“Je Suis Mohammed”?

Last night’s SBS TV news carried a brief report of protests in Muslim dominant countries in the Middle East and Africa against the first version of the French satirical magazine since a number of its staff were killed by Islamic gunmen. Some details are in the SBS report below, although it does not include the one with a protester holding a placard showing “Je Suis Mohammed” – a kind of “I can do what you are doing too” response.

In reality, such Muslim communities are continuing to take the view that the mere portrayal of Mohammed is a provocative attack on their religion. Although there are exceptions in Australia, the leader of one prominent Muslim community here (the Islamic Council of Victoria)  has responded in a similar fashion, adding that he agreed with the view expressed by the Pope that while he believes in freedom of speech there are limits.

“You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” (see Pope on Muslim Religion).

Pope Francis’s also added a comment that an insult is worth a punch. This could be interpreted as justifying violent action by Muslims. It is certainly unhelpful in identifying and rejecting the problems which exist in the interpretations by a significant group of Muslims, including in particular the imams, that justify jihadism. It reinforces my view that Western governments need urgently to issue a statement on Western values which rejects the acceptance in our countries of sharia law and associated aspects.

Unfortunately, there appears little chance of any such statement. To date the main reaction of European countries to the Paris Killings appears to be to tighten surveillance and bring out the troops. In both France and Belgium (which unlike France managed to stop an imminent terrorist attack) significant numbers of troops are supplementing police forces in a reaction that could be interpreted as a defence, directly particularly for Jewish people and institutions, against a threatened war from some of its own citizens. But can this protective “strategy” that be sustained ?

Reports also indicate that numerous charges have been made in the two countries (and in Germany and Holland) against suspected terrorists. But  this more stringent approach is unlikely to stop  jihadists for whom self-death is an object when the governments involved continue to declare unequivocally that Islam is part of the country.

Nor is there any optimism to be obtained from developments in the US: indeed if anything the opposite.

As indicated in the article Obama On Islam, it appears that the US Administration is unable even to say publicly that the Paris Killings reflected “Radical Islam”. Indeed, the  text of the White House press secretary seems almost incomprehensible.

Of greater concern is the Press Conference by Obama and Cameron in Washington on January 16 US time.

Obama left it to Cameron to announce a one sentence joint inquiry into how the two countries could best combat “domestic violent extremism”. One wonders why these two countries need to have such an inquiry on their own before the summit in February. The exact text of Cameron’s remarks was

“ We face a poisonous and fanatical ideology that wants to pervert one of the world’s major religions, Islam, and create conflict, terror and death. With our allies, we will confront it wherever it appears. In Iraq, the U.K. is the second largest contributor to the anti-ISIL coalition. RAF aircraft have conducted over 100 strikes and will continue to play a leading role. We will deploy additional intelligence and surveillance assets to help Iraqi forces on the ground, and we will ensure they are better trained and equipped to counter explosive devices. But most important of all, we must also fight this poisonous ideology starting at home. In the U.K., we’re passing a law so that every public body must combat extremism. And this morning, we have agreed to establish a joint group to identify what more we can do to counter the rise of domestic violent extremism, and to learn from one another”.

Obama’s main contribution to the conference seemed to be to say that a security crackdown is not sufficient and action is also needed in Europe to better assimilate Muslim minorities. According to Obama, US Muslims “feel they are Americans”. This rather contradicted Cameron’s complaint that many Muslims fail to integrate even though they have received good treatment from the countries in which they are now living.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on his visit to Paris that he wanted to give his French friends a big hug. That seems about as far as the US will go.

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