Islam and the war against freedom of expression
The death plot against Kurt Westergaard is the latest tactic in a war that has been waged for at least 50 years. A statue of Mohammed the law-giver used to stand on the steps of the Manhattan Appellant Courthouse in New York.
Thursday, February 14, 2008By Adrian Morgan
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The area is believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves and other mineral riches, likely to become accessible in future decades due to man-made global warming.The actions of Abu Laban and his assistant, Lebanese-born Ahmed Akkiri, were to prove more damaging. Their Middle East delegation inflamed the sentiments of leading Muslims, so much so that by February 2006 there were riots across the Muslim world. In Borno state in northern Nigeria, Muslims went on the rampage, killing Christians. In Indonesia, the Islamists of Front Pembela Islam stoned the American Embassy on February 19, 2006, and in Hong Kong foreign Muslims protested against the US, even though on February 3 US State Department press officer Janelle Hironimus had claimed the cartoons were "offensive to the beliefs of Muslims."
In London on February 3, Islamists carried placards with slogans such as: "Behead those who insult Islam", "Europe. Take some lessons from 9/11", "Europe you will pay. Demolition is on its way", "Europe you will pay. Your extermination is on its way," "Slay those who insult Islam," "Butcher those who insult Islam." This protest had been arranged by a former member of Al Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudary. What shocked people about the protest was the fact that no-one was arrested at the time, despite speakers openly calling for the murder of Danes and Americans.
Four individuals, all members of the disbanded group Al Muhajiroun, were later arrested and stood trial on charges of inciting racial hatred and inciting murder. On July 18, 2007, Abdul Rahman Saleem (aka "Abu Yahya") was sentenced to four years' jail for inciting racial hatred. Abdul Muhid, Mizanur Rahman and Umran Javed were sentenced to six years' jail for soliciting murder, with additional concurrent sentences of three years for stirring up racial hatred. Other individuals who were sought by police appear to have escaped justice entirely.
At the time of the London protest, the Islamist group Al-Ghuraaba, which comprised former Al Muhajiroun members published a text on its website. Entitled "Kill those who insult the prophet Muhammad" this used the issue of the cartoons, combined with historical instances of people whom Mohammed killed for insulting him, to justify slaughter of anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who insulted Islam. This is an extract:
"The insulting of the Messenger Muhammad (saw) is something that the Muslims cannot and will not tolerate and the punishment in Islam for the one who does so is death. This is the sunnah of the prophet and the verdict of Islam upon such people, one that any Muslim is able execute. The response of the Muslims all over the world shows us the inability to deal with such people, the kuffar are attacking our Messenger and are allowed to get away with it whilst the Muslims have no power to do anything about it. The leaders of the Muslim world have no care for the deen (belief) of Islam as they are busy cementing their seats content with their power and wealth. Where are the Muhammad ibn Maslamah's of our ummah who will ?"
On February 3, 2006 in Syria, the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus were set alight. A thousand protesters marched in Nazareth, Israel, on the same day, and in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his trade minister to investigate severing contracts with countries that had published the cartoons. An official from Hamas said: "We should have killed all those who defiled the Prophet Muhammad, but instead we are protesting in peace."
On February 5, Catholic priest Father Andrea Santoro was shot in the back by a teenage youth at the church of Santa Maria in Trabzon, northeast Turkey. The youth was said to have been enraged by the cartoons. He was jailed for 18 years on Izmir, western Turkey. Also in Izmir, a firebomb was thrown at a church roof. The arsonist blamed the cartoons for his anger.
Churches in Libya and Pakistan were also attacked. On February 19, 2006, about 400 Islamists attacked Christian interests in Sukkur in Sindh Province, Pakistan. The St Mary's Catholic Church and St Saviour's church of the Church of Pakistan were set alight. At least four other churches in Pakistan, as well as Christian schools, a college and a hospital were attacked in "revenge" for the publication of the cartoons.
By the end of February 2006, at least 50 people had died in Muslim violence around the world. The highest casualties came in the north of Nigeria, where Christians were indiscriminately attacked by Muslims.
Somewhat undermining the claims that Islam is a "religion of peace", specific death threats were issued against the cartoonists. In India a minister in Uttar Pradesh state offered a $12 million reward to anyone who beheaded one of the cartoonists. Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi, imam of the Mohabat Khan mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, offered a reward of 1.5 million rupees ($17,000) and a car to any person who killed one of the Danish cartoonists. Neither of these individuals was ever charged for inciting murder.
