The Danish cartoons and us
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 17, 2006
Two great trends will do much to shape the world in which we live for the foreseeable future. The first is the rapid growth of what is variously known as Islamism, Islamofascism, or radical Islam. Salman Rushdie has coined the term "paranoid Islam" to describe the mindset that blames all the many ills of the Moslem world on "infidels" and has declared war not only on the West but on all modernizing elements within the Moslem world itself.
The daily news is regularly filled with names of new groups fitting Rushdie’s description in a seemingly endless proliferation – in Southeast Asia, Africa, and in the heart of Europe. Like the enemies of the Jewish people, these groups have succeeded in realizing only a fraction of their plans for sowing terror, but those successes have been quite sufficient to shake the world badly. The bombing of the Mosque of the Golden Dome in Iraq, for instance, plunged the country into the worst round of sectarian violence since the inception of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and has raised the gravest doubts yet about the future of Iraqi democracy.
Even the near misses are enough to send shock waves around the world. The three carloads of Islamists who recently attacked the Abqaiq oil processing complex in Saudia Arabia came within range, according to some reports, of being able to cause an explosion of an oil tank. Such a blast would have triggered a chain of explosions that might have killed up to 1,000 foreign nationals, shut down 7% of world oil production, and caused oil prices to skyrocket.
The second major trend is the refusal of the West to confront the magnitude of the threat posed by radical Islam or even name the enemy forthrightly. Europe today lacks sufficient confidence in its own values to put up a fight. Post-Christian Europe shows none of the resolve with which Charles Martel repelled the Moslem invaders at Tours in 723, and began the centuries-long project of reclaiming Spain from the Muslims on behalf of Christendom, or that of the arrayed Christian fleets that defeated the Ottoman galleys at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Appeasement, in the hopes of postponing confrontation into the indefinite future, has become Europe’s default mode.
Europe has adopted an attitude of denial in place of confrontation. Rather than face the magnitude of the Islamist threat, Europe has preferred to convince itself that the jihadists represent only a very small percentage of Muslims, and that the vast majority of Muslims want nothing more than the citizens of Europe want. Having no personal experience of religious faith, the West finds itself incapable of grasping the power of Islam on its adherents.
Both these trends converge in the month-long worldwide rioting inspired by the publication in a regional Danish newspaper of cartoon portrayals of Mohammed. The riots protesting the Danish cartoons mock Western illusions about the liberal "Moslem majority." More than a million people have participated worldwide.
The convergence between Islamic apoplexy and the West’s confused response continues to provide fodder for much editorial comment more than a month after the first outbreak of rioting. Canadian columnist David Warren, a devout Christian, who writes openly of his faith more frequently than any other columnist for the general press in the world, has written no less than 11 columns on the subject in the past month.
An often overlooked aspect of the rioting is that the riots did not erupt spontaneously, and were only tangentially related to the actual cartoons published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. When the cartoons first appeared, they elicited little comment. The rioting only came four months later, after packets carefully prepared by a Saudi-sponsored imam in Copenhagen had been widely circulated. In addition to the eleven cartoons printed by the Danish paper, which are characterized chiefly by their extreme blandness, the packets included additional graphics that had never appeared. One of the fakes, for instance, showed Mohammed dressed as a pig with the caption, "The Real Mohammed." In addition, the packets were filled with made-up statements by Danish politicians and journalists about Islam. In short, in order to stir up Moslem rage over alleged blasphemy by infidel Westerners, Moslem clerics engaged in far more egregious blasphemy of their own.
The first rioting took place in Hamas-controlled Gaza and Damascus, soon followed by Iran. The pattern was obvious. Each regime in question had an interest in stirring the hornet’s nest and showing the West what is in store for it if it maintains the current pressure.
Riots across the Moslem world serve the Islamists purposes in many ways. First, they create a transnational Islamic identity. Second, they serve as a valuable recruiting tool for the growing minions of hard-core jihadists around the world. And most importantly, they intimidate the West. Just as some individuals use their volatile tempers as a means of terrorizing all about them, so the Moslem world has learned the value of the ever present threat of eruption.
