February 10, 2006
Curse of the Moderates
WASHINGTON -- As
much of the Islamic world erupts in a studied frenzy over the
Danish Muhammad cartoons, there are voices of reason being heard
on both sides. Some Islamic leaders and organizations, while endorsing
the demonstrators' sense of grievance and sharing their outrage,
speak out against using violence as a vehicle of expression. Their
Western counterparts -- intellectuals, including most of the major
newspapers in the United States -- are similarly balanced: While,
of course, endorsing the principle of free expression, they criticize
the Danish newspaper for abusing that right by publishing offensive
cartoons, and declare themselves opposed, in the name of religious
sensitivity, to doing the same.
God save us from
the voices of reason.
for moderation in the Islamic community -- ``I share your rage
but don't torch that embassy'' -- is nothing of the sort. It is
simply a cynical way to endorse the goals of the mob without endorsing
its means. It is fraudulent because, while pretending to uphold
the principle of religious sensitivity, it is only interested
in this instance of religious insensitivity.
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
A true Muslim moderate
is one who protests desecrations of all faiths. Those who don't
are not moderates but hypocrites, opportunists and agents for
the rioters, using merely different means to advance the same
goal: to impose upon the West, with its traditions of freedom
of speech, a set of taboos that is exclusive to the Islamic faith.
These are not defenders of religion, but Muslim supremacists trying
to force their dictates upon the liberal West.
And these ``moderates''
are aided and abetted by Western ``moderates" who publish
pictures of the Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung, and celebrate
the ``Piss Christ'' (a crucifix sitting in a jar of urine) as
art deserving public subsidy, but are seized with a sudden religious
sensitivity when the subject is Muhammad.
Had they not been
so hypocritical, one might defend their refusal to republish these
cartoons on the grounds that news value can sometimes be trumped
by good taste and sensitivity. After all, on grounds of basic
decency, American newspapers generally -- and correctly -- do
not publish the pictures of dead bodies, whatever their news value.
There is a ``sensitivity''
argument for not having published the cartoons in the first place,
back in September when they first appeared in that Danish newspaper.
But it is not September. It is February. The cartoons have been
published, and the newspaper, the publishers and Denmark itself
have come under savage attack. After multiple arsons, devastating
boycotts and threats to cut off hands and heads, the issue is
no longer news value, i.e., whether a newspaper needs to publish
them to inform the audience about what is going on. The issue
now is solidarity.
The mob is trying
to dictate to Western newspapers, indeed Western governments,
what is a legitimate subject for discussion and caricature. The
cartoons do not begin to approach the artistic level of Salman
Rushdie's prose, but that's not the point. The point is who decides
what can be said and what can be drawn within the precincts of
what we quaintly think of as the free world.
The mob has turned
this into a test case for freedom of speech in the West. The German,
French and Italian newspapers that republished these cartoons
did so not to inform but to defy -- to declare that they will
not be intimidated by the mob.
What is at issue
is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish
is not sensitivity but simple fear. They know what happened to
Theo van Gogh, who made a film about the Islamic treatment of
women and got a knife through the chest with an Islamist manifesto
The worldwide riots
and burnings are instruments of intimidation, reminders of van
Gogh's fate. The Islamic ``moderates'' are the mob's agents and
interpreters, warning us not to do this again. And the Western
``moderates'' are their terrified collaborators who say: Don't
worry, we won't. It's those Danes. We're clean. Spare us. Please.
2006, Washington Post Writers Group