Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

CARTOONS have overtaken Denmark’s previous most important export – Hamlet!

They are only Cartoons!

A variety of columns from various sources about the Danish Cartoons.

Our media must give Muslims the chance to debate with each other

We used to say 'When in Rome do as the Romans'; but Rome is now Tunis, Cairo and Tirana, while London is all the world

Timothy Garton Ash

Thursday February 9, 2006

The Guardian

Facing me in my living room, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed says a Danish cartoonist who insulted the prophet should be tried in an Islamic court and then "he will be executed according to Islamic rules". Of course the Syrian-born Islamic cleric is not physically sitting in my living room; he's on a television screen, live from Beirut, where the Danish embassy has just been trashed by demonstrators. That makes the death threat only slightly less threatening. Imagine how it feels to be one of those Danish cartoonists.

For centuries, there has been a good rule for the coexistence of civilisations. It said: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Globalisation has undermined that rule. Because of mass migration, peoples and their cultures are physically mixed up together. Rome is no longer just Rome; it's also Tunis, Cairo and Tirana. Birmingham is also Kashmir and the Punjab, while London is all the world. Because of worldwide mass media, there is no longer such a thing as local offence or local intimidation. Everything can reach everyone. Competing cultures try to spread their norms around the globe: George Bush for western-style democracy, Pope Benedict XVI for Catholicism, Omar Bakri Mohammed for sharia.

How should we live in this brave new world? How can we stay free in it? Like most of my friends, I have been agonising about this over the past week. We feel this is a defining moment, for all who live in Europe. And we know that there are no simple answers. The least bad outcome will be a painful compromise between the universal right to free speech - the oxygen of all other freedoms - and the need for voluntary self-restraint in such a mixed-up world.

One thing, however, I know with certainty: violence, or the direct threat of violence, of the kind we have seen in the past few days, is totally unjustified as a response to any published word or image. That is the first thing to be said. I have been saddened to see British politicians and commentators, particularly on the left, hesitating for a long moment to say so clearly, or feeling it necessary to say other things first. (Do you want to leave the defence of free speech and non-violence to David Davis?) I have also been saddened, though hardly surprised, by the weakness of the EU's reaction to the criminal attack on the Danish embassy in Syria, which seems to have been permitted, if not actively encouraged, by the Syrian regime. We should have said: when you burn the Danish flag you burn our flag. Why weren't all EU ambassadors instantly withdrawn from Damascus in protest?

Violence or the direct threat of violence - as in those posters held by London protesters that read "Behead Those Who Insult Islam" - is both morally unjustified and, rightly, brings the threat of criminal prosecution. It is right that Abu Hamza has been convicted for incitement to murder. (Incidentally, this shows that we do not need a new offence of glorification of terrorism, since he was convicted under existing laws.) Those Danish cartoons were offensive, perhaps even abusive - and I was not in favour of their re-publication in various European newspapers - but they were not threatening to any particular group or individuals. They are in no way comparable with a death threat to individual cartoonists or torching an embassy - with people dying in the process. And let's not have any of that tired old higher nonsense about "structural violence" or "repressive tolerance".

This violence was unjustified and criminal, but perhaps it was also effective. One way of looking at the self-restraint of the British media over the past week is to say how responsible, pragmatic and sensitively multicultural they all were. Alternatively you might say they were scared of having their offices burned. Was it wisdom with a seasoning of fear, or rather fear packaged as wisdom? Throughout history, violence has often paid off, but the struggle of civilisation against barbarism is to ensure that it doesn't.

That said, the question remains: how to strike the balance between free speech and mutual respect in this mixed-up world, both blessed and cursed with instant communication? We should not fight fire with fire, threats with threats. The danger at this critical moment is that we will see the beginning of a vicious spiral, with Muslim extremists blowing wind into the sails of anti-Muslim extremists (such as Nick Griffin of the BNP, and how I wish he had been convicted a couple of days before Abu Hamza), whose violent language in turn drives more moderate Muslims to support the jihadists, and so on down. But I do not agree with yesterday's Guardian leader when it said that the BBC's Today programme was wrong to broadcast an interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad, who was also interviewed by Channel 4 news.

On the contrary, I think the British media have done exactly what they should by letting us hear the voices of Muslim extremists but setting them against moderate and reasonable Muslim voices, as well as those of non-Muslims. There was a riveting discussion on Newsnight, in which two British Muslim women calmly argued with the ranting, demagogic, but in style and accent also recognisably British, extremist Anjem Choudary, of the al-Ghuraba groupuscule. Perhaps it would have been better still if the discussion had been chaired by, say, Zeinab Badawi rather than Jeremy Paxman; but the essential point is that it provided a civilised platform on which Muslims could argue with fellow Muslims. Reporters sweepingly write of "Muslim anger" erupting across the world, but many British Muslims are as angry with the jihadist provocateurs as they are with the Danish cartoonists, as we will doubtless see in the demonstration planned by British Muslims in London this Saturday.

The temptation, to which too many are succumbing, is to see this as a showdown between Islam and Europe or the west (although, for once, the US has been somewhat out of the firing line). That is how extremists want to frame the argument, as in the poster waved outside the Danish embassy in London: "Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer". But the real dividing line is between moderates and extremists on both sides, between men and women of reason and dialogue, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and men and women of hatred, such as Abu Hamza or Nick Griffin. Not for the first time in recent history, the means are more important than the ends. In fact, the means you choose determine where you'll end up.

This is not a war, and it's not going to be won or lost by the west. It's an argument inside Islam and inside Europe, where millions of Muslims already live. If reason prevails over hate, it will be because most British, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Danish and altogether European Muslims prevail over their own extremist minorities. We non-Muslim Europeans can contribute to that outcome, by our policies abroad, towards Iraq, Iran, Israel and Palestine, and at home, on immigration, education, jobs and so forth. We can also contribute by cultural sensitivity and self-restraint, but we cannot compromise on the essentials of a free society. Offering platforms of civilised free speech for European Muslims to conduct their debate with each other, as the British media have done this week, is one of the best answers we can give to hate.

Moral Atomic Bomb

In the midst of a planetary intifada, let us stand by the moderate Muslims.


Thursday, February 9, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

One can find these cartoons mediocre.

One can perceive in them, as I do, a certain similarity with the anti-Semitic and racist caricatures of the 1930s or '50s.

One can--and it would still be true--decide that depicting the prophet in this way, particularly with such dumb and obnoxious features, wasn't the brightest idea in the present context and amounted to tossing a lit match onto a powder keg.

Still, it is one thing to publish ludicrous cartoons in a newspaper that no one has heard of outside Denmark, but it is quite another to see these cartoons travel around the globe four months later, igniting a form of planetary intifada with enormous demonstrations, embassies and consulates set on fire, a priest shot dead in Turkey, four protesters killed in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, not to mention the turning of Westerners living on Islamic soil into targets, mortal enemies threatened with death--expiatory victims offered to the white-hot, crazed and radicalized crowd.

So what made this demented scene, this planetary upheaval, possible? However you might look at the problem, it is hard not to see that insidious forces have brought these drawings to the attention of the Muslim masses. And it is hard not to link this provocation, the deliberate circulation of these cartoons, the quasi-home-delivery of a Danish paper that no one could have guessed had so many readers in the Muslim world, it is hard not to link this self-inflicted blasphemy, this calculated offense (calculated, mind you, by the organizers of the distribution of the cartoons), it is hard not to link this blasphemy to a new planetary configuration, itself determined by three recent and major events.

The diversionary tactic of a Syria which we never saw so concerned over religious matters, but which now turns out to be capable of anything--including infiltrating agents into Lebanon and sponsoring demonstrations in Damascus, where it is well known that nothing of the sort can happen without the explicit assent of the government--in order to reclaim its role as a great regional agitator and make everyone forget the involvement of its secret services in the murder of Rafik Hariri.

The hardening of Iran's Islamic Republic, ready to make all kinds of theological concessions (including a grand historic alliance of Shiites and Sunnis, which experts have been telling us for decades would be against nature) with the goal of heading up in the Muslim and Arab world the grand anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and antidemocratic crusade.

And then this tragedy in the Palestinian territories of the victory of an ideology whose themes (the call, based on the denial of the Holocaust, for the pure and simple destruction of Israel and the Jews) had up to now been in power only in openly dictatorial, sometimes even crypto-fascist, states. This ideology has triumphed for the first time in a long while through democratic decision and the sacred path of the ballot. Would we be witnessing, without this electoral sacrament of Hamas, Hebron crowds so sure of their right to hold any Westerner in the West Bank accountable for the offense? Would we be witnessing all these Fatah militants--were it not for the will to defy Hamas on the very terrain where it won--actually trying to outbid everyone else in the grotesque denunciation of the "French position," as manifested by the reprinting of the cartoons in an obscure Parisian newspaper?

These three events are linked as a triangle. There is between these three poles a veritable triangle of death, which is in the process of locking into place thanks to the cartoons affair-- and which, if it is successfully welded together, will produce not just symbolic heat, but, with an Iranian bomb, a fissile heat unlike anything we saw in the good old axis of evil.

And, faced with this triangulation in progress, faced with this formidable hate-and-death machine, faced with this "moral atomic bomb," we have no other solution than to counter with another triangle--a triangle of life and reason, which more than ever must unite the United States, Europe and Israel in a rejection of any clash of civilizations of the kind desired by the extremists of the Arab-Muslim world and by them alone.

The heart of this second triangle? First, the affirmation of principles. The affirmation of the press's right to the expression of idiocies of its choosing--rather than the acts of repentance that too many leaders have resorted to, and which merely encourages in the Arab street the false and counterproductive illusion that a democratic state may exert power over its press.

And second, in the same breath, the reaffirmation of our support for those enlightened moderate Muslims who know that the honor of Islam is far more insulted, and trampled under foot, when Iraqi terrorists bomb a mosque in Baghdad, when Pakistani jihadists decapitate Daniel Pearl in the name of God and film their crime, or when an Algerian fundamentalist emir disembowels, while reciting the Quran, an Algerian woman whose only crime was to have dared show her beautiful face. Moderate Muslims are alone these days, and in their solitude they more than ever need to be acknowledged and hailed.

Mr. Lévy is the author of "American Vertigo," published recently by Random House, and of "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" (Melville House, 2003). This piece was translated from the original French by Hélène Brenkman.


                      by Michael Radu

In  September   2005,   Danish   newspaper   Jyllands-Posten

published 12  cartoons that depicted the prophet Mohammed in

a less  than positive  manner, including  one that  has  his

turban replaced  by a  bomb with a lit fuse. This January, a

Norwegian  journal   reprinted  the  cartoons.  The  result,

according to  Der Speigel, was that Arab countries including

Saudi  Arabia,   Libya,  and  Jordan,  have  staged  loosely

organized, impromptu  boycotts that have led many companies,

including France's  Carrefour supermarket  chain, to  remove

Danish products from their shelves. Denmark's Jyske Bank has

estimated that  a  one-year  Arab  boycott  of  Danish  food

products could  result in lost revenues of 322 million euros

and the loss of as many as 4,000 jobs.

For  liberal   Europeans,  used   to  cartoons  or  comments

involving Jesus  Christ, the  Pope, or God himself, this was

just  another  example  of  media  irreverence  in  a  post-

Christian  country.   Indeed,   according   to   the   State

Department, as  of January  2002, while  84.3 percent of the

Danish  population  belonged  to  the  official  Evangelical

Lutheran Church,  only  about  3  percent  of  those  church

members attend services regularly-making them about the same

number as  there are  Muslims in  Denmark. Approximately 5.4

percent of  the population  is not religious and 1.5 percent

atheist. There  are therefore  twice as  many agnostics  and

atheists than practicing Christians.

Not  surprisingly,   given  such  attitudes,  when  Thorkild

Grosboel, pastor  of  Taarbaek,  a  town  near  the  capital

Copenhagen, and  thus a  state employee, stated in 2003 that

"there is  no heavenly  God, there is no eternal life, there

is no  resurrection" and was fired, many Danes supported his

"right" to  a salary  as a pastor. All of this suggests that

if one  looks for  "crusaders," Denmark  is simply the wrong


Speaking in  Doha, Qatar,  ex-president Bill Clinton claimed

that the  cartoons are an "outrage" to Muslims. On the other

hand, belatedly  and somewhat  surprisingly, many  Europeans

seem to  understand what  is at stake--quite simply, freedom

of expression and, implicitly, liberal democracy in general.

That is  why Die  Welt and  Berliner Zeitung  in Germany, La

Stampa in  Italy, El  Mundo in Madrid, France Soir in Paris,

and  Tribune   de  Geneve,   among  others,   reprinted  the

"offending" cartoons,  in solidarity  with  Jyllands-Posten.

Even  more  surprising,  albeit  of  doubtful  sincerity  or

lasting power,  the European  Union told  the Saudis  that a

boycott against  Danish  products  will  be  interpreted  as

directed to  all EU  members. (The  giant French supermarket

chain Carrefour  nonetheless went  ahead and  removed Danish

products from its shelves.

The reaction  in the Arab/Muslim world was revealing of what

may well  be the  most important  and lasting  result of the

controversy. With a handful of honorable exceptions, such as

Mona Eltahawy,  who asked "Can we finally admit that Muslims

have blown  out of  all proportion  their  outrage  over  12

cartoons depicting  the  Prophet  Mohammed  published  in  a

Danish newspaper  last September?" that reaction was defined

by two elements: a fundamental lack of understanding of what

democracy and  freedom of  the  press  are  all  about,  and

continued use  of violence  or  threats  to  impose  Islamic

concepts upon non-Muslims.

As could  have been  expected, the  worst offenders were the

Palestinians, who  are major  beneficiaries of  Scandinavian

aid--which should  put paid  to the argument that the recent

electoral victory  of Hamas  was simply  punishment for  the

Fatah party's  corruption, rather than another indication of

the  popularity   of  violent   Islamism.  Anti-Danish  (and

Norwegian and  Swedish) mass  demonstrations have  been held

throughout the  Muslim world  and threats  made against  the

citizens of  those countries  in Gaza.  The Saudi and Syrian

ambassadors to Copenhagen have been withdrawn, and Denmark's

diplomatic relations with Libya ruptured.

The generalized  boycott against  Danish products  have cost

the main  European dairy  producer, Arla  Foods  (which  has

annual Middle  East sales  of $488  million), $1.8 million a

day. It  expects to  have to  lay off  workers, as does Novo

Nordisk, the  world's largest maker of insulin. One can only

wonder if  the health  of children  and  diabetics  is  less

important  than   imposing  Islamic   values  on   a  small,

democratic European country.

By now,  the Organization  of the  Islamic  Conference,  the

Muslim World  League, and  the Arab  League have all charged

Denmark  with   blasphemy,  desecration,  and  sacrilege.  A

protester in  Kuwait said  he wanted Danes "to feel the harm

as a  people the  same way they harmed our prophet." And the

World  Assembly   of  Muslim  Youth  has  decried  Denmark's

"culture of Islamophobia."

It has taken a long time for Samuel Huntington 's concept of

a "clash of civilizations" to be taken seriously in European

and American  elite circles, but how else could one describe

mass demonstrations in the street and such strong government

reactions throughout the Muslim world against the concept of

a free  press, which  is clearly a Western invention? And we

should be  clear that  that is what is at stake. The Danish,

French, and  Norwegian governments have all tried, futilely,

to explain  that what  newspapers publish  has nothing to do

with government  policies, and  it should  be  obvious  that

neither Arla  Foods nor  Novo Nordisk  control the editorial

decisions of  Jyllands-Posten. Unfortunately, in most Muslim

and all  Arab countries,  there  are  no  such  separations.

Hence,  the   demand  for   government  action  against  the

newspaper -  a call  going directly against the very essence

of Danish and European democratic systems.

The latest  assault against  Western values  in the  name of

Islam is  not the  first. There  have been  similar,  albeit

smaller and  briefer ones,  attacks on  free expression  for

almost two decades, in the cases of novelists Salman Rushdie

and Michel  Houllebecq, journalist Oriana Fallaci, and Dutch

film director  Theo van  Gogh, who  was assassinated, all in

the name  of punishing insults to Islam. The Jyllands-Posten

conflict, however,  seems to have accomplished two things in

the West.  First, it  has made  it clear  that most  Muslims

simply do  not comprehend  but nevertheless  oppose  Western

democratic  values   and  diversity.       Second  and  most

important,  it   has  forced   the  Europeans  to  begin  to

understand and react to that fact.


The misplaced defense of free speech

By Aseem Shrivastava

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."

- 19th-century Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard  

A mature sense of humor must be founded on the capacity to laugh at oneself, for it is by worlds easier to make a laughing-stock of others, especially when one persists in remaining ignorant of their sensibilities. This can become seriously dangerous and lead to some absurd consequences when done in public.

This is the lesson one may draw from the events sparked by the publication of a series of frivolous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.

There are some other lessons that can be learned, but first a brief excursion into some not-so-popular strands of Western philosophy will be necessary to expose some of the elementary confusions regarding faith and reason that pervade popular discourse.

Is God really dead?

