Nonviolence is the Response to Hate Cartoons


Dr. Abbas Aroua – TRANSCEND Media Service

In the last weeks we have seen a resurgence of Islamic-Western tensions around the seeming opposition between freedom of expression and respect for religious symbols. We hoped that the unfortunate episode of the cartoons “Muhammeds ansigt” (Face of Mohammed) published on 30 September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the violent reaction in some cities of the Muslim world demonstrated to all parties how both provocation and the violent reaction to it can threaten world peace.

The quasi non-violent way was treated the case of the film “Fitna” (Discord) published on the Internet on 27 March 2008 by Dutch extreme right politician Geert Wilders comforted us in this hope.

But the webcast at the beginning of this month of the film “Innocence of Muslims” and the publication on 19 September 2012 by the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo of cartoons on Prophet Muhammad and the anger and violent demonstrations provoked in some Muslim countries indicate that, unfortunately, the lesson has not been retained from the previous episode.

The attitudes and behaviors in the West vis-à-vis Islam which are perceived negatively in the Muslim world may be classified into seven categories:

1) Islam criticism, that is to say the questioning and evaluation of Islamic values from Western referential, this being motivated by the West’s perception of a conflict (real or imagined) between Western and Islamic values. It is an intellectual and rational critique that is of the realm of methodology;

2) Anti-Islamism, which is the opposition to the interference of Islam (and religion in general) in the political sphere, which is of the order of politology;

3) “Anti-Islam”-ism, which is the rejection of Islam based on dogmatic religious ground; this is about theology;

4) Islamophobia, or the fear and the irrational prejudice towards Islam and Muslims. The ignorance of the other, the lack of communication and the “collective  injuries”, new and old, unhealed because untreated and ignored, are the main causes of this fear; this is the realm of psychology;

5) Islamo-racism, where Muslims in the West as seen as an invasive alien “race”, which justifies their discrimination and even persecution; this is the realm of ideology.

For these five categories, the best approach is dialogue, be it intellectual, political or religious, and exchange to dissipate fears.

There are however two other categories where dialogue and exchange may be ineffective.

6) Provocation of Muslims; it is a vicious attitude and aggressive behavior towards Muslims, of the order of pathology.

To this, the only effective remedy is ignorance and indifference.

7) Manipulation of Muslims, that is to say the malicious and opportunistic induction of the so-called Islamic violence to serve personal or collective goals, political or economic, which is about strategy. In this category, the best approach is ignorance or non-violent reaction, because violence only reinforces the instigators in their strategy.

The film “Innocence of Muslims” and the Charlie Hebdo cartoons seem to fit into the latter category, although the authors want to “sell” them as contributions necessary for the defense of artistic freedom and freedom of expression.

Some political analysts have noted that the cartoons follow an opportunistic and purely commercial logic to boost the declining sales of the French weekly, while the film hides politicking goals related to the presidential election campaign in the United States, the Israel-USA tensions on Iran, and the willingness of some parties, individuals and groups, to undermine the dynamics of emancipation ongoing in the Arab world since last year.

The violence that followed the release of the film, including the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and the death of diplomats, was widely condemned around the world, especially in the Arab and Muslim world. Was also condemned the violence directed by the filmmakers towards millions of Muslims. In the joint statement by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States and the Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, published on 20 September 2012, the four regional organizations declared that they share “the anguish of Muslims at the production of the film insulting Islam”. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, declared on 14 September 2012, that “the film is malicious and deliberately provocative and portrays a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims”, and added “I fully understand why people wish to protest strongly against it, and it is their right to do so peacefully”. In France, however, for Manuel Vals, minister of the Interior, it was necessary to suspend this right by forbidding Muslims to protest peacefully in French cities, in order to preserve public order. This prohibition will exasperate sectarian tensions in France, as France’s Muslim population do not understand why the minister Vals did not suspend also the right to publish the cartoons in order to preserve the same public order.

