Could a cartoon trigger World War III? That's the question some have been asking since the publication (in a Danish newspaper) of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad led to riots in many different countries. Demonstrators carried signs calling for the beheading of those responsible. Others threatened a repeat of the terrorist attacks on New York , London and Madrid .
It soon became apparent that there wouldn't be any dialogue between the two sides of this controversy, because neither can truly understand the position of the other.
The Western media have been making fun of Christians and Christianity for decades.
Letters to newspaper editors around the world question every aspect of Christian teaching. Some comments are deeply offensive to Christians, but people who have grown up in Western countries believe this is part of the price that has to be paid to live in a free society that also offers freedom of religion.
But these freedoms have not been a part of the Islamic tradition. Although Christians and Jews have often lived under Islamic rule, they have not been treated as equals, and they have not had the freedom to proselytize. In recent decades, even the freedom to worship has often been curtailed, and Christians have been leaving Islamic countries for the West.
It was clear from comments made during the cartoon controversy that many Muslims do not understand the West. When asked about freedom of speech by a BBC reporter present at a demonstration in London, one demonstrator said, "Yes, I agree with freedom of speech, but not when it comes to religion!"
It was also clear from comments made by demonstrators in other countries that there is no appreciation of differences between countries—in the minds of many, the United States was to blame for the Danish cartoons! Most Islamic countries are fairly recent political entities. Muslims still identify more with the concept of an Islamic community than they do with the Western idea of a nation state. This translates to seeing the West as one monolithic entity rather than as 30 or more different countries, each independently and separately governed.
It is these differences in perception and the larger cultural gap between the West and Islam that are now coming to the fore.
For four decades now, Western countries have believed in multiculturalism, the idea that many different cultures can live peaceably side by side. Our ancestors did not believe this, but political correctness in the schools has taught the last two generations that our civilization had it all wrong for thousands of years, and that multiculturalism is now the way forward for our nations.
The result is that the United States has gone from a Muslim population of only 500,000 in the 1970 census to one estimated at 10 million today. During the same period the numbers of people professing Christianity in Islamic nations has declined due to persecution and subsequent emigration. This alone illustrates the great gulf in thinking between Islam and the West.
Whereas the West believes all cultures and religions can live peaceably together in one multicultural entity, Islamic countries clearly believe the opposite—non-Muslims cannot move to Islamic countries, settle and become citizens.
Islamic nations are deeply convicted that they do not want non-Muslims moving to their countries! Nor are non-Muslims allowed to do missionary work in these countries. The penalty for Muslims changing religion is, in some countries, death.
The Western concept of freedom of religion is incomprehensible to the followers of Islam—though they are quick to take advantage of it when moving to the West.
It has often been said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. During the Cold War, this was often the case, with terrorists in some countries receiving aid from other countries in the constant ideological struggle that lasted for over 40 years.
Only the countries have changed.
When U.S. President George W. Bush and other Western leaders announce victory over terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan , many Muslims have a different perspective. What they see is that the West is killing Muslims. Any victory for America and its coalition allies in Iraq or Afghanistan means the deaths of Muslims, killed by the West.
Introducing democracy into the Middle East hasn't helped either. As countries embrace democratic reforms, the religious extremists take the opportunity to increase their opposition. This has happened in Iran, Iraq , Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in recent months.
Compromise is the nature of Western parliamentary democracies, which are built on a system of checks and balances. But no compromise is possible over the cartoon controversy. Those who believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press insist that they are free to lampoon any and all religions, while Muslims feel very strongly that depicting Muhammad at all is against their religion.
The compromise suggested by U.S. President Bush and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw—that newspapers should exercise greater responsibility—would only lead to a double standard, enabling the press to continue to ridicule Christianity while giving special protected status to Islam. The only compromise acceptable to the Islamic world would mean the death of freedom of expression in the West!
Muslim demonstrators failed to see their own double standard when burning the Danish flag, which has as its emblem a cross, sacred to many of those claiming to follow Jesus Christ.
Is a clash of civilizations inevitable?
On a number of occasions throughout the last 14 centuries following the advent of Islam, Europe and Islam have clashed.
The Bible shows that another such clash is coming.
In a prophecy recorded in Daniel 11, we read of a coming clash "at the time of the end" between the king of the North and the king of the South. The biblical kings of the North and South were the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties, respectively. These were successors of the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great.
These two empires profoundly affected the Jewish people, who were often caught in the middle as they clashed. The Seleucid Empire lay to the north and east of Jerusalem, while the Ptolemies ruled from Alexandria in Egypt .
We believe that the most likely modern successors of these empires will be the 10-nation Beast power (a revival of the Holy Roman Empire) to the north, and a militant Islamic power that will include a combine of countries in the south in the area of the Middle East . According to verse 40 "the king of the South shall attack" the king of the North. The king of the North will then "come against him like a whirlwind," entering the Glorious Land (the Holy Land ). "Many countries shall be overthrown" (verse 41).
But some countries in the region will escape (verse 41) as they may not be a part of the confederacy that threatens the revived Roman Empire (present indications are that this confederacy is Islamic). But "the land of Egypt shall not escape" (verse 42).
The cartoon controversy may itself die down, but the growing division between Europe and Islam is likely to continue as events lead inexorably toward prophesied biblical events. To understand more, please request our booklets The Middle East in Bible Prophecy and The Book of Revelation Unveiled. WNP