French police carry the coffin of officer Franck Brinsolaro, who was killed at Charlie Hebdo, during a ceremony to pay tribute to the three members slain in last week’s terrorist attacks. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former Indonesian president, in his latest tweets calls for unity in the fight against terrorism. (EPA Photo/Francois Mor)

SBY Joins Freedom of Expression Debate

JANUARY 14, 2015

Jakarta. Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono weighed in on the sharpening debate between absolute freedom of expression and a limited one, calling the latter necessary to prevent the world’s war against terrorism from growing into a war between Islam and the West.

Yudhoyono said on Wednesday he was worried that the declaration, “we are at war” voiced by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday would be perceived as a war between the secular West and the Muslim world rather than against terrorism, as Valls intended.

He suggested that this may happen if Western leaders and the press insisted they would exercise their right to unlimited freedom of speech no matter what, even at the expense of offending Muslims, the majority of whom are moderates and also condemn the deadly attacks in Paris last week where 17 people were killed by Islamist extremists.

The attacks had been triggered by the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo — considered offensive by many, if not most Muslims.

Yudhoyono said he regretted that the magazine chose to print so many copies of its latest edition with another cartoon of the prophet on the cover.

The BBC reported that five million copies are being printed, as long queues were seen on Wednesday morning at French newsstands, many of which immediately sold out while others reported reservation requests.

The cover of the latest edition portrays the prophet weeping while holding a sign saying “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) — the message of support for the magazine and freedom of expression.

“Although the [declaration of] war is intended to fight terrorism, not Islam, eventually it may be perceived as a war against the Islamic world,” Yudhoyono said in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning. “I understand the rage over the murder of the cartoonists in Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I also condemn the murders. But I’ve been thinking what we should do to prevent [similar incidents] in the future.”

He said he believes respecting each other’s beliefs was key and that the world’s societies must not force their values and beliefs on one another.

This should work both ways, Yudhoyono said. Muslims must not resort to violence if they are offended by attacks on Islam and their religious identity by the Western press in the name of freedom of expression.

The West, on the other hand, should respect Muslims’ beliefs, which consider any depiction of the prophet a taboo and blasphemy.

“There are very fundamental differences [between Muslims and the secular West]. There are ‘clashes of values’ and ‘clashes of perceptions.’ But this must be addressed,” Yudhoyono said. “We must understand and respect these different perceptions. We must exercise tolerance. Otherwise there will be a high price to pay.”

He called on Muslim leaders to play more active roles preventing violence staged using the name of Islam, even in reaction to attacks on the religion.

“Religious leaders must dare say terrorism defies the religious teachings. Don’t stay silent and let [terrorism] be,” Yudhoyono said.

On the other hand, he added, Western leaders must take the responsibility to prevent the abuse of freedom of speech to degrade Islam and Muslims.

“I believe in the view that there should be a limit to freedom. I think this is in line with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Yudhoyono said. “It’s not only power tends to corrupt. Liberty too can corrupt. Absolute liberty can corrupt absolutely.”

The former president called on the world, Muslims and the West, to unite against terrorism, to together prevent the growth of extremism and radicalism.

“All over the world, Muslims also should not feel defeated and humiliated. They should feel equal wherever they are,” Yudhoyono added. “On the other hand, Muslims globally also must represent the peaceful face of Islam. Because Islam is supposed to be a blessing to all creation.”

Clash of civilizations

Indonesian Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra calls on all Muslims to stay calm, to not be confrontational and emotionally react to onslaughts against their beliefs, let alone resorting to violence.

“When a minority group of Muslims commit violence, eventually those who will suffer are the Muslims themselves; the larger number of Muslims who are moderates,” said Azyumardi, the former rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University. “It’s getting harder now for moderate Muslims to prove that Islam is not what is carried by the terrorists; violence and all.”

Azryumardi said a clash between Islam and the West was nothing new, citing the Crusades by Christians against Muslims during the Middle Ages.

“That had been more bloody, and lasted for hundreds of years,” he said.

He acknowledged that a perceived clash between the two civilizations had been renewed since the Sept. 11 attacks, followed by Madrid and London bombings by the Islamist terrorists, and now the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

However, Azyumardi said this was no simple matter of different beliefs. Social and economic factors play major roles, with the surging number of immigrants in Europe — many of them Muslim — and Europe’s economic slump that contributed to widespread unemployment.

“The economy is tumbling in Europe ... willing or not, this affects the people,” he said. “And to immigrant Muslims who aren’t able to integrate, who have been alienated, a longing is growing for utopian, romantic [Islamic] ideals, such as a caliphate, which they think can solve their problems.”

But Azyumardi emphasized that what’s going on in particularly Europe right now was not a war between Islam and the West.

“This is a conflict between two extreme sides: those who are putting freedom above everything else and extremist Muslims who think everything can only be solved with violence.”