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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Everyone's freaking out

The Mohammad caricatures story refuses to die. It began last October, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran an article by the writer of a children's book about the life of Mohammad, who could not find anyone to illustrate it because artists are so afraid of reprisals from radical Muslims opposed to any depiction of Mohammad (like Judaism, Islam forbids idolatry).

To hammer home the point, and make a test case of the question of the freedom of artists to draw pictures that offend radical Muslims, the newspaper surrounded his editorial with cartoons that depicted Mohammad--some political (Mohammad with his turban as a bomb), some not (this completely inoffensive drawing).

Ever since, radical Muslims worldwide have been flipping out, sending death threats and boycotting Danish companies. Libya actually closed its embassy in Copenhagen. Two of the cartoonists went into hiding after the Pakistani Jamaaat-e-Islami party offered five thousand kroner to anyone who killed one of them. And anger over the cartoons was one issue motivating the night riots in France in November.

Many different groups have demanded action by the government of Denmark or at least denunciation of the newspaper, which the government has categorically refused to do. Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen refused to even meet with 11 ambassadors from Islamic countries, declaring:

This is a matter of principle. I won’t meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so... I will never accept that respect for a religious stance leads to the curtailment of criticism, humour and satire in the press... As prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media and I don’t want that kind of tool.
Now even blogs that run the pictures and criticize radical Muslims are getting threats. One such blogger,'s Perry de Havilland, has two good posts on the issue (1, 2):
Well it seems that this story is destined to run and run. People in Srinagar, the largest city in Indian controlled Kashmir, have gone on strike in protest over the Danish cartoons. Now am I the only one who finds this truly bizarre? It is hard to imagine a provincial Danish town, say, Esbjerg, suddenly downing tools to protest a comic saying rude things about Lutheranism in a newspaper in the Indian sub-continent.

Still, it does go to show that there truly is a globalized culture war going on and that is it has nothing to do with the "evil plots of the Bush-Hitler Illuminati". The fact people in Srinagar even know about the Danish cartoons is remarkable.

He adds:
That the Islamists should have taken the bait Jyllands-Posten dangled in front of them is rather splendid because you cannot win a war, cultural or otherwise, by just defending yourself.
He also calls for the sacking of Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, who wrote to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, saying:
"I understand your attitude to the images that appeared in the newspaper. I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the beliefs of others. This kind of thing is unacceptable."
(I'm afraid she was referring to the cartoons, not to the reaction.)

The saga has inspired parody:

Meanwhile, anger over the cartoons [and subsequent reprinting of said cartoons] has reached a fever pitch. Just yesterday an unidentified man became so upset over the unfair stereotypes in the strip that he attempted to blow up the newspaper's offices. In a note attached to the improvised explosive device, he explained the reasoning behind his desperate act: "This will teach you people to to automatically assume that Muslims are terrorists- oh, wait."
Israel's Y-net news quotes a posting on the matter on the website of Al-Ghurabaa, a UK Islamist organization founded by followers of notorious Islamist leader Sheikh Omar Bakri:
The insulting of the Messenger Muhammad is something that the Muslims cannot and will not tolerate and the punishment in Islam for the one who does so is death. This is the sunnah (recorded words and actions of Muhammad) of the prophet and the verdict of Islam upon such people, one that any Muslim is able [to] execute.
One more disturbing aspect of this story is that, when it comes down to this type of issue of free speech vs. subjectivism, conservatives seem to be doing a much better job of standing up for what's right: two of the best editorials on the matter (1, 2) are by FrontPage Magazine.

This is especially ironic because of FrontPage editor David Horowitz's own goading of campus lefties at Columbia, Brown and other schools. Not to get into that in too much detail--90% of the people who are reading this are alumni of Columbia's campus newspaper, The Columbia Daily Spectator--but I never understood the impulse of leftist students who demanded that the Spectator and other newspapers not run Horowitz's editorial ads, or the policy of the Spectator that (inconsistently) declined to run polemical ads. Hell, they were a lot more interesting than whatever ad for bagels would likely run in their place. I also disagreed with the censoring of one cartoonist's purposely offensive cartoons (here's two pretty edgy ones that were not censored: 1, 2), in which I saw a valid motivation to engage debate in the manner of the Mohammad cartoons.

Getting back to the Jyllands-Posten issue, I'm not sure that it is wise to view this as a war, or to consider drawing out the worst side of your opponents a victory, as Perry de Havilland does. But it certainly does demonstrate that the "clash of cultures" has as much potential for worldwide conflict as the clash of classes did, and that the position that I and many of my friend had in college--that the Islamist threat to democracy would disappear if Americans conducted a fairer foreign policy and made serious efforts to understand their perspective--was wrong.

I thought it was endearing that my favorite professor, Richard Bulliet, fiddled with a rosary given him by Ayatollah Khomeini. I didn't understand then that this was a man who ordered journalists killed, who declared that trials were unnecessary for enemies of the people. I also used to distribute a Maoist newspaper at Columbia; I didn't even know then of Lenin's cable, "Kill more professors". I was proud of seeing past American patriotic lies, and I still am. But I no longer think that conservatives are all wrong when they worry that universities are producing adults unprepared to recognize the positive aspects of America's political and cultural role in the world and the negative aspects of our modern opponents, Soviet/Maoist communism and Islamism.


Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Feb 03, 02:37:00 PM:
Dear Ben Skywalker,
I believe it was Obi Was who said,
Anonymous Anonymous on Fri Feb 03, 02:39:00 PM:
Oops, I mean OBI WAN, but you knew that...