I missed this story when it first broke. There’s nothing like a little arson, boycott, and violent threats to call the attention.
First the background
Last fall a Danish newspaper–Jyllands-Posten—printed numerous caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Editors at the paper had wondered at the lack of political cartoon lampooning of Muslim fundamentalists who justified their suicidal tactics by invoking the name of Mohammed. After doing a little investigative reporting, they found that most political cartoonists were wary of drawing such cartoons because they feared reprisals from radical Muslims in their own country. Their fears were not without justification, the murder of Theo van Gogh by a jihadist is just one example. Jyllands-Posten then invited some 50-60 cartoonists to sketch drawings making fun of these extremists.
The response of many in the Muslim world justified their original fears.
Along with Martin Luther King Jr. style boycotts of Danish goods, many Muslims have protested the printing of the aforementioned caricatures by storming the Danish embassy. Several cases of arson and numerous threats to cut off heads and hands have joined the peaceful boycott.
Enough background, here’s my take:
I don’t condone making fun of anyone’s religion. I respect the right of others to worship however or whatever they wish. In a perfect world, all people would respect this right and newspapers would avoid publishing pictures offensive to any church, organized or otherwise.
However, my belief in freedom of the press trumps my desire to avoid seeing caricatures of my own religion in the Op-Ed page, comic section, or even a popular film. Any news source or media outlet should avoid a double standard in printing offensive material. For years US and Euro news has reported and printed material offensive to the Christian and Jewish world, why should their treatment of Islam be any different? Will they (will we?) allow fear of reprisal to cow us into a fetal position of subservience?
What really gets under the skin are what Charles Krauthammer calls “voices of reason.” These are non-Muslim “moderates” who suggest that Jyllands Posten abused freedom of the press and was out of line. They acknowledge, and rightly so, that the vast majority of the Muslim world rejects the violent acts of these few Islamofascists. As Krauthammer points out, “A true Muslim moderate is one who protests desecrations of all faiths.” Unfortunately, most of the Muslim moderates who decry the printing of these caricatures ignore this double standard. Again, from Krauthammer:
Have any of these “moderates” ever protested the grotesque caricatures of Christians and, most especially, Jews that are broadcast throughout the Middle East on a daily basis? The sermons on Palestinian TV that refer to Jews as the sons of pigs and monkeys? The Syrian prime-time TV series that shows rabbis slaughtering a gentile boy in order to ritually consume his blood? The 41-part (!) series on Egyptian TV based on that anti-Semitic czarist forgery (and inspiration of the Nazis), “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” showing the Jews to be engaged in a century-old conspiracy to control the world?
Why “voices of reason” in the US or Europe would pander to people espousing such a hypocritical standards is beyond me. I can understand the difficult position of moderate Muslims living in tyrannical regimes, but the behavior of moderates in liberal democracies surpasses understanding. William F. Buckley Jr. (WFB) explains the American tradition.
Iconoclastic expressions in America are broadly condemned as being in bad taste. However, there is certainly freedom in America to deride Christ. This is done every day on Broadway, and every other day in Hollywood. Americans do not take up arms in protest. Derisory material at the expense of Jews is permitted only if the executioner is a Jewish comedian. Care on this front is a welcome legacy of the Holocaust: No jokes are told by visitors to Buchenwald.
American newspapers print what they will about Christians and Jews because they aren’t afraid the Christian Coalition (whatever you may say about them) would burn the offices of the New York Times or threaten to chop off their collective head and hands. Why defend the actions of a radical Muslim minority? To avoid printing such things is almost a tacit acceptance of their legitimacy in attacking the West. I hope that’s not the case, as it suggests a sort of self-loathing. A topic for another day, and another post. The position of moderate Muslims is less neurotic and more easily understood.
Let me explain. Most Middle Eastern states are autocracies. Even the UN, champion of tyrants and terrorists (Hugo Chavez, Yasser Arafat, et al.) has criticized abuses of human rights in these countries. In order to avoid the natural human predicament response to tyrannical rule (remember, tyranny–>revolution–>anarchy–>competing groups–>tyranny), the various heads of state instead use their pocket priests to preach a doctrine of hate. Their focus? All things Western–especially the US. It is much easier to get a restless populace to hate and blame Western civilization than it is to solve the ills associated with years of neglect and abuse.
So I can understand Muslim moderates. Better to preach the tyrant-approved criticism of the West than to speak out against violations of Islam in their own countries. Such a campaign would no doubt result in Saddam-style punishment–unfortunately Hussein wasn’t the only crazy head of state in the region.
“Why today we see all this solidarity to protest the cartoons. . .as if only these pictures had insulted the Prophet Mohammad,” Ali Mahdi wrote in a letter published in Lebanon’s left-wing daily As-Safir.
“Don’t you think that injustice, torture, illiteracy and the restrictions on freedoms (in the Muslim world) are also considered an insult to the Prophet . . . who called for the respect for human rights?” . . .
Several Arab Web logs posted the cartoons and hosted online debates about them. Many left-wing and secular-minded Muslims also circulated the cartoons by e-mail.
“What is the use of getting angry for the sake of the Prophet when I have a thousand poor people in my neighborhood?” wrote one Egyptian blogger on his Web site “Justice for Everyone.”
“What is the use of writing a million letters (about the Prophet’s greatness) when I wet my pants every time a police car passes by my house?”
There is a reason the US believes in the separation of church and state. Catholicism was used by European states during the middle ages to control the masses. It was probably in observation of this that Karl Marx uttered his famous “opiate” statement. The same thing is being repeated in the Muslim world.
I don’t believe there is anything fundamentally violent about Islam. I haven’t read the Koran, but excerpts I’ve seen, reports I’ve read and people I talk to indicate it is a peaceable religion. In one instance it is being used to subjugate the people of the Middle East and in the other it is used to justify violent attacks against the West.
The quote above from Ali Mahdi is valuable and powerful. It shows that many Muslims are aware of the depravities of these tyrannical theocracies. As James Taranto points out, this quote serves as “a useful counterpoint to those who say Islam and democracy are incompatible–a common position on both the anti-Muslim right and the anti-democratic left.”
Fortunately for liberal democracies in the West and the subjugated masses of the Muslim world, both groups are being proved wrong by the successes in Iraq. Just this week, Ibrahim al-Jaafari was elected as candidate to serve as Prime Minister for the next four years. As the Wall Street Journal notes, this is just
the latest positive step in Iraqi political development — which includes two elections, negotiations to write a new and liberal constitution and a successful referendum on that document. We’ll let the cynics decided if this qualifies as “Jeffersonian,” or merely Iraqi pragmatism, but whatever it is we’ll call it progress.
A successful democracy in Iraq puts regional tyrants on notice. In the past they may have been able to control the flow of information. The internet, with bloggers like Mr. Mahdi, are beginning to end that monopoly. What Revolutionary era historians call the “contagion of liberty” will begin to take hold in those countries and they will agitate for freedom and democracy.