In May 2006, the one legged leader of the Pakistan Taliban in the region of North Waziristan, Abdullah Mehsud, announced that a group of 12 Islamists had been sent from Pakistan to go to Denmark to kill the cartoonists.
In the early hours of Tuesday, February 12, 2008, five people were arrested in Aarhus (Århus) in Denmark. Jakob Scharf, chief of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service PET (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste) claimed that the five arrests had been made to "prevent a murder linked to terrorism". Three Danes and two "foreigners" had been apprehended. Scharf said that the "clampdown occurred after a long period of surveillance."
The murder plot had involved 73-year old Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists. He had drawn the image of Mohammed with his turban morphing into a bomb. He, along with Franz Fuschel, had been the first cartoonist to have been issued with death threats in 2005. For more than a year, Westergaard and his 66-year old wife Gitte had been under police protection. They had been forced to move from one secret home to another.
In a statement posted on the website of Jyllands-Posten newspaper, Mr Westergaard wrote: "Of course I fear for my life after the Danish Security and Intelligence Service informed me of the concrete plans of certain people to kill me. However, I have turned fear into anger and indignation. It has made me angry that a perfectly normal everyday activity which I used to do by the thousand was abused to set off such madness. I could not possibly know for how long I have to live under police protection; I think, however, that the impact of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life. It is sad indeed, but it has become a fact of my life."
The two "foreigners" are Tunisian, states CNN. One of the three arrested Danes is aged 40. This man is a Danish national of Moroccan origins. He has been charged with a terrorist offense, and the two Tunisians are to be deported.
Lene Espersen, Denmark's justice minister said: "It is clear that suspicions about preparations of such a serious crime give rise to deep concern. The security service has not, however, deemed it necessary to raise the general threat level."
Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, said that he had been aware of an alleged plot for some time. He stated: "We are happy that the security services have acted."
Two years after Muslims ran amuck in protest at the cartoons, it seems that some people are still trying to murder in the name of Allah, over mere drawings.
The death plot against Kurt Westergaard is the latest tactic in a war that has been waged for at least 50 years. A statue of Mohammed the law-giver used to stand on the steps of the Manhattan Appellant Courthouse in New York. In the 1950s, after campaigning by Muslim nations, the sculpture was removed.
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has recently found itself inciting the wrath of Muslims. On its page entry on Mohammed, the founder of Islam is depicted. This has caused an online petition to be created, which claims to have gathered more than 130,000 names, calling for the picture to be removed.
The image, shown above, depicts Mohammed preaching from a pulpit. It was painted in the 15th century, and is now housed in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris. The painting was not intended to offend when it was created, and it is bizarre that now, more than five centuries after its creation, it should become a focus for anger.
As the Wikipedia entry states: "Figurative depictions of Muhammad were a significant part of late medieval Islamic art; however, such depictions were generally limited to secular contexts and to the elite classes who could afford fine art. The taboo on depictions of Muhammad was less stringent during the Ottoman Empire, although his face was often left blank."
So where is there prohibition of visual depictions of Mohammed? In truth, there are NO reputable Hadiths or passages in the Koran which specifically state this.
In the Hadiths of Imam Muslim, there are prohibitions against painters depicting ANY figure. Book 24, Number 5270 states: "Abdullah reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Verity the most grievously tormented people on the Day of Resurrection would be the painters of pictures. Ashajj (one of the narrators) in the hadith narrated by him did not make mention of the word 'verity'."
Imam Muslim's Book 24, Number 5271 states: "This hadith has been reported on the authority of Abu Mu'awiya through another chain of tranmitters (and the words are): 'Verity, the most grievously tormented people amongest the denizens of Hall on the Day of Resurrection would be the painters of pictures.' The rest of the hadith is the same."
Book 24, Number 5257 includes "The most grievously tormented people on the Day of Resurrection would be the painters of pictures," and "I am going to narrate to yor what I heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). I heard him say: All the painters who make pictures would be in the fire of Hell. The soul will be breathed in every picture prepared by him and it shall punish him in the Hell, and he (Ibn 'Abbas) said: If you have to do it at all, then paint the pictures of trees and lifeless things; and Nasr b. 'Ali confirmed it."
Bukhari stated in Vol 9, Book 87, Number 165 that: "and whoever makes a picture, will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and will be ordered to put a soul in that picture, which he will not be able to do." In Vol 9, Book 93, Numbers 646 and 647 is written: " Allah's Apostle said, "The painter of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, Make alive what you have created.' "
In Bukhari's Volume 5, Book 58, Number 213 Mohammed is told of a church in Ethiopia with pictures. Mohammed replied: "Those people are such that if a pious man amongst them died, they build a place of worship over his grave and paint these pictures in it. Those people will be Allah's worst creatures on the Day of Resurrection."