The debate is far from closed on the balance to find between the defense of freedom of expression and the respect of religious symbols, between the right to criticize everything and the right not to be insulted, and on the boundary to set in order to distinguish between the expression of art and the expression of hatred. The UN Council of Human Rights has struggled to pass in March 2011, after months of debate, resolution 16/18, which calls in consensual terms for a coordinated action at national and international levels so that some rights and freedoms are not misused to undermine other rights and freedoms. In this debate, often passionate, many forget that the supreme values overarching all others are peace and the sacred life of the innocent soul. They are the ones who set the limits of the various rights and freedoms.


Abbas Aroua is a medical physicist and adjunct professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the Lausanne University, Switzerland. He is director of the Cordoba Foundation of Geneva for Peace Studies and Convener for the Arab world for TRANSCEND-A Network for Peace, Development and Environment.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Oct 2012.

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2 Responses to “Nonviolence is the Response to Hate Cartoons”

  1. kyoko okumoto says:

    hi dear Abbas! thank you so much for your analysis… very interesting and i am learning since i also see quite a big hate/predujice dynamics here in the east asia… thanks again and again! warmly, kyoko.

  2. satoshi says:

    A well-presented and very thoughtful article.

    The “hatred cartoons” are some of the products of the contemporary Western society, resulted from Westerners’ ignorance and misunderstanding of Islam. Ignorance and misunderstanding tend to create hatred among people.

    Although Islam has its history of some 1,500 years, Islam is both a “new” religion and a “new” culture for ordinary or common Westerners who encounter Islam “in their everyday life”.

    Nearly 2,000 years ago, when Romans encountered the-then newly emerged religion, Christianity, they persecuted Christians harshly. What are Western Christians doing to Muslims nowadays? When people encounter other people who have something different, the former persecute – regardless of any forms of persecutions, from any kinds of physical violent forms to non-physical violent forms (such as insult, discrimination, ostracism, etc.) – the latter. Is this persecution one of the stages toward the acceptance? (Three stages: “alienation”, “persecution”, and finally “acceptance/worship”?) Perhaps, the Western society is in one of the these stages toward the (future) complete acceptance of Islam in the Western society. (The term “acceptance” here in this context is used the mental or emotional sense, not the legal sense. Needless to say, Islam is legally accepted in Western countries (although the way its acceptance may sometimes cause problems in some countries). But it is still debatable whether Westerners have accepted Islam in the mental or emotional sense.)

    To respond to hatred with nonviolence is right. But to respond to hatred with nonviolence, forgiveness and love is even better, ideal and possible (although it is not very easy to do so). It is because hatred is overcome by nonviolence, forgiveness and love. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Hatred can be overcome only by love.” Probably, his “love” includes nonviolence and forgiveness as well.

    One of the aspects of the essence of nonviolence is this: Nonviolence does not protect you from your enemy’s violence. “But nonviolence protects your enemy from your (possible) violence.” You protect your enemy (from your possible violence). It does not matter that you protect your enemy from who’s violence. Anyway, you protect your enemy from someone’s (possible) violence. If this is not love, what is it?

    Koran teaches as follows: “It may be that God will ordain love between you and those whom you hold as enemies. For God has power over all things; and God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Koran 60.7.)

    For your reference and information:

    OSCE Hate Crime Laws: A practical guidelines

    Hate crime laws are nothing wrong. (Nonetheless, it is regrettable that such laws are still necessary in this 21st Century.) But I believe that it is essential to promote more love, forgiveness and understanding of Islam in minimizing the rate of hate crimes. If the goal of hate crime laws is to eradicate hate crimes or to minimize the number of hate crimes, it is ineffective to prepare hate crime laws without promoting love, forgiveness and understanding of Islam.

    Didn’t “Christianity” (= the religion of the author of the cartoons and of the publisher of the Danish newspaper) promote love? Did the cartoons and that newspaper promote love, hatred, something else or nothing at all? The author knows the answer. The publisher knows the answer. The readers know the answer.

    Meanwhile, the author, the publisher and the readers may raise questions on the freedom of expression. In this regard, it can be said that Prof. Galtung’s recent editorial “Freedom of Expression = Freedom to Insult?” may inspire discussions on this issue because his editorial contains significant implications.