, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 03/02/2006 7:19 AM | Opinion
Benny YP Siahaan, Jakarta
Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses (1989) describing Prophet Muhammad in a disgracing way, instigated a Muslim uproar and a death fatwa from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. The book was banned in many countries.
Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code (2003), which postulates that Jesus had a son from Mary Magdalene, is an open assault to Christians. The reaction to that included a series of public offensives by Roman Catholic priests and book publishing to deflate and debunk the Da Vinci Code's fictions. Nonetheless, the book is still seeing brisk sales.
The Jews showed their objections during the making of Mel Gibson's movie about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ since they were afraid it would re-ignite anti-Semitism among Christians. Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, was killed by a Moroccan migrant for his movie Submission, which depicts Islam in a manner seen as disrespectful by some.
In March 2005, French Bishops won a court case against Marithe et Francois Girbaud, a French clothing company for its billboards depicting skinny models posing as Jesus Christ and the Apostles in the Last Supper scene.
In Indonesia, author Dewi Lestari and Dewa rock group were the subjects of protests by Hindu and Muslim activists, respectively, since the covers of their book and album were considered defamatory. Both artists were forced to alter their material to suit the protesters.
The most recent, and most striking, incident of this kind has been the satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad published by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and subsequently reproduced in other media, have created a furor in most of the Muslim world, including Turkey, arguably the most liberal of predominantly Muslim countries. The reactions to the satire range from pressure by governments, death threats and Danish product boycotts to both peaceful and violent demonstrations.
Indeed, the insulting of religious symbols and the reactions to the insults have become commonplace in recent decades. Interestingly, most of these incidents have taken place in Western countries. More importantly, we can see also from the above epitomes that there is a particular pattern of action and reaction from these incidents.
Therefore, the seriousness of this saga is interesting to observe, since at least it poses a question as to why it is happening. However, much has been written to answer this question, but most are just superficial answers.
The subsequent logical question is whether it would create further antagonism between Muslims and Christians or Islamic tradition versus Judeo-Christian tradition (since Western countries are widely considered as the Christianity and Judaism stronghold). To answer the questions, let us take a look at this phenomenon in a greater depth.
Prior to Samuel Huntington's thesis on clash of civilizations and seemingly substantiated by the Sept. 11 incident, I am of the view that, due to the advances in technology and scientific research, religion will become a dwindling cultural force. However, rather than agreeing fully with Huntington, I agree more with Karen Armstrong, in one of her seminal works the Battle for God (2000) that the opposite has proven to be true.
Thus, this is not about a clash of civilizations. This is only a clash between ideologies that rest in a changing society where secularism, materialism and hedonism have become an ideology. Indeed, what really happens at present is a cross-fire of an ideological-war between the two extremes.
One group thinks that they found the truth while the other thinks that the truth can never be found or the truth is there is no truth. In other words, this is a conflict between people who declare ""this is what I believe"" and the people who declare ""why do I believe this?""
However, it is not only Muslims that now face difficult times in Western Europe. Christians and Christianity seem to be in a more distressing and ironic situation. They have to face the reality that churches are now empty and Christianophobia reigns on the continent where Christianity became what it is today (Newsweek, March 28, 2005). For example, the European Parliament rejected Rocco Buttiglione, a devout Roman Catholic politician and philosopher, from becoming the EU's Justice Commissioner after he declared homosexuality to be a sin.
In this kind of society, Christian clergymen may be sentenced for what they believe is wrong according to their scripture. For example, in February 2005, a pastor was put on trial in Sweden and charged with agitation against homosexuals after condemning their lifestyle during a sermon. Even sadder, churches sometimes have to appease this kind of ideology and took a repugnant stand such as what the Anglican church did by allowing an openly gay priest to become a bishop. The reaction for this was severance threats from Anglican Churches outside Western Europe particularly in Africa.
Nonetheless, the Jyllands-Postens incident shows us that religion has become a force that no government can ignore, including the most secular.
If that is the case, the most important question then is how do w deal with it?
Pointing out each others' ""irrationality"" between religious ideology and Western scientific materialism-secularist ideology only fuels more antagonism. Indeed, as Amstrong and others theorize, halting the accusations, name-calling and other defaming acts, combined with more efforts towards dialog, are ways to negate the mutual animosity. In this regard, it is important to nurture a tradition to seek first to understand, then to be understood. And it takes two to tango.
The writer is an Indonesian diplomat and an alumnus of Tsukuba University in Japan. The views reflected in this article are his own.