion of espionage and
held in solitary confinement for 76 days before being released and
given an honorary discharge. What effect does solitary confinement
have on a person is one thing, on an innocent one at that, is quite
Al-Arian, Mayfield and Yee saw the hand of justice. The purported
Toledo terrorist trio may never. Like the thousands languishing in
Guantanamo Bay and the Carolina brigs that the legal machinery has
forgotten. The US government has become quite notorious for locking
up folks and throwing away the key. The premise in the US used to be
"innocent until proven guilty", now the converse applies.
The national backlash after the cartoon protests had already
begun, sadly reminiscent of the immediately post 9/11 days. Only
this time the hatred, hyper vigilance and fear seem worse. A friend
that wears the hijab and works as a checkout clerk in a grocery
store reports lately that the checkout lane in front of her has
three carts and the one behind her at least two: no one seems to
want to come to her lane. As a physician I am in a relatively
empowered position, and yet when this consultant in Addiction
Medicine and Palliative Care walks into a patient's hospital room,
faces blanch, hands fidget and eyes dart nervously. At least until
the realization that I am not Martian and do speak understandable
Peaceful protests and passage of resolutions and legislation
making denigration of any religion and religious figure a crime
would be sufficient. That amazing man (peace be upon him), the mercy
to all mankind, the one who loved his enemies and treated them with
kindness and compassion, would be mortified to see the destruction
caused in his name. Especially the burning of churches.
And while the crowds in the insular Muslim world go on rampages,
the targets of retribution will be American and European Muslims.
Especially those that are obviously Muslim: our hijab observing
women. Dispelling Islamophobia is an arduous, repetitive though
doable trek; playing victim, going on rampages and issuing fanatical
fatwas serves to only endanger fellow Muslims. If only we did what
the Quran repeatedly recommends: think, reflect and then act.