Conflicting cultural norms require respect, restraint

Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist … Continued

Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist threat? Are the producers of South Park right to forfeit their freedom of expression in the interests of protecting their employees? Are the governments of Europe right to ban burqas in the interest of fostering a more open society?

Your question is about different cultural norms in a shrinking world.

Western culture makes freedom of expression nearly a religious value. It protects the right to say anything, no matter how insensitive or scandalous. Everyone and everything can be insulted.

Many non-Western cultures – not just Muslim – balance freedom of expression with respect for elders, traditions and modesty. The idea of respect and honor to elders is deeply ingrained in their psyches.

When I was a boy in Malaysia, in our play we knew we could insult each other freely. That was a game. But we could never insult each other’s parents. Do that, and we were in for a serious fight.

For Muslims, respect for the Prophet Muhammad is much more sacred than respect for elders. In fact, Muslims would not insult Jesus or Moses because they were prophets of God and demand respect.

The same is true on the issue of the burqa, which covers the entire body and face, leaving just a slit for the eyes.

In the Western world now, the right to wear almost anything has become a symbol of freedom. It is an expression of women’s equality. In the Muslim world, men and women dress so they are not provocative to one another.

But it is important to note that Islam does not require the burqa, and even bans it on occasion. Muslim women performing their pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, are not allowed to hide their faces. The burqa is a custom of some – but certainly not all — Muslim cultures. The spirit of the Muslim law is about modesty.

So what is the role of government?

Freedom of expression is the law in the United States. It is something that the government must uphold. But the people who create this insulting material about the Prophet Muhammad should not be naïve. They are digging deeply at the cultural values of huge numbers of people, many of whom now live as law-abiding citizens of the United States.

In this enlightened age, would the producers of South Park insult the values of African Americans?

As to burqas, it is the cultural norm in Belgium and France for women to reveal their faces. It is a cultural norm in Saudi Arabia that they do not. If Muslims support the right of the Saudi government to require Western women in Saudi Arabia to wear abayas that cover their bodies and heads (but not their faces), then Muslims must support the right of the Belgian and French governments to ban the burqa in Belgium and France.

Can we be upset in these times of heightened national security that the Belgians and French want to know who is walking around on their streets? And in these times when sensitivity about religion and respect are at a boil, cannot the arbiters of Western media show a little restraint?

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. ( He is the author of “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.”

  • YEAL9

    The only solution to the Muslim community’s identity/garb woes is to delete all the offensive passages in the Koran i.e. those passages that call for world and female domination by Muslim males.Until this is done, no Muslim male to include Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf can be trusted!!!

  • Navin1

    I agree with FAR. The islamic cultures need to be trained to respect other cultures. Just as each of us should respect each other’s cultures. But there are two problems: 1) the media is secular, they do not have a moral underpinning. In respect to their culture we accept that they will be disrespectful to others (and yes SP does attack African american values as well). 2) the koran does not respect other cultures namely the infidel, a group I belong to. Muslims, some do, some don’t. But the Koran declares me a target. In respect to that I would have to submit to islamisation.So we need to respect each other’s cultures, more so we need a moral underpinning that says no one book, no one prophet, no one religion is the only way to be good and no one person is the hated of god. Neither the secularists nor islamists is capable of that maturity – freedom of conscience protects the one, freedom to hate the infidel protects the other. So, we must support the freedom of conscience even when it is offensive, but we must not support the culture of hate.hariaum

  • FarnazMansouri

    In this enlightened age, would the producers of South Park insult the values of African Americans?They have also insulted Jews and just about any other group one can think of.And they are not alone.To erect statues of the great prohibitor of idolatry goes well beyond mere insensitivity to observant Jews. It is beyond unacceptable.So what should we do? Smash the statues as Abraham smashed his father’s idols?Not too long ago an offensive painting of Mary was displayed in the Brooklyn Museum, offending an enormous number of Catholics.Of course, Mary does not figure in Judaism; however, this Jew was greatly offended as well.We complained. We complained and moved on.That is what one does in a pluralistic society.

  • Emthree

    I would have a great deal more respect for persons of faith if they would simply leave me alone. If a religious woman chooses wear a burqa or to refrain from having an abortion or conducting research on embryonic stem cells or marrying someone of the same gender, that’s perfectly ok. I would absolutely respect and defend her right to make those decisions for herself. When, however, she insists that people who do not share her faith nevertheless comply with a set of rules that she has distilled from a collection of implausible bronze-age stories, then she has waived any right to claim exception from criticism.

  • futuralogic

    Dear FAR, Click on the Pretty face to see 12 faces of Living Dead!

  • edbyronadams

    “And in these times when sensitivity about religion and respect are at a boil, cannot the arbiters of Western media show a little restraint?”Actually, the producers of South Park demonstrated a great deal of restraint. They have made fun of all religions and beliefs and the one for Muslims, by comparison, was quite restrained. The portion that Viacom excised, from reports, was an address about violence and intimidation used against those in the West who dare to depict Mohammed in practically any form.

