Saturday, February 11, 2006


Rana el-Khatib - Our Muslim Priorities

A Message From Beirut
By Rana el-Khatib

The now infamous offensive cartoons have created a snowball effect in the Muslim world. Everywhere, it seems, in Muslim circles, the Danish flag is being burned and stomped on. And in some places, mobs are taking to the streets and wreaking havoc within the vicinity of a Danish Embassy somewhere. The cartoons were offensive, insensitive and blasphemous for Muslims ­ of that there is no question. And Muslims have every right to voice their opinions against that sort of unabashed racist stereotyping - within reason. But while the Muslim world is up in arms over the cartoons, that same Muslim world, barring the relatively small number of voices here and there, remains deafeningly silent on other issues that should be of equal importance, like Iraq as one example. There are people in Iraq who are killing and maiming in the name of Islam - the very same Islam we vociferously defend when it is defaced by bigots.

Sure the Muslim world is upset at the offensive images. And sure there are riots on the streets. No one should have expected anything less. The insensitive, xenophobic attempts at humor, at the expense of Muslims worldwide, struck at the heart of Islam. For those perplexed, maybe even offended by the reaction of the Muslims, or who cannot get their mind around why the Muslims are so mad, they might want to consider a different scenario.

Had the subject of the cartoon depicted an exaggeratedly "Semitic" Moses donning a yarmulke and flying an F-16 with a Star of David glistening around his neck (to make certain there was no mistaking the race or religion) and bombing innocent humans below with a smug grin on his face, all hell would have broken loose only hours after the first copy hit the market. Jewish communities would have hung the newspaper, and anyone associated with it, out to dry. And long before the snowball would have gotten to the size that this one has, the paper, the entire country, and almost all of the citizens of Denmark, and Europe, would have been out on the streets demanding ­ at a minimum - an apology. And no one, in the name of "Freedom of Press", as some have done with the cartoons that have set the Muslim world ablaze, would have had the chutzpah to run them again in their newspapers to prove a point.

While the Muslim world's outrage, on this front, is completely understandable, it is glaring how, on other significant fronts, like Iraq, the Muslim world remains shamefully voiceless. The Muslim world may have stood up in an attempt to divert the plan to bomb Iraq back to the 12^th century by Mr. George Bush and his coalition forces in the months and weeks leading up to March of 2003, but they did it along with the rest of the world. Once the Americans got started, however, the entire world stood silent at the spectacle of international law gone amok at the expense of Iraq and its people. Maybe there was not much that anyone could have done by then except watch and hope for the best. But maybe we all could have done more.

Today, three years later, and as with every day in Iraq since the American led occupation, Iraqis are dying. They are not only dying at the hands of the coalition forces ­ the so-called enemy - but at the hands of Muslims ­ or people murdering in the name of Islam. Iraq has gone to hell ­ its seams long undone and the ripple effect threatening the stability of the entire region. And the Muslim world at large is sitting back on its haunches watching ­ no demonstrations, no nothing, only frustrations at the rape of Iraq by the West. There is hardly any mention of the bludgeoning of humans in the name of Islam.

When the subject does come up, however, many Muslims conveniently pull out the worn-out, overused, throw-the-blame-elsewhere, conspiracy theories. We blame everyone for our realities ­ Israel, America, etc. but do not stand up to our own ­ hold ourselves accountable for what we are, or are not, doing. And while we are busy hurling our accusations at everyone but ourselves, someone is killing innocent humans - fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, sons and daughters ­ unabated in Iraq and hiding behind the cloak of Islam and behind dark, ominous, cowardly masks.

No reason is good enough or can justify the murders of the innocent. So where does the Muslim majority stand on all this? Why are we not out on the streets en masse, demonstrating peacefully to show the world that we do not endorse murder ­ we are above the fray and that Islam strongly condemns murder as one of the most unforgivable of human crimes? Instead, the Muslim world does not seem to bat an eye lash ­ maybe the odd tear but not an eyelash. We do little to stop the madness, to hold Muslims either accountable for their egregious acts of violence against other innocent humans, or defend Islam and its tenets to those who do not know.

Something is very wrong if we have this much energy, and we have proven that we can stand up for what we believe to be wrong, but we cannot stand up to murder in the name of Islam by so-called Muslims. Instead, we find excuses ­ "But it's the occupation",

The Prophet Mohammad tolerated trash being thrown on him as he prayed and he refused to respond with violence. He was opposed to any form of retaliation unless it was in self-defense and was absolutely necessary. And even then, there were guiding principles of war that included only targeting those in combat and nothing else ­ not even the trees surrounding a warring area. Today, however, in the name of Islam, daily human and other life is snuffed, and we in the Muslim world choose silence over dissent.

The Muslim world needs to re-evaluate its priorities before the face of Islam is permanently hijacked by the ignorant and hopes for a revival in an Islamic renaissance lost forever.

Rana El Khatib is an author and poet living in Lebanon.
She can be reached at

order her book of poetry


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