Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono admitted Wednesday that the root of the Charlie Hebdo attacks was a “clash of values” between Islam and the West, and that getting past this “clash” would require limits to freedom of expression.
In a succession of over 40 tweets published January 14, Yudhoyono cast the deadly attacks in Paris on the satirical weekly, which killed 17 people in three days, as part of a broader debate between Islam and the West about whether there ought to be limits on freedom of speech with respect to certain sensitive topics such as religion.
“For the West, the caricature of the Prophet Muhammad is part of freedom of speech or expression. It is absolute, it shouldn’t be limited. But for the Islamic world, that act is defamation and blasphemous. That person must receive sanction. Here lies the problem. There is a fundamental difference. There is a ‘clash of values’ and ‘clash of perceptions’,” Yudhoyono said on his Twitter account @sbyudhoyono.
To get past this, Yudhoyono said both sides must work to overcome this through mutual understanding and respect, even if that meant limiting freedom of expression.
“In the future we must have mutual understanding and respect in different views. Be considerate. If not, the price is too high. To make a caricature of Prophet Muhammad not only angers the extremist and radicals, but also to all Muslims,” he wrote.
While he admitted that Muslim leaders should prevent violence against any citizen, he also stressed that leaders in the West should be held responsible so freedom is not used to insult Islam.
“[L]eaders in the West are responsible so the freedom isn’t abused to defame Islam, ie: caricatures of the Prophet,” Yudhoyono tweeted.
Yudhoyono said he was concerned about the “we are at war” declaration voiced by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday, as it may be misunderstood as a war between the West and Islam rather than against terrorism.
“This is what worries me. We mustn’t let Islam be confronted with non-Islam. If this occurs, then terrorists will have ‘won’, the rest loses,” he cautioned.
In spite of the skepticism and pessimism prevalent among many about overcoming terrorism and tensions between Islam and the West, Yudhoyono said he was confident that there might be some incremental progress that can be achieved.
“I agree this is a sensitive and difficult issue. No easy solutions. But a world that is ‘a little bit’ better is still achievable,” he said in his last tweet.
The Indonesian foreign ministry has issued a statement unequivocally backing French efforts to “bring the perpetrators to justice.” But as I have pointed out in an earlier post, Indonesia also faces its own cartoon controversy at home, with the editor of The Jakarta Post, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, being investigated for blasphemy.