The Danish caricatures bring the most important problem of our times up: the freedom of expression. Are we Westerners going to give in to the pressures of a medieval society or are we going to defend our most valuable worth: freedom, the freedom of expression, an achievement for which millions of people have died for?
There’s no democracy without freedom: freedom of debate, of disagreement or insulting and offending, even. This is a freedom the Islamic world does not have and without it, the Islam will always be dogmatic, fanatic and medieval. Without this fundamental freedom, the Islam will keep suppressing thoughts, human rights, individual rights, originality and truth. If we don’t show our solidarity with the Danish caricaturists in an open and public way, unashamed, then the forces that try to impose a totalitarian ideology in the free West today will succeed: the Islamization of Europe would begin. First of all, we should not apologize.
This brings a more general problem up: the inability of the West to defend itself in cultural and intellectual terms. Be proud of not apologizing. Should we keep apologizing for the sins of our fathers? Should we apologize, for instance, for what the British Empire did when what it actually brought about was the rebirth of India, the fight against hunger, the construction of the railroad, roads, irrigation systems, the elimination of cholera, the creation of the public service, the implementation of an educational system where none of these existed? And, above all, the solid implementation of a parliamentarian society to face the kinglets and the force of law to face the royal arbitrariness. The English even allowed the Indians to rediscover their past: thanks to the scholarships, archaeology, and the European studies the old Indian greatness was known; it was the British Empire the one who worked to save and preserve the monuments that witnessed this glory. The British imperialism did care about preservation where the former Islamic imperialism destroyed thousands of Indian temples.
At the world level, should we apologize for the birth of Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe? Mozart, Beethoven and Bach? Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Breughel, Ter Borch? Galileo, Huygens, Copernicus, Newton and Darwin? For having invented penicillin and computers? For the Olympic games and football? For human rights and parliamentarian democracy? It was in the West where the ideas of individual freedom, political democracy, law, Human Rights and cultural freedom were born. The West has imposed the status of women, and has fought against slavery, has defended the freedom of research, expression and beliefs. The West does not need the lessons of virtue of the societies that keep women submitted, where their clitorises are severed and where they are stoned to death if suspected of adultery, where acid is thrown to the faces of or where Human Rights are denied to those who are considered lower classes.
How can we ask immigrants to integrate into the Western society when at the same time they are taught that the West is decadent, corrupted, the source of all wrongs, racist, imperialist and despicable? Why, according to the words of Afro-American writer James Baldwin, would they board a sinking ship? Why do all these people try to emigrate to our countries and not to Saudi Arabia? We’d do better if we teach them the history of the centuries of struggle that brought about the freedoms they enjoy today; the history of the individuals and groups that fought for those freedoms and who are nowadays disregarded, degraded and forgotten. We’d do good if we make emphasis on the freedoms that a great part of the world envies, admires and tries to emulate with. When the Chinese students died for democracy at the Tiananmen Square in 1989, they were not carrying the images of Confucius or Buddha, but a copy of the Statue of Liberty.
The freedom of expression is our Western heritage and we must defend it or it will succumb to totalitarian attacks. This freedom is also essential for the Islamic world. By defending our values we give an important lesson to the Islamic world, we allow them to compare their old and sacred traditions with our values.
Der Spiegel (Germany)
Circulation: 1 100 000 copies. An important investigation magazine issued for the first time in 1947, and source of multiple political scandals. It is known for its own journalistic slang and also issues four special editions yearly. The website of the Spiegel is the most successful online magazine in Germany.
“Democracy in a cartoon”, by Ibn Warraq, Der Spiegel, February 5, 2006. Text adapted from an interview.