February 16, 2006
How the Cartoon Protests Harm Muslims
What are the long-term
consequences of the Muhammad cartoon furor? I predict it is helping
bring on not a clash of civilizations but their mutual pulling
apart. This separation, which has been building for years, has
Signs of disengagement
are all around.
Boycotts now exist in both directions. Even as the U.S. government
sanctions Iranian products, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
says his government will "revise and cancel economic contracts"
with countries where newspapers published the cartoons. Several
Muslim countries have suspended trade with Denmark, while Muslim-owned
stores in Canada have removed Danish products. The Pakistani medical
association even announced a boycott of medicines from five European
items: Muslims are increasingly replacing Western consumer
items with their own. They purchase the extremely modest Fulla
and Razanne dolls rather than the busty Barbie. In France, Beurger
King provides halal food, competing with Burger King, just as
Mecca Cola takes the place of Coke and Pepsi. Al-Jazeera is starting
an English-language channel to go up against CNN and the BBC.
investments: As a result of freezes on funds and the designation
of terrorist entities, Muslims have moved large amounts of capital
out of the West and invested these either in their own countries
or in other places around the world, such as East Asia. Middle
Eastern oil exporters before 9/11 annually put as much as $25
billion into American investments; since then, the amount is about
$1 billion a year.
9/11 caused a significant increase in obstacles to Muslims traveling
to the West, so fewer Muslim business executives, students, hospital
patients, conference goers, and workers are reaching there.
Islamist atrocities such as the murder of 60 Japanese, German,
and Swiss tourists in Luxor in 1997 or the abduction of 32 German
and other travelers in the Sahara in 2003 had already led some
Westerners to avoid discretionary travel in the Muslim world.
Cartoon-related violence has prompted a Danish advisory warning
citizens against travel to fourteen Muslim countries. Scandinavian
tourist companies have cancelled many tours to North Africa.
aid: Muslim aggression against aid workers in Indonesia,
Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Authority have led to the
partial or complete withdrawal of European missions. In Chechnya,
the Danish aid mission was expelled and the Iraqi transport ministry
has rejected any future offers of Danish reconstruction money.
From the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 to
the multiple attacks on Danish and other European embassies this
month, the assault on Western diplomatic missions in Muslim countries
is causing them to take on the features of armed fortresses, to
be removed from the center of towns to the peripheries, and in
some cases to be closed down.
providing services: Zayed University in Dubai fired an American
professor, Claudi Keepoz, for distributing the Muhammad cartoons
to her students. Rampaging Palestinian Arabs caused the foreign
observers staffing the Temporary International Presence in Hebron,
or TIPH, to flee Hebron.
suggest what the prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,
has called a "huge chasm" between the Muslim world and
the West. Or, in the more bellicose wording of the influential
Sunni imam Youssef al-Qaradawi, "We must tell Europeans,
we can live without you. But you cannot live without us."
Should the chasm widen,
with its concomitant lessening of human interaction, commercial
relations, and diplomatic engagement, the Muslim world will likely
fall further behind than it already has. As I wrote in 2000, "Whatever
index one employs, Muslims can be found clustering toward the
bottom – whether measured in terms of their military prowess,
political stability, economic development, corruption, human rights,
health, longevity, or literacy."
only worsen the Muslim predicament. Reduced contact with the world's
most modern, powerful, and advanced countries would likely cause
Muslims to do even worse in those indexes and lapse deeper into
a condition characterized by self-pity, jealousy, resentment,
anger, and aggression.
Especially when contrasted
with Muslim successes in pre-modern times, these traumatic circumstances
help explain the crisis in identity that often causes Muslims
to seek solace in radical Islam. For everyone's sake, it is important
that Muslims begin more successfully to negotiate their path to
modernity, not to isolation.
is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures