February 4, 2006
We see a
big storm brewing, brought on by the Danish newspaper's publication
of caricatures of Muhammad. Muslim activists every day sharpen
their protests. On Thursday they assailed the office of the European
Union in Gaza, and Friday in Indonesia they stormed the Danish
Embassy. Now they are asking that the prime minister of Denmark,
no less, apologize for the publication of the caricatures in Jyllands-Posten,
never mind that the government has no official ties with the tortfeasor.
Everybody in sight,
including the paper, has regretted that feelings were hurt, but
a line is crystallizing: Apologize for profaning Islam, but do
not use language that conveys an apology for the laws of the land,
which uphold a free press.
The Danes aren't about
to schedule an auto-da-fe, in which the offending editor throws
himself on a pyre in expiation of his sin. And the prime minister,
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has not tendered an official apology, though
he has convened a meeting of foreign diplomats to figure out what
to say that will calm the Muslims without offending liberal sensibilities.
striking aspect of the controversy is the leverage of the offended
Muslim community. Even in the United States, even a publication
as venturesome as Slate magazine describes the offending caricatures
but is careful not to reproduce them. A quite natural curiosity
attaches to how these 12 caricatures actually looked. One of them
features Muhammad in a vaporous cloud addressing an assembly of
suicide terrorists, with the caption that the heavenly kingdom
has run out of virgins, so that aspirant debauchers simply have
to lay off for a while. How was all that actually depicted by
the cartoonist? Even the banal representation of Muhammad with
a bomb replacing the turban on his head did not appear in The
New York Times, the paper of record.
offending cartoons are available on the Internet, as far as the
press is concerned, they have to be imagined. The reason for it
is what turns out to be an iron glove at the disposal of the Islamic
establishment. The publisher of Paris's France Soir,
which did reproduce the images, fired the editor who was responsible.
Massive boycotts of Danish goods are in motion. Foreign leaders
and press spokesmen are objects of boycotts and even death threats.
Flag burning is routine.
What we have seen
is an intimation of the strength of a mobilized Muslim community.
And this is early on, in the great narrative of the growth of
Muslim power in Europe, where national suicide is reflected in
the birth rates of Italian, German, French and British non-Muslims
(to call them Christians would be wholesale co-optation). These
societies seem to be willing themselves to go out of existence,
as the birth rate falls below the replacement rate.
Europeans who are satisfied that the tradition of press liberty
is asserting itself in the current challenge but who are entitled
to wonder whether five, 10 years from now -- let alone 50 -- any
such frolic as that of Jyllands-Posten would in fact
be tolerated. The laws asserting the freedom of the press, like
most laws, depend for their fortitude on public backing. Forty-two
percent of Germans, polled on the question, opposed publishing
"cartoons which might hurt religious feelings." Triggering
a second question: Is the publishing of iconoclastic material
integral to the question at hand?
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.
But is the day imminently
ahead when Muslim influence expresses itself here as vigorously
as it is doing in Europe? How exactly to account for the nearly
universal decision of the press not to reproduce the Danish cartoons?
The arrival of decorum in Slate?
The question not being
ventilated with sufficient thoroughness is: What are Muslim leaders
doing to dissociate their faith from the ends to which it is being
taken by the terrorists?
2006 Universal Press Syndicate