Since Friedrich Nietzsche made the oft-quoted but widely misunderstood remark about "the death of God" in the late 19th century, atheism has become part of intellectual orthodoxy in the West. It is not merely fashionable to be an atheist today. It may also indicate spiritual sloth and intellectual laziness, for blind believers in material progress and the church of technology need not take the trouble of examining the underlying philosophical underpinnings and prejudices of their own thinking, not to speak of the conspicuous absence of spiritual values. Nobody born in the West during the last century needs to waste any time in doubting any more whether God exists or not. It has been scientifically "proved" that there is no God. Such is the atheistic faith, if I may be permitted a malapropism.

In fact, no such thing has ever been proved in the history of human thought. The two things hardest for human beings to prove are those for which there is no proof and those for which there might be too much! It has been as difficult to show God's existence as it has been to disprove the hypothesis. Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence.

When it comes to divine matters, all that human thought has been able to persuade others of are probabilities. Thus the French philosopher Blaise Pascal argued forcefully in the 17th century that if one was uncertain about the existence of God, it was far wiser to bet on (and believe in) his existence, at the cost of sacrificing some pleasures, than to deny a possible great fact (and carry on with a blind way of life) for which one may suffer "eternal damnation".

Interestingly, the 19th-century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, quoted at the start of this article, was an avowed Christian. However, he expressed his criticism of the established Lutheran Church of his day when he distinguished himself from "Sunday Christians". Importantly, he suggested that reason cannot decide the matter of God's existence. Why? Because if the fact was that God did not exist and one tried to prove his existence, it would be impossible to do so and, on the other hand, if God did in fact exist, our attempt would be all too foolish! A bit like painting the sky blue.

Thus belief in God's existence involved a "leap of faith". But faith was not, for Kierkegaard, a foul word. It was not inconsistent with the use of reason (as his many books demonstrate) and nor was it a superstition. On the contrary, "faith is the highest passion in a human being", he wrote in his book Fear and Trembling.

The irony, in light of recent events in Denmark, could not be starker.

In modern Western intellectual sensibility the reigning mainstream view, which informs most of the response in the Western media to the events emanating from the publication of the cartoons of Mohammed, is that science and reason have for a long time now overwhelmed religion as a basis for a world view and can and have replaced it.

Progress is, among other things, understood as the transition from religious to scientific societies. (Let us abstract, for the time being, from the massive church-going population of the United States that wanted only "intelligent design" to be taught in schools.) This is taken very widely as an article of faith in the popular mind of the West.

Such a view is just what Kierkegaard spent much of his life criticizing. With Pascal, two centuries before him, Kierkegaard argued that there were metaphysical truths that reason could only express, but never discover, that "the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of", as Pascal so pithily expressed it. For these two thinkers, both reason and faith were indispensable. There was no choice to be made between the two, if one knew the place of each.

It is safe to argue that present-day Western societies with their ruling ethos of material values, their willing embrace and imposition of compulsive consumerism (on the rest of the world), not to speak of the resulting narcissism, nihilism, the trivialization of spiritual values, and a total loss of faith in anything not centered on (privileged) humanity and its limited anthropocentric vision, would have terrified and ruined the digestion of such thinkers as Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

That is the extent to which Western culture is today in treason against some of the highest values of its own past.

It also bears mention that the history of Islamic societies, in which (to take just a few examples) mathematicians such as Omar Khayyam and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali found no contradiction between their religion and their reason, and in which tolerance of religious and intellectual freedom was in many cultures the very hallmark of good governance, is quite different from that of those periods of European history when true thinkers and skeptics, like Giordano Bruno, were burned at the stake. I point this out only to suggest that anxious extrapolations from the European experience of religion to that of others is free neither of prejudice nor of dangers.

Now, after that little philosophical preamble, we may approach the meaning of the events set in motion by the publication of those cartoons in a Danish newspaper three months ago.

Freedom of expression?

Is it so hard to make sense of the upset caused by the cartoons to so many Muslims across the world? If so, Palestinian writer Remi Kanazi may be of help: "Picture this: a cartoon of Jesus, with his pants down, smiling, raping a little boy. The caption above it reads 'Got Catholicism'?" Or how about a picture of a rabbi with blood dripping from his mouth after bludgeoning a small Palestinian boy with a knife shaped like the Star of David - the caption reads, "The devil's chosen ones."

Kanazi points out that there is probably a minority of free-speech advocates in the West who will accept such cartoons as within the law, if not within decency. But he is right to speculate reasonably that there will be public outrage, most media outlets would not pick them up and advertisers would soon pull out of those that did. A cartoon depicting a bomb-hurling Jesus, when the Irish Republican Army was setting Belfast ablaze, would have been greeted with revulsion and indignant censure.

Why is it so hard to understand that there are millions of people living today who still have not lost their faith, who are not prey to wealthy nihilism and its frivolous excesses, who still run their lives along disciplined religious lines? Why must it be assumed, in light of what the best religious thinkers in the West have themselves pointed out, that people with faith are necessarily unreasonable and superstitious? Couldn't a case be made that precisely those without any faith in any value, or principle, or god (except power and wealth) would be unreasonable?

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that he cannot apologize for his country's free press.

Free press? How come we hear so little from the same free press about European governments helping the US ferry people - on no fewer than 800 flights over four years, according to Amnesty International - to be tortured in places where it is legal to do so? How is it that nobody in the European free press is talking much about the fact that Iran stopped any further discussion of its nuclear program because the three EU leaders who were parleying with them reneged on their side of the bargain, by not ensuring Iran security in the event of a foreign invasion?

We hear nothing from the free press about the fact that the success of Hamas in the recent elections may have more to do with its schools and health clinics for beleaguered Palestinian communities (while the generous "international community" has abandoned them) than with its purported Islamic fundamentalism.

The "free" media in the West do not bother to investigate the events of September 11, 2001, or allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency itself may have been involved in the Bali bombings of 2002. It does not make any demands of the Bush administration to release the more than 1,700 pictures and videos of tortures and humiliations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that the Pentagon has kept away from the public eye.

We have to hear from bloggers on the Internet about the US forces in Iraq kidnapping women and girls related to suspected insurgents. Needless to mention, no dead American soldiers are shown on the TV screens of the Western media (though there is no bar on showing those killed by suicide bombers in Baghdad). How often is it remembered, not to speak of responsibility taken for the fact, that genocidal UN sanctions prosecuted by the West killed more than a million innocent people in Iraq in the 1990s? The free media in the West keep secret from the public the fact that the US has for years given asylum to proven terrorists such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada, wanted by Latin American governments for blowing up planes and suchlike. They are exempt from the "war on terror".

Above all, the media do little to ask for the impeachment of the consummate liars and mass-murderers who occupy elected positions in more than one Western democracy today, even as they pretend to teach lessons in political morals to less fortunate countries.

Free press? Or cowardly media eager to please the wealthy masters?

European cowardice has reached such abysmal depths that the media do not even have a nose for European interests anymore, if they are at odds with those of the Americans. How many times have we heard the European media point out that the Americans and the British have gone to Iraq (and are now going to Iran) looking for oil? We are encouraged to think that the Americans are so principled that they would have been as willing to shed the blood of their young men to bring freedom to a broccoli-growing tyranny in the South Pacific.

To gain monopolistic control of the oil supply of economic competitors such as Japan, China and the Europena Union has been the little-analyzed, overwhelming reason for the invasion of Iraq (and why Americans will never leave that country unless and until their own citizens demand it) and the forthcoming attack on Iran. But free Europeans prefer to look the other way. And deep in their hearts they know that their silence is a lie.

The dangers of cultural solipsism

To philosophers, solipsism is the view that the only thing in existence of which one can be sure is oneself. From here to relegating others to the far corners of one's imagination is but a short step, especially when one has the power to control their realities, for then one can subject them at will to one's illusions. What fun! If a lot of people in a certain culture fall into the habit of doing this, one is entitled to speak of cultural solipsism.

It is often heard in Europe (less often in the United States) nowadays that immigrants – and Muslims more than others – are destroying the age-old culture of the West. It is true that Western culture has seen far more happy times, when the meaning of life was not lost. However, if truth be acknowledged, nobody has robbed Europe of its culture and its heritage as effectively as the organized greed of multinational corporations.

It is they, with their agendas for endless growth and prosperity (self-enrichment), who have enslaved everyone in their jobs (when they are lucky to have one), who have made people too busy to dance, sing and create culture. It is they who have sought cheap labor from North Africa, the Middle East and many poor parts of the world, often sending headhunters to these countries looking for workers cheaper than their own. It is they who have brought on the more or less rapid unraveling of the welfare state, robbing the working classes of the benefits of public services while levying more taxes from them (while reducing those that the rich pay), making them work harder, and pushing for an increase in the age for retirement. Much of this is meant to meet the competition from East Asia, especially totalitarian China, which was introduced to capitalism by president Richard Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger back in the mid-1970s.

It is not the contention of this writer that Muslim communities are paragons of justice. Very far from it, in fact. If one looks around the world one is immediately struck by the routine oppression of societies like Saudi Arabia or Egypt, among others. However, there is plenty of oppression within Western societies too, not to forget the injustices inflicted by the West on the rest of the world.

If we are to survive globalization, communities of remarkably varied backgrounds and unequal histories have to learn to co-exist and understand themselves and each other. Most important, they have to diagnose their own ills honestly. This cannot be achieved even minimally if economically and militarily powerful Western societies continue to live in a culturally solipsistic universe in which others are mere figments of the imagination, fit for war games when they are at a distance, and the butt of racist jokes, even when they are neighbors. Far from such brutality and vulgarity, ruthless self-criticism has to be recalled as the very touchstone of democracy. It is in this context that genuine political opposition and a free media take their significance.

Western societies are duty-bound to examine themselves and their pasts in relation to others. That colonialism, imperialism and the concomitant racism have played and continue to play a huge part in the formation of the identities of everyone living today - whether they are Westerners or not - is not a theory but facts that any self-respecting scholarship acknowledges. That these facts of history inevitably color perceptions even today cannot be doubted. Only cultivated or intentional ignorance, led by state and media propaganda, can hide them.

The realities of others are also no less imperative to discover if one is to know one's own reality honestly. To surrender to parochial instincts, that too in the name of higher values, such as freedom of expression, is not only to ensnare oneself in further illusions, but to endanger today the very survival of human civilization as we know it. If the West were culturally less solipsistic it would not have found it hard to respect the sentiments of a billion-strong community that has stayed true to a key tenet of its faith: that the image of God, and of the Prophet, cannot be drawn. Even from a secular but skeptical point of view it may be wondered as to who could draw a picture of a human being whose image has never been recorded. In a similar vein, pantheists have argued that if God is everywhere, who could possibly draw an image of him/her/it?

If the realities of the lives of others are not respected and understood minimally (presumably a hallmark of civilization), the "clash of civilizations" (more accurately, the clash of barbarisms) will become all too tragically real. Thus it is absolutely necessary to imagine how it feels to be an Iraqi mother, all children lost to US bombs, whose husband has lost his job (because the factory where he worked was bombed) and now wants to help the insurgents throw the Americans out of Iraq.

Or to conceive how people on the streets of Tehran feel after European leaders have betrayed them, leaving them quite exposed to attacks by US or Israeli bombers. Without extending our imagination in these directions, one will fail to understand and alleviate the despair that people exposed to the military might of the West feel today. In the process, the despair will be aggravated with consequences all too foreseeable.

Can Europe recall its own culture?

When the arteries of human thought are prey to indoctrinated herd instincts under the tutelage of the big-brother state, how much freedom is there left to defend?

Freedom is to know the balance between silence and speech, to know when and about what to speak in public, not to rave and rant at will, not caring for the sensitivities of others. Hate-mongering is not freedom of speech. In a world situation fraught with potentially fatal geopolitical tensions generated around Islam by Western powers, it may easily become the kickoff for a terminal world war. It also demonstrates irresponsible journalism, atrophying under the force of the commercial imperative that compels it to confuse newspaper with tabloid.

The reader is urged to go back to the beginning of this article and read the quotation from Kierkegaard once again. He emphasizes thought over speech. In book after book Kierkegaard bemoaned the absence of contemplation in modern life, criticizing, among other things, the numbing effect of technology and commerce.

If one is able to think one's thoughts freely, one would not partake of vulgarity, or imagine that one's own freedom can be earned at the cost of that of others. One would never mistake power for freedom. The former is a zero-sum game, the latter is not, for it implies that the freedom of each is contingent on the freedom of all.

To have freedom of speech in a time of remarkable censorship and relentless thought control exercised by the powerful Western media on behalf of their corporate interests is a recipe for certain disaster. This is certainly one of the lessons to be learned.

It also demonstrates how dangerous illusions of freedom, when it is confused with power, are. The cartoons of Mohammed are thoughtless and vulgar, and only serve to show the absence of inner freedom in the so-called free societies of the modern world. For European newspapers outside Denmark to have reprinted the cartoons after three months (when the matter had not really had much effect outside Denmark until last week) is a sign of an infantile disorder in the public discourse of the West, not to speak of a terrifying cultural bankruptcy. The disease has now traveled westward from the US. It demonstrates the growing immaturity of a decadent polity. The 18th-century Enlightenment is but a shriveled memory, prey to Mammon.

Now how well do Danes know their cultural past, if the thoughts of their finest thinker sound alien to them today? And are Muslims to be blamed if Westerners have themselves allowed the commerce of decadent capitalism to make them forget some of best features of their intellectual heritage?

Aseem Shrivastava is an independent writer. He can be reached at .


February 07, 2006, 7:54 a.m.

The Clash to End All Clashes?

Making sense of the cartoon jihad.

In belated response to a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish paper and subsequently reprinted across Europe, scenes of outrage filed out of London, Beruit, and Damascus, among other cities this weekend. Flags and embassies burned. Placards (in London!) read: "Behead those who insult Islam."

In light of the anger unleashed, National Review Online asked some experts on Islam and/or the Mideast for their read on what's going on and what can/should be done. We asked each: Is this a clash of civilizations we're watching? What can be done? By Muslims? By everyone else?

Mustafa Akyol

As a Muslim myself, I understand the disgust of Muslims around the globe at the Euro-cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad. A deep respect for God, His revelations, and His prophets is a hallmark of the Islamic faith. In the Muslim culture there are no jokes about God; we take Him and His religion quite seriously. And we abhor those who ridicule them.

However, this sensitivity does not justify the violent, uncivilized rampage that we are now seeing across the Islamic world. They threaten and hurt innocent non-Muslims and do more harm to Islam than any cartoon could do.

Moreover, their reaction is not what the Koran tells Muslims to do in the face of mockery. Early Muslims were ridiculed very often by pagans, and the Koran suggested a civilized disapproval: "When you hear Allah's verses being rejected and mocked at by people, you must not sit with them till they start talking of other things." (4/140) And although the current cartoon-avengers are filled with fury, the Koran defines Muslims as "those who control their rage and pardon other people, [because] Allah loves the good-doers." (3/134)

This rage, then, is not a theologically driven response, but an emotional uproar by people who think that their faith and identity are being insulted. It is in a sense a nationalist reaction — the nation being the Muslim umma. (If this reaction were not nationalist, but purely religious in nature, then it would also follow on the mocking of Jesus Christ and Moses. After all, the Koran regards these holy men as God's chosen messengers.)

All of this means that an Islamic argument against the current "Islamic rage" can — and should — be brought up by Muslim scholars and intellectuals. Their message should not be "Let's not take God so seriously," but "This is not the way to honor Him."

Another interesting point in the whole cartoon hype is the difference of attitude between the ultra-secular continental Europe and the more God-friendly Anglo-Saxons. It is a notable fact that cartoons were published and, in some cases, officially supported in countries characterized by widespread atheism and deep-seated anti-clericalism. Yet neither the religious U.S., nor the not-so-religious, but still respectful, Britain joined them. Similarly, the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, along with many non-Muslim clerics, criticized the cartoons for offending the Muslim faith. Believers respect each other's beliefs about what is sacred.

Thus, if what we see is a clash of civilizations, the responsibility lies in the hands of the extremists on both sides: those who insist, "Yes, we have a right to ridicule God" and those who threaten, "We are going to kill you for it." The rest could get along.

— Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish Muslim writer based in Istanbul, Turkey. His website is located at

Zeyno Baran

In their efforts to combat radical Islamist extremism, many Western governments make a simplistic distinction between groups that use violence and those that do not. Anxious to "beat the terrorists," they ignore groups which, while forswearing violence for themselves, incite others to carry out terrorist activities. This inability to recognize that groups with differing tactical approaches nevertheless can have similar ends has allowed radical organizations to operate with near-impunity in dramatically escalating tensions between Muslims and the West — tensions that only further the radicals' ultimate goal of a clash of civilizations.

If the latest set of incidents stemming from the Danish publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammed is not a final wake-up call for a change to this overly narrow approach, then it is difficult to see what would be. Tolerated and sometimes legitimized by European governments, "non-violent" groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) and even the less-extremist International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) have been free to encourage confrontation between Muslims and the West. In Denmark, long a key target of HT, the group has called for the killing of Danish Jews and of members of parliament. Meanwhile, at an HT-organized demonstration in Britain outside the Danish embassy, protesters dressed as suicide bombers and carried placards stating "Butcher those who insult Islam." At the same time, a delegation of Danish Muslims led by the Copenhagen imam Abu Laban, linked to IUMS chair Yusuf Qaradawi, toured the Middle East to garner support and orchestrate the mass protests seen over the past several days.