In Volume 8, Book 73, Number 130: " The Prophet entered upon me while there was a curtain having pictures (of animals) in the house. His face got red with anger, and then he got hold of the curtain and tore it into pieces. The Prophet said, 'Such people as paint these pictures will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection'."
Bukhari and Muslim are the only two sources of Hadiths that are universally regarded as "sahih" or authentic. From these, it appears that depictions of any living creature annoyed Mohammed.
The Koran, Sura 21, 53-54 states: "When he said unto his father and his folk: What are these images unto which ye pay devotion? They said: We found our fathers worshippers of them. He said: Verily ye and your fathers were in plain error."
Sura 42, verse 11 states: "The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He hath made for you pairs of yourselves, and of the cattle also pairs, whereby He multiplieth you. Naught is as His likeness; and He is the Hearer, the Seer." The BBC states that "the same is believed to apply to Muhammad".
No Muslim believes Mohammed is "the same" as Allah. But the Hadiths appear to warn against idolatry, and it is mainly for this reason that all images, and particularly images of Mohammed, have been forbidden at various times in the history of Islam.
In Iran there has been less outrage against depictions of Mohammed. Traditionally he has been shown in miniatures and tapestries, and until recently, poster images depicting a smiling Mohammed were available in Iranian market stalls.
The outrage against images of Mohammed has been predominantly the preserve of Sunnis. In Saudi Arabia, the writings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) are promoted, and disseminated to mosques and madrassas around the world. Only one full text remains from Wahhab, the Kitab at-Tawhid (Book of monotheism). For Wahhab, any reverence to a site, an individual or grave-marker is "shirk" (polytheism or idolatry).
As a result of such strict viewpoints, many archeological sites in Mecca and Medina have been deliberately destroyed by Wahhabi fanatics supported by the Saudi royal family. Signs are erected next to sites of pilgrimage, such as the Al-Nour cave where Mohammed first gained his prophecies, warning against idolatry.
If the Saudis, the Salafists and Islamists condemn images of Mohammed, they should also forbid photographs and video images, if their prophet claimed that the maker of such an image would be punished on Judgment Day. Al Qaeda representatives such as Zawahiri and bin Laden are actually defying the instructions of Mohammed when they appear on videos lecturing the world about its failure to follow "true" Islam.
How Muslims choose to depict themselves or their prophet is one issue. For Muslims to demand that the West should submit to their prejudices and phobias is another.
Western Artistic Traditions
The Renaissance revived the artistic and literary traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the Catholic Church used artistic depictions of the human form to represent both man and God. Depictions of Christ and incidents from his life have elevated Western art to a level never before achieved, where both divinity and humanity were simultaneously celebrated.
Since the Enlightenment, such traditions of "high art" have diminished, and the works of Andres Serrano ("Piss Christ") and others have featured Christ in a less than flattering light. Artists such as Felicien Rops in the 19th century depicted pornographic lithographs satirizing Christ's suffering on the cross. Though such works have been criticized, no modern artist has been threatened with death for insulting Christianity in painting or sculpture.
Modern artists have a carte blanche to shock, yet few will admit that they are too scared to take on Islam as subject matter. Grayson Perry, a British ceramic artist and former winner of the Turner Prize, has confessed: "I've censored myself. The reason I haven't gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat."
When the Tate Gallery withdrew a piece of art in September 2005 because it featured a Koran, a Bible and the Talmud, the artist was outraged. Conceptual artist John Latham called the management of the Tate gallery "cowards". The work was entitled "God is Great".
More cowardice ensued. The Barbican Theatre in London mounted a play by Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe, entitled "Tamburlaine the Great" in November 2005. Producer David Farr deliberately censored< parts of the play, for fear of offending Muslims. A scene where Tamburlaine said Mohammed was "not worthy to be worshipped" was snipped, as was his comment that Mohammed "remains in Hell". After burning copies of the Koran (deleted in the Barbican production), Tamburlaine states:
"Now Mahomet, if thou have any power,
Come down thyself and work a miracle.
Thou art not worthy to be worshipped
That suffers flames of fire to burn the writ
Wherein the sum of thy religion rests......
Well soldiers, Mahomet remains in hell;
He cannot hear the voice of Tamburlaine."
Western literature and art have portrayed Mohammed in Hell, following the example of Dante Aligheiri (1265 - 1321) and his book "The Divine Comedy". In the section entitled "Inferno" (Canto 28), Dante wrote:
"A cask by losing centre-piece or cant
Was never shattered so, as I saw one
Rent from the chin to where one breaketh wind.
