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Responsibility versus liberty

Almost 20 years ago esteemed American scholar Samuel Hantington predicted an inevitable clash of civilizations ...

Almost 20 years ago esteemed American scholar Samuel Hantington predicted an inevitable clash of civilizations which soon would replace the bipolar stand-off of the Cold War era. Many criticized his gloomy view and accused him of being too superficial.

Not all of what Hantington wrote came true (at least until now), but a cultural clash seems to be happening, albeit in another form than the late professor expected. What we see now is a confrontation between different forms of fundamentalism: traditionalist versus liberal. It is difficult to say which is worse.

The wave of pogroms against American embassies in Arab countries and killing of the US ambassador to Libya caused fear and deep disappointment, because it showed that those who prevail in this part of the world are keen to use violence and extreme approaches to dominate the agenda.

Authorities in the respective countries are not responsible for attacks, but proved unable to prevent them and seem to be rather helpless in controlling their territories. The most striking is the pretext that caused the rising violence – the movie Innocence of Muslims, posted in YouTube and “helpfully” translated into Arabic by some “well-wishers”. The fact that the translation was made into another anniversary of 9/11 and somebody indicated to believers where to find this scandalous creation of the worst tastelessness, with direct humiliation of Prophet Mohammed, leads one to think that radicals were intentionally preparing this turn of spiral of violence in the area. No doubt that mass anger was well-orchestrated.

But there is another question to ask – what the hell are Western governments doing by non-prevention of such provocations?

Since the caricature scandal in Denmark and several European countries couple of years ago everybody knows that jokes about sacred things connected to Islam lead to serious trouble and risks. The argument by authorities is always the same – freedom of speech is more important than any possible implications. As Voltaire said, I hate your views, but I will sacrifice my life for your right to express them. Sounds noble and convincing – there is an achievement of Western civilization anyway. But at the same time it seems that the West is heading towards a trap: when views and feelings radicalize, extremists like crazy pastor Terry Jones or producers and directors of movies filled with hatred openly break with common sense. Meanwhile, Western society has to protect them because of “values”.

In some cases of that kind, disputes erupted, whether insulting works were pieces of art or not. Such is, for example, the typical Russian debate around punk group Pussy Riot or similar performers. But in the case of Innocence of Muslims, no one can claim it is art – amateurish rubbish of the lowest quality made with one single aim: to provoke a scandal. And the inability to terminate that due to the First Amendment means discrediting of any rational argument. Liberal fundamentalists refuse to limit themselves under the banner or liberty, but those who suffer are not them, rather other people.

Even less understandable is when, in the current tense atmosphere, where everybody knows what is at stake, a French satirical journal publishes another series of cartoons featuring Mohammed. Done in order to re-iterate the principle, but abandoning any sense of responsibility. Liberty becomes another religion as dogmatic and dangerous as any other one. And it also produces a spiral of hatred.

Russia is by far no example of tolerance and tact when it comes to relations within society. But being a multinational and multicultural country that has experienced so many fatal problems of this origin, it at least tries to escape provocations. It’s not always successful, but still.

It is up to responsible government to stop fundamentalists of all kinds, and any references to liberty may be hypocritical and just dangerous. Otherwise we risk coming not to a clash of civilizations, but directly to religious wars.

­Fyodor Lukyanov, for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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