Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Occident Mind, Orient Faith

Occident Mind, Orient Faith
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The worldwide protest by the Muslims against the caricature cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) suggests that the issue touches the emotional chord of the believers of the Islamic faith separated by the geographical boundaries of societies and nations. This is turning out to be an emotive issue that’s taking the world by storm. Islam prohibits drawing images of Allah and his messenger Prophet Mohammad and its followers consider such acts as sacrilege.

The cartoons first appeared a Danish newspaper last September and when attention was drawn towards the potential explosive material, the Danish government snubbed the Muslim representatives reasoning that it had no legal power to act against the media. The cartoon then surfaced in a Norwegian newspaper that trigged a wave of protest first in Arabia and then in other parts of the world. In retaliation, some newspapers in France, Germany and the Netherlands reprinted the cartoons, apparently to show solidarity towards the freedom of expression. This further inflamed the Muslim sentiments and reports of violence and deaths continue to pour in.

As the controversy rages on, three things emerge distinctively in this ongoing religion verses reason debate. A clash of two worldviews the social and the political role of religion.

What emerges in this controversy is a perceptible difference of worldviews between the occidental and oriental societies. The occidental societies take pride in superiority of mind over faith. In its view rationalism is the sheet anchor of life and material achievements the yardstick of success. In such societies nothing is infallible and sacrosanct. Those who don’t subscribe to this view are fundamentalist and dogmatic.

In contrast, in oriental societies where the pace of development is not so dramatic people adhered to what they believe. Religion provides a worldview that’s above individual and society, an answer to complex problem pertaining to ones existentialism. The mystical aura of religion to absorb the stress and strains of life attracts people not only to adore and obey it but also to jealously guard its infallible sanctity.

The clash of two worldviews clearly emerges from this controversy. The occidental worldview doesn’t believe in Full Stops to freedom expression, the oriental view makes distinction between scared and profane. The oriental views believe that if some do not respect their own revered characters, it does not give them the right to behave in the same fashion with the figures others that’s held sacrosanct.

If we see the cartoon protest in this background those feelings enraged by the cartoons seem justified. The caricatures are nothing but a blatant attempt to demystify the sacrosanct symbol of Islam. The protests are not really about cartoons but against those diabolic social designers who masquerade as liberals under garb of freedom of expression.

The motive of the innocuous looking caricatures is to create a north south divide, open up the closed debate of mind verses faith, and create disharmony in the world. The publishers want to communicate that the occident worldview is supreme and the legitimate prism through which the societies of the orient should negotiate their lives. A dictate, a fatwa from the liberal world.

In the debate of mind verses faith, popular theories of revolution and modernization had predicted inevitable decline of religion. However, the twenty-first century perspective suggests this to be nowhere in sight. This includes the communist countries where systematic destruction of religion was carried out. The summarization is that religion continues to energize the society since forces of modernization have failed to respond to the social needs.

In orient where is there is so much tension and turbulence every one needs God for personal security. Religion alone remains supremely integrating force, energizing the society to negotiate the complexities of life. It is this unstinted faith of the believers in the religion of Islam that’s being tarnished by those who sketched caricature cartoons. The reaction is the raising banners of protest.

Such kind of issues assumes political dimensions in the absence of any other rallying point to give vent to the pent up anger and frustration to a host of local, national and international issues. Since such issues touch the emotional chord, it becomes a vehicle to protest against the injustices being carried out blatantly in the world today.

The big picture in the protests is the pent up anger of the Muslims against America. The way Iraq is being handled and an action reply being planned for Iran, it has incensed those living in majority in 57 Muslim nations of the world. The macabre dance of death being perpetuated at Fallujahs, Abu Ghraibs is being resented through these cartoons protests.

At other locations, local and national issues take over the real issue. In Western Europe where large migrants have settled down, the cartoons protest is about racial discrimination, an assertion that such societies have to stop racial abuse and adjust with multiculturalism.

The demonstration in the Arab world is to rise against their rulers that have mortgaged their natural wealth to the West for exploitation. The Iraq and now Iran issues add up to the heat emboldened by the victory of Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The protest in Afghanistan is against the occupation of their country by foreign forces. In Southeast Asia and Africa, protests have regional and local undertones, a unifying force to fight against injustices in their societies.

What emerges from the whole controversy is that there exists a perceptible difference in worldviews between the societies of the occident and the orient. The demonstrations seem to convey that in the oriental societies religion prevails over individuals. It demonstrates that how such issue becomes a tool to demonstrate the societal discontentment.

The story of caricature cartoons suggests that tension and truculence continue to rule the roost in the world. The World Wars and nuclear holocaust has not deterred people to move away from conflicts. Human race have learnt little lessons to come to terms with each other.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. His email address is:


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