There's something rotten, but it's not in the state of DenmarkThe more I listen to reporting on the cartoons of Mohammad flap that threatens to explode in the World War III, the more my opinion evolves.
I originally placed part of the blame of the Danish cartoonists who drew the images. But after seeing the cartoons (which are available here), I'd like to officially retract that blame.
The cartoons seemed to me to lampoon extreme intrepretations of Islam but not necessarily Muslims as whole. And I say this after honestly having tried to see the cartoons from someone else's point of view. One of the cartoons even mocked the paper that published it. Two were somewhat stereotypical but at worst, they merited a few annoyed letters to the editor, not embassy burnings and kidnapping threats.
I was listening to an interview with a Dutch Muslim woman activist on Radio Netherlands. She argued that far from being gratuitous, the cartoons were absolutely necessary to expose the profoundly narrow-minded, reactionary nature of radical Islam. She said the cartoons did exactly that. The mass hysteria shows that there is something rotten, but not in the state of Denmark.
Far from being a battle between Islam and the west, what we may be seeing is an internal battle for the heart of Islam itself. Western progressives need to support the moderate Muslims in that battle in any way they wish. And invading or threatening military action against any Muslim country who crosses the West bolsters the reactionaries, not the moderates.
Instead, we should praise and actively support people and institutions like the Jordanian newspaper that not only published the cartoons but courageously asked, "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"
I am convinced I am that this 'crisis' has been engineered by malicious people with an interest in stirring up trouble. I alluded to this at the end of my my previous essay on the controversy.
If the anger had been truly spontaneous, wouldn't it have erupted last September or October? The idea that it took four months for this anger to be generated makes one suspect that the eruption of anger was not spontaneous at all, but carefully provoked at a specific moment in time to suit certain ends. While the fury is certainly legitimate, the violence is completely deplorable. All this makes one suspect that the hysteria was conveniently whipped up by a handful of demagogues eager for a scapegoat to change the subject is what I wrote earlier this week.
What I've heard about and read since then has only confirmed my suspicions. The cartoons have been exploited by zealots for the hearts and minds of Muslims.
In an NPR interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Andrew Higgins noted that the for a few weeks after publication, Arab embassies in Copenhagen tried to get the Danish government to act against the papers for publishing the cartoons. When the Danish government properly refused, the Egyptian ambassador sent the cartoons back to Egypt. Why, if not to stir up trouble? If not to create a problem that wasn't there? He even noted that in some places, a flood of Danish flags magically appeared in the shops. How could anyone have known in advance that the Danish emblem would be the next burning hot item? How could anyone have known that this 'spontaneous' eruption of fury was going to occur?
In my essay, I wrote:
Just look at where the worst protests happened: Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. All three regimes have come under fire in recent months. Syria faces intense international pressure for its alleged role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The Syrian-backed Lebanese political establishment is under pressure at home for countenancing Syrian interference in the country's domestic affairs for decades. The Palestinian movement Fatah, the ones who threatened to kidnap EU citizens, has been raked over the coals by its own members for its humiliating loss in the recent elections to Hamas.
And then I noted that such violence was completely absent from moderate Muslim countries like Senegal, Guinea and Mali.
An article in Salon.com echoed my thoughts. It noted the conspicuous ABSENCE of extremist reaction to the cartoons in the North African kingdom of Morocco.
What's the difference between the first group I cited (Lebanon, Syria, Palestinian) and the second (Morocco, Guinea, Senegal, Mali). The countries where there was violence have governments that are under serious domestic or international pressure. The countries where there was no violence have governments which are relatively stable. The first group I cited has governments which have to deal with violent Islamist opposition. The second group's governments do not.
By fanning the flames of sectarianism, the governments of the first group are trying to blunt the appeal of the Islamists and burnish their (pseudo-)religious credentials.
There has also been violence in Iran and Indonesia. Indonesia also has violent Islamist opposition groups. In Iran, the zealots ARE the government.
And as if to demonstrate that the actual cartoons are becoming almost incidental to this furor, a senior Iranian cleric told his followers that their anger against Denmark should be re-directed at the United States.
“The United States and European states are taking advantage of human rights, freedom of speech, disarmament, and the International [Atomic Energy] Agency. All of these are being misused. They want to force their rule upon the world through these methods”, the senior cleric said.
In a march today in Iran's capital, protesters threw firebombs at the French Embassy and chanted "Down! Down with France! Down! Down with Israel!"
What do the United States and the IAEA have to do with Danish cartoons about the prophet Mohammed?
Unless you're looking for irrelevant links to make a broader point.
What does Israel have to do with Danish cartoons about the prophet Mohammed?
Except Israel is the scapegoat for everything and the bad weather in the Arab world so it's no surprised they were thrown in here.
Gunmen in the West Bank searched hotels for random European civilians to kidnap. (If this doesn't diminish a certain leftist romanticism for armed Palestinian groups then I don't know what will. Then again, such romanticism has survived homicide bombings of restaurants and other civilian locations.)
But one thing that the protesters must recognize is that if you want someone to respect you, you have to be willing to extend the same courtesy. Arabs must realize that if Arab social norms should prevail in the Arab world and southeast Asian norms should prevail in the southeast Asia, then European norms should prevail in Europe. In Europe, freedom of expression, even against revered figures religious, political and sporting, is acceptable.
And protest against the content of such expression must also follow certain norms. When Iran's president recently denied the fact of the Holocaust, there was international condemnation. But no one proposed invading Iran (at least not for that reason). No one threatened to kidnap any Arab citizen living in Europe or North America. And that was the actual head of state making those comments, not a simple newspaper.
An Iranian newspaper recently sollicited cartoons mocking the Holocaust. Again, there was condemnation but no Iranian embassies have been torched, no anti-Iranian riots in New York or Tel Aviv.
I've been a long defender of Muslims against the bigotry and stereotypes that have prevailed since 9/11. But frankly, that's gotten a lot harder in the last week or so. I know the whackos are a minority, but extremist minorities, of any religion, are usually louder than the moderate majority. I would certainly encourage the moderate majority to find the courage to speak up, and loudly.
The cartoonists and newspaper did a service by exposing something that needed to be exposed, because only after it's exposed can it be rectified. I praise the Danish government for not apologizing for the newspaper; it would've had no business doing so. And I salute Muslims like the Dutch activist and the Jordanian newspaper editor who've had the courage and honor to speak out against this hysteria even at the threat of violence against themselves. It's their battle more so than ours.