  • YEAL9

    The only solution to the Muslim community’s identity/garb woes is to delete all the offensive passages in the Koran i.e. those passages that call for world and female domination by Muslim males.Until this is done, no Muslim male to include Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf can be trusted!!!

  • abrahamhab1

    Faisal pontificates thus:When non-Muslims mention that Mohammad had nine wives at one time and undetermined number of concubines that was considered insulting: Or that he married a 9 years old child when he was 54 years old that also was considered insulting: Or when he married his daughter in law that too was considered insulting etc. These stories are taken from your scriptures. If they were so shameful why did you report them? or better yet why did your prophet do them?

  • schnauzer21

    “In this enlightened age, would the producers of South Park insult the values of African Americans?”Obvioulsy you have never actually watched South Park. They are actually one of the the MOST fair out there. They insult everyone and everything equally. Zero favoritism. If only others could be so even handed.If any other religion had full face coverings they would be included in these laws as well, I can’t walk into the mall wearing a gorilla mask, its against the law, no matter how much i prefess its part of my “religion”. Why does “this” religion get a pass?

  • safiyah111

    Dear Brother, I feel the central problem with your argument is that it equates situations that are not equal. The Saudi government’s UNCHANGING rules regarding modest clothing that are supported by Quran and Sunnah and agreed to by the vast majority of it citizens can’t be the same as the EU’s evolving standards of that are based on public sentiment that is largely driven by bigotry. No women woke up in Saudi Arabia to discover that everything that she thought about Saudi Arabian society had changed overnight. She knew she lived within a Muslim society and quite frankly loved it. Sisters/citizens in the EU are finding that they have no such surety. They are waking up all over the EU to find themselves wondering whatever happened to liberty, equality and brotherhood? No Sister in Saudi is waking to find that the Quran is hidden behind someone’s back. EU Sisters did not feel that bigotry was an EU cultural value. They now have to be wondering whether it is. Isn’t it true that falsehood is bound to perish? Isn’t it true that it is it gets exposed in two questions or less?

  • ThomasBaum

    Feisal Abdul Rauf You wrote, “Western culture makes freedom of expression nearly a religious value.”In the United States, the “Declaration of Independence” states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”So it is spelled out not as a “religious value” but as an “endowment” bestowed on us by our “Creator” not subject to any “cultural norms”.You then wrote, ” It protects the right to say anything, no matter how insensitive or scandalous. Everyone and everything can be insulted.”This is not quite true and something that is “not quite true” is false.You then wrote, ” In fact, Muslims would not insult Jesus or Moses because they were prophets of God and demand respect.”First off, Jesus is God-Incarnate, not merely a prophet as the deceiver would have one believe.Second, any prophet should point to God and not to himself or herself.Third, I do not hold it against Mohammed that he was deceived by the deceiver. You also wrote, ” And in these times when sensitivity about religion and respect are at a boil, cannot the arbiters of Western media show a little restraint?”One can see what “a little restraint” or appeasement, as it was called in the not too distant past, accomplished, can one not?What you are actually asking for is the dismantlement of the “endowment bestowed by our Creator” on all of humanity, are you not?Someone has said, “When one exchanges their freedom for security, one day they will wake up with neither”.God’s Plan is for all of humanity and all of creation, see you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • AKafir

    Feisal,Then why does Islam shows no respect towards the non-muslims? You talk about Malaysia and its cultral norms. Why are the muslims in Malaysia monopolize cultral previlige at the expense of non-muslims? There are many many laws that discriminate against the non-muslims. I just give you couple of examples: A non-muslim has to convert to Islam if she or he wants to marry a muslim. A muslim cannot convert out of Islam. If one of the parents converts to Islam, the minor children in the family automatically become muslims. Such supremacist laws against non-muslims are rampant in the muslim countries. Have you ever asked any muslim government to show cultral sensitivity?

  • agoodwin123

    I think there is a fundamental difference between understanding of other cultures, which I fully support, and the compromise of America’s core principles, which I do not. Even more troubling, I believe that much of the “restraint” shown by the American media surrounding the portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in image and other items offensive to many Muslims, actually comes from a place of fear, not cultural understanding or sensitivity. When I presuade someone of the legitimacy of a viewpoint they had not previously considered, I’ve often created human capital through stronger working relationships. When I cow someone through fear and intimidation, I get what I want, but at a price to be determined later. I have come to believe that many moderate Muslims do not speak out against abuses in the Muslim world with the same vigor that they use to address discrimination and inaccurate protrayal of Islam and Muslims in the wider world for the same reason, fear. When we abandon long-held principles for short-term expediency, we place our societies and civilizations in grave peril. Standing up for what we believe in takes risk. If we don’t not take those risks, then we do not truly believe.

