Diversity as an Instrument of Conflict

In the context of discussing the cultural and societal diversity of Europe, I have noticed two general trends. On one hand, there are those who praise diversity, and try to put it at the core of both internal and external policy in some sort of attempt to radicalize the concept. And, there are those who accept and respect diversity without exalting the particularities of this or that group. Therefore, while we are all different as individuals, and as groups, the premise is that we do share identical interests (at the very least, security and economic prosperity) that can — or as some say — should persuade us to peacefully coexist. This assumption takes into consideration what we would only have to lose in a state of conflict, distrust and possibly, war.

These trends are direct consequences of the social, economic, and political conditions of today's society, in addition to the rise of radical Islam worldwide, and the crisis of identity within Muslim immigrant groups living in Western Europe.

The widely debated cartoon controversy started with 12 sketches depicting Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten last September. Five months later, Imam Ahmed Abu Laban brought a dossier of cartoons to Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, and sent word to all the other Arab and Muslim countries about what he considered to be an insult from the West towards Islam.

Abu Laban's infamous lobby against Denmark led to hostile protests in Europe, and quite savage ones in certain Muslim and Arab countries. As in most cases, the Muslim world ignored the apologies and reacted disproportionately by burning flags, buildings, and by carrying placards with outrageous messages like, 'Hell with democracy,' and 'Behead those who insult Islam.' These placards were carried in London, not in some faraway land untouched by Western civilization.

In Islam it is forbidden to paint or sculpt Prophet Mohammed. This is not because Islam is against the arts, but at the time of its founding people were worshipping huge statues, or elements of nature, such as the sun, fire, trees, etc. The rule was put in effect to prevent people from going back to worshipping these kinds of deities, but then it became a tradition. While I can understand, accept, and respect the rules of the Muslim communities, the cartoons in question were not pictures of the Prophet, they were caricatures. I, and many others, consider caricatures to be a form of satire. Often satire mocks our hypocrisy, ignorance, or naiveté in various matters. It is not meant to offend our principles or our values as humans, it is rather a way of pointing out our wrongdoings so that next time we think twice before acting. One may not approve the message that the cartoons carried, but that could have been easily condemned and dismissed without violence and without threats. Furthermore, the threats were proffered in the name of Islam, making it all the more serious and dangerous.

In all, Muslim countries have allowed a culture to blossom which rejects freedom of thought, self-analysis, and criticism. Islam itself has degenerated into a very blunt weapon in the hands of people who are buried in the distant past. They are not able to understand why they cannot recapture the past glories of the Ummah, thus they see the West as a convenient scapegoat to blame for their failures and lack of adaptability to the 21st century.

The real issue at stake is not censorship versus freedom, but something much deeper: the need to recognize the real essence of the West, namely its liberalism, freedom, individualism, free markets, and the right to free and open debate. Beside a few standard principles, which may differ from one group to another (but for the sake of the argument, let's say that we can agree upon several principles as the most important ones to protect, and follow), everything else is questionable.

We have come to 'relativize' the Christian and secular values (part of the post-Christendom European society) because of our eagerness not only to tolerate, but also to put on a pedestal the cult of diverseness. It seems that was a mistake. When everything is relative, there is no limit, and fundamentalism barges in.

Over the years, the Islamists have shown interest only in the free markets while retaining the belief that independent thinking is heresy. Some are still deluding themselves by thinking that, instead of looking at our differences (since this seems to be the problem), we should focus on our common values. It sounds great in theory, but is hollow in practice. What we (I am referring to non-Muslims) and the Islamists lack is essentially the kinship of common values.

The Islamite's hypocrisy goes further when they call Jews 'monkeys' and 'pigs,' and ask their believers to kill them. The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about the cartoons, "Now in the West insulting the prophet is allowed, but questioning the Holocaust is considered a crime. We ask, why do you insult the prophet? The response is that it is a matter of freedom, while in fact they (who insult the founder of Islam) are hostages of the Zionists. And the people of the U.S. and Europe should pay a heavy price for becoming hostages to Zionists."

The cartoon riots proved that many unassimilated Muslims can be easily manipulated by fundamentalist clerics and sheikhs to view themselves as part of a good versus evil struggle, where there is very little (if any) room for a permanent compromise.

The Telegraph reported that during the demonstrations in London (also referred to as Londostan by Pakistani British Muslims), the protestors shouted "Allahu Aqbar (God Is Great)," and carried placards with slogans such as, "Free Speech Equals Cheap Insults," "Rudeness, Slander, Disrespect: Is This Freedom Of Speech?," "Leave Muslims alone," "Freedom is hypocrisy," and "Butcher those who insult Islam."

Is this the way to celebrate our diversity and mutual acceptance?

John Gray, author of "Two Faces of Liberalism," proposes a 'modus vivendi' for peaceful coexistence. Within this framework, liberal institutions function to maximize our profits. In this specific case, the liberal way of life does not represent an ideal in itself, but rather a means to an end.

Toleration did not quite work in Europe, and U.S. attempts to export the liberal model to Muslim and Arab countries had the opposite effect. This modus vivendi supposes a compromise — live and let live. It can work, if all the parties involved share the same goal — to peacefully coexist, side by side. But it fails as soon as we discover that because we are so different, we do not have the same goals.

Samuel P. Huntington began his widely read and commented upon essay, "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural." He further wrote, "With the end of the Cold War, international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its centerpiece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations." ("The Clash of Civilizations," Samuel P. Huntington, Foreign Affairs. Summer 1993, Council on Foreign Relations)

While Europe prides itself on its freedom, technology, and military superiority, its response to the arbitrary, and sometimes state-sponsored violence against our identity and interests has been disappointing.

Those who have a problem with the West's policies are free to return to the comforts and freedoms of their homelands. Our political correctness and veneration of multiculturalism has put us in the absurd position of having to tolerate the intolerable. It is worrisome that the Muslims living in our midst did not understand that we have run away from dictatorship and fascism, and that we are not about to welcome it under the guise of Islamic law. It is as simple as that.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Manuela Paraipan.