PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Feb. 6 (UPI) — Annoyed. Insulted. Embarrassed. These are the words of Arabic and Asian diplomats, many of them friends of mine. They are words not directed toward the west. They are words directed towards their own people.
While agreeing that the cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten were considerably off taste and insulting, most diplomats and government officials who have spoken to me (on condition of anonymity) have been remarkably even handed in their comments.
A ranking Pakistani diplomat with whom I had an extended discussion noted that violently anti-Semitic cartoons are depicted and viciously racist captions regularly broadcast from the Arabic speaking world. He noted that even as the Danes were being attacked, several Arabic papers and commentators brought the “dominated by Zionist entities” mantra to diatribe against Jewish people in the wake of the cartoon publications. Comments have not been limited to attacks on Judaism and Israel, there have been considerable bigoted comments against Christianity as well.
A Jordanian Ambassador was clearly taken aback when I showed him cartoons from his countries own papers depicting Jews as Nazi’s, and Christians as murderers of Arabic children. Married to a European, he grimaced as he stated, “I have obviously been away my from home and culture for some time.”
It is probably not altogether shocking that the most extreme responses to the cartoons are in countries which are amongst the least democratic and most intolerant.
It is a regrettable axiom that the Middle-Eastern Islamic countries generally have a poor democratic record — few freedoms, virtually no civil rights and are often oppressive.
Even those with a modicum of democracy — Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan — often fail democratic standards. Lebanon was once nearly a democracy, and is trying hard again. Jordan hovers somewhere in the middle. Even the smaller Gulf States — Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the Emirates — have democracy more by default than by conviction. Other countries needn’t be mentioned, they fall completely off the scale. The Islamic Republics of the former Soviet Union are generally dictatorships and clearly as draconian as their Middle-Eastern brethren.
In Asia, Muslim countries have a better track record, albeit a sporadic one.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has had regular glimpses of democracy, even stability, but has often fallen short, but is attempting a come-back. This is also true for Malaysia. Brunei is a wonderful monarchy, stable, peaceful, and certainly open and welcoming, but could not be defined a classic democracy — and maybe acceptable in this specific case. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world — which most people are not aware of, and most would consider India democratic.
The most recognized examples of Muslim (or quasi-Muslim) Republics are Turkey and Pakistan. Turkey has consistently been a friend of the United States, NATO and Israel, and I support Turkey’s place in the European Union. Pakistan is a quagmire, but a proud country — one which has often stood with the United States at great expense to its own security and stability. But each has had notable lapses of democratic principles and practices.
Some 1,000 years ago, Christendom moved thru the planet on its crusade. Some would argue it left mostly death and destruction in its wake. In the name of “spreading the faith” it spread as much war as peace, more famine than health, more instability than stability. At the time, Christianity was more enlightened than Paganism, but it would not have been considered more enlightened than Islam. Islam produced laws, mathematics, medicine and a host of societal benefits.
Yet, over time, these benefits have subsided to political regimes which abuse a faith with a proud tradition, while Christianity has developed and modernized along with the democratic countries in which it plays a fundamental role.
In May 2001, the Prague Society and Global Panel Foundation brought together 22 former Foreign Ministers to Prague. They had all been in office at the fall of communism. Their goal: to assess the 10 years since the fall and to brainstorm the future. Abdullah Ensour of Jordan recommended an ambitious project focusing on the interaction of Muslims and non-Muslims.
In October 2002, in a twist of fate, though planned before the 9/11 terror attacks, leaders representing Muslims and non-Muslim gathered in Prague to develop a framework for interaction in Europe. A joint statement signed at the time including, Yossef Bodansky, Baroness Cox, Boris Pankin, Yousif al-Khoei, Roger Errera, Fathi Marie and Barbara Day summarized:
that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights offered a framework for concrete responses;
that respect for these fundamental principles should underpin all social, educational and economic policies of European governments;
that it was important that freedom of religion, conscience and expression, as well as of tolerance for individuals and communities govern public policy;
and that European nations, including Muslim minorities, need to confront radical militant fundamentalism and terrorism for the common good and future of all Europeans.
Two things I know for sure. The principles are as right today as then, and political Islam must be stopped at its core.
Marc S. Ellenbogen is President of the Prague Society