News and Views from
Seminar on Prophet Muhammad Cartoons in Hofstra University
By Syed S Hussain
seminar was held recently under the auspices of The Department
of Religion, Hofstra University, New York on a topic that
has occupied center stage globally in recent weeks. The
complete title of the seminar was “ The Muhammad Cartoons,
Myths about Islam and the Politics of Religion.” The
lecture was basically for students of the University but
was also open to the public. Along with many others from
outside I attended the lecture.
One of the first things I noticed was the number of attendees.
The lecture hall was packed to capacity and the attendees,
mostly students, seemed very involved in the subject. This
interest and understanding was later demonstrated during
the question/answer session, which generated interesting
Professor of Religion and Islamic Studies Mr. Markus Dressler,
conducted the lecture. His thesis was rather simple. The
religion of Islam and the Muslims need to be treated on
equal footing with other religions and not to be stereotyped.
The yardstick of judgment for any actions or reactions of
the Muslims should be the same as for other people, societies
and cultures. While forming any opinion the underlying causes
of any problem need to be looked into.
He defended the freedom of speech but at the same time he
counseled sensitivity to other’s beliefs especially
when it comes to matters of faith. He also counseled restraint
and toleration, especially by the Muslim religious opinion
The present volatile situation, in his opinion, is the result
of omissions and commissions of the parties involved in
the controversy. Publication of the cartoons was not a simple
expression of the right of free speech, as is being professed,
but also an effort to stir up anti-immigrants/ anti-Muslim
The Muslim leaders of Denmark too failed to appreciate the
incendiary nature of the matter when appealing to the leaders
of other Muslim countries. It did not take long thereafter
for this controversy to be taken to the streets and explains
for the mayhem that followed. He agreed that majority in
the Islamic world are against these violent protests but
he regretted that these voices of moderation do not find
enough coverage in the media
the debate around this controversy reflect fundamental value
conflicts and “Clash of Civilizations”? Not
in the opinion of Prof. Dressler. He felt that these words
and expression are over simplifications of rather complex
situations and they only mystify the problems without addressing
them. The recent incidents rather should be understood as
efforts to advance particular political agendas.
After the lecture there was a vigorous question/answer session
that reflected unanimity of views at least on one subject:
that the matter of religion is quite serious and should
not be trivialized. Some defended the freedom of speech
and others emphasized media responsibility and awareness
of cultural sensitivity.
Mr. Habib Ahmed, President of Islamic Center of Long Island
who was one of the attendees, advanced an important comment.
According to him, the freedom of speech comes with responsibility
of good judgment. The Muslims honor all Prophets and would
be equally offended if other Prophets were ridiculed or
trivialized. The present controversy has shown that Islmophobia
is on the increase and should be of concern to all people
of conscience regardless of their faith.
The seminar was a timely and thought provoking event. As
to the vexing question that what could be done to improve
the existing distrust and stereotyping there appeared to
be a consensus that it is a long and difficult road. A serious
effort by the West to engage and understand the Muslims
and by the Muslims to be more tolerant to other cultures
and points of views could be the beginning of such a journey.
VISIT OF PRESIDENT BUSH TO PAKISTAN: US President George
W. Bush is scheduled to visit Pakistan in early March. For
expatriate Pakistanis living in the US his visit is an important
one. Any move, which further improves ties between the US
and Pakistan, is a matter of great significance to them.
Many in the Pakistani-American community feel that despite
Pakistan’s support to the US in the war on terror
the image of Pakistan and the Pakistani community continues
to be smeared, especially in the media. For a long-term
relationship it is important that this situation improves.
Also that Pakistan–US relations should be more encompassing
and not only terror- related. Increased trade, exchange
of students and transfer of technology should be part of
a long-term deal. Hopefully, the leaders of both countries
would address these issues. -SyedHussainNYQ@aol.com