In front of one the exam halls of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, a young man stopped me with a smile and handed me a piece of paper. On it, clearly emotional words were written calling for the immediate boycott of Danish imports. Later, that same day, a text message appeared on my mobile phone demanding the same thing and asking me to spread the message to as many people as possible. The background for such a request is well known. A Danish newspaper, in a racially prejudiced manner, published a series of cartoons mocking our beloved Prophet Mohammad.
To start with, an economic boycott would be economically futile because the majority of the products that featured on the leaflets or were mentioned in the text messages are part of Saudi-owned franchises. This means that those who will suffer the most are in fact the local franchise owners. For example, amongst the products that we are asked to boycott is a product that is being marketed by a Saudi businessman who employs possibly up to three thousand Saudi people in his firm.
A story should be recounted at this point. During the peak of the call for boycotting American products, I discovered that every part of a sandwich sold by a certain American fast food chain was 100% Saudi. This chain alone employed seven thousand Saudis all over the kingdom. Moreover, that chain in particular plays a role in humanitarian efforts such as organizing excursions for orphans.
What is simultaneously distressing and funny about the boycott campaign of Danish products, is that some columnists seek a false heroism by stirring emotions. Others see the issue as an opportunity for readers to swallow their less radical opinions in other matters at other times. Finally, there are those who simply could not find a better topic to meet the deadlines of their publication.
What puzzled me even more was how a fish restaurant could promote that it boycotted Danish imports unless the owner had found this an excellent opportunity to promote his own restaurant through condemning foreign products, all at the expense of people’s emotions. Surely, the Danish newspaper in question has committed an unacceptable act on all humanitarian levels. Surely, a strong reaction should be taken. However, the correct reaction is more along the lines taken by the Muslims of Denmark, that is, by filing a lawsuit in the Danish courts against the newspaper in defense of our religious symbol, because there they realize that freedom of the press is not without regulations and rules. As for the Saudi fish restaurant owner, it would be more respectable and effective for him if he supported financially the organizations that are filing the lawsuit.
We all condemn the newspaper and reject its unjustifiable attitude. However, playing on collective emotions should be abhorred. The responses of some Muslim communities in the West in dealing with the crisis are far more civilized than the Middle Eastern responses. Remember the Muslim Swedes who mourned for the Swedish Foreign Minister who died two years ago and prayed for her soul despite the fact that she was a Christian. Does this not resemble more the message of our beloved Prophet?