European Islam

Cartoon Wars

In Beirut, rioting Arabs torch the Danish Consulate. In Damascus, the Danish and Norwegian embassies are destroyed. In Gaza City, rioting Palestinians toss a bomb into the French Cultural Center and storm the German Cultural Center smashing windows, breaking doors and burning the German flag. In Hebron, Palestinians attack an international observer mission with stones and bottles. An Italian priest is murdered in Turkey. Swedish peacekeepers in Afghanistan are attacked with guns and grenades. In Indonesia, the Danish embassy is invaded and destroyed. The Austrian embassy in Iran is stoned and firebombed. Angry demonstrators march in Auckland, New Zealand. Danish products are boycotted in the Middle East. Europeans are declared legitimate targets for assassination. Journalists receive death threats. Danes, Scandinavians and other Europeans are threatened with kidnapping and fear for their lives. Calls to behead the editors of newspapers and calls for jihad against Europe are heard across the continent. Screaming demonstrators from London to Manila wave placards threatening further 9/11s and calls for the bombing of Denmark and the “extermination of those who slander Islam” roar through Europe.


In a recent issue of National Review Online, Stephen Schwartz asked if the faith of more than a billion people is really so weak that it is threatened by a few cartoons?” In fact, the opposite is the case. Setting aside the political motivations of Iran and Syria in igniting the riots, these events represent the first clear evidence of a global clash between a resurgent, stridently religious and virulently anti-Western form of Islam and the tolerant, secular multiculturalism of the Western world?

First, some background. In September 2005, Denmark’s largest daily, Jyllands-Posten, published “The Faces of Mohammed” – a series of caricatures depicting the prophet Mohammed. Drawing scant attention, in January 2006, they were distributed throughout the Islamic world by a Danish imam who added a couple more especially offensive ones to fan Islamic flames throughout the continent. (As an aside, while Islamic radicals maintain that the physical representation of the prophet Mohammed is forbidden in Islam as idolatry, there is no specific Koranic injunction prohibiting it. Many portraits of Mohammad have been drawn by Muslim artists (especially from the 16th to 19th centuries) often commissioned by Muslim rulers themselves. Amir Taheri noted recently in the Wall Street Journal that a statue of Mohammad can even be seen at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honored as one of the great lawgivers of mankind).

One of the cartoons depicted Mohammed with a bomb in his turban while a second showed him in Heaven, pleading with newly arrived suicide terrorists: “Stop, stop! We have run out of virgins!” Regarding the “bomb in the turban” cartoon, it is of more than passing interest that Moslem Brotherhood-supporter Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, who is head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS), and the spiritual guide of many other radical Islamic organizations across the world has constantly condoned suicide bombings and never stops reminding his worshippers that Islam commands its followers to kill infidels and Muslim apostates in the name of jihad.

While it is certainly true that mocking one’s religious beliefs is wrong, the Danish newspaper was attempting to make a serious point. It had received complaints from an author who was unable to find an illustrator who would be prepared to draw images of Mohammed for his book for fear of being murdered by Muslim extremists (as happened in late 2004 to Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh).

The newspaper commissioned the cartoons to make its point about how freedom of the press can be thwarted by fear and the violent intimidation (in the name of Islam) being practiced across the European continent. The larger issue to the newspaper (and to the world as it happens) was how to balance freedom of the press with Islamic religious sensibilities in a world undergoing a radical Islamic resurgence.

Based upon the violence that has ensued as a result of the publication of these cartoons, it would appear that radical Islamists demand nothing less than the supremacy of their religion not only in the Muslim world, but wherever Muslims happen to live. Non-Muslims might well have shown more sympathy with Muslims who found the cartoons offensive were it not for the astonishing double standards and hypocrisy of the Muslim world when it comes to accepting and applauding vicious slanders against Jews and Christians.

Radical Islamists see no contradiction between their demand for “respect” for Islam and their demands that Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism or any other non-Islamic religion accept d’himmitude or legal second class status. They see no contradiction between demanding the supremacy of Islam on the one hand, and trampling on the Danish flag (which has the Christian cross emblazoned on it), banning religions other than Islam in Saudi Arabia, publishing viciously anti-Semitic canards in the Arab media and demanding that all other religions must submit to “the will of Allah” on the other. That is, infidels should have no rights or freedoms other than those bestowed upon them in accordance with Shari’a (Islamic law). And therein lies the problem.