While common sense should have prevailed long ago in the West after the cartoons were released — after all, when radicals are trying to convince Muslims that the "war on terror" is really a "war on Islam," a certain amount of prudence is required to avoid giving propaganda victories to the enemy — the most important step now is to cease tolerating intolerance. No Western (or Muslim) government should tolerate appeals to kill others in the name of religion. The longer such radicals who claim to speak for Muslims are allowed to do so freely, and the longer they are legitimized by Western governments that want to "develop open channels" to the Muslim community, the more demonstrations, riots, and killings we will see. After all, these protests and attacks were not committed "spontaneously" by Muslims, but were encouraged by radical groups — groups that can, with the right approach, be defeated.

— Zeyno Baran is director of international-security and energy programs at the Nixon Center.

Rachel Ehrenfeld

Facing what seems to be the rising clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and Western democracies, the leaders of the Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere should seize the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic values they claim to respect and advocate. They should call immediately and publicly on their Muslim communities to stop the violent demonstrations and the death threats against those who published the cartoons about Mohammed. All leaders of Muslim communities should publicly condemn Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasralla who argued, "If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so."

The riots started after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark; after Sheikh Osama Khayyat, imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, praised on national Saudi television the Saudi government for its action; and after Sheikh Ali Al-Hudaify, imam of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, called "upon governments, organizations and scholars in the Islamic world to extend support for campaigns protesting the sacrilegious attacks on the Prophet."

President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address praised the Saudis for taking "the first steps of reform — now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts." This gives the Saudis a unique opportunity to lead the Muslim world towards tolerance, and prove that Islam is a religion of peace. For example, the Saudis should announce that they will immediately allow Christians and Buddhists who work in the Kingdom to hold prayer services. We can only hope the Saudis surprise us and rise to the challenge.

— Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It, Director of American Center for Democracy, and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Mohamed Eljahmi

The violence, intimidation and threats about the Danish cartoons show that neither the U.S. nor the West can afford baby steps when it comes to political and economic reforms in the Arab world. It is sad to note that the U.S. has allowed Arab autocrats to dictate the terms of political reforms. Despots like Qadhafi and Mubarak continue to be marketed as models, the first for giving up his WMD program and the second for winning a sham election. To Liberal Arabs, it is no surprise that Qadhafi closed his embassy in Denmark, Mubarak used his media and rhetoric to inflame the public and sparked the boycott, the Saudis boycotted the products and the Syrians torched the Danish embassy. Liberal Arabs know that Arab despots work harmoniously and each has a scripted role, because their survival depends on jointly oppressing dissidents and sedating the less educated.

In Arab societies, mob-mentality rules and the individual has no right, because according to Salafism, the whole defines the part. In a free society, the part defines the whole, therefore, the economic pie is bigger and people care about better schools for their children, gender equality, the elderly, the handicapped, and other issues that make government accountable to its people. In free society, religion is an individual choice and there are political and legal guarantees that protect individual rights. In the Arab world the Koran rules, thus it is impossible to go against the mob or argue with the divine. In Mubarak's Egypt, kidnapping of Coptic women and forcing them to convert to Islam is not offensive. In Qadhafi's Libya the desecration of Jewish cemeteries or grotesquely forcing Italians to exhume the bodies of their dead and take back to Italy is acceptable.

If the Bush administration and the West are serious about advocating for reform, then they must stop letting the despots dictate the terms of reform, because political reforms in the Arab world are not luxury but they are essential for American and world security.

— Mohamed Eljahmi is a senior software engineer with over 22 years of experience in the software industry, where he has worked in design and in development of software applications. He is a Libyan American, who is advocating for genuine political reforms in Libya. Eljahmi has lived in the U.S. since 1978 and has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1990.

Basma Fakri

The Danish cartoons were published in the name of freedom of speech. They reminded me of the infamous Salman Rushdie story and the strong reaction at the time from Iran.

Understanding and tolerance are most needed when dealing with different cultures. This is not a matter of freedom of speech — it was a matter of insulting others' religion and beliefs. Religion is a very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed delicately. Unfortunately, certain newsmakers enjoy drawing attention to themselves by being shocking.

However, violence is definitely not the right response. I do wish that Muslims had just ignored the cartoons, or had used the media to express their strong opposition to the cartoon and perhaps publicly boycotted Danish products.

There is a big confusion between terrorism and Islam. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Unfortunately, some extremists are using the religion of Islam to achieve their own goals. There is nothing in Islam that encourages killing or terrorizing innocent people. And the reaction to the cartoons that started this recent string of protests is not helping matters.

— Basma Fakri is president and Co-founder of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq.

Farid Ghadry

The event that launched this worldwide protest by Muslims over the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a terrorist was the pulling of the Saudi ambassador from Denmark, a mere four months after the printing. The effect will change the landscape for both Arab oil-producing countries and terrorism-sponsored states.

Oil-producing Saudi Arabia is also the guardian of the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. With oil, Saudi Arabia is able to influence the West, and with its guardianship of these cities, it is able to control the movement of 1.3 billion Muslims. This centralization of power gives Saudi Arabia vast powers that are having an effect on civilizations across the globe.

The Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia, adhereing to a movement that originated in the center of the country, controls oil in the east and Mecca and Medina in the west. But even within their own borders, the Wahabis have a geographic Achilles' heel in the west of the country; and this is exacerbated when one considers Jordan, as well as the history of the Hashemite family (today's Jordan), which, up until the turn of the 20th century, controlled Mecca and Medina instead of the Saudis.

It is important for all Muslims that Mecca and Medina either be returned to the Hashemite family or be guarded by an international council elected by the 56 countries of the Organization of Islamic Conferences. The few leaders of 25 million Muslims should not control the fate of another 1.3 billion. Making Mecca and Media be for Muslims more like what the Vatican is for Catholics would go a long way toward giving all Muslims a say in their own affairs and charting a new direction for Islam.

Terrorist states will use Islam, as Syria did, to impose its will on the West. Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and many others are watching how Syria used the cartoons to launch an attack against Western assets and values. This is the beginning of what promises to be an unstoppable weapon of rogue states, used to inflict pain, through violence, on other civilizations.

— Farid Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria.

Mansoor Ijaz

In order to prevent idolatrous misconceptions, it is forbidden in Islam to depict the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in any way. But Muslims greatly weakened Islam's message of tolerance and forgiveness last week with their hysterical and criminally violent behavior in response to European media outlets' printing and reprinting twelve cartoon caricatures depicting the Prophet (PBUH) in an unflattering light.

The cartoons were offensive and wrong. But the Muslim world's explosive reaction demonstrates once again the failure of Islam in the modern age — its adherents are prepared to expend seemingly infinite energy in defense of religious beliefs not many of them are prepared to practice. Rectifying the hypocrisy that riddles Islam's efforts to be portrayed in a better light is the fundamental issue at stake for Muslims, not the freedom of the press or the defense of our Prophet (PBUH) through violence and anger.

Muslim leaders must confront their demons and reform Islam from within, rather than defending what is indefensible from outside. They must reduce the impulse for Islam's followers to be their own worst enemies by acting in ways that betray the traditions and teachings of a great religion, while giving ammunition to those who seek to portray them in a negative light.

It is simply unacceptable that while hundreds of millions of Muslims live in squalid conditions throughout the world, Islam's so-called guardians bask in the sunshine of resorts from Marbella to Cannes, and their children waste away national wealth in casinos and nightclubs from Geneva to Las Vegas. The money spent by one member of a Middle Eastern royal family on vacation at a Geneva hotel and casino for one week could feed thousands of Palestinian children for one year — such is the magnitude of hypocrisy in the Muslim world today.

Saudi Arabia's Custodian of the Holy Mosques, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, should set the example for reformation. He should invite the Danish and Norwegian prime ministers to Riyadh and educate his Scandinavian guests about why there is need to protect Islam's message against idolatrous misinterpretations. He should then listen carefully to his guests about why freedom of expression, as offensive as it was in this case, must be insured by Western governments, whose primary responsibility is to defend their citizens' rights and freedoms. In this way, he would demonstrate Islam's fundamental thirst for giving and receiving knowledge, its capacity for forgiveness, and its core value of tolerance, rather than allowing mass hysteria to define Islam's message.

Toleration asks us as citizens of an integrated world not to insult one another's religion. Freedom demands that we be allowed to reject the societal norms of others, and even to insult them, as Muslims often do when they burn an American flag or set fire to an effigy of a political leader they loath. Eliminating the hypocrisy between toleration and freedom should be Islam's goal.

— Mansoor Ijaz is an American Muslim of Pakistani origin.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer

We are in the midst of an Intifada designed to remake Europe in a manner more in line with the creed of its religious Muslim minority. Placing respect for Islam above freedom of the press would be one such change. Using state power to limit freedom of speech would be another. Europe has three options. It can agree to accommodate Muslim demands, disengage from the Middle East, or join the American struggle to democratize the Middle East. Let me outline briefly the meaning of each choice.

Accommodation or appeasement would not mean just agreeing to a few minor legal or behavioral changes. Note that the abstention of the British press from publishing the cartoons, the plans to rewrite British law to prevent insults to Islam, and the British government's strong condemnation of the publication of the cartoons did little to moderate the stance of British Muslims. Instead, British citizens were treated to marches celebrating those who blew up the London subway system.

Disengagement is the road Israel eventually chose, and the road an increasing number of Europeans would like to take. This would mean closing European borders to any additional Muslim immigrants, deporting illegals, and undertaking a vigorous program of forced integration. It also means precluding Turkish entry into the EU. Indeed, it means erecting a new iron curtain between Europe and the Middle East.

Reengagement would mean joining the U.S. in selling democracy to the Middle East in the manner the U.S. sold democracy to Europe in the fifties. Then, Communism presented the same challenge Islamism is presenting today. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The secret is to dare to make the people of the Middle East the same promise the U.S. made the Europeans during the years of the Marshall Plan: Follow us and your lives will be radically better. It was a promise kept. If you doubt this, just watch the 1952 documentary entitled Struggle for Men's Minds. It was made to explain to Americans the reasons it is worth their while to use their tax dollars to finance selling democracy in Europe. It focused on Italy, which then looked as undeveloped and chaotic as Iraq looks today, and it outlines the strategies the U.S. used to combat the rising tide of Communism there. If I were a Western leader, I would not only watch, it but make all my staff do so too. For when all is said and done, this is the only strategy which will provide prosperity, peace, and security to both Europe and the Middle East.

— Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Fulbright professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and History News Network blogger.

Clifford May

It is not a "clash of civilizations" that is taking place. It is a clash between civilization and barbarism — which currently expresses itself most forcefully and lethally as Militant Islamism.

Civilized people — whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew — do not respond to an offense by torching embassies, stoning churches, and calling for offenders to be beheaded.

Of course, most Muslims are not doing that — most Muslims are neither barbarians nor extremists. But most of the money and power in Muslim societies today is in the hands of Islamists or of dictators who are only too eager to harness anti-Western animus for their own purposes.

By persuading so many people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — that the cartoons in question "insult Islam," Militant Islamists have achieved a victory.

Few dare argue that the cartoons do not insult Islam — that they insult only Militant Islamism. Yet, surely that would be the most obvious interpretation of a cartoon showing Mohammed wearing a bomb in place of a turban. If such groups as al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas had not committed countless acts of violence in the name of Islam, such an image would make no sense.

Similarly, the cartoon showing Mohammed saying that heaven was running out of virgins is most obviously interpreted as a commentary on the unprecedented frequency of suicide bombings being carried out by Militant Islamists. Why would such a cartoon insult peace-loving Muslims who would never consider strapping on a bomb belt in the expectation that mass murder will bring rewards in the next world?

Many commentators have charged protesters with hypocrisy, noting — correctly — that venomous characterizations of Jews and Christians are routinely on display in Arab and Muslim countries. But hypocrisy is professing beliefs that one does not actually hold. The Militant Islamists are doing no such thing. What they profess and what they believe are identical. It's simply this: Infidels must not insult Islam. But Muslims may insult infidels. The Islamists are not arguing for Islam's equality among the world's great religions. They are insisting that Christians, Jews, and others acknowledge Islam's superiority, its status as the one true faith. They are quite clear on this. If we refuse to hear what they are saying, that is our fault and our problem.

— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Ramin Parham

Are we witnessing a clash of civilizations ignited by the Danish caricatures?

Civilization, says the dictionary, is defined as "an advanced state of human society in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached".

As a French and U.S.-educated Iranian, I seriously doubt that, with the exception of secular Turkey, one could find among Islamic countries anything even close to that definition. Pre-Islamic Persian and Islamic civilizations are today nothing but history.

The Danish caricatures have the merit of underlining the above point from a different angle: A so-called civilization whose foundations are shaken with a few drawings is anything but a civilization!

Twenty-seven years after the islamist revolution in Iran; 17 years after Khomeini's fatwa against the Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdi; 15 years after the slaying of Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses; an entire new Middle East is being born in pain. At this critical juncture, we should all keep in mind a few basics:

First, painless birth is a chemical fantasy.

Second, Muslims will achieve nothing by self-complacency.

Third, readjusting democracies to new necessities is a legitimate problematic for those adhering to common secular values within a trust environment.

Forth, democracies were born out of the Enlightenment, the Lumières, and the Aufklärung, that is the personal liberty of thought and the sum of the public, universal and free usages of reason. The price tag to enter this elite club is high in terms of sacrifice. Iran has reached the necessary level of cultural complexity.

Fifth, the West should catalyze the democratic maturation of the Muslim East in the common interest of all.

Last but not least, there is no better candidate than a free Iran to champion that cause.

— Ramin Parham is an independent commentator based in Paris.

Daniel Pipes

It certainly feels like a clash of civilizations. But it is not.

By way of demonstration, allow me to recall the similar Muslim-Western confrontation that took place in 1989 over the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and the resulting death edict from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. It first appeared, as now, that the West aligned solidly against the edict and the Muslim world stood equally with it. As the dust settled, however, a far more nuanced situation became apparent.

Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be "sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims. The director of the Near East Studies Center at UCLA, Georges Sabbagh, declared Khomeini "completely within his rights" to sentence Rushdie to death. Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote that "the book should not have been published" and called for legislation to proscribe such "excesses in the freedom of expression."

In contrast, important Muslims opposed the edict. Erdal Inönü, leader of Turkey's opposition Social Democratic party, announced that "killing somebody for what he has written is simply murder." Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, called Khomeini a "terrorist." A Palestinian journalist in Israel, Abdullatif Younis, dubbed The Satanic Verses "a great service."

This same division already exists in the current crisis. Middle East-studies professors are denouncing the cartoons even as two Jordanian editors went to jail for reprinting them.

It is a tragic mistake to lump all Muslims with the forces of darkness. Moderate, enlightened, free-thinking Muslims do exist. Hounded in their own circles, they look to the West for succor and support. And, however weak they may presently be, they eventually will have a crucial role in modernizing the Muslim world.

— Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures.

Nina Shea

Blasphemy laws are among the greatest impediments to democratic evolution in the greater Middle East. Not limited to criticisms of Islam's Prophet Mohammed, or the realm of the Divine, they are also used by prevailing powers and those with Islamist agendas to crush political dissidents and scholars engaged in intellectual debate. Carrying the death penalty or other harsh punishment and inviting vigilante retribution, the crime of blasphemy has become an indispensable tool of repression in that region.

Saudi Arabia regularly brings blasphemy charges (or one of its variants, such as "using Western speech") against those who speak out of turn. Recent examples include democracy activists who proposed substituting a written constitution for the Kingdom's slogan that "the Koran is the constitution," and a school teacher who instructed his class to be tolerant of Jews.

Revolutionary Iran, which has put to death thousands for blasphemy and shut down hundreds of newspapers, has turned the practice into an art form. One who made the mistake of translating into Farsi the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was killed on the Declaration's 50th anniversary. Another famous case of a Shiite professor highlighted the usefulness of the charge to silence critics of clerical rule. At his July 2004 trial, he declared he was being punished for "the sin of thinking."

Afghanistan still criminalizes blasphemy. A journalist who argued against the criminalization of heresy was found guilty and barely escaped with his life. Karzai's only female cabinet member was charged with blasphemy for criticizing blasphemy and other Islamic rules, and, though never tried, was ousted by death threats.

Once blasphemy is introduced into the law, it becomes almost impossible for the system to reform itself. Western leaders should be pressing these Middle East governments to drop their legitimization of blasphemy, not contemplating whether to adopt it here.

— Nina Shea is the director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.

Bat Yeor

We have always been in a clash of civilizations. The fact that our European leaders choose to deny the reality is not an argument to dismiss what is so obvious to everyone. But having a clash of civilizations does not entail a global war of all against all. On the contrary, it imposes a need for a deeper dialogue — a type of dialogue that has been prevented by our leaders, busy to protect the virtual and sanitized image of Islam they tried to impose on Europeans for 30 years, through a culture of self-flagellation, self-guilt, obfuscations, denials, obsequiosity, anti-semitism and anti-Americanism: what we call politically correct and totalitarian language.

