Of the hundreds
of riots and rallies being orchestrated around the world to protest
a handful of cartoons, an especially instructive one occurred
in the heart of London on February 3. As in other rallies, the
slogans consisted mostly of mortal threats against insulters of
Islam, but one, at least, was new: “Britain, you will pay,
7/7 on its way”—a reference to the London subway bombings
on July 7 last year. Unlike many European newspapers, no English
paper had chosen to reprint the cartoons in solidarity with Denmark’s
Jyllands-Posten. But England must pay nonetheless, because
this is not about cartoons—it is about aggressive Islamic
chauvinism and the West.
explains what would otherwise be a spectacular irony: in Europe,
transplanted Islamic radicals, like Palestinian-born Ahmed Abu-Laban,
the Copenhagen imam whose campaigning incited the boycott against
Denmark, are demanding that the countries to which they willingly
fled from oppression now accept the same habits and attitudes
that fetter their homelands. Religious intolerance is just one
of these attitudes.
As Muslims denounce
the cartoons for “stereotyping,” “disrespecting
faith,” or “hurting feelings,” charges of hypocrisy
and double standards are flying against them. The government of
Pakistan, for instance, summoned the envoys of nine European countries
to lecture them about how freedom of speech is not a license to
disparage the beliefs of others—as if Pakistani officials
could possibly be unaware of the anti-Semitic imagery that poisons
its presses, or the fact that Christian churches in Pakistan are
regularly machine-gunned and bombed. But if you believe that Islamic
rights are not the same as Christian rights, or Jewish or Hindu
or Buddhist rights, then there is no hypocrisy.
explains why Arab journalists, who continuously lament the censorship
in their presses, now demand that European states punish privately
owned newspapers. It explains how the Saudi ambassador to the
U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, can tell Wolf Blitzer that matters
of faith must “be handled with care and with sensitivity,”
when the country he represents outlaws wearing a cross or possessing
a Bible. Danish Muslim leaders, who appealed abroad to bring down
Islamic wrath on their adopted country, decry Denmark’s
coolness toward its Muslim minority—but they have not urged
the thousands of Muslims now queuing up for immigration into tiny
Denmark to shred their asylum applications in disgust. This is
not hypocrisy. It is strategy.
These Muslims think
of themselves as dutifully promulgating and defending their faith.
What has been the West’s defense of its own sacred principles?
Many editors and politicians, like Danish Prime Minister Anders
Fogh Rasmussen, have rightly been defiant. British Foreign Secretary
Jack Straw, on the other hand, chose to reprove the European media:
“There is freedom of speech, we all respect that, but there
is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory.”
“Free Speech Go To Hell,” said a London placard carried
by a covered protester, suggesting Mr. Straw has some thinking
to do. And it was precisely to call attention to this dangerous
state of affairs that the cartoons were printed and reprinted
in Europe—and now in America.
Whether the cartoons
are ugly and blasphemous or brave and provocative is irrelevant.
The point is that people cannot be threatened with death for publishing
them. It is frightening to see offended Muslims grow so angry
and violent that European governments must warn citizens against
traveling in their precincts. Civilized societies do not register
displeasure by surrounding European embassies, with lighter fluid
and respective national flags in hand (as in Turkey, Pakistan,
India, Somalia, Indonesia, etc.). And civilized governments do
not stand aside as mobs attack and torch foreign missions (as
in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria). But stand aside is the wrong term,
for Iran and Syria are countries in which riots don’t happen
unless the authorities want them to happen.
The Islamic rage has
by now spread well beyond Denmark: we have seen Palestinian gunmen
hunt through hotels for Danes, Germans, French, and Norwegians
to kidnap; we have seen Iran suspend trade ties with New Zealand
because a Kiwi paper published the cartoons; we have seen fanatics
in London march against their own country; everywhere there are
the obligatory chants against the Zionist conspirators; and they’re
burning American flags, too. The problem is not with a few cartoons,
but with the West itself.
A July 2005 poll showed
that 6% of British Muslims thought the London suicide bombers
were justified; 24% sympathized with them. An estimated two million
Muslims live in Britain; 6% of that is 120,000 people; 24% is
480,000. If this is typical of other Muslim communities in Europe,
we can say, thankfully, that most European Muslims do not support
terrorism against the West. But even if barely one in four of
Europe’s 15 million Muslims sympathize with such terror,
and a fraction of that fraction acts on that belief, then Europe
has a big problem. Not that this was a secret: there was the Hamburg
cell, Richard Reid, the schoolgirl-headscarf debate, the Paris
riots, the Madrid and London bombings, and the slaying of Dutch
filmmaker Theo van Gogh; now this. There’s more on the way,
too, or so the rioters and protestors promise.
can it mean that these terrorist supporters and sympathizers feel
so free to parade their hate through Western streets—or
non-Western streets, for that matter? Carsten Juste, the literally
besieged editor of Jyllands-Posten, whose office is now
protected by hired guard, has an answer: “My guess is that
no one will draw the Prophet Mohammed in Denmark in the next generation,
and therefore I must say with deep shame that they have won.”
But there is another possibility: depending on how things go,
the next generation might remember the last few days for “The
Cartoons that Ended the Phony War” between radical Islam
and the West.
Tartakovsky is assistant editor of the Claremont Review of Books.