Christians may be incensed when Britney Spears mocks the Crucifixion of Christ in an upcoming installment of the NBC show, “Will and Grace” (scheduled to air on the eve of Good Friday), or when, in 1989, Andres Serrano unveiled a “sculpture” of Christ on a crucifix submerged in a glass of urine (titled “Piss Christ”) which appeared in a New York Times fashion spread and was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, or when in 1999, the Boston Globe defended a painting by Chris Ofili, titled “Holy Virgin Mary” as being worthy of government subsidy – a painting at the Brooklyn Museum that depicted the Virgin Mary covered in elephant feces…….but Christians do not invade art galleries, bomb discotheques, burn embassies, threaten more 9/11s or murder film makers who produce offensive documentaries.

Nor for that matter are Jews especially pleased when referred to by Arab governments and radical Islamists alike as “sons of pigs and monkeys” or when they watch clips from the Ramadan film series shown in Egypt and Syria portraying the vilest sort of hatred that would have embarrassed the Nazis – Jews murdering young Muslim children and using their blood to bake “pastries” on Passover, or when a state-controlled Iranian newspaper runs a Holocaust cartoon contest, or when a Muslim Web site posts a cartoon showing Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler. Nevertheless, Jews do not threaten to murder or destroy those who produce such insults or slash the throats of victims on camera, or self-detonate during wedding ceremonies, or invade TV stations, or seek to destroy Islamic civilization because of it.

And while Hindus consider it odious to eat cows, they do not resort to bombings, boycotts, threats and violence when non-Hindus go to Burger King because their religious sensibilities are offended.

Believers in radical Islam (and its supporters) however, do.

Unfortunately, the West’s current struggle with Islamic terrorism makes it clear that it is no longer possible to overlook the culture of intolerance, hatred and xenophobia that permeates the Islamic world. The UN’s Arab Human Development Reports have devastatingly exposed the shortcomings of Arab societies which centuries ago laid the foundations for the Renaissance and made enormous strides in science, mathematics, astronomy, architecture and philosophy. Today, these same societies are intellectually sterile, uncreative and ruled by secular and theocratic dictators. Rather than ignoring insults in cartoons or elsewhere, the Islamic world has incorporated them into a culture of victimhood and intimidation and that is now playing itself out throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Moderate Muslim leaders and intellectuals must be willing to retrace their religion’s steps and make the intellectual changes necessary for participation in the modern world. Islam is centuries overdue for a Reformation. That, however, will not come about if Western governments and the Western media continue to pander to Islamic sensitivities while looking away from violent Islamic intolerance. Unfortunately, editors from many of the major newspapers around the world have already gone out of their way to say that they wouldn’t dream of publishing cartoons that Muslims find offensive, but that has not stopped many of them from publishing cartoons offensive to Jews (Arab blood being smeared on the Western Wall in the Guardian, or the flesh of Palestinian babies being eaten by Ariel Sharon in the Independent (Jerusalem Post), and that is precisely the problem. Newspapers continue to ignore the officially sanctioned hate directed at Jews by the Arab government-controlled media, while sympathizing with radical Muslims offended by a few cartoons in the free Western media.

And the newspapers are not alone. When a Swedish company withdraws a textbook on religion because it contains illustrations of Mohammed, or when a British judge bars Jews and Hindus from the jury at the trial of a Muslim, or when a medieval Christian Spanish King (Ferdinand III) who was responsible for the defeat of Islamic Spain six hundred years ago is removed as the patron saint of an annual Spanish fiesta, or when the Dutch Language Union decrees that the word “Christ” must now be spelled with a lowercase “c”, or when crucifixes begin to disappear from some European hospitals, or when discussions commence on whether statues of Dante should be removed because the poet’s “Divine Comedy” happened to placed Mohammad in hell, or when a British government office bans Winnie the Pooh piggy banks and other images of pigs because they are offensive to Muslims…..a significant freedom is being lost not because of “sensitivity to certain cultures” and not because of “the responsibilities of the press” but because of pure fear and intimidation. The issue becomes the point at which a free, tolerant and primarily secular society is prepared to find the courage to stand up to those determined to tear it down.

Sara Bjerg Moller, in response to the riots, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “At issue is whether two cultures can co-exist if Muslims refuse to accept one of the basic tenets of liberalism – the right of others to express their views, however offensive, without the threat of violent reprisal. The Muslims who torched embassies, and the governments that did not condemn them have shown themselves incapable of understanding what pluralistic societies are all about.”

Minorities have rights, but so do majorities, and one of the most important of these rights is the right to survive with their culture and traditions while not being held hostage to fear. The common man is left to conclude that if these jihadis succeed, the freedoms that we all enjoy will be swept aside by the censorship and intolerance of Shari’a (Islamic law). The limits of free expression cannot be set by the sensitivities of people who don’t believe in it. By refusing radical Islamic demands based upon sound Western principles, we strengthen the position of reasonable Muslims. When we do the opposite, we open Pandora’s Box.

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