Monday, February 6

Mohammed comes to the molehill

There isn't much more to be said about the Islamic furor over the Danish cartoon, which I mentioned the other day, and which has been the subject of innumerable opinion and editorial articles around the world by now.

For those interested in a good primer (including the controversy's genesis with children's author Kåre Bluitgen) and an analysis that mirrors my opinion closely enough to make separate commentary superfluous, I recommend British ex-pat Andrew Stuttaford's article entitled "Drawing Fire."

Highlights:

To try and compare the actions of Jyllands-Posten, as Bill Clinton effectively did, with the race-baiting traditions of Der Sturmer is to reveal an ignorance of history and a disdain for free speech that disgraces the office he once held. . . .

In the cowed, cowering Europe of recent years the idea that religious minorities have a right not to be "offended," a nonsense notion that gives veto power to the fanatic with the thinnest skin, has increasingly been allowed to trump the far more fundamental right of others to speak their mind. Writers have been prosecuted, plays have been tampered with, and works of art withdrawn. Last week, the British House of Commons came within one vote of passing a law that would almost certainly have made U.K. publication of the Danish cartoons a criminal offense. It is a sign of how far matters have been allowed to degenerate that the initial blunt refusal of Denmark's prime minister to even hold a meeting with a number of ambassadors from Islamic countries over the incident ("I will not meet with them...it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so...As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press — nor do I want such power.") was seen as shocking as it was. . . .

Of course the publication of those cartoons was (quite explicitly) a provocation, but the furor that followed shows that it was an acceptable thing to do. The editors of Jylland-Posten wanted to draw attention to the fact that fears for the freedom of expression were both real and realistic. They have succeeded on both counts.

Combine this article with the commentary by Charles Moore (incidentally, I don't think that there is an opinion writer with whom I agree more consistently than Charles Moore; I simply cannot wait to read his latest takes on the world) and I have nothing useful to add.

Moore raises some good points about traditional depictions of Mohammed in Islamic and Western art (the current obsession with not depicting the Prophet seems to be idiosyncratic). Apparently, there have already been calls to remove such art from a museum in Bologna. Moore wonders what will happen if such protests spread? I wonder too, particularly if the threat is violent. He also reminds readers of London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone's embrace of radical, violent Islamic leaders, and questions (as others have done) the spontaneity of the protests in the Islamic world--where, for instance, did all those Danish flags in Syria, Gaza, etc., come from?

Highlights:

The complained-of cartoons first appeared in October; they have provoked such fury only now. As reported in this newspaper yesterday, it turns out that a group of Danish imams circulated the images to brethren in Muslim countries. When they did so, they included in their package three other, much more offensive cartoons which had not appeared in Jyllands-Posten but were lumped together so that many thought they had.
It rather looks as if the anger with which all Muslims are said to be burning needed some pretty determined stoking. . . .


Which leads me to question the extreme tenderness with which so many governments and media outlets in the West treat these outbursts of outrage. It is assumed that Muslims have a common, almost always bristling, view about their faith, which must be respected. Of course it is right that people's deeply held beliefs should be treated courteously, but it is a great mistake - made out of ignorance - to assume that those who shout the loudest are the most representative. . . .

There is a great deal of talk about responsible journalism, gratuitous offence, multicultural sensitivities and so on. Jack Straw gibbers about the irresponsibility of the cartoons, but says nothing against the Muslims threatening death in response to them. I wish someone would mention the word that dominates Western culture in the face of militant Islam - fear. And then I wish someone would face it down.