I see the cartoons affair as an inter-European conflict also. A revolt to assert, within the law, Western values of freedom of opinions, speech, and religion — the basic values of our civilization, acquired through centuries of conflicts, sacrifices, and courage. It is possible that people could be displeased by some analyses, but this cannot suppress the right to speak them. In the last century Europeans have endured three totalitarian regimes: Nazism, Fascism, Communism. They are not ready to accept a fourth one: sharia rule. However much I understand Muslim's sensibilities, I expect Muslims who chose to come and live in Europe to respect European sensibilities for their values and laws.

In this affair I see also the dangerous role played by some Muslim groups in Europe. They instigate, like the Danish imam Ahmed Abu Laban and others, hatred among Muslims and excesses against Europe, and then they pose as indispensable peace intermediaries between Europe and the Muslim world. This unhealthy situation is much developed in Europe due to the weakness and lack of resolve of our leaders, who have not the courage to deal with the security problems they have themselves created. These leaders have the duty to solve these problems by the rule of law, and not by deferring them to a third party, as if Europeans cannot express their rights except by begging through a benevolent Muslim channel. In this respect, the cartoons affair expresses the rejection by some of the EU's lack of political transparency and its contempt for its European constituency from which it takes billions of euros to give to the Arab world, and particularly to the corrupt and terrorist Palestinian Authority.

A lot can be achieved toward reconciliation by a free debate. This would trigger an inner Muslim reformist movement, which could then destroy the jihadic framework through which a majority of Muslims relate to the infidels even today.

— Bat Yeor is the author of studies on the conditions of Jews and Christians in the context of the jihad ideology and the sharia law. Recent books include: Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide and Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, both at Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.


Bonfire of the Pieties

Islam prohibits neither images of Muhammad nor jokes about religion.


Wednesday, February 8, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

"The Muslim Fury," one newspaper headline screamed. "The Rage of Islam Sweeps Europe," said another. "The clash of civilizations is coming," warned one commentator. All this refers to the row provoked by the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper four months ago. Since then a number of demonstrations have been held, mostly--though not exclusively--in the West, and Scandinavian embassies and consulates have been besieged.

But how representative of Islam are all those demonstrators? The "rage machine" was set in motion when the Muslim Brotherhood--a political, not a religious, organization--called on sympathizers in the Middle East and Europe to take the field. A fatwa was issued by Yussuf al-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood sheikh with his own program on al-Jazeera. Not to be left behind, the Brotherhood's rivals, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and the Movement of the Exiles (Ghuraba), joined the fray. Believing that there might be something in it for themselves, the Syrian Baathist leaders abandoned their party's 60-year-old secular pretensions and organized attacks on the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Beirut.

The Muslim Brotherhood's position, put by one of its younger militants, Tariq Ramadan--who is, strangely enough, also an adviser to the British home secretary--can be summed up as follows: It is against Islamic principles to represent by imagery not only Muhammad but all the prophets of Islam; and the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. Both claims, however, are false.

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments--which include a ban on depicting God--as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is "an absolute principle of Islam" is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

The claim that the ban on depicting Muhammad and other prophets is an absolute principle of Islam is also refuted by history. Many portraits of Muhammad have been drawn by Muslim artists, often commissioned by Muslim rulers. There is no space here to provide an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most famous:

A miniature by Sultan Muhammad-Nur Bokharai, showing Muhammad riding Buraq, a horse with the face of a beautiful woman, on his way to Jerusalem for his M'eraj or nocturnal journey to Heavens (16th century); a painting showing Archangel Gabriel guiding Muhammad into Medina, the prophet's capital after he fled from Mecca (16th century); a portrait of Muhammad, his face covered with a mask, on a pulpit in Medina (16th century); an Isfahan miniature depicting the prophet with his favorite kitten, Hurairah (17th century); Kamaleddin Behzad's miniature showing Muhammad contemplating a rose produced by a drop of sweat that fell from his face (19th century); a painting, "Massacre of the Family of the Prophet," showing Muhammad watching as his grandson Hussain is put to death by the Umayyads in Karbala (19th century); a painting showing Muhammad and seven of his first followers (18th century); and Kamal ul-Mulk's portrait of Muhammad showing the prophet holding the Quran in one hand while with the index finger of the other hand he points to the Oneness of God (19th century).

Some of these can be seen in museums within the Muslim world, including the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in Bokhara and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and Haroun-Walat, Iran (a suburb of Isfahan). Visitors to other museums, including some in Europe, would find miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad, at times wearing his Meccan burqa (cover) or his Medinan niqab (mask). There have been few statues of Muhammad, although several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the building of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honored as one of the great "lawgivers" of mankind.

There has been other imagery: the Janissaries--the elite of the Ottoman army--carried a medallion stamped with the prophet's head (sabz qaba). Their Persian Qizilbash rivals had their own icon, depicting the head of Ali, the prophet's son-in-law and the first Imam of Shiism. As for images of other prophets, they run into millions. Perhaps the most popular is Joseph, who is presented by the Quran as the most beautiful human being created by God.

Now to the second claim, that the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. That is true if we restrict the Muslim world to the Brotherhood and its siblings in the Salafist movement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda. But these are all political organizations masquerading as religious ones. They are not the sole representatives of Islam, just as the Nazi Party was not the sole representative of German culture. Their attempt at portraying Islam as a sullen culture that lacks a sense of humor is part of the same discourse that claims "suicide martyrdom" as the highest goal for all true believers.

The truth is that Islam has always had a sense of humor and has never called for chopping heads as the answer to satirists. Muhammad himself pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him for more than a decade. Both Arabic and Persian literature, the two great literatures of Islam, are full of examples of "laughing at religion," at times to the point of irreverence. Again, offering an exhaustive list is not possible. But those familiar with Islam's literature know of Ubaid Zakani's "Mush va Gorbeh" (Mouse and Cat), a match for Rabelais when it comes to mocking religion. Sa'adi's eloquent soliloquy on behalf of Satan mocks the "dry pious ones." And Attar portrays a hypocritical sheikh who, having fallen into the Tigris, is choked by his enormous beard. Islamic satire reaches its heights in Rumi, where a shepherd conspires with God to pull a stunt on Moses; all three end up having a good laugh.

Islamic ethics is based on "limits and proportions," which means that the answer to an offensive cartoon is a cartoon, not the burning of embassies or the kidnapping of people designated as the enemy. Islam rejects guilt by association. Just as Muslims should not blame all Westerners for the poor taste of a cartoonist who wanted to be offensive, those horrified by the spectacle of rent-a-mob sackings of embassies in the name of Islam should not blame all Muslims for what is an outburst of fascist energy.

Mr. Taheri is the author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).

Tolerance Toward Intolerance

By Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Last week the publication I work for, the German newsweekly Die Zeit, printed one of the controversial caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. It was the right thing to do.

When the cartoons were first published in Denmark in September, nobody in Germany took notice. Had our publication been offered the drawings at that point, in all likelihood we would have declined to print them. At least one of them seems to equate Islam with radical Islamism. That is exactly the direction nobody wants the debate about fundamentalism to take -- even though the very nature of a political cartoon is overstatement. We would not have printed the caricature out of a sense of moderation and respect for the Muslim minority in our country. News people make judgments about taste all the time. We do not show sexually explicit pictures or body parts after a terrorist attack. We try to keep racism and anti-Semitism out of the paper. Freedom of the press comes with a responsibility.

But the criteria change when material that is seen as offensive becomes newsworthy. That's why we saw bodies falling out of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. That's why we saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib. On such issues we print what we usually wouldn't. The very nature of the discourse is to find parameters of what is culturally acceptable. How many times have we seen Janet Jackson's breast in the course of a discussion of the limits of family entertainment? How many times have we printed material that Jews might consider offensive in an attempt to define the extent of anti-Semitism? It seems odd that most U.S. papers patronize their readers by withholding cartoons that the whole world talks about. To publish does not mean to endorse. Context matters.

It's worth remembering that the controversy started out as a well-meaning attempt to write a children's book about the life of the prophet Muhammad. The book was designed to promote religious tolerance. But the author encountered the consequences of religious hatred when he looked for an illustrator. He could not find one. Denmark's artists seemed to fear for their lives. In turning down the job they mentioned the fate of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist for harshly criticizing fundamentalism.

When this episode percolated to the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, the paper's cultural editor commissioned the caricatures. He wanted to see whether cartoonists would self-censor their work for fear of violence from Muslim radicals. Still, the European media ignored this story in a small Scandinavian country. It took months, a boycott of Danish products in the Arab world and the intervention of such champions of religious freedom as the governments of Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Libya (all of which withdrew their ambassadors from Copenhagen) for some European papers to reconsider their stance on the cartoons. By last week it was not an obscure topic anymore but front-page news. And it wasn't about religious sensibilities as much as about free speech. That's when the cartoons started to show up in papers all over Europe.

Much of the U.S. reporting about the fracas made it appear as if Europeans just don't get it -- again. They struggle with immigration. They struggle with religion. They struggle with respect for minorities. And in the end they find their cities burning, as evidenced in Paris. Bill Clinton even detected an "anti-Islamic prejudice" and equated it with a previous "anti-Semitic prejudice."

The former president has turned the argument upside down. In this jihad over humor, tolerance is disdained by people who demand it of others. The authoritarian governments that claim to speak on behalf of Europe's supposedly oppressed Muslim minorities practice systematic repression against their own religious minorities. They have radicalized what was at first a difficult question. Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules. Does Bill Clinton want to counsel tolerance toward intolerance?

On Friday the State Department found it appropriate to intervene. It blasted the publication of the cartoons as unacceptable incitement to religious hatred. It is a peculiar moment when the government of the United States, which likes to see itself as the home of free speech, suggests to European journalists what not to print.

The writer is Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly Die Zeit.

Cartoon conflicts

Tariq Ramadan

To describe the clash over the Danish depictions of the prophet as one between freedom and dogma will only fan the flames

Monday February 6, 2006

In Copenhagen last October, as demonstrations provoked by the Danish satirical cartoons about Islam were starting, a reporter from the newspaper that published them told me how intensely the editorial staff had debated whether to go ahead, how uncomfortable many of them had been about the whole issue and, at the same time, how surprised they had been by the strong reaction from Muslims and the Arab embassies. At the time, however, the tension seemed likely to remain within Danish borders.

To Danish Muslims denouncing this as an instance of racism - a provocation capitalised upon by the ever expanding far right in the country - my advice was to avoid reacting emotionally, to try to explain quietly why these cartoons were offensive and neither to demonstrate nor to risk activating mass movements that could prove impossible to master. At the time, a resolution seemed to be at hand.

One might ask, then, why it is that three months later, some find it in their interests to pour fuel on the fire of a controversy, with tragic and potentially uncontrollable consequences? A few Danish Muslims visited Middle Eastern countries and ramped up the resentment: governments in the region, only too happy to prove their attachment to Islam - to bolster their Islamic legitimacy in the eyes of the public - took advantage of this piece of good fortune and presented themselves as champions of a great cause. On the other side, the controversy was just what some politicians, intellectuals and journalists needed to paint themselves as champions of the equally great struggle for freedom of expression and as resistance fighters against religious obscurantism in the name of western values.

We are facing an incredible simplification, a gross polarisation: apparently a clash of civilisations, a confrontation between principles, with defenders, in one corner, of inalienable freedom of speech and, in the other, of the inviolable sacred sphere. Presented in such terms, the debate has unfortunately become a battle of wills, and the question becomes: who will win? Muslims, wanting apologies, threaten to attack European interests, even to attack people; western governments, intellectuals and journalists refuse to bend under threats, and certain media outlets have added to the controversy by republishing the cartoons. Most people around the world, observing these excesses, are perplexed: what sort of madness is this, they ask?

It is critical we find a way out of this infernal circle and demand from those stoking this fire that they stop their polemics at once and create a space for serious, open, indepth debate and peaceful dialogue. This is not the predicted clash of civilisations. This affair does not symbolise the confrontation between the principles of Enlightenment and those of religion. Absolutely not. What is at stake at the heart of this sad story is whether or not the duelling sides have the capacity to be free, rational (whether believers or atheists) and, at the same time, reasonable.

The fracture is not between the west and Islam but between those who, in both worlds, are able to assert who they are and what they stand for with calm - in the name of faith or reason, or both - and those driven by exclusive certainties, blind passions, reductive perceptions of the other and a liking for hasty conclusions. The latter character traits are shared equally by some intellectuals, religious scholars, journalists and ordinary people on both sides. Facing the dangerous consequences these attitudes entail, it is urgent we launch a general call for wisdom.

In Islam, representations of all prophets are strictly forbidden. It is both a matter of the fundamental respect due to them and a principle of faith requiring that, in order to avoid any idolatrous temptations, God and the prophets never be represented. Hence, to represent a prophet is a grave transgression. If, moreover, one adds the clumsy confusions, insults and denigration that Muslims perceived in the Danish cartoons, one can understand the nature of the shock expressed by large segments of Muslim communities around the world (and not only by practising Muslims or the radicals). To these people, the cartoons were too much: it was good and important for them to express their indignation and to be heard.

At the same time, it was necessary for Muslims to bear in mind that, for the past three centuries, western societies - unlike Muslim-majority countries - have grown accustomed to critical, ironical - even derisive - treatment of religious symbols, among them the pope, Jesus Christ and even God. Even though Muslims do not share such an attitude, it is imperative they learn to keep an intellectual distance when faced with such provocations and not to let themselves be driven by zeal and fervour, which can only lead to undesirable ends.

In the case of these cartoons - as clumsy as they are idiotic and malicious - it would have been, and it would remain, preferable if Muslims expressed their values and grievances to the public at large without clamour, better if they paused until such a time as calm was possible. Instead, what is welling up today within some Muslim communities is as unproductive as it is insane: the obsessive demands for apologies, boycotting of European products and threats of violent reprisals are excesses that must be rejected and condemned.

However, it is just as excessive and irresponsible to invoke the "right to freedom of expression" - the right to say anything, in any way, against anybody. Freedom of expression is not absolute. Countries have laws that define the framework for exercising this right and which, for instance, condemn racist language. There are also specific rules pertaining to the cultures, traditions and collective psychologies in the respective societies that regulate the relationship between individuals and the diversity of cultures and religions.

Racial or religious insults are not addressed in the same way in the various western societies: within a generally similar legal framework, each nation has its own history and sensitivities; wisdom requires acknowledging and respecting this reality. The reality is also that the Muslim presence within western societies has changed their collective sensitivity. Instead of being obsessed with laws and rights - approaching a tyrannical right to say anything - would it not be more prudent to call upon citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression responsibly and to take into account the diverse sensitivities that compose our pluralistic contemporary societies?

This is not a matter of additional laws restraining the scope of free speech; it is simply one of calling upon everybody's conscience to exercise that right with an eye on the rights of others. It is more about nurturing a sense of civic responsibility than about imposing legislation: Muslim citizens are not asking for more censorship but for more respect. One cannot impose mutual respect by means of legislation; rather one teaches it in the name of a free, responsible and reasonable common citizenship.

We are at a crossroads. The time has come for women and men who reject this dangerous division of people into two worlds to start building bridges based on common values. They must assert the inalienable right to freedom of expression and, at the same time, demand measured exercise of it. We need to promote an open, self-critical approach, to repudiate exclusive truths and narrow-minded, binary visions of the world.

We are in dire need of mutual trust. The crises provoked by these cartoons shows us how, out of "seemingly nothing", two universes of reference can become deaf to each other and be seduced by defining themselves against each other - with the worst possible consequences. Disasters threaten that extremists on both sides would not fail to use for their own agendas. If people who cherish freedom, who know the importance of mutual respect and are aware of the imperative necessity to establish a constructive and critical debate, if these people are not ready to speak out, to be more committed and visible, then we can expect sad, painful tomorrows. The choice is ours.

· Tariq Ramadan is visiting fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford University and senior research fellow at the Lokahi Foundation, in London

Creating Outrage

Meet the imam behind the cartoon overreaction.

By Lorenzo Vidino

Confused by the wave of protests, threats, boycotts, and attacks against diplomatic facilities that have shaken their idyllic tranquility after the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed on Jyllands-Posten, the Danes are asking themselves questions. They wonder if an attack will take place in their country, as threatened by various jihadi groups, and if freedom of speech is in jeopardy. But a more immediate question is puzzling some: Why has the outrage of the Muslim world exploded only now, in February, when the cartoons were published last September? At the time of the initial publication, international media had reported news of the blasphemous caricatures, not only in Danish, but also in English. Yet nothing happened, aside from timid protests from the Muslim community of the tiny Scandinavian kingdom. So what is different about the situation now? More than the question, it is the answer that is keeping a good chunk of Denmark's political and cultural elite awake at night. The recent anti-Danish emotional wave coming from the Muslim world, in fact, is far from a spontaneous reaction, but it has been cunningly orchestrated by a knowledgeable insider, a real snake in the grass who has been creeping in Denmark for the last 15 years.


Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, a 60-year-old Palestinian imam who has been residing in Copenhagen since 1993, has become over the last few years the face of Islam in Denmark, creating his own persona of a moderate cleric who seeks dialogue but who is victimized by the widespread "racism" of the Danes. Despite his poor command of the Danish language, Abu Laban is a frequent guest on Danish television and in meetings with government officials, where he claims to represent the voice of the local Muslim community. Even though part of the establishment has always looked at him with suspicion (Prime Minister Rasmussen has always refused to meet with him), Danish intelligentsia has made him a celebrity — so much of one that even the Washington Post recently profiled him as "one of Denmark's most prominent imams."

