A contrast of cultures
Islam has been referred to as "the religion of perpetual offence". It is also characterised by violent over-reaction in response to offence.
Last week a small boutique brewery in Sydney, Brookvale Union Brewery, started using images of Hindu Lord Ganesh and Hindu Goddess Lakshmi on some labels. I have no idea why a brewery would do so but it has provided an opportunity to compare and contrast the reaction of Islam to other cultures with use of religious symbols.
Example of label which used religious Hindu imagery
The President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed, said the company was culturally insensitive and that the label was highly inappropriate. The company said it did not intend to offend and will now be looking at alternative design options.
How civilised! There were no mass riots of Hindus, no death threats and no calls for anyone to be beheaded.
REACTIONS OF ISLAM
We have seen even in Australia, large Muslim violent riots which apparently were triggered by some non-violent occurrence because it was perceived to offend. The pictures below from the September 2012 riots in Sydney in response to something which had nothing to do with Australia - a poor quality film clip called "Innocence of Muslims" had been posted on YouTube. This 13 min clip portrayed Mohammed in a manner which Islam generally regarded as offensive.
Pictures from Sydney Muslim riots, 2012.
Many people were shocked at the sentiments expressed including the calls to "behead all those who insult the prophet".
This was not isolated to Australia. Indeed it was part of a worldwide series of riots in many western countries some of which cause deaths and much property destruction.
Previously, a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published some cartoons of Mohammed. Consequently there were numerous violent riots involving thousands of Muslims resulting in deaths of hundreds. Fatwas (Islamic orders) calling for the death of the cartoonist and publisher were issued.
This link will show you a copy of the actual page from the Danish paper: Mohammed cartoon page
There are many other examples of violent Muslim reactions or threats as a result of some offence.
Many people would remember the popular Monty Python film "Life of Brian". This film famously made fun of Jesus and his crucifixion. Classic lines included "he's not the messiah, he's just a very naughty boy" and "blessed are the cheese-makers", and the whistling and singing during the crucifixion scene "always look on the bright side of life".
But wait, something's missing. Where were the world wide riots of Christians destroying property and killing? Yes, some clergy were offended and voiced protests but there were no religious based calls for death to the producer and the Monty Python cast. No calls of Behead all those that insult our Prophet or similar.
A contest was held in Iran for a cartoon concerning the global financial crisis. The winner below is highly offensive to Jews. It shows a caricature of the Western Wall, the most holy location today for Jewish prayer, depicted as New York's Wall Street with Jews praying there. This false and intentionally anti-Semitic caricature was circulated widely in the Arab and Muslim world.
Anti-Semitic cartoon contest winner, Iran
Despite being both offensive and anti-Semitic, there were no worldwide riots of Jews or calls for death of the cartoonist or publisher.
So what are we to make of all this? Every day of the week a variety of sources, including comedy and satire, provides material which may from time to time cause offence. There have been entertainers who specialised in such material. But there is one culture which responds with more violence, protests, aggression and death than others in the event of perceived offence to a religious symbol. In that, Islam stands alone.
We may all be offended by something from time to time. It is human nature to occasionally be offended by criticism or a perceived lack of respect by others towards something you are taught is of value. But how you deal with such matters says a lot about who you are and what values you hold.
So I would like to commend both the Universal Society of Hinduism and the Brookvale Union Brewery for how they handled the issue cited as our first example.
Imagine what would happen if a brewer had a label with an image of Mohammed!!
In a civilised democracy there is no place for violent reactions to non-violent words or actions which might be perceived as offending. Our freedom of speech and expression is too valuable to compromise for those who don't share this basic value.
Following the Muslim riots in Sydney last year, the NSW Community Relations Commission convened a major interfaith meeting of about 150 religious representatives to discuss the promotion of religious harmony. There were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'I, Hindu and other representatives. When a particular Muslim stood up to advocate moderation, tolerance and working together, 10-15 other Muslim representatives who accused him of disloyalty to Islam, shouted him down. They said the world-wide caliphate (Islamic empire) is coming and Australia will be part of it, before they walked out of the meeting. The subsequent multi faith press conference minus this group made a statement promoting peace and tolerance.