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Liberal Muslims in Norway Call for Free Speech Demonstration

I didn’t know that liberal Muslims in Norway had finally managed to form their own group -- which goes by the name LIM -- though it has been known for a while that some gutsy efforts have been made in this direction. For I am in no doubt that there are liberal Muslims in Norway -- in fact, I am less in doubt about this than I was a few years ago. Indeed there seem to be more and more of them. To this I say, with hope, "Hurrah!" At the same time, I believe that it is the less liberal Muslims, and especially the criticism that has been directed at them (and for their failure on this score, most of the media should be ashamed of themselves), that have gotten more and more Muslims to declare themselves liberal. Not that I think all "liberal Muslims" will be able to be brought together in a single group: they’re too diverse for that. But I am pleased to see that the hegemony of the illiberal Muslims is finally being broken.

Since the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 Islam-related cartoons in 2005, the debate has been loud and long, if not very broad, as to whether it should be permitted to caricature and criticize the prophet Muhammed and Islam. On one side are those who defend such publication on the basis of freedom of speech and the possibility that such criticism might contribute to the development of Islam; on the other side are those who argue that such publication wounds and insults the world’s approximately 1.5 billion Muslims. I belong to the first group and have never understood what seems to me an idée fixe -- namely, that somebody’s claim to have been offended should be taken to apply to all of the Muslims in the world. Case in point: the editor in chief of the online newspaper Nettavisen, Gunnar Stavrum, who, under the headline "Is It Brave to Offend Muslims?,” asked his readers whether Nettavisen should publish the Muhammed cartoons. So far Stavrum has received 325 replies -- and a quick perusal of them suggests that the readers feel that Nettavisen, and all other media that report on stories relating to the Muhammed cartooons, should publish the drawings they’re writing about. And not because it’s brave to offend Muslims, but because it is totally misguided to believe that such publication offends all Muslims. Indeed, to believe this is to offend Muslims.

It was not wrong that the cartoons of Muhammed were published, and in any case this doesn’t justify violence.  Muslims have as much interest in defending freedom of speech as anyone else.  Therefore Muslims should also support Kurt Westergaard.

So says Shakil Rehman, spokesman for the LIM (which stands for the Norwegian words for Equality, Integration, Diversity), to the newspaper Klassekampen. Rehman is hoping for a reaction from the Islamic Council of Norway (IRN) after one of the Muhammed cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, was attacked with an ax in his home on New Year’s Day. The LIM has challenged the IRN to arrange a demonstration in support of free speech. If the IRN doesn’t do so, the LIM will:

I’m afraid that they won’t take up our challenge, because they don’t want to lose face in the Muslim world. But if they support freedom of speech, they must also be able to show that they mean it in practice.

In all likelihood, Rehman’s suspicions that the IRN will give its proposal a thumbs-down are correct, precisely for the reason he mentions. Of course the IRN would lose face in "the Muslim world" -- namely, in that world that is qualified to control and direct how the world’s Muslims should conduct themselves. Moreover, if they held such a demo, they would be giving up their most important tool -- namely, the assertion that they have been offended.