February 14, 2006
Islamic Chauvinism and the Mohammed Cartoons

By Joseph Tartakovsky

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.

Islamic chauvinism 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.

Islamic chauvinism 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.

But what 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.

Joseph Tartakovsky is assistant editor of the Claremont Review of Books.

Joseph Tartakovsky

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