The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, November 18, 2020




On 10 November The Jakarta Post published an opinion by Dr Dino Patti-Djalal with the title What the West needs to understand about the cartoon protests.  Apart from condemning ‘the West’ for its culture of tolerance and free speech I thought this read as an acceptance of extreme reactions to the cartoons.  My rebuttal has been ignored by the newspaper.

So here it is: 

Dr Dino needs to prescribe choice              

It was disappointing to read Dr Dino Patti Djalal’s attempts to rationalise angry protests following the publication of cartoons in Europe that slandered the Prophet Muhammad. (JP 10 Nov.)

The former ambassador to the US and onetime presidential hopeful says that mocking and caricaturing the Prophet is regarded as a direct assault on Islam and an enormous offence to Muslims.

Those like Dr Dino who’ve had a liberal Western education understand that though this emotion can be heartfelt, it doesn’t mean all respond the same way or that a violent response is acceptable.

Muslims don’t have to be offended by cartoons that are neither clever nor funny – they can treat them with contempt and move on.  Some Christians are regularly distressed by the way their beliefs are ridiculed (check Australian musician Tim Minchin’s videos for examples), but have to remember their leader’s exhortation to ‘turn the other cheek’. 

Similarly, I’ve been moved by the stress on forgiveness and rejection of anger through my limited reading (in English) of Al-Quran.

One of the many tragedies encountered by Australian police is the meaningless deaths of young men in pub brawls, usually triggered by macho guys responding to the insults of drunks.   Senior cops urge those caught in such situations  to walk away, but that needs maturity.

Like flag burning, boycotting French products is another immature response.  The trampling of real or faux Louis Vuitton bags won’t lower sales among the show-off rich who buy such products.  Even if sales slumped, the sacked would most likely be ordinary workers in the supply chain – and many could be Muslims.

When Muslims denounce the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty and other outrages with the same huge crowds of men who condemn the cartoons, then the image of moderate Islam will be restored.

The original offensive pictures wouldn’t have spread beyond a limited group of European consumers of satire if some idle political agitators hadn’t spotted them and seen a chance to foment strife.

From his comments it appears Dr Dino doesn’t follow Islam from conviction after studying the world’s religions with an open mind, but because he was born into a Muslim family.  Presumably, he didn’t choose to be sent to a madrasah. As a child, he had to obey his parents.

Going to the London School of Economics, established in the 19th century ‘for the betterment of society’ by the democratic socialists of the Fabian Society with links to the Quakers, was the decision of an adult.

Although his overseas education would have taught him ideas evolve and old beliefs need regular scrutiny, his LSE supervisors would have had problems with his current curious reasoning.  He writes that although French President Emmanuel Macron argues for freedom of speech while respecting Islam, Muslims hear something different:

“What the Islamic world hears is, ‘we will continue to abuse your religion, no matter what you feel about it’. It’s probably not what he meant, but that’s how Muslims interpret it.”

So if this contrived outrage is to be dampened down before more harm is done, perhaps Dr Dino can urge people to hear what Macron said, abandon malicious interpretations and accept his words as genuine.  He leads a nation where nine per cent of the population is Muslim, the largest in the Western world, and has to govern for all.

In his long career in foreign affairs Dr Dino has encountered limitless numbers of Westerners who understand why some Muslims are outraged by the cartoons issue.  His hyperbole claiming otherwise is unfitting. We don’t all have biased viewpoints.


I’ve met, interviewed and enjoyed the hospitality of Dr Dino and don’t believe mockery of the Prophet is trivial.   I would never rubbish what feeds another’s soul, though I might try to suggest they sample other fare if their diet’s harmful.

I was raised a Protestant (no choice), went to church schools and at one stage had ambitions of a career in the church.  So I have some knowledge of the contradictions and vile verses of the Bible, and as a journalist seen the hypocrisy and evil doings of many who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus.

I hope Dr Dino has similar concerns at the way his faith is being misinterpreted and speaks out against intolerance without adding qualifications.  That might help ease the ‘longstanding squabble’.  Peace be upon us all.



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