Between his legs were hanging down his entrails;
His heart was visible, and the dismal sack
That maketh excrement of what is eaten.
While I was all absorbed in seeing him,
He looked at me, and opened with his hands
His bosom, saying: "See now how I rend me;
How mutilated, see, is Mahomet;
In front of me doth Ali weeping go,
Cleft in the face from forelock unto chin;
And all the others whom thou here beholdest,
Disseminators of scandal and of schism
While living were, and therefore are cleft thus."
This image of a disemboweled Mohammed inspired 19th century artist Gustav Dore to produce an illustration for Dante's work that still has a power to shock. It can be seen here. Artist and mystic William Blake depicted the same scene in a watercolor entitled "The Schismatics and Sowers of Discord: Mahomet." Since 1920, this painting has been housed in the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.
Salvador Dali depicted Mohammed in Hell in a bizarre illustration for Dante's masterwork, which was distributed in Paris by publishers Les Heures Claires in 1959. Dali also portrayed Mohammed receiving his visions in a work from 1963.
In 1911, Italian movie director Francesco Bertolini created an epic movie based on Dante's work. Entitled "L'Inferno", it features a naked Mohammed, with his modesty covered by his hanging guts. The movie can be viewed in its entirety here.
In April 2006, Italian magazine Studi Cattolica, which has loose links to Opus Dei, published a cartoon based on Dante's work. Three characters are shown looking into Hell. One says: ""That one split in half from his head to his rump is Mohammed?" Another says: "Yes, he is split because he brought division to society." The third character says: "While instead that other one with his pants down is Italian politics regarding Islam."
Dante Aligheiri's imagined scene of Mohammed, gutted like a fish and tormented in Hell, became featured in a fresco on the wall of Bologna Cathedral (above). The fresco was painted in the 15th century by artist Giovanni da Modena. Long before the issue of the Danish cartoons became notorious, Islamists tried to destroy the fresco on two separate occasions.
In June 2002, Italian paramilitary police foiled a plot to destroy the fresco. The plot came to light after phone conversations between North Africans with links to Al Qaeda were tapped.
In August 2002 another plot to destroy the Bologna fresco was thwarted. Four men of Moroccan origins were arrested. An Italian art historian, aged 55, was sponsoring the men, who had Italian work permits. The art historian appeared to support their plans to destroy the fresco.
I mentioned earlier on Family Security Matters that the political Muslim group CAIR had tried to have a bas-relief of Mohammed removed from the US Supreme Court. Here, Mohammed features as one of a long procession of law-givers. Created by Adolph A. Weinman in 1935, the image of Mohammed was regarded as blasphemous by CAIR. In 1997 the group petitioned Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to have the sculpture sandblasted or removed. Their request was denied.
On February 14, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death fatwa against author Salman Rushdie for his "blasphemy" contained in his book "The Satanic Verses". Though initially treated as an aberration, it now seems that the Rushdie case set a precedent. Though Rushdie has survived, his Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed to death in July 1991. His Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was stabbed in the same month but survived.
When documentary maker Theo van Gogh was butchered in an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004 after he made a documentary on Islam's poor treatment of women, a clear message was sent to the West. No longer would works of art be subject to Islamist complaint, but the artists themselves. Van Gogh's collaborator Ayaan Hirsi Ali has lived under police protection since the time of van Gogh's death. On Sunday, she told French weekly newspaper Dimanche that she wanted to seek naturalization in France, due to her fear of attack from Islamists. Geert Wilders was one of the individuals whose name appeared on a "hit list" pinned to van Gogh's chest with a knife. He too has lived under police protection since 2004, and has received death threats.
The case of the Danish artist Kurt Westergaard becoming subject to a real plot to kill him is a matter of serious concern. Islamists only have to kill a few people, and a whole culture is subsequently tyrannized and intimidated. Artists, writers and movie makers voluntarily engage in self-censorship.
The West is worth preserving, but only if it retains its principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. If the West loses that ability to speak freely, then its culture is eroded, and its soul diminished. Multiculturalists and appeasers can argue that they do not want to offend Muslims. But if they maintain this because they have not the backbone to admit that they are scared of Muslim extremists, the West will already have killed that which made it great, its spirit of inquiry and challenge that brought it out of the Dark Ages. Media figures and politicians who censor Western artists out of fear are no better than Quislings.
This article was also published at FamilySecurityMatters.org
Adrian Morgan is a British based writer and artist who has written for Western Resistance since its inception. He has previously contributed to various publications, including the Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.