Around 900 years ago, back in the days when most of Europe was lost in the Dark Ages, the then-deranged Muslim ruler of Jerusalem decided to tear down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He was quickly deposed, and the Church hastily rebuilt at Muslim expense. The Muslims apologised.
It was too late. Within a few months, reports of similar attacks on Christian pilgrims and symbols in Palestine had spread across Europe. Pope Urban II seemed powerless to respond. He was more concerned with corruption within the Vatican (much of it his own doing), and with the presence of other allegedly false competing claimants to the Pontiff’s throne.
The Pope's “solution” to the internal crisis was to seek a diversion. He declared the first crusade. Historians agree that in leading this battle, the then-Pontiff was less interested in defending the honour of Christ or Jerusalem than in shoring up his own power and diverting attention away from crises within the Church.
Hardly 900 years later, the tables have turned. This time it is mainly Muslim leaders who are embroiled in corruption and scandal. The generals, emirs, kings and presidents-for-life that rule most Muslim-majority states (usually with the help of their Western patrons) have failed to effectively deal with the poverty, illiteracy and other economic and social ills too numerous to list here.
Today these rulers are also seeking a diversion. One obscure neo-Conservative Danish newspaper appears to have provided it. What they have also proven is that perhaps Muslims are in the midst of their own Dark Age.
In the past few weeks, two bastions of Middle Eastern liberty and democracy - Libya and Saudi Arabia - have withdrawn ambassadors from Denmark. In many Muslim countries, Danish goods are being boycotted.
In my birthplace of Karachi, frenzied Pakistanis hit the streets with protests that did more damage to the Pakistani economy than to anyone in Denmark. Don’t these people have work to do and mouths to feed? Then again, some of these men (Pakistani women have more important matters to attend to) will protest each time they think a Pakistani batsman is given out “lbw” unfairly.
And across the Arab world, supermarkets have removed Danish goods from their shelves. Recently, a Syrian Muslim rabble decided that the best way to defend the honour of their Prophet was to attack and burn embassies of at least three European countries. In Gaza, with Israel ready to cut the fiscal umbilical cord, Palestinian gunmen seem content to bite one of the few hands that feeds them by occupying and threatening workers at the headquarters of the European Union.
Had someone unaware of the cartoons viewed the response, they might think Denmark has invaded Bosnia or Iran and was unjustly occupying its territory. They might think Danish settlements replaced Israeli ones popping up in various places across the West Bank. Or perhaps the Danish Government had passed laws banning girls from wearing headscarves in schools.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, an obscure privately-owned newspaper in Denmark published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. One cartoon apparently showed the Prophet standing at the pearly gates of heaven in much the same way as St Peter in the Catholic tradition. Another portrayed the Prophet’s turban as a bomb.
The cartoons were first published in the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. Most people living in Muslim countries would probably be unable to pronounce the paper’s name, let alone having heard of it.
And so today, I and many other Muslims feel compelled to stand up and be counted. To defend the honour of a man I grew up to regard as a Prophet.
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