Why the Violent Muslim Reaction to the Cartoons of Muhammad? A Thoughtful Evangelical response. Part 1 The Clash of Cultures

(Ron Woodworth, Ph.D. ABD)


What do you think of the violent Muslim reaction to the cartoons depicting, among other things, the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his head?



If one looks at the cartoons, they are quite modest by most Western satirical standards. The Danish newspaper that originally published them said that it printed the cartoons as “a test of whether Muslim fundamental­ists had begun affecting the freedom of expression in Denmark.” Tragically, it is has resulted in significant loss of life in Paris and beyond.


From my perspective, the conflict reveals at least three issues, which must be considered in tandem with each other:

  1. It Shows the Clash of Cultures

Islam is a theocratic (lit. the rule of God) religion, which means that there is no such thing as the “separation of church and state.” This is the cultural divide: Western democratic (lit. the rule of the people) societies have been able to separate their church preferences in order to establish an impartial non-church-run state.131 Quite unlike this Western notion of the separation of church and state, in Islamic countries, Sharia, or the Law of Allah & Islam, governs both the secular and religious life of the devout Muslim. Indeed, Sharia prescribes religious ritual as well as many of the aspects of day-to-day life including politics, education, entertainment, eco­nomics, business, social issues, etc.132 As a result, Islamic nations cannot conceive of a people who do not reverence the Law of God/Allah, nor order their lives according to the centralized foundation of religion.

It might help Muslims to know that there continues to be a cultural war in all Western countries and especially in America over secular interpreta­tions of the Jeffersonian notion of the “separation of church and state.”133 Indeed, many Christians have been marginalized by the secularists because of their deeply held religious values. However, nearly seventy-six million modern evangelicals in America are no longer content with sitting idly by while their nation descends into an abyss of moral depravity, philosophi­cal relativism, and legislative atheism. Instead, they have embraced their biblical calling and are empowering their children to be “salt and light” as citizens of a Kingdom that both ultimately transcends and yet dynamically transforms human culture. Yet such transformation never depends upon governmental enforcement. For as Jesus asserted, “My Kingdom is not of this world…otherwise my servants would fight” (Matt. 18:36).

  1. It Demonstrates Western Insensitivity

I was virtually insulted when a liberal news commentator arrogantly declared that “Muslims will just have to learn that democracy means that we have the right to blaspheme.” Oh really?! Maybe that’s his definition of democracy but it’s not mine—nor would it be the meaning of democracy to any sincerely religious American citizen be they Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim. This again is the reality of the cultural war that continues to foment between the religious and non-religious in all Western cultures.

Freedom does not give us the right to do what we want, but the power to do what we should. In other words, freedom implies responsibility— which includes the need to be sensitive to others. And sensitivity would most certainly be part of the universal religious ideal of love—for God and others. Such love is not rude or arrogant or offensive in nature.134 It always seeks the best for others—attempting to win the person to a more enlightened position rather than to assault him or her with inflammatory speech. That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the makers and maintainers of peace [rather than inducers of strife], for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matt. 5:9, AMP). Unfortunately we live in a “fallen world” where both the wheat (children of righteousness) and weeds (children of iniquity) are growing together until the harvest at the end of the age. The best we can do is to apologize for the indiscretion of non-religious secular Americans to our offended Muslim neighbors.

Hopefully, by honestly identifying with Muslim religious sentiments regarding the sacred, American Christians can help them understand American historic values and experiences without having it so rudely thrown into their faces.

  1. It Exposes the Violent Nature of Radical Islam

My insult over the insensitivity of the Western journalist was quickly outdone by my horror in hearing the reaction of a particular Imam (spiritual leader) who declared, “We will never forgive this outrage toward the Prophet Muhammad…but will require the death of the blasphemers! Their hands and heads should be cut off!” Apparently there is no forgive­ness or redemption in Islam—at least not in this extremely radical version of it.

Make no mistake about it, there is a radical version of Islam from people like Osama Bin Laden et al, which justifies murder in the name of submission (lit. Islam) to Allah.135 Such radical Muslims are avowed and incorrigible enemies of the free world, democracy, and religious pluralism—intending to use any weapon possible (nuclear, biological, or otherwise) to “wipe off the face of the earth”136 Israel, the United States, and any other country that does not submit to their interpretation of Islamic Law.

This radical version of Islam not only needs to be defended against by all the forces free societies can marshal, but should also be deplored by more modern and moderate voices within Islam itself. However, I would suggest that similar to American Christians, so too are the more moderate Muslims finding it difficult to differentiate themselves from the radical ele­ments within Islam. Nevertheless, just as we Christians in America would argue that non-religious Americans are misusing the term “democracy” as a cloak for blasphemy, so too should moderate Muslims argue that the radical elements within Islam are hijacking their religion to perpetrate a misguided Jihad against the West. On this point of agreement, moderate Muslims and American Christians need to find a common voice for the mutual objective of peaceful coexistence.