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World

Opinion: Don't fall for the extremists' line

The "whole Islamic world" is not up in arms because of the Muhammad video, neither do we need new laws to restrict freedom of speech, says DW's Felix Steiner.

Much of what's dominating world headlines these days has the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy: as soon as a video has been put online that vigorously insults Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim belief, a mob rages in the major cities of the Islamic world. Scores of people chant "Death to America," the US-ambassador gets killed in Libya, the German embassy in Khartoum burns down, a dozen people die in a suicide bomb blast in Kabul - and all this allegedly just because the prophet was insulted.

The West is taken in by its own prejudices

No religious Muslim can be denied the right to indignation about this obscene and disgusting video. Both religious sentiment and whatever is sacred to believers enjoy special legal protection in secular states like Germany. But what's happening in Benghasi, Khartoum or Kabul has nothing to do with hurt religious feelings. It's simply terrorism - terrorism by a wide variety of groups with their own specific interests. They only have one thing in common: "Innocence of Muslims" was a welcome opportunity for them to justify their violence.

Despite the images of the last couple of days, one can't call this an uprising of the Islamic world. The impressive images of sometimes several thousand protesters should not mislead us. There are more than 1.5 billion people in the Muslim world. But the ones who are peacefully indignant about the film don't make for pictures. Some facts that contradict the Western world's prejudices go almost unnoticed, such as the Muslim police officers who were killed as they tried to do their duty and protect the foreign embassies in their countries from the mob, or the counter-demonstrators in Benghasi who mourned the death of the US ambassador.

In its ignorance about the complexity of the Islamic World, the West is about to be taken in by its own prejudices. The national debate in Germany these days is an especially striking example. A heated dispute has started over whether the public showing of the whole video should be forbidden. "Yes," say those who are concerned about public safety and Germany's reputation in the Islamic world. "No," say those, many of whom also complain that the Muslim world has missed something like the European Enlightenment which would have led them to be more relaxed about such issues.

Holding on to liberal principles - in crises too

It all comes down to a dispute as to how far the right to freedom of speech collides with the right to have religious sensitivities protected. Both sides allow themselves to become the instrument of radicals and extremists. The initiative to show the video comes from a rightwing faction that simply wants to provoke Muslims living in Germany. The plea to completely ban the video feeds off the concern that radical Muslims could start riots in the streets in Germany as well.

But there is no need for a new law or new regulation - the existing legal framework is more than enough. It's already possible to issue a ban when "public order" is disturbed by religious defamation. And violent protests can and must be stopped by the police - whatever the reason for them. There is no room for violence in a civilized society - and there is no exception to that!

Germany and the whole Western world would be well advised to hold to their liberal and constitutional principles; under no circumstances should they sacrifice them under the pressure of extremists - no matter where they come from. Just as a reminder: It was mostly German politicians who criticized the US for giving up basic constitutional principles in the fight against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks - for which one keyword might be Guantanamo Bay. This criticism was and still is justified. The standards which are defined in constitutions still have to be valid in crises too. Anything else would lead to a loss of credibility for the whole Western set of values.

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