In January, two prominent and rival thinkers on Europe and Islam, Tariq Ramadan and Dyab Abou Jahjah, met in Rotterdam for an eagerly attended debate. Rosemary Bechler pursues and examines their views on democracy.
Zakaria Hamidi is surprised at how many "Dutch people" have come along to the first public debate in Rotterdam organised by New Horizon, a newly-launched platform for discussion focusing on Islam in the Netherlands.
The European parliament has finally passed its amended version of the controversial services directive while thousands protested at its gates. British prime minister Tony Blair and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, the greens and conservatives in the parliament, trade unions and business associations had all started the year by declaring that the liberalisation of services markets would be the key European issue in 2006.
Since the Danish "cartoon controversy" erupted at the beginning of February 2006 four months after the first publication of the offending images in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten there have been many claims that "Islamophobia is the new anti-semitism". But sadly the now global controversy has prompted some Muslims not always the extremists among them to give new voice to classic, old-style anti-semitism.
The attitude of many of those responsible for publishing the hostile cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (praise be upon him) can perhaps be best understood by a Marxist analysis. I refer to the quip by (Groucho) Marx: "How dare she get insulted just because I insulted her?"
The supporters of the publication of the cartoons appear to be surprised that many Muslims found the cartoons offensive; at the same they claim these cartoons are part of an effort to throw back the forces of multiculturalism in favour of national (i.e. European) cultural restoration. The conflict between those who see in the publication a noble principle at stake and those who see just another episode of European racism disguised as high moral principle has itself become a metaphor for other conflicts that exceed the xenophobia of a tiny statelet.
Once again, the Netherlands surprises. Flying in the face of a centuries-old commitment to freedom of religion, of conscience, and of expression, it is about to prohibit Muslim women from covering their faces in public.
The origins of the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed do not lie in an attempt to offer contemporary comment, let alone satire, but the desire to illustrate a childrens' book. While such pictures would have been distasteful to many Muslims – hence why no illustrator could be found – the cartoons are in an entirely different league of offence. They are all unfriendly to Islam and Muslims and the most notorious implicate the prophet with terrorism. If the message was meant to be that non-Muslims have the right to draw Mohammed, it has come out very differently: that the prophet of Islam was a terrorist.
The row over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed raises profound tensions – between freedom of speech and mutual respect, ethics of satire and sacrality, shared values and coexistence, perceived western arrogance and Muslim victimhood. openDemocracy writers respond to the dispute and seek ways forward.