  • futuralogic

    In Allah’s NameBisimillahi Rahmanu Rahim!!- March 2002, Mecca Saudi Arabia. 15 girls were burnt to death because Saudi religious police (Mutaween) beat and prevented them from leaving a burning building as they weren’t wearing Abaya – the unsightly tent-like black garment Muslim girls/women compelled to wear in that backward Sharia country.

  • Rosary1

    When you go to another country you must respect the cultural norms and values of that country. Muslims in the US, rather than respecting our liberties, expect that we will toe the Dhimmi line and kowtow to their demands. This is absolutely wrong. If you are unwilling or unable to follow our laws, including the prohibition of polygamy; our cultural norms, including the fact that women are no longer considered chattel (i.e. the property of men); religious liberty, meaning that your religious liberty ends where it would prevent me from exercising my liberty (see muslim cab drivers unlawfully refusing passengers carrying alcohol or accompanied by work dogs as well as raping unaccompanied female passengers, see also muslim cashiers refusing to scan pork products or any other activity that would require non-muslims to follow sharia law), then, immigration, ur doin it wrong. Another issue is the muslim double standard; demands of mosques to be built in the free world while at the same time restricting or altogether banning practice of other religions. New churches may not be built and existing churches may not be repaired in muslim lands. Christians are persecuted and not allowed to bring Bibles into these countries, even for personal use. Women are considered chattel and it’s legal for a man to kill female relatives. This is not a family value.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Wearing a burqa in a Western setting is inappropriate. It is just as inappropriate as walking around in public, naked. Moslems, obvioiusly don’t get it. Why don’t they try and look at it from our point of view? Dressing in a burqa is shocking and incomprehensible to Western people. That is how it is, and it is not going to change.

  • futuralogic

    The shamelessness has reached it’s nadir! Actually this is well-known in the Indian community but good that every one else is recognising their shamelessness!

  • arkns

    The burqa can also pose as a serious security threat particularly since Muslims believe in blowing us all up in the name of jihad. So why should we trust you–at least from the security point of view. This is not to say that the burqa is also an instrument of repressing females. Strictly speaking, when the police and other security forces cannot identify someone because of the burqa, that’s a security risk to our society. Why should we allow you to pose that risk to us. Muslims have not earned that trust–they have violated it time and again. So the short answer is if you insist on wearing the burqa, why is it necessary to continue living in the Western world?

  • clearthinking1

    EXPERIMENTS IN POLITICAL SCIENCE ARE DIFFICULT, BUT PAKISTAN & INDIA ARE A RARE EXAMPLE. People of the same DNA and genes that share common languages, rituals, and cultures (e.g. Punjabi, Sindhi, etc..) are separated by religion. In just 60 years, there have been clear results. India (based on Hinduism and Vedanta) is a tolerant, pluralistic, vibrant, nonaggressive democracy. Progress is seen in politics, economics, education, etc… India has had Presidents who are Muslim, Hindu, Dalit, female; Prime ministers who are Sikh, Hindu, female; Defense ministers who are Christian, Hindu, Sikh; powerful politicians are even Italian Catholics like Sonia Gandhi. More progress needs to made in many places in Indian society, but even in America Blacks had very limited rights till the 1960’s and now Obama is president. Tolerant peaceful societies make progress.Pakistanis have no common identity – except hatred of India. The members of this society do not feel a common bond, which is necessary to make progress. All that is left is a false sense of unity and statehood, which has promoted Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. And this is a recipe for disaster

  • dolph924

    Wear a burka at home or to your mosque if that’s your choice, but don’t set foot into a shopping mall, airport, courthouse, or anywhere else with reasons for security wearing one. This has nothing to do with religion; it’s basic criminal law. We need to be able to identify in court the faces of those we will have to convict of crimes. Those whose silly religion calls for nudism don’t get to parade around town naked; those whose silly religion calls for burkas don’t get to hide their faces and their weapons under burkas.

  • schnauzer21

    Feisal, If, as you say, wearing a burqa is such a cultural norm why is it that only a very small population of muslim women around the world wear one?

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Safiyah11″ … the knee length skirt with form fitting jacket and high heel shoes are standard of dress for women in the West? … “In the West, many young women wear very short dresses, but it is considered inappropriate by about the age of 25, probably definitely by 30. This is a youth thing; many parents of these young women would wish they would wear more modest dresses, but well, what can a parent do, after the age of 18? They dress as they will.But women of any age in the West wear dresses of knee length and much longer. Many Western women wear loose clothes, not tight form-fitting clothes. Many Western women wear pants that do not show their legs at all. Many Western woman never wear high heels, and probably most only wear them occasionally. Many Western women are modest, too.You are just cashing in on stereotypes to make your false point that Western women are loose and Islamic women are proper and that Islamic values are superior to Western values.

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