But Abu Laban's real face has now been revealed. In September, the imam immediately condemned Jyllands-Posten's cartoons and led protests at the local level. Danish politicians and media, busy with local elections, ignored him. But Abu Laban is not the kind of person who gives up easily. After having contacted ambassadors from Muslim countries in Copenhagen, he put together a delegation with the goal of touring the Middle East to "internationalize this issue so that the Danish government would realize that the cartoons were not only insulting to Muslims in Denmark but also to Muslims worldwide," as he explained in an interview with "Islam Online". The delegation met with, among others, Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, and Sunni Islam's most influential scholar, Yusuf al Qaradawi. The delegation showed each of these leaders the 12 cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten, along with others that had never been published by any Danish publication. The new cartoons were every more offensive, as showing the Prophet Mohammed with a pig face or having sexual intercourse with a dog. While the delegation claimed that the differentiation was pointed out to their interlocutors, there is no other evidence, and rumors about the more blasphemous images began to circulate in the Middle East. Moreover, the booklet that was presented by the delegation contained several other lies about the "oppression" of Muslims in Denmark, claiming Muslims do not have the legal right to build mosques and are subjected to pervasive racism.

With emotions about the cartoons mounting, Qaradawi, the real brains of the Muslim Brotherhood's international network and a key opinion maker in the Middle East thanks to his weekly show on al Jazeera, attacked Denmark directly, warning that an apology would not be sufficient, and that "a firm stance" should have be taken by the Danish government. As Prime Minister Rasmussen refused to intervene, referring to the cherished tradition of freedom of the press in his country, Qaradawi and his ilk unleashed their propagandistic war against Denmark. Abu Laban, from his mosque in the Copenhagen suburb of Nørrebro, is now happily reaping the fruits of his hard work. But, in a quintessential exercise in taqiya (double-speak), Abu Laban has tried to hide his satisfaction to the Danes. Speaking on Danish television, Abu Laban has wept crocodile tears, condemning the boycott of Danish goods and the other consequences of his actions. Yet, interviewed by al Jazeera, the imam has said just the opposite, praising the outrage of the Muslim world at his adoptive country.

So just who is Abu Laban? The Danes are slowly getting a fuller portrait. Friday night, Danish state television DR broadcasted a long report on him and Danes have begun to understand more about the self-proclaimed voice of Islam in Denmark. According to DR, Intelligence documents reveal that Abu Laban has been in close contact for years with members of various terrorist organizations, and in particular with leaders of the Egyptian Gamaa Islamiya. In the beginning of the 1990s, in fact, several leaders of the Gamaa escaped the long arm of the Egyptian mukhabarat and relocated to Europe. Copenhagen became the new hometown of two of the group's leaders, Ayman al Zawahiri, currently serving as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, and Talaat Fouad Qassimy. From the quiet of the Scandinavian capital, the men published Al Murabitoun, the Gamaa's official publication. Abu Laban worked as a translator and distributor of the publication, which glorified the killing of Western tourists in Egypt and urged the annihilation of Jews in Palestine. Then Abu Laban worked closely with Said Mansour, a Moroccan man currently charged in Denmark for running a publishing house that distributed jihadi material.

All of this is not news to Danish security officials, but now Danes are slowly becoming aware of the facts. And Abu Laban's celebrated celeb status is about history in Denmark. Danes have no more patience for those who preach love in one language and war in another, those who publicly play the role of the victim, demand tolerance and then secretly incite hatred. While much of Europe has been asleep at the wheel, oblivious to the monumental threat radical Islam poses to its future, at least one country is increasing awake. Denmark's first battle is domestic, unmasking the enemy's fifth column inside its borders. As embassies burn, the rest might want to catch on, too.

— Lorenzo Vidino is a senior terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project and author of the book Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad.

Cartoon Debate

The case for mocking religion.

By Christopher Hitchens

Posted Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006, at 4:31 PM ET

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week's international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.

"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief."

Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean "unacceptable"? That it should be forbidden? And how abysmal that a "spokesman" cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find "offensive." ( By the way, hasn't the word "offensive" become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a "holy" book. But I will not be told I can't eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. … In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege. Of course there are many millions of Muslims who do worry about this, and another reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There's an insult to Islam, if you like.

The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Second (and important enough to be insisted upon): Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against "all those involved in its publication," which led to the murder of the book's Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.

Something's Rotten in the State of Denmark

What do Arab journalists think of the Islamic cartoon scandal?

By Daniel Kimmage

Friday, Feb. 3, 2006

The controversy over the 12 caricatures of Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has exploded into a global scandal, complete with angry demonstrations, defiant republications of the cartoons in newspapers across Europe, diplomatic démarches and withdrawn Arab envoys, a boycott of Danish goods in the Middle East, gunmen at the European Union's office in Gaza, and calls for calm amid fears of more tumult to come. (You can see the cartoons here.)

News agencies settled on "Muslim outrage" as a shorthand to describe the uproar over the cartoons. This is accurate but tells only part of the story. In the Arab world, press reactions revealed additional nuances in what is the biggest international wrangle over freedom of expression and respect for Islam since Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

The caricature that has sparked the loudest outcry depicts Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. Muhammad al-Hamadi, writing in the United Arab Emirates' Al-Ittihad, argued that the perception of a link between Islam and terrorism is not merely a figment of European cartoonists' imaginations: "The world has come to believe that Islam is what is practiced by Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, and others who have presented a distorted image of Islam. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that we are the reason for these drawings. Any harm to the Prophet or Islam is a result of Muslims who have come to reflect the worst image of Islam and certain Arabs who have not conveyed faithfully the life and biography of the Prophet."

Al-Hamadi criticized Denmark as well for picking the wrong issue for a stand on principle: "If Denmark has tried to teach Arabs and Muslims a lesson in respect for the country's constitution and its laws, I believe it did not succeed in choosing the right issue. The justification that one must respect the constitution that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to denigrate others, was not appropriate—this is the trap that Denmark fell into."

Abdallah Bin Bakhit, writing in Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah, used the popular boycott of Danish goods to direct subtle criticism at the Arab world's weak institutions: "All of the pressure that we see being exerted on the Danish government and on Danish public opinion is simply spontaneous pressure, supported by a few businessmen, that began with the man in the street and will end with him. The Danish goods that are today disappearing from store shelves will be back in a few days as though nothing had happened. Muslims are the strongest people in the world when it comes to individual reactions and the weakest when it comes to institutionalized operations. Events have taught us that every reaction to such attacks on Islam (wherever they may take place) ends with institutionalized responses aimed at sapping the popular, local anger, but not at treating the issue in the place where it broke out."

In an op-ed in the pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, Muhammad Karishan drew a slightly different, but no less critical, lesson from the boycott, contrasting it favorably with the ineffectual efforts of Arab diplomats: "It is now clear that the pictures of Danish goods being thrown from supermarket shelves are a thousand times more eloquent than the efforts of Arab ambassadors in Denmark to meet with the prime minister, who refused even to receive them."

Egypt's Al-Ahram celebrated the boycott in an editorial, calling it a "civil-society initiative" and warning that Muslim governments should leave the action to their citizens to avoid a detrimental multilateral escalation.

Sati Nur al-Din had little use for either cartoonists or boycotts in an op-ed in Lebanon's Al-Safir. Calling the Danish newspaper's decision to publish the caricatures a "grievous error, most likely intentional," Nur al-Din chided Arabs for a response that "that does not become them or their history and does not contribute to fixing their strained relations with the West." Looking back, Nur al-Din reminded readers that the Ayatollah Khomeini used the Rushdie affair to undermine Iranian revolutionaries seeking a rapprochement with the West. By way of contrast, he concluded, "The Arabs and Muslims who are moving today against Denmark, its products, and embassies, are not exploiting the caricature issue for any political goal, as Khomeini did. Rather, they are sending what is by any standard the wrong message, choosing a foolish pretext for what is really a caricature of a battle."

A persistent theme in the press's response was the gap between European concern over anti-Semitism and indifference to the denigration of Islam. Abdallah Bin Bakhit asked, "While the Danish government claims that the publication of the caricatures falls under freedom of opinion as guaranteed by the Danish Constitution, would it respond with the same claim if a researcher had published a report on the Holocaust challenging the official opinion imposed by Jewish organizations?"

Husayn Shabakshi wrote in the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, "Anti-Semitism is unacceptable, and the Danish caricatures would not have been published if they had depicted a Jewish rabbi, for example." He continued, "Jews have succeeded in criminalizing any critical mention of Jews as anti-Semitism, subjecting anyone who engages in this to harsh punishments. Today, it is necessary for serious Islamic organizations to make concerted efforts in the international arena to criminalize infringements on Islam."

Taking a broader view, Ahmad Abd-al-Husayn noted in Iraq's Al-Sabah that a collision of two basic rights lies at the heart of the controversy: "In the name of freedom, which is one human right, dignity, another sacred right, is trampled. What has gone wrong? Which should win out? Freedom of expression and action, the highest of the arts and most precious endowment of humankind on this earth, or the free will to sanctify the symbols and beliefs that order the existence of nations and cultures?" The author continued, "The shameful drawing by this Dane is nothing but an extreme example, one of numerous examples in which freedom stands in opposition to itself. For the free press has allowed al-Qaida to reach every home via television and the Internet. But we know what al-Qaida thinks of the free press. It is sufficient to recall the obliteration of television in Kabul when it was ruled by the 'commander of the faithful.' " In closing, Abd-al-Husayn warned, "The denigrators of the prophets are not free. They are using freedom as a weapon in a war that no one will win."

Daniel Kimmage is the Central Asia analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.


What did you think of this article?

Febuary 06, 2006, 9:45 a.m.

Daned If You Do...

The real questions to consider in the face of “spontaneous” outrage.

By Emanuele Ottolenghi

Not everything that is right or legal is necessarily wise.

Perhaps it was not so wise to reproduce, all over the European press, twelve Danish cartoons depicting Islam's prophet Mohammad in ways that many Muslims say is offensive. But it was certainly within the boundaries of freedom of speech.


European responses to the events surrounding the cartoons' publication have mainly focused on the above. Was it right? Should there be limits? Should there be editorial self-restraint? Should there be an apology? Who should apologize?

Interestingly, continental Europe has published, Great Britain has not (nor has America). Who understands the Middle East better? The EU or the Anglo-Saxon world? Who does the Arab world hate these days? The evil empire and its lesser imperialist arm? Or the Arab-friendly Europeans with their "more even-handed approach" to the region?

For lo and behold, it is "Death to France" they are chanting now, it is Norwegian flags they are burning (there's always a flags' vendor at hand in the Middle East, whenever "spontaneous" rage erupts).

A sudden reversal of fortunes, to say the least.

But in these days of rage, there is little room for Schadenfreude. Besides, I am not so sure that "I told you so" will open European eyes. Again, interestingly, it is the right-of-center press in Europe that is publishing the cartoons, it is the left-of-center press that is decrying their publication. The right says "freedom of speech" and "Western values," the Left says "multiculturalism." The politically correct may pause and think twice though, given that their once cherished slogans are increasingly the monopoly of the right and their obsession with multiculturalism is putting them on a dangerous slippery slope where their traveling companions are not merely the pious and the aggrieved, but also the less than lucid Holocaust-denying, Homosexual-hating, Jew-bashing, woman-oppressing Islamists who did not call for merely "respect" this weekend, but also for "beheading all those who insult Islam." Beware who your friends are, no less than who are your enemies.

It seems to me that the real debate should not have focused so much on the boundaries of free speech as on the wisdom of reproducing those cartoons in other Western publications (though important they are). After all, Western media routinely publish things that are not so wise or sensitive to expose. From intelligence leaks to mockery of foreign nations, passing through derision of religion and religious beliefs (and those who entertain them), there is plenty to choose from. Was anti-Americanism — so rampant in many European media especially in the last four years — always wise? Is the anti-Semitism that occasionally surfaces in commentary on the Middle East something wise?

But should the answer be censorship? Obviously not. Should the aggrieved parties torch embassies and media centers, or threaten to behead any repeat offender? Again, no. In a truly free society, grievances find legitimate ways of expression and sometimes, if their case is sound, of redress.

In the West we do not believe only in freedom of speech, no matter how silly the speech is. We also believe in the power of ideas to expose the silliness of some speech through robust, but civilized debate. Just like Danish cartoonists had the right to draw twelve cartoons depicting and deriding Mohammed, so are those who feel insulted by their content entitled to march on the streets, assemble in front of embassies, write to newspapers, petition, and go on the air voicing their grievance. As long as it is peaceful and within the legal boundaries that separate speech from incitement, decrying the content of any news item is a legitimate exercise of democratic rights. All that is part of the democratic ethos, and as long as the debate remains within these boundaries, we should let it happen, in the perhaps naively optimistic belief that wisdom will eventually emerge from this exchange.

No wisdom will prevail, though, if debate is conducted by violent means. A violent response that aims to intimidate and muzzle the West on anything concerning the sensitivities of one specific community is unacceptable and makes the dispute over the cartoons a sideshow. The only right course of action now, even if one finds those cartoons silly or in bad taste, is to stand by the publisher, the Danish government, the right of other papers to publish, and the general principle of freedom that makes Europe still a free continent and the Arab Middle East still a sea of dictatorships. Recalling ambassadors was disgraceful. Burning embassies was medieval. Boycotting businesses was mafia-like. And not formulating a joint European response (not yet, one hopes) — let alone expressing solidarity to the Danes — was pusillanimous. It is not Denmark, at this point, that owes an apology to Islam. An apology is owed to Denmark, to Europe, and to the freedom that these assaults aim to deny.

Two considerations arise from this state of affairs: One, if we determine that the yardstick for allowable and unallowable speech is someone else's sensitivity, pretty soon there will be nothing left to talk about. Sensitivity is a subjective trait and the law, with all its shades and penumbras and variations in interpretation, needs a pretty objective, abstract, and general standard. The minute we allow feelings to determine the boundaries of freedom, we will all be slaves.

Second, the reaction that swept across the Muslim world and among Muslims in Europe is symptomatic of a culture that denies democracy and fails to comprehend the mechanisms of a free society. The attacks on the Danish government and state have no precedent and find no justification, given that the target of Muslim wrath is a newspaper, not government policy. To ask for the Danish government to take steps in order to avoid further violence and rescind the sudden boycott on its products means that those who are asking think the free press of Denmark does and will do what the Danish government will tell them to do. That is how the press works in the Arab world. Not in Europe. Not since 1945 at least, and hopefully not anymore. Anyone who thinks government interference with the workings of our societies' press is bad should be outraged. Instead, most of those who routinely exalt the values of freedom of speech in Europe these days are busy siding with the enemies of freedom in the name of community relations.

Still, there remains an open question. Why all this fury now? When the cartoons appeared, there was hardly any commotion outside Denmark and only a few local disturbances. Yes, we know that the outrage was largely cooked up by a party of traveling clerics who put together a brochure designed to enrage, especially given the addition of three particularly vicious fake pictures, and showed it around the Middle East. Still, the timing is, to say the least, suspect. Could it be that, as David Conway of Civitas suggests, this has little to do with Muhammad the Prophet and much to do with Iran the nuclear power? Iran, after all, has just been refereed to the U.N. Security Council on account of its nuclear program. And guess what: When Iran finds itself in the eye of the storm, which, of all countries, will be chairing the U.N. body? Denmark.

What a strange coincidence, given that not much of this fury looks spontaneous.

— Emanuele Ottolenghi teaches Israel studies at Oxford University.

Religion of Peace” or Riots

Cartoon chaos.

By George Neumayr

Uproars over criticism of radical Islam almost always follow the same ironic trajectory. First, someone makes an observation about the violent character of Mohammed or Islam. Then what follows? Violent protests and rioting, which serve to illustrate and confirm vividly the criticism that occasioned them.

Only radical Muslims would consider rioting a rational rebuttal to descriptions of Islam as violent. What other religious group riots or issues death threats after it is criticized? It is precisely because Christianity is so tame that Western liberals often feel safe to lampoon its history as violent. They wouldn't dare level similarly harsh criticism of Islam.

One of the unstated reasons for hesitating before calling radical Islam violent — the reason the fog of political correctness thickens around it — is that it does contain elements of violence. Western society falls silent lest its criticism of Islam result in an explosion of anger validating the criticism.

Still, here and there, a few politically incorrect nonconformists do blurt out the obvious, and then chaos ensues, not to mention the usual fatuous and fashionable outrage, which invariably comes from journalists who report the maverick's criticism as "inflammatory" and then make sure that Muslims are properly inflamed by broadcasting to the ends of the earth the criticism under the most unfavorable and polemical light.

In recent years, Brigitte Bardot and Orianna Fallaci, among others, have been the targets of intense backlash by Muslims for daring to call Islam intolerant. Yet as the press reported these controversies, usually hot with anger at this "western insensitivity," it never occurred to these journalists that the backlash they were dousing — Muslim clerics called for Bardot and Fallaci to be imprisoned — simply added evidence to Bardot's and Fallaci's case.