In the decade after Oslo, Yasir Arafat used the Palestinian Authority to whip the Palestinian masses into a frenzy without parallel since Josef Goebbel’s heyday. And today imam’s, many of them supported by the supposedly pro-Western Saudis, do the same around the Moslem world. By creating a sense that the whole Moslem world is a walking tinderbox waiting to explode, the Islamists probe the West, like a boxer in the early rounds, looking for opening, and above all testing the opponent’s resolve.
In that context, the decision of a number of prominent European papers to reprint the eleven Danish cartoons was more significant than the original publication. It indicated a determination on the part of those papers not to be intimidated by threats of violence directed at them, and to stand up for Western values of a free and independent press.
The decision to reprint was the journalistic equivalent of the one word response given by Allied commander General Anthony McAuliffe, to a German demand for Allied surrender at the Battle of Bastogne: "Nuts." The German inability to take Bastogne was a crucial turning point in the last major German offensive of World War II, and one might hope that the decision of several editors to show their readers what the fuss was all about would have a similar affect on the dispirited West.
That is unlikely, however. No British paper reprinted the cartoons. When I discussed that failure with two BBC reporters interviewing me for a program on Zionism, they hotly denied that that failure had anything to do with cowardice. When I pointed out to one of them, however, that she had justified the decision in terms of the presence in England of a "volatile" Moslem population, she was taken aback. The chants of Moslem protesters in London, who threatened another 9/11 for the West, provides a good measure of that volatility.
Moslem rioters around the world did not condemn the cartoons for having violated general principles of respect and tolerance for religious belief. Nor could they have done so given the vicious cartoons and propaganda directed at Jews and Christians by their press. The basis for their rage was that the cartoons, as an objective matter, violate Islam’s prohibitions against blasphemy, which apply equally to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Denigration of other religions is, in their eyes, not blasphemy because as an objective matter those religions are false. Thus, strictly speaking, there is nothing hypocritical about Moslem rage, just the application of different rules to different situations.
But, at the same time, there is no reason for those in the West to accept the Moslem characterization of them as inferior beings or agree that their religions and values are false. Presumably, most religious people in the West also think that their religion is true, and others false. But there is a general societal agreement that all religions should be accorded equal rights, indeed that all ideas should be afforded an equal hearing, in order that people of very different views can somehow live together. That collective decision to treat religions and ideas equally is itself a value.
Few of us would wish to live in any other kind of society – at least until the coming of Mashiach when the whole world will be filled with knowledge of Hashem. Until that time, we seek to avoid societies, like Saudia Arabia, in which all religions, except for Islam, are banned and their observance strictly monitored and punished. The price we pay for living in a society in which we can practice our religion freely is that we must be prepared for the possibility that our own religious practices will be criticized and even ridiculed.
If Moslem hyper-sensitivity leads to a reign of self-censorship, then we have lost our precious freedom by our own hands. A classic case in point is The New York Times reporting of recent incident when a Iranian student at the University of North Carolina rented a Cherokee Jeep and attempted to mow down as many of his fellow students as possible. Why? "To avenge the deaths and murders of Muslims around the world." The Times coverage managed to avoid any mention of the word Moslem or Islam.
That kind of exquisite sensitivity conveys the message that Moslem rage works. By doing so, we undermine moderate Muslims, both those living in the West and in Moslem lands, by increasing the prestige of the radicals. And by giving credence to the Islamists’ belief that the West is weak and unwilling to defend itself, we only encourage the dangerous fantasies of those who seek to reverse the loss of Andalusia and spread the reign of Sharia (Islamic law) around the globe.
If the West becomes a fear society, then we all face a bleak future. Dutch politician, Ayaan Hirst Ali (herself born a Muslim in Somali) put the matter well in a recent speech in Berlin: "Publication of the cartoons confirmed that there is widespread fear among authors, filmmakers, cartoonists, and journalists who wish to describe, analyze or criticize intolerant aspects of Islam all over Europe." But, she warned, just as Europe was finally forced to stand up to the Nazis. So too will it be forced into a similar confrontation if it foolishly lets the Islamist menace grow and grow.
Related Topics: World Jewry
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