On Jan. 1, again we heard news about the alleged attempt to kill the Danish political cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, known for his controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The Jakarta Post on Jan. 3 reported the assailant was shot by Danish police officers. Furthermore, Danish intelligence officials said the suspect was connected to al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s ally in East Africa.

Many Muslims have been offended by the Danish prophet cartoons. We remember the case on Sept. 30 2005 when Jyllands-Posten, the biggest Denmark daily newspaper, published 12 cartoons, which were claimed as the cartoons of the prophet. In Islam, it is taboo to depict the prophet.

Two months after the cartoons were published; there were no big reactions from Muslim societies. However, in Dec, 2005 after the Islamic Conference Organization announced its resistance to the cartoons, and the cartoons were published again in newspapers in various countries, there was a strong reaction from Muslims. They burnt flags of Denmark as a symbol of their disappointment.

I disagree with the strong reactions from Muslim societies over the cartoons. Such reactions in fact strengthened the stereotype of vicious faces of Muslims that were illustrated through the Danish cartoons. Muslims should have looked for other more rational ways to express their disagreement and disappointment with the cartoons.

Of course the cartoons were offensive, but Muslims should not have reacted so strongly to the issue. The prophet himself never acted coercively to achieve his aims. The famous story that illustrates this is when he was thrown by the Thaif people until he was injured while he was trying to deliver a da’wa or invitation to the religion of Islam. It was told that the angel Gabriel was very angry with the Thaif people’s attitude toward the prophet.

Then, when the prophet was thirsty, Gabriel came and said that if the prophet allowed him, he would throw the Thaif people off the Uhud mount. Nevertheless, the prophet answered that he was there not to damage the people, but to show them guidance. Then the prophet prayed, “Oh God, guide my community since they do not know guidance”.

Furthermore, the Danish government and the Jylland Posten crew argue that what the cartoonist did was right as it was justified by the freedom of expression. For me, this is the wrong way to define the freedom of expression. For them, as I understand, the freedom of expression means unlimited freedom and allows everyone to express themselves without limitation.

This is what I disagree with. Freedom for me is freedom with a responsibility. It means that our freedom is socially limited by other people’s freedom. Everybody may express his opinion as long as it does not hurt other people.

To freely express our opinions and hurt other people at the same time is irresponsible. So the freedom that harms other people’s freedom cannot be called freedom; it is oppression.

Ahmad Fathan Aniq
The Jakarta Post, January 23, 2010