Now this disturbingly ironic spectacle is on display in Scandinavia. In early January, Magazinet, an obscure evangelical Christian newspaper in Norway, reprinted cartoons depicting Muhammed as a dangerous man of arms. Even before embassies burned this weekend, one could have just looked at the picture above last week's Washington Post story about the controversy to figure Magazinet had a good point: Palestinian militants were screaming and burning a Danish flag, all because of a cartoon in a Scandinavian journal few people have seen. According to the Post's story, the editor of the newspaper, Vebjoern Selbekk, had by then received "15 death threats and more than 1,000 hate letters." Boy, how could he have ever thought that Islam is a religion that spread by force of arms?

By liberalism's standards, Islam, as it is understood by some of its chief clerics, is easily the most illiberal religion on earth. But most European liberals manage to overlook this stark incongruity, even as they cast Christianity, which looks soft in comparison to Islam, in a malign light. The doctrines of Islam are often interpreted by liberals in the most generous manner possible while their own historic religion enjoys no such benign interpretation from them.

But it is notable that Scandinavia, the most liberal of regions, is producing at least a few liberals who are able to see the plain truth: that radical Islam is fundamentally incompatible with their cherished secular humanism. Italian journalist Orianna Fallaci, an old-style liberal, has been banging on this drum for quite some time. Most European liberals, however, have studiously ignored her. Perhaps Denmark, with a reported 200,000 Muslims who have shown little to no interest in integrating into its liberal society, has grown weary of sustaining the illusion that radical Islam poses no threat to liberalism.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has so far refused to apologize for the cartoon, according to the press, and has commented pointedly that "freedom of speech is absolute. It is not negotiable."

Carsten Juste, the editor of the Danish daily that originally published the cartoons of Mohammad (from which Magazinet reprinted them), is showing some fight too. He says the cartoons were "within the constitution, the Danish penal code and international convention....It is not a dictatorship like Saudi Arabia that is going to dictate our editorial line here in Denmark."

Meanwhile, Saudi supermarkets are banning Danish products. Arla Foods, a Danish company, told the Washington Post that its sales have come to a "standstill." But will Islamic fury at these cartoons mean that Muslim immigration into Scandinavia may come to a standstill? Whether or not radical Muslims are that upset remains to be seen.

Yes, crude caricatures of Islam are improper. Yes, multitudes of Muslims are peace-loving and decent. But it is hard not to notice that Islamic protests whipped up by militants such as this one are more opportunistic than sincere, and that they are designed to stifle legitimate criticism of radical Islam's undeniably violent history and designs — criticism that receives fresh evidence from the wildly intemperate anger it stokes.

— George Neumayr is a writer living in the Washington, D.C. area.

February 06, 2006, 8:23 a.m.

Drawing Fire

Opportunity knocked down in the case of the prophetic Danish cartoon.

It says something for the cowardice, duplicity, and wishful thinking of too many of the West's politicians (and much of its media) that one of the most striking illustrations of the crisis in its relations with the Islamic world has come from twelve mediocre cartoons.

Prophetic Beginnings

The broad outlines of this saga ought to be familiar, wearily, painfully familiar, but they are still worth tracing back to the beginning, both to clear up some of the distortions that have grown up around it, and to see what the very nature of the controversy itself can tell us. The whole thing began when the Danish children's writer, Kåre Bluitgen, complained last autumn that he was unable to find anyone willing to illustrate his forthcoming book about the Prophet Mohammed. He had, he said, been turned down by a number of artists frightened by the prospect of reprisal if they ignored the traditional Muslim prohibition on pictorial depiction of Islam's founder. Twenty or thirty years ago, such fears would have been no more than paranoia, but that was before Denmark, like elsewhere in Europe, found itself with a large, and incompletely integrated, Muslim population. Back then Salman Rushdie had not yet been driven underground by an Ayatollah's death warrant. Back then Theo Van Gogh was still alive.


Self-censorship is tyranny's sorry, trembling little helper, and so it's to its credit that the right-of-center (which, in Denmark, is not very right at all) Jyllands-Posten, one of the country's major newspapers, picked up Bluitgen's story. What it did with it was ornery, well-intentioned and somewhat naïve. Forty cartoonists were invited to give their own interpretation of the prophet. Twelve, a little more than a third, accepted, for 800 Danish crowns (roughly $125) apiece. As we now know, the result was a storm of protest in the Muslim world, and in recent days, pushback in the West. The cartoons have been republished all over Europe and the twelve cartoonists are now, like Geert Wilders, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Salman Rushdie before them, learning what it is to live in hiding. They have reportedly opposed the republication of their work. It's difficult to blame them. They have been given a terrible demonstration of what it takes to survive in an era rapidly tumbling back into the pre-modern.

The Veto Power of Thin-Skinned Fanatics

As for the cartoons themselves, they come from all perspectives. One satirizes Jyllands-Posten, another Mr. Bluitgen. None are very funny, or, by Western standards, remarkable. It's telling that the delegation of Danish Muslims who visited a number of Middle Eastern countries to stir up trouble over the cartoons, had to boost their dossier of grievance with three additional (and genuinely disgusting) pictures that Jyllands-Posten had never even seen and whose provenance remains, let's be polite, unclear. To try and compare the actions of Jyllands-Posten, as Bill Clinton effectively did, with the race-baiting traditions of Der Sturmer is to reveal an ignorance of history and a disdain for free speech that disgraces the office he once held. Even the most notorious of the cartoons, the one that shows Mohammed with a bomb decorated with Islamic text in his turban, can be seen not as an insult, but as a challenge to Muslims to demonstrate that (as is indeed certainly the case) there is far more to their faith than the atrocities that have recently defaced it. Harsh? Maybe, but it was also in the Western tradition of vigorous, free discussion. And as such it should be defended.

Ideally, the publication of these cartoons would have prompted Muslims to ask themselves why Islam, one of the world's great religions, could come to be seen in such a bad light. It hasn't worked out that way. Protests have been followed by boycotts, bluster and, now, violence. The protests and the boycotts are fine. They are all part of the debate. Violence, and the threat of violence, is something else, and, as many more moderate Muslims understand, it is doing far more damage to the reputation of Islam than a few feeble caricatures.

Needless to say, the theocracies, kleptocracies, and autocracies of the Middle East, always anxious for something, anything, to distract attention from their own corruption, uselessness, and thuggery, have played their own, typically malign, part in whipping up anger. Ambassadors have been recalled. Denunciations thunder down. Angry resolutions are passed. But amid all these calls for "respect" is there any acknowledgement that many Islamic countries could do more, much more, to respect the rights of those of different faiths to their own? To take just one example, Egypt's ambassador to Copenhagen is recommending that diplomatic action against Denmark should continue, but her own country's persecuted Christian minority would be grateful indeed if their troubles were confined to a few cartoons. Respect, it seems, is a one-way street.

But that's what too many in the Muslim world have been taught to believe, by multiculturalism as much as the mosque. In the cowed, cowering Europe of recent years the idea that religious minorities have a right not to be "offended," a nonsense notion that gives veto power to the fanatic with the thinnest skin, has increasingly been allowed to trump the far more fundamental right of others to speak their mind. Writers have been prosecuted, plays have been tampered with, and works of art withdrawn. Last week, the British House of Commons came within one vote of passing a law that would almost certainly have made U.K. publication of the Danish cartoons a criminal offense. It is a sign of how far matters have been allowed to degenerate that the initial blunt refusal of Denmark's prime minister to even hold a meeting with a number of ambassadors from Islamic countries over the incident ("I will not meet with is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so...As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press — nor do I want such power.") was seen as shocking as it was.

Needless to say, there were others who did their best to ensure that normal servility was resumed. While most Danes backed the prime minister, a former foreign minister, a once-respected figure who has long since become a flack for the Brussels establishment, donned Neville Chamberlain's black jacket and pinstripes to denounce the cartoons "as a pubescent demonstration of freedom of expression." The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to the Organization of Islamic Conferences (which, as it was perfectly entitled to do, had complained about the cartoons) saying that she understood the OIC's concerns, if not, it appeared, the right of free speech, and she was far from being the only senior international bureaucrat to do so (and, yes, naughty Kofi made sure to throw in a few weasel words of his own). Closer to home, the EU's commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice denounced the cartoons as "inappropriate," an adjective as Orwellian as his job description, an adjective that can only have encouraged those out to bully the Danes.

In the end, it was left to other newspapers to rally round. With the republication of the cartoons in the Christian journal, Magazinet, the Norwegians were the first to support the Danes, a gesture understandable in a country where the local publisher of Rushdie's Satanic Verses had been fortunate to survive an assassination attempt in 1993, but which was bound to inflame matters still further. And when it did, other newspapers across Europe, in France, in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Spain and elsewhere joined in, either republishing the offending cartoons or, notably in the case of France's left-of-center Le Monde, adding more of their own.

Going Forward. Or Backward

So, what now? Like it or not, the cozy, consensual, homogenous Denmark of half a century ago has vanished, never to return, and, like it or not, the old Europe shaped by Christianity, the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment now plays host to a large and growing population with a very different intellectual and spiritual tradition. And, in an age of global communication, the idea that these problems of coexistence can be confined to one continent is an illusion. An insult in Århus can reverberate in Damascus and Amman, and for that matter, Kabul, Basra, and Baghdad too. It's this that explains why the Bush administration, with hearts, minds and a war to win, condemned the cartoons, and it's this, far less forgivably, that explains why Turkey's (supposedly moderate) Islamist prime minister feels that he has the right to tell the Danish press what it may or may not publish.

Of course the publication of those cartoons was (quite explicitly) a provocation, but the furor that followed shows that it was an acceptable thing to do. The editors of Jylland-Posten wanted to draw attention to the fact that fears for the freedom of expression were both real and realistic. They have succeeded on both counts. Europeans realize now, if they were dim enough not to understand before, that they are faced with two very different ways ahead. The first, and better, alternative is to recognize that, to many, freedom of speech is a value as important as religious belief may be to the faithful, and to give it the protection it deserves. Reestablishing this badly eroded principle will not be easy, but to fail to do so will be to empower the fanatic to legislate for all.

The second alternative is, broadly speaking, for Europe to attempt to buy social peace by muddling along as it does now, muzzling a little speech here, rooting out a little liberty there. But this approach isn't working now. There's no reason to think that doing more of the same will prove any more effective in the future. Besides, at its heart, this is a policy of surrender, submission and despair. It is a refusal to accept that people can agree to disagree, and it is a refusal to confront those who cannot. It foreshadows an era of neutered debate, anodyne controversy, and intellectual stagnation. It will lead, inevitably, to societies irrevocably divided into immovable blocs of ethnicity and creed, carving up the spoils, waiting to take offense and thirsting for the fight, which will one day come.

Despite some of the stirring statements in favor of free speech that have been made over the last week the best bet is that Europe will continue to slide into that second, dismal, alternative. The warning signs are already there to see. Tony Blair's Labour government (again, due partly to the presence of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but, doubtless, due also to the presence of Muslim voters in many key parliamentary constituencies) has been at pains to condemn the cartoons, and Norway's governing left-wing coalition wasted no time in distancing itself from Magazinet. Even Magazinet's editor has now stumbled down the same sad route: "If I had dreamt of something like this happening I would not have done it. It's out of control.'' Meanwhile, a number of the newspapers that have chosen not to run the cartoons have done so explicitly on grounds of self-censorship, or, rather, they claim, "restraint," or maybe "respect": Choose your own alibi.

Even more ominously, at the prompting of our old friend, the EU's commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice, Brussels bureaucrats are arranging a meeting for "experts" and "community leaders" (to be held no later than the end of April) that will discuss some of the issues arising out of this controversy. It is reported that, "proposals to counter race and religious hatred [may be] dusted off." We can guess where that might lead.

And as for where it all started, Jyllands-Posten has now announced that it regrets having published the cartoons: "If we had known that it would end with death threats and that the lives of Danish people could be put at risk, we would have naturally not have published the drawings." The paper apologized only for having underestimated the extent to which Muslims revere their prophet, but then it added this, "fundamentalist powers have prevailed over the freedom of speech...Danish media will now be careful about expressing attitudes that fundamentalists can misuse to create hate and bitterness."

We have lost our voice

Moderate Muslims, from Denmark to the Middle East, are caught in the vice of a manufactured conflict

Tabish Khair in Aarhus

Tuesday February 7, 2006

The Guardian

When I first saw them, I was struck by their crudeness. Surely Jyllands-Posten could have hired better artists. And surely cartoonists and editors ought to be able to spot the difference between Indian turbans and Arab ones. In some ways, that was the essence of the problem to begin with. It is this patronising tendency - stronger in Denmark than in countries such as Britain or Canada - that decided the course of the controversy and coloured the Danish reaction.

One could see that the matter would take a turn for the worse when, late last year, the Danish prime minister refused to meet a group of Arab diplomats who wished to register their protest. In most other countries they would have been received, their protest accepted. The government would have expressed "regret" and told them it could not put pressure on any media outlet as a matter of law and policy. In their turn, having done their Muslim duty, these diplomats might have helped lessen the reaction in their respective countries. By not meeting them, the prime minister silenced all moderate Muslims just as effectively as they would be later silenced by militant Muslims around the world.

Like many other moderate Muslims, I too have been silent on these cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and the ensuing protests. Not because I do not have anything to say, but because there is no space left for me either in Denmark or in many Muslim countries.

This does not appear so to many Danes. Here the local controversy seems to be raging between two "Danish Muslim" public figures: Abu Laban, the Copenhagen-based imam who has coordinated much of the protest, and Nasser Khader, a member of the Danish parliament. Khader, liberal, clean-shaven, is posited against the bearded Abu Laban and seen as standing on the side of such "Danish" values as freedom of speech and democracy. He is supposed to represent sane and democratic Muslims. On the other hand, there is repeated talk of kicking Laban out of the country.

In actual fact, of course, both Khader and Laban make it even more difficult for moderate Muslims to be heard. Laban is not afraid of being kicked out of Denmark, because it is not his political territory. Similarly, Khader does not depend on Danish Muslim votes for his survival in politics; he depends on the votes of mainstream Danes, and his politics are geared towards that end. The prime minister's refusal to meet the diplomats was also partly the result of local political considerations: his government is supported by the xenophobic and anti-Islamic Danish People's party.

So much for Denmark, where complacency and smugness have reached extraordinary heights. In Muslim countries too we meet a similar string of local considerations. Surely the tensions between Hamas and Fatah played a role in the disturbances on the West Bank? Surely, some of the reactions - especially in Syria - were the working out of Islamic and pro-Iraqi frustrations on one of the allies of the US's invasion of Iraq?

One could, of course, follow the Qur'an's injunction against portraying Allah or Muhammad without forcing it on people who do not share one's faith. But then the question arises: why should people who do not share one's faith bother with images of one's prophet? For the sake of freedom of expression, said Jyllands-Posten. The only thing expressed by the cartoons, however, was contempt for Muslims.

But why, you might ask, should Islamic fundamentalists be worried about respect from a west that they mostly find unworthy of emulation? The answer to this lies in the histories of Islamic fundamentalism and European imperialism, aspects of which are horribly interlinked. As a reaction to European imperialism and, later, a political development of the west's fight against communism and socialism, Islamic fundamentalism is a quintessentially modern phenomenon. Hence, in their own way, Islamic fundamentalists are much more bothered about the opinion of "the west" than a person like me!

The Danish government should have apologised long before it did - but was right not to act against Jyllands-Posten. Freedom of expression is necessary not because it is a God-given virtue, but because if you let the authorities start hacking away at it you are liable to be left with nothing. But along with the right to express comes the duty to consider the rights of others. This applies as much to Jyllands-Posten as to the mobs in Beirut.

Between the Danish government and Islamist politicians, between Jyllands-Posten and the mobs in Beirut, between Laban and Khader, the moderate Muslim has again been effectively silenced. She has been forced to take this side or that; forced to stay home and let others crusade for a cause dear to her - freedom - and a cultural heritage essential to her: Islam. On TV she sees the bearded mobs rampage and the clean-shaven white men preach. In the clash of civilisations that is being rigorously manufactured, she is in between. And she can feel it getting tighter. She can feel the squeeze. But, of course, she cannot shout. She cannot scream. Come to think of it, can she really express herself at all now?

· Tabish Khair is assistant professor of English at Aarhus University, Denmark, and author of The Bus Stopped

When freedom gives in to fear

Kim Fletcher

Monday February 6, 2006

The Guardian

How do we resolve the row over newspaper publication of cartoons of the Prophet? Perhaps we should start with an apology. Many journalists on British newspapers dismiss their continental counterparts - possibly owing to our chronic inability to read foreign languages - as humourless and boring and ostentatiously politically correct. Their bravery in publishing those cartoons warms our hearts and makes us think again.

From our earliest days as cub reporters it is drilled into us that, outside of the law, nothing stops a paper printing what it likes. The quickest way to get a story from the magistrates courts into a local newspaper is to ask the reporter to keep it out.

So why didn't British newspapers pile in to show solidarity with Danes, French, Italians, Germans, Spanish, Dutch, Swiss and - bravest of the brave - Jordanians over this important issue of press freedom? The best Britain came up with was a web link in the Guardian directing curious readers to the cartoons. Shouldn't we at least have followed the lead of BBC and ITV news, which screened shots of the contentious foreign coverage in order to explain the row?

The attractive explanation for our failure to do so is that papers do not print things that their readers may find offensive. Andreas Whittam Smith, the co-founder and former editor of the Independent, told BBC viewers on Friday that this was an issue not of press freedom but of taste and responsibility.

