Former US President Bill Clinton visited Pakistan a week ago. A few days after Danish police arrested three young Muslim men who were plotting to kill 73-year old cartoonist Kurt Westergaard Clinton said to Pakistani tv:
“I strongly disagree with both the creation and publication of cartoons that were considered blasphemous to devout Muslims around the world because they depicted the Prophet. And I thought it was a mistake. I had no objection to Muslims throughout the world demonstrating their convictions in a peaceful way. But I thought it was also a great opportunity, which I fear has been squandered, to build bridges, because I can tell you that most people in the United States deeply respect Islam – it is the fastest growing religion in America – as do most people in Europe, and most people in Denmark. We live in societies where people are free to say the wrong things as well as the right things, but I would not be surprised if the person who drew those cartoons and the newspaper publisher who decided to print them did not even know that it was considered by Muslims to be blasphemous to have any kind of personal depiction of the Prophet.”
Not a word of condemnation of the murder plot against the Danish cartoonist, not a word about Pakistan’s and other members og the Organization of Islamic Countries’ (OIC) campaign in the UN to kill free speech, not a word in defense of minorities in Pakistan that are being oppressed in the name of Islam.
And as if Pakistan had been inspired by Clinton’s disgraceful behaviour the Musharraf-government has ordered all internet-providers to block access to YouTube because it carries ”blasphemeous content, videos and documents” insulting Islam. Other government officials say that YouTube has been blocked because it contains the Muhammed cartoons.
The Arab League has also learned a lesson from the former leader of the free world. The member states have agreed that governments in the Arab world should have the right to close down tv-stations if religious and political figures are being ciriticised. The proposal was put forward by the Egyptian government. Only Qatar and Libanon voted against the propasal.
“We see insults around the clock,” said Egyptian minister of Information, Anas el-Fiqi.
Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Article 19, an organization that is defending free speech around the world, told Jyllands-Posten that it is a troubling development.
“It contributes to a climate of fear and self censorchip. It’s because Arab leaders perceive critical tv-shows as a threat to their ability to control people.”
This isn’t the first time Bill Clinton made outrageous comments on the cartoon crisis. On a trip to Qatar in February 2006 he compared the Danish Muhammed cartoons to anti-semitic cartoons.
“In Europe, most of the struggles we’ve had in the past 50 years have been to fight prejudices against Jews, to fight against anti-Semitism,” he said.
“None of us are totally free of stereotypes about people of different races, different ethnic backgrounds, and different religions… there was an appalling example in northern Europe, in Denmark… these totally outrageous cartoons against Islam.”
Well, I am pretty sure that Clinton never saw the Danish cartoons. The one he saw on BBC, was a photo manipulation from a pig contest in France that Danish imams presented as a cartoon depicting the prophet as a pig. It was a fake.
And the fact of the matter is that there is a fundamental difference between cartoons ridiculing religion and cartoons attacking an ethnic group. Religions like political ideogies constitute a set of ideas that need to be challenged. In fact, I am convinced that people should never respect ideas, they should respect individuals that deserves it. Ideas do not enjoy human rights, people do.
Mr. Clinton doesn’t seem to get the difference.