As Danish embassies
come under attack around the world in misplaced retaliation for
the four-month old decision by a Danish newspaper to publish satirical
cartoons of Islam's prophet, Mohammed, it is a time for choosing.
It is a choice between
freedom of speech and violent intimidation. It is a choice between
tolerance and intolerance. It is ultimately a choice between civil
society and theocracy. Fear is the only argument for neutrality.
But what can the average
American do besides shake their head at this sadly absurd new
chapter in the clash of civilizations? Vote with your wallet.
The Arab boycott of
Danish goods is by far the most civilized register of displeasure
at the content of the cartoons. It can and should be responded
to in kind. Seeking out and supporting Danish industry is a peaceful
way to express solidarity with the besieged values of freedom
Denmark is an extraordinary
country, simultaneously civilized and libertine, boasting its
own aesthetic of high design, Hans Christian Andersen, and a respect
for tolerance that borders on the reverential. It is a sad irony
that this small country of 5.2 million - which has welcomed over
200,000 Muslim immigrants - should become a flashpoint for intolerant
So far the violent
protests that have set fire to Danish embassies abroad have not
yet jumped the ocean to America, though the NYPD has stepped up
security at the Danish consulate in New York. I spoke to the Danish
consul general in New York, Torben Gettermann, who said, "We've
gotten reactions both negatives and positive. We've gotten some
expressions of protest, but also a lot of support for the freedom
of speech and those people who want to know where to buy Danish
products or make donations to Danish charities."
Despite 1.3 million
ethnic Danes in the United States, not one of our city's 18,000
restaurants is exclusively dedicated to Danish food, although
excellent Scandinavian restaurants such as Aquavit abound. Danish
design products are available in the gift shop of the Museum of
Modern Art, the company Knoll sells Danish furniture at stores
throughout the city, Georg Jensen offers silverware and jewelry,
Skagen makes excellent but inexpensive watches (I wear one myself),
while Bodum sells high-end kitchen-ware. The Danish dairy producer
Arla, which has been disproportionately affected by the Arab boycott,
owns the Wisconsin cheese company White Clover, while traditional
Danish foods such as Carlsberg beer, Danish Ham and Havarti cheese
can be found in stores or from importers on the internet. The
children's building toys Lego come from "Leg Godt,"
which means "Play well" in Danish. Supporting Danish
goods isn't likely to lead to world peace, but it just might provide
a demonstrable counterweight to the chaos going on overseas.
We don't want to fight
fire with fire - literally, as it turns out - in this conflict.
But neither should we buy into arguments about unbridgeable cultural
differences or moral equivalence. One clarifying example can be
found in the extreme double standard of cartoons used in the crisis.
CNN caught violent protestors outside the Indonesian embassy brandishing
a cartoon drawn on a bedsheet showing Muslim clerics cutting off
the head of a generic Danish businessman. This is a great deal
more hateful than the instigating cartoons, one of which depicted
the prophet Mohammed trying to warn a suicide bomber off from
the gates of heaven saying that he was out of virgins. As the
world knows after videotaped executions in Iraq, the threat by
radical Muslims to cut off someone's head is not empty; a point
that was further driven home by a street preacher in Gaza who,
according to Reuters, said "we will not accept less than
the severing of heads of those responsible."
The Arab street may
perhaps be forgiven for conflating the idea of attacking the Danish
government for the actions of a free and independent Danish press.
After all, in countries that have taken diplomatic action against
Denmark - such as Saudi Arabia and Syria - state-controlled newspapers
are the rule and not the exception.
In this extremist
enabling-environment we should not ignore the lonely but hopeful
voices of the more assimilated European Muslims who are quick
to say that the spiraling violent street protests do not speak
for them. One prominent example is the Palestinian-born Danish
Member of Parliament Naser Khader, who said to the offending Danish
newspaper Jyllands-Posten, "To be a practicing Muslim
is not the same as being an extremist. I'll fight the people who
think they can tell me and others how to be a good Muslim. That
is a matter between Allah and individual Muslims." Such voices
of moderation need to be given more attention, for it is from
them that we might find a way to redeem the promise of peaceful
coexistence in a pluralistic society.
Tolerance is a two-way
street: it implies not only mutual respect but a live and let
live attitude that is absent from Muslims' reaction to these cartoons.
The violent protestors that have taken to the streets around the
world are providing evidence of mass psychosis rather than being
witnesses to one of the world's great faiths.
At protests in London,
cameras caught sight of two signs that cut to the heart of why
this is a time for choosing. One sign said "Freedom Go to
Hell" while another read "Learn from 9/11". By
standing up to this controversy in the spirit of civility, in
defense of a universal rather than culturally determined right
to freedom of speech, we are showing that we have learned the
lessons of 9/11. We will not be intimidated by threats of violence.
Instead, we will stand up and defend the multicultural civil society.
Avlon is a columnist for the New
York Sun and the author