The less attractive explanation is pure pragmatism. Do you want a protest greeting you next morning? Is it worth having production disrupted for the next few months? How will Muslim newsagents react to what you print? Freedom of the press is all very well, but newspapers are commercial operations.

Not only that, but they should feel some responsibility for their actions. We might ask Danish workers whose jobs are threatened by Middle Eastern boycotts if they are happy to pay the price for press freedom. Is the principle behind publication of offensive cartoons important enough to have the Foreign Office spend the next few months clearing up the mess?

Judgments are made at this pragmatic level all the time, sometimes for the greater good, more out of self-interest. When the Sun lost readers in Liverpool as a result of its coverage of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, it did not defend the principle of free speech. It made a grovelling apology and spent the next 10 years sucking up to Liverpudlians in an attempt to win them back.

Editors are conscious of the power of many groups, whether socially, politically or religiously motivated, to affect the circulation of their papers. All such groups have the right to voice whatever opposition - within the law - they like. All such groups can call for boycotts. The problem in this case is that you don't just get your newspaper boycotted: the editor of the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet, which was first to reprint the cartoons, said on Friday he had received 30 death threats.

It would be nice if we could dismiss all this, as Whittam Smith seemed to be doing last week, as a matter of good manners. Unfortunately there is a strand of Muslim opinion that questions not only our right to be offensive but also our right to explore and debate these issues. Some Muslim critics have differentiated between the publication of the cartoons as a provocative gesture and their reproduction as a means of explaining the row. But that was not a distinction that made much impact on the small crowd that descended on the BBC last week after it broadcast shots of the relevant continental papers.

And we should remember that, while critics have emphasised the offensive nature of the cartoons at the centre of this row, many Muslims demand that no image of the Prophet of any kind be published. In 2001, for example, the Daily Mail commissioned the Cambridge academic John Casey to write an essay on Islam. Casey's piece was intelligent and sympathetic. Unaware, it seems, of the sensitivities, the commissioning editor asked the picture desk to find a picture of Muhammad to illustrate the piece. A handsome portrait appeared on the page, to the fury of sections of the Muslim population.

At the Daily Telegraph, which produced a meticulously researched supplement on Islam, the then editor Charles Moore was aware of the sensitivities of picturing the Prophet. He was inclined to publish - here was an illustration of the central figure in an historical account - but decided the likely row would undermine the educational value of the supplement.

That was another pragmatic decision, but we should worry that it had to be taken. We would not publish other historical pieces without illustrating the men and women concerned.

I suspect the truth is that many British journalists feel uncomfortable with the accommodations we are already making, not because they think it is the role of a free press to cause gratuitous offence, but because we have accepted that a large group is to be treated with greater circumspection for fear of what it will do if we don't.

This wasn't the time to go in for gestures, but there will be occasions on which papers must act. As the Daily Telegraph put it: "There might be circumstances in which the dictates of news left us with no choice but to publish - and where the public interest was overwhelmingly served by such an act, we would."

In the meantime, we should assert our freedoms in whatever ways we can. I find I have spent a lot of time looking at the various images of the Prophet available on the Google and Yahoo internet picture sites.

The west and orthodox Islam must step back from absolutist beliefs to be able to live together

James Buchan

Monday February 6, 2006

The Guardian

The Scottish philosopher David Hume prefaced his Treatise of Human Nature in 1739 with a quotation from the ancient Roman historian Tacitus: "It is a rare and fortunate age when you may think what you like, and can say what you think."

That was going it a bit. Notorious for his atheism, Hume was shunned in Scottish society, denied a university post and twice threatened with excommunication. All the same, he inaugurated a period in Britain where the reasonable freedoms of ordinary people, including the freedom to disbelieve in the supernatural, could be accommodated. That this change passed without much violence or even bad feeling is the triumph of modern British history. Hume's teaching and example influenced the American constitution and its imitations.

In contrast, the Muslims who this weekend set fire to Danish diplomatic missions in Damascus and Beirut because of the publication in Denmark last September of caricatures of their prophet, are like Hume's antagonists in the Scots church. For both, salvation demands an exact adherence to the precepts of scripture. Tolerance of others' opinions is backsliding. Deviation is a threat to the souls of the whole community in a world that could end any day.

In orthodox Islam, liberty has the same meaning it had in pre-Enlightenment Scotland. It is the freedom to practise the one true religion without interference or insult. The liberties of the Enlightenment - democracy, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of association, scientific scepticism - are contradictory or meaningless.

Since the Qur'an and the anecdotes of the Prophet Muhammad known collectively as the Sunna lay down an exact pattern of behaviour for all people for all time, the desire to do or think or speak or vote according to one's own fancy is not freedom but simply error that threatens the entire community with damnation. If it is carried out by someone born into the Muslim faith, it is apostasy punishable by death.

The conflict between these two notions of freedom has become fiercer since the colonial era. Arabs first heard the word enlightenment, and others such as liberty and equality, from Napoleon's officers in Egypt in 1798. The words, and the notions they express, have always be tainted by association with western encroachment.

Mohammed Atta, who led the 9/11 hijackers, saw that the west was the soft underbelly of the secular regime of his homeland, Egypt, and others in the Muslim world. Attacking the metropolises of the US and forcing it to retaliate would undermine these regimes and oblige ordinary Muslims to choose sides. His strategy has been taken up by religious radicals among the Muslims in Europe.

On the western side, multiculturalism has proved a euphemism for hiding heads in the sand. Islamic faculties at universities across Europe and North America have still to regain their confidence after the assaults of partisan half-scholars such as the late Edward Said.

There are about 15 million Muslims in the EU. They face ignorance, insult and even persecution. They cannot be wished away. To impose Enlightenment freedoms is self-defeating. Anyway, the Muslims have their own enlightenment.

Is it so painful not to insult other people's religious beliefs? Hume lived on good terms with Presbyterian clergymen and never sought to undermine their beliefs. It is a violation of natural liberty to show this courtesy but no more, as Hume's friend Adam Smith put it in The Wealth of Nations, than is "the building of party walls, in order to prevent the communication of fire". And fire, after all, is what is being communicated.

· James Buchan's Adam Smith and the Pursuit of Perfect Liberty will be published in April by Profile Books

Threats that must be countered

Sarah Joseph

Friday February 3, 2006

The Guardian

The battle is set, of religious extremism versus freedom of speech. These are the lines drawn, or so we are told, in the escalating tensions worldwide surrounding the printing of images of Muhammad in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe.

Although the media is only now picking up on this story, my inbox has been receiving messages about these cartoons for weeks. The messages range from high-pitched to very thoughtful, but not one of them says, "Yeah, whatever ... "

There's no apathy surrounding this issue. This is because of the love felt for the prophet and religious norms in Islam. But also because it feeds into profound feelings of disempowerment, fear and insecurity among Muslims that Europe would do well to understand. In Britain, we should realise that Muslims here will be angry if the pictures are gratuitously published in British papers - not just because of the insults to Muhammad, but because it makes them feel disempowered. Protesting is the only way to regain some self-respect.

First, the easy part. Any depiction of Muhammad, however temperate, is not allowed. There are but a few images of him in Muslim history, and even these are shown with his face veiled. This applies not only to images of Muhammad: no prophet is to be depicted. There are no images of God in Islam either.

So there is hurt and anger, and the messages I receive reflect that. In response, they suggest different approaches. One is through lobbying: distributing the phone numbers of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the Danish ambassador, Denmark's parliament and everything else Danish, and urging Muslims to make their feelings known. We also have the boycott approach - "the only language the west understands" - listing every Danish product that one can buy. I also get messages from the great optimists, suggesting we use the controversy to explain the real nature of Muhammad, who returned insults with kindness. Indeed, Muslims would do well to remember that.

I have also been receiving other messages. These are the most worrying, and the ones of which Europe must take note. These are the messages of resignation. The messages that discuss exit strategies. The messages that question the very future of Muslims in Europe.

Why such hand-wringing over a few cartoons? The key is in the images themselves: Muhammad with turbaned bomb, Muhammad declaring that paradise had run out of virgins for suicide bombers, Muhammad with sword and veiled women. Muhammad in every Orientalist caricature. Muhammad as a symbol for Islam and Muslims. These are the stereotypes that, as Muslims, we face daily. The looks on the tube, the suspicion, the eyes on the bags we carry. There is no denying the feeling of being pushed against a wall, of drowning in the stereotypes that abound. This is no way to live, and it is certainly no springboard for making a major contribution to the society you live in.

The messages to my inbox of resignation, of fear, come with good reason. Some countries that have reprinted the images - Spain, France, Italy and Germany - have a nasty history of fascism. Just last week we had Holocaust memorial day. The Holocaust did not occur overnight. It took time to establish a people as subhuman, and cartoons played their part. Does Europe not remember its past and the Nazi propaganda of Der Stürmer?

Now the great shape-shifter of fascism seems to have taken on the clothes of "freedom of speech". If these cartoons were designed to provoke Muslim fundamentalists, maybe they have done more to reveal the prejudices of Europe. Europe has a history of turning on its minorities. Will that be its future too?

· Sarah Joseph is editor of emel magazine

Prophetic fallacy

The fact that a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his turban is offensive to many Muslims should not be used as an argument for restricting freedom of expression.

Agnès Callamard

Thursday February 2, 2006

In September 2005, a Danish newspaper published 10 cartoons, including one depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his turban.

There were immediate protests within Denmark and the situation has recently escalated to the point where Danish goods are being boycotted, Scandinavian aid workers have been pulled out of Gaza and ambassadors have been recalled.

One striking feature of these events is the remarkable absence of sensible dialogue. Instead, there have been a series of accusations and counter-accusations, variously defending the absolute right to free speech and calling for apologies and censorship in the name of religion.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental right that safeguards the exercise of all other rights and is a critical underpinning of democracy.

As international human rights courts have stressed, it is applicable not only to "information" or "ideas" that are favourably received but also to those that offend, shock or disturb.

Article 19's analysis of this case is that, in the absence of a specific intention to promote hatred, criminal or other censorship measures against the newspaper would not be legitimate.

We recognise that the cartoons were offensive to many Muslims, but offence and blasphemy should not be threshold standards for curtailing freedom of expression.

Blasphemy laws protect beliefs as opposed to people. Restrictions on freedom of expression which privilege certain ideas cannot be justified. At the same time, international human rights law does protect the right of everyone to hold beliefs, and to be free of violence or discrimination.

These events, however, raise broader issues of free speech and human rights that have so far not been addressed sufficiently. Societies throughout the world have failed to address discrimination against religious minorities.

Western societies risk a serious escalation of intolerance and discrimination against Muslims while unequal treatment of religious minorities in many other societies, including in the Middle East, is well documented.

Governments and a range of other actors have a very important role to play in addressing and preventing discrimination and violence, and protecting the right to equality.

Legal restrictions on speech can at best form a small part of the response to intolerance. The putting into place of a range of positive measures to promote equality and combat intolerance and prejudice must also be part of the strategy.

Responsible media, for example, have a social and moral obligation to combat intolerance and to ensure open public debate about matters of public concern.

In this case, serious and informed debate about the issues raised by the cartoons, involving a multiplicity of voices, both religious and secular, would have been helpful.

This responsibility rests with media in all countries affected by these events. Governments also have a key role to play in ensuring that sensible, solution-oriented perspectives are put forward.

Instead, the "dialogue" has far too frequently been characterised by inflammatory headlines, political speeches and other measures to escalate tensions and highlight divisions.

Indeed, the war of words and acts is reminiscent of global reactions to the US-led war on Iraq or Iran's nuclear programme. Reading the headlines, one could be forgiven for thinking that Samuel Huntington's clash of civilisation is upon us.

Twelve Danish journalists came to London two weeks ago to discuss the cartoons with Article 19 and other NGOs. Our discussions then reflected our concerns of the dangers that a deterioration of the situation would pose, as well as possible means of avoiding such dangers.

Unfortunately, the set of events that has unfolded since then has validated our concerns rather than our hopes.

Our societies need to find more sensible ways to address situations like this, which highlight global differences of opinion.

Free speech, the involvement of a diversity of voices, well-informed public debates and a responsible media are central to this.

· Dr Agnès Callamard is executive director of Article 19, a human rights organisation focusing on the defence and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide.

Respect, and a real debate

Roger Scruton, philosopher

Freedom of speech is one of the bastions of democratic government, and it has been clear at least since John Stuart Mill's eloquent defence of it that, without free speech, we are likely to be locked into mistaken policies until the point comes when we can no longer correct them. Actually this has happened in this country in the matter of immigration. As we all know, the cost of expressing reservations about the growth of Muslim ghettos in our cities was, at the time when this might have been avoided, far too great to take the risk. Now we must live with the consequences, and they are only just beginning.

That said, we ought also to recognize that freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to produce images, however offensive, or to make insulting gestures. The United States supreme court has set a very destructive precedent here, by regarding pornography as "speech" for the purposes of the constitution's first amendment, so protecting the most offensive image-mongering as though it were a vital contribution to public debate.

The effect of this has been amplified by the hooligan culture of "Britart", which has routinely presented images that desecrate the symbols of the Christian faith as though this were some daring challenge to oppressive hierarchies and a bid for liberation. Gilbert and George have just produced another truckload of this stuff, and the critics are making their routine nods of approval. As a result of this and the quotidian displays of degeneracy on TV we have lost all sense that the icons of faith must be respected, however ridiculous they may seem.

A faith is not a system of intellectual beliefs; it is a way of life. And the symbols of that way of life are like family portraits, which stay on the wall and the desk, defining the place where we are, the place that is ours, the home that is sacred and not to be defiled. Those who spit on them are not regarded kindly.

This does not mean that we cannot openly discuss the tenets of a faith or the deeds of its followers. On the contrary we can and must. We need Muslims to come clean about their faith, just as we Christians have – for the most part – come clean about ours. We want to know whether they accept the doctrine of jihad as this was elaborated by Ibn Taymiyya or whether, on the contrary, they accept the validity of peaceful coexistence and the legitimacy of secular law. Some do, some don't. But all should discuss it publicly, so that we can decide what to do.

Looney Toons!

Sajjad Khan, New Civilisation

What started off as a little local difficulty about community integration in Denmark following the publication of the famously controversial cartoons has now escalated into a worldwide chasm between the Muslim and western worlds. Many commentators have fixed the debate between the absolute principle of free speech versus what they perceive as an obscurantist attempt by Muslims to censor any criticism, satire or rebuke of their beliefs or revered figures.

Many recent media editorials and columns imply that the western world practices absolute freedom of speech and expression. But (to take only Britain as an example) absolute freedom of speech doesn't exist – from incitement to racial hatred to libel laws, from the official secrets act to incitement to violence, from banning images of child abuse to the proposed glorification of terrorism, many western societies have no shortage of laws that censor speech.

There was little outcry from these advocates of free speech when the British government took out an unprecedented injunction stopping publication of the infamous al-Jazeera memo. There was no outcry from the free-speech lobby when internet service providers are told to crackdown on child pornographic sites (with the exception of Denmark where some sites are legal). Similarly, when the Austrian chancellor condemned the publication of sexually-graphic images of the Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, George W Bush and Jacques Chirac in January 2006 there was no libertarian outcry. Die Welt, the German newspaper that on free-speech grounds took a "principled stand" to publish the controversial cartoons, would never be permitted by law or social pressures to publish anti-semitic cartoons or question holocaust statistics. France claims to be a protector of freedom while simultaneously denying Muslim women the right to wear the headscarf in schools.

These examples illustrate that every society weighs the right of speech against other important values such as justice, security, dignity, or building community cohesion. The same is true for any freedom. If freedom trumped every other value, no one would be forced to pay taxes, the media would not censor pictures of dead soldiers out of concern for their families, and there would be no need for confidentiality agreements in various walks of life. Failing to place a principled limit on freedom would lead to a free-for-all. Civilised society would collapse, indecency would rise, bad language would be ubiquitous, respect would vanish and community cohesion would be eroded.

Every society has its important symbols of reverence. In the United States it is the constitution, the founding fathers and the flag. In France it is the republic. Britain reveres the institution of parliament and the country's war heroes. For the Jewish people it is the Torah and perhaps the holocaust. Muslims revere God, the Qu'ran and the prophets. Each community feels a deep-rooted passion and strong emotional attachment to these symbols. Intelligent people of all civilisations usually understand this and are sensitive to these feelings, even when they disagree with the substance these symbols represent.

If courtesy can be restored, then we can move to the more productive arena of debating the real issues of difference that exist between Islam and secular societies. I know of no debating platform where the rules of civility are not a precursor, and where frank abuse would be tolerated. Isn't it a basic rule of setting ground-rules that all parties agree them together rather that those with power simply deciding for everyone and being satisfied with their implementation?

The reaction to these cartoons in the Muslim world makes it even harder to argue that western secular values can be successfully implemented there (an objective already reeling from the pernicious "war on terror"). The burning of embassies is regrettable, but it is disingenuous to suggest that the reaction is a surprise given the backdrop of invasion, occupation, desecration of holy books and the humiliation in Abu Ghraib and Guantànamo Bay. In Europe, moreover, there is severe prejudice against Islam in many countries (especially Denmark). It is as if the abuse meted out by gratuitously republishing the images across Europe was done in the expectation that they would only cause the "cartoon damage" that Bugs Bunny does to Daffy Duck. In real life you can't abuse people and expect them to just get up again and walk away.

Them and us

Patrice de Beer

L'affaire started in France on 1 February when the dying daily France-Soir decided to reprint cartoons criticising Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, as a sign of solidarity with the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten; the editor was subsequently fired by the owner, a Franco-Egyptian businessman. Islamist demonstrators all over the middle east started to throw France – which sees herself as a traditional friend of the Arab world – in the same basket as Denmark and Norway.

Since then, another daily, Libération, has done the same – after lengthy internal debates – and Le Monde published a massive front-page cartoon from its main cartoonist, Plantu, who managed to draw a portrait of the prophet composed solely of the repetition of the same sentence: "Je ne dois pas dessiner Mahomet" ("I must not draw Muhammad"). As much a cartoon as an editorial comment!

The main reason for this French response, as for many other media in Europe – with the main exception of Britain – is the desire to inform readers and to show solidarity with colleagues whose freedom to publish is being threatened.

At a deeper level, French reactions to an event whose origins have yet to be elucidated (the "offensive" cartoons were, after all, first published … in September 2005) show how complex and difficult it can be to deal with issues of this sort. Most politicians have simultaneously criticised the lack of "sensitivity" of these cartoons while stressing the importance of press freedom. As one of them admitted: "It's nitro" (i.e. nitro-glycerine). But, in France, the reasons for this prudence are different from other European countries: it is far less related to the demonstrations and inflammatory speeches in the middle east than to the domestic situation, just a few weeks after the suburban riots and only fifteen months before the next presidential elections. Will the debate on immigration invite itself again into the campaign, and at what cost?

Until now, reactions from the multi-faceted Muslim community – the largest in Europe – have been subdued, critical but not inflammatory – threats to sue France-Soir, not to torch its precincts. A sign of maturity from the community's leadership probably, but perhaps also some fear of a political backlash. This crisis has already inflated the opinion-poll support for Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme-right and xenophobic National Front; nobody has forgotten how, in 2002, he managed to spoil the democratic debate in finishing second during the first round of the presidential elections, just behind Jacques Chirac and ahead of the socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin.

Some pollsters have stressed the "fear of feeding extremism" which could peel away from the right to people fearing that "they are threatening our own freedom of expression" and stir up feelings against the Muslim community, most of whom are French citizens. Today, 6 February, the Socialist Party stressed that "law should not be made in the streets" and that "press freedom is part and parcel of democracy, which is non-negotiable".

Others fear that this crisis could nurture a "clash of values". Paradoxically, the only issue on which opinions on both sides of the conflict seem to agree is that double standards should not be accepted. If the "Arab street", and those who are trying to stir it up, criticises Europeans for allowing "blasphemy" against Islam, one could ask in response why we haven't seen Muslim crowds demonstrating against terrorists throwing bombs in the name of Allah "the merciful", the torching of churches in Iraq or the murder of Christians (the Jews are long gone) in countries from Pakistan to Turkey.

Another French cartoonist, Cabu, has wondered why "moderate Muslims don't express themselves, and allow terrible things be done in their names?" The problem is that these double standards are, in fact, only the tip of an iceberg of misunderstandings based on the political use of religion: "they" expect us to behave like them and "we" expect them to behave like us. Will it end one day?

Muslims as subjects

Fauzia Ahmad, Bristol University researcher

In this discussion, it would be a mistake to see "Europe" and "Muslims" as discrete entities – debating within such a binary frame can only serve to reproduce artificial boundaries of "Them" and "Us". If we are to learn anything from the recent furore, it is that Muslims in Europe want to be treated with equality and respect and be recognised as valued contributors and citizens of the societies in which they live. In this light, I believe we need to take a few steps back to reassess the context of the protests.

What has changed in the past decade? Have debates on racism within the United Kingdom and Europe actually yielded real, positive change? There have indeed been some moves to recognise religious discrimination and Islamophobia at structural levels but I believe these gains are relatively minimal and have failed to filter down to address the very real racism Muslims face on a daily basis.

Watching the events unfold, reading various commentaries and looking at the cartoons themselves aroused several emotions for me. One was the deep sense of unease I felt looking at the offending cartoons – they are indeed insulting, stereotypical and frankly racist.

Crisis points in our recent histories such as 11 September 2001, the Iraq war, the Madrid bombings, the London bombings and the cartoon affair have all resulted in more calls for dialogue, understanding and education. These are very noble aims which we should all hold onto, but I think some more creative thinking is required that fully acknowledges the pervasive and damaging nature of anti-Muslim racism.

In Britain, the absurdity of British National Party leader Nick Griffin's recent acquittal from charges of incitement to racial hatred has left many of us baffled. In what were clearly inflammatory statements against Islam and Muslims, which he was allowed to repeat in court without challenge, Islamophobia became publicly legitimised and justified as an example of "free speech". The cartoons are no different. When seen in terms of the disenfranchisement and disempowerment of Muslims from political and social structures in Europe, the cartoons take on a new significance that renders talk of "free speech" a red herring and distraction. Here, Muslims are again expected to act as apologists for the violent remonstrations of a few. Rather than seeking constructive ways to challenge latent Islamophobic racism, we have allowed this to fester and gain "respectability", as a sort of distant cousin of "real" racism.

The question we need to ask is – what part do our elected representatives, and the governing and legal structures they uphold, play in the realisation of this racism? What part do they play in combatting it? All we seem to have now are superficial calls for "integration" where migrant cultures (read Muslim) are problematised and pathologised, where migrants are expected to make unfair choices if they are to "fit in", and where Muslims are expected to respond to Eurocentric debates and questions that are heavily laden and highly assumptive, and serve to objectify Muslim experiences, again.

I am reminded of another central and unresolved question that concerns all of us living within the shifting boundaries of Europe – are we to view Europe as a project or an identity? Who decides?

Religion: handle with care

Adam Szostkiewicz, Warsaw journalist

Poland is no stranger to things Muslim. We shared political, cultural and military history with the Ottoman Turks; centuries ago we fought wars with them, and made peace with them. King Jan III Sobieski stopped the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683.

However, when Poland was partitioned among the Habsburgs, Prussia and the Russians in the late 18th century the sultan refused to legally accept the partitions. The Ottoman sublime porte was able to sense the danger of Europe's losing the balance of power.

All this still echoes in my country. Poland has a small community of Muslims of Tartar descent dating back to the Ottoman era. We officially support Turkey's bid for full European Union membership. And there are at least 20,000-25,000 foreign Muslims living here – students, businessmen, diplomats, refugees from Chechnya and other unfortunate lands. Last but not least, we joined the anti-Saddam coalition, and now have more than 1,000 troops in Iraq.

So it came as a shock to many in this country when a leading Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita, republished two cartoons from the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. The daily's editors said the recycling of this inflammatory material was meant to be a gesture of solidarity with those in Europe who champion the freedom of speech. They posed the question: how can you have an informed debate on the cartoon issue without first having a look at the caricatures themselves?

The politicians and religious leaders did not feel that way. The prime minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, and the minister for foreign affairs, Stefan Meller, apologised to those who may have felt offended. The Council of Polish Muslims and Catholics condemned the republication, as did a Polish Roman Catholic bishop committed to interfaith dialogue. The Polish Muslim organisations threatened to take the paper to court for a serious breach of law protecting religious feelings.

As the tension grew, Grzegorz Gauden, the editor-in-chief of Rzeczpospolita offered his apologies. He said it was not the paper's intention to offend Muslims and their faith, but they had wanted to act in defence of civil liberties and media freedom.

As the cartoon controversy still rages on here – Polish society being rather divided on the issue, more or less along pan-European lines – two lessons come to my mind as a writer on both religion and international relations.

First, beware of handling religion without care – it's highly explosive and may spread havoc in the global village which is today's world. Always seek advice from the religion-literate when contemplating an editorial or journalistic decision on a religious story. This is not self-censorship, but an act of prudence as well as professionalism.

Second, the end result of the Danish incident is deeply annoying. In no way has it promoted a better understanding between Europe and Islam, nor has it made our democratic and pluralist societies safer and more secure.

To make things worse, it was a favour done to extremists on two fronts: it may be used as a rallying cry by both radical Islamist parties, and conservatives within the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox forces now uniting against a "secular-postmodernist'' juggernaut rolling across the western world. Sorry, but it was not worth it.

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Honing European traditions

Shaida Nabi, researcher, University of Manchester

Free speech has had a mighty battering recently. This is not because of any Muslim resistance to the gratuitous depictions of the holy prophet [peace be upon him]; rather, it is because a chorus of European commentators have invoked the freedom to speak as a smokescreen for the crudest form of racist vilification. In addition to Israel, this racist vilification spans at least thirteen European states.

The constellation of responses spanning media coverage cannot have escaped anyone's attention. Reminiscent of the liberal inquisition pursued by western commentators during the Salman Rushdie affair in 1989, we are yet again witnessing attempts to denigrate legitimate Muslim political expression. Back then Muslims merely questioned the conventional criteria of free speech. Now, however, they recognise free speech as the red herring in an Islamophobic onslaught. In both cases, Muslim protest has been widely construed as inherently transgressive.

Once again, the largely peaceful print protest, petitions, economic boycotts, and mass diplomatic engagement are being clipped from our view in favour of more sensational imagery: burning flags and embassies. In a play of déjà vu, these images are obscuring the burning issue at stake: anti-Muslim racism.

This aspect of the cartoons has been muffled, and instead, the sub-level debate, barring a few recent commentaries, has focused on the "freedoms of the west versus the despotic east", the "European tradition of satire versus the ignorance of the Muslim world", and the "violence of a minority versus the upsurge of global Muslim (and increasingly "non-Muslim") resistance".

These cartoons cannot be located in the tradition of European satire, but they can be located within the tradition of racist representation, currently directed at Europe's powerless minorities. If the cartoons represent anything, they are indicative of this relation of power, which if left unchecked, will exceed these malign gestures to re-enact Europe's own bloody history of ethnic cleansing. Indeed, we need to question the value of free speech precisely because of such racist appropriation. There is certainly nothing funny about racism, not least when you are its primary recipient.

Yet one might have anticipated a more sophisticated whitewash than the one being drip-fed to Europe's Muslims. The managing editor of France Soir epitomised the clumsiness, with the headline "Yes we have the right to caricature God". It must have escaped him it was not God in these cartoons. With European ambassadors across the middle east being recalled; with mass protest from Christian sects in Bethlehem to Muslims in secular Turkey; and with Denmark alone at least £40 million short, perhaps the racist power-play now seems a little less satirical.

So where now?

Like the Jews in the 1930s who were also the subject of many a cartoon, are we, as Ziauddin Sardar asks, being set up for a holocaust? Is this the road Europe is paving for its Muslims in the name of (as Die Welt, one of the offending German papers, put it) "Europe-wide solidarity"?

Those advertising Islamophobic caricatures in the name of free speech understand that Islamophobic insult is not prosecutable. And herein lies one of the small ways forward, a way that was diluted to irrelevance this week by the British parliament, and stupendously undermined when the BNP leader walked free following his court trial.

Britain and the United States have responded with apparent restraint. All things considered, in the context of a "war on terror" this "responsibility" is somewhat curious. The British state and its papers are enjoying this exceptionally responsible status away from continental Europe. The way forward would be to make this exceptional stance the norm, not merely in the publishing houses of Europe, but in the offices of state. And indeed, for this to be a recognised aspect of European tradition.

Rasmussen’s folly

KA Dilday, writer

If a tree falls in Denmark does anyone hear it?

In December 2005 I read an interview with the writer Philip Roth that had been translated into English from its original publication in a Danish newspaper. It mentioned in passing a "huge scandal" in Denmark: a venerable 68-year-old Danish writer had been pilloried for having sex with the 18-year-old daughter of his maid in Haiti and writing about it. Sexual-racial dynamics of that sort interest and disturb me so I searched for articles on the scandal – yet I could find none in either English or French.

Had it been, say, Philip Roth who had done such, I dare say I could have found reports in most languages. But Denmark, tucked up there at the tip of Europe, a tiny, relatively homogenous country of scarcely 5.5 million people, with relatively little global weight and involvement in few conflicts doesn’t generate much press. Consider that the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed that have set off a global furore were first published in Denmark in September 2005 and that most of us non-Scandinavian "westerners" only just started reading about it in our local papers.

The editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, the paper that commissioned and published the cartoons has expressed shock at the furore that followed publication. Any editor in France or the United States or Britain or the Netherlands would have understood what publishing these cartoons would unleash. They might have done it anyway (and of course a group of European editors did just that as a show of solidarity) but they would have been well aware of the potential for extreme ramifications.

Carsten Juste is not the only Dane who is blissfully ignorant: Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark refused to meet with ambassadors representing predominantly Muslim countries over the issue, saying: "the background to my rejection is that they sent me a letter which concluded that I, as prime minister, should take legal measures against the press. I cannot. I will not. And if I agreed to hold a meeting on the same topic that would be the same as accepting that this is a relevant problem which there could be dialogue about."

If a group of ambassadors to your country thinks something is a problem, then that in itself is a problem that must be addressed by the foreign minister. It doesn't matter whether you think they should be angry or not. Had a group of ambassadors representing European Union countries requested a meeting, I have no doubt that no matter what he thought of their concern, Rasmussen would have met with them. Indeed, twenty-two former Danish ambassadors criticised Rasmussen early on for his handling of the issue. A good diplomat would have received the group, expressed regret and likely said that unfortunately with the laws of the country, his hands were tied and that freedom of speech protected the Muslim community as well as the press.

It is probably easy to ignore Denmark’s tiny Muslim population. 93% of the population is of the same indigenous Dane ethnic group. The 2% of people in Denmark who say that they are Muslim are probably drawn from those of Turkish, Asian, African and Balkan origin – collectively about 4% of the population. I expect that for a Dane, it is probably pretty easy to live one's life without ever having to consider the perspective of someone who looks or worships (or abstains from worship) differently from you.

In response to the unfolding events, Carsten Juste said: "I'm very surprised that the reactions have been so sharp, very shocked, and I find the death threats against the cartoonists to be horrible and out of proportion".

His surprise surprises me. In this new information age, if a tree falls in Denmark, it is to be hoped that the world will hear it. At its best, this recent globalised amplification is what protects those in remote places from unseen repression. At its worst it facilitates what we see now: the ability to network violence. Of course the reaction is horrible and wrong but if Carsten Juste is going to be bold and make a statement, it's would have been wise to have an idea of the likely consequences. That would be an informed choice. It's Anders Fogh Rasmussen who is shockingly bad at his job since he refused to do it by dealing with a potentially explosive issue until it exploded. It’s not free speech that created the outrage, but access. One wonders if all of this would have happened if he had simply opened his door to the ambassadors.

Blurred boundaries

Saeed Taji Farouky, filmmaker

The charge of blasphemy was first made in September 2005, but it took until last week for the controversy over Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to turn into an international diplomatic crisis. What the situation highlights most starkly is that, despite increasing fascination with Europe’s relationship to the Muslim world, there is still little appreciation of cultural relativism, and in this case, a distinct failure to understand that the line between politics and journalism is drawn differently in the two regions.

This is all happening at a time when Denmark’s immigration policy is considered the toughest in Europe and support for the extreme rightwing, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party increased to 13.3% in the February 2006 general election. Add to this the fact that Muslim governments, disaffected Muslim communities and European media are so highly sensitive to ideological encounters that they threaten to overreact at every possible opportunity, and it should be obvious by now that publishing the cartoons was, at best, poorly thought out. Freedom of expression is most valuable, after all, when it is exercised strategically and logically, not merely pushed to its limits for naïve sensationalism.

However, as Jyllands-Posten pointed out, they have broken no law, and Muslim diplomats and protesters have now undermined the entire concept of legitimate protest by the scale of their reactions and by their failure to distinguish between political and cultural responsibilities. If something truly appalling were to happen, something far more serious than these Danish cartoons, those same protesters and diplomats would be left with no way to express genuine outrage. Like the "boy who cried wolf", the violent protesters will find that if they are ever faced with a real crisis, European governments, and even public opinion, will be hard pressed to take them seriously. That threatens not only their own voices, but also the voices of Muslims around the world who do not feel that the violent protesters represent their views.

This is not to say that Muslims, who have every right to be insulted by the cartoons, should simply keep quiet. Instead, their arguments should be confined to the right arena. The cartoons are not a political issue; they never were, and to suggest that politicians get involved in restraining journalists contradicts one of the fundamentals of a liberal democracy. Whether or not you agree with Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s handling of the whole controversy, it is difficult to argue with his statement that "the government refuses to apologise because the government does not control the media or a newspaper outlet; that would be in violation of the freedom of speech".

In many of the countries that reacted most strongly to the cartoons, there is no independent free press nor is there is guarantee of freedom of speech. Syria, for example, continues to exercise extremely strict control over the content of its news media, and as far as the ordinary Syrian is concerned, the opinion of Denmark’s biggest selling daily is the opinion of the Danish government. Syria’s protesters have little experience with debates over a free press, such is the intimacy between the content of their newspapers and the opinions of their politicians, and this hazy border makes it difficult for the outraged governments to accept the familiar defence of independent press freedom.

At the same time, the European media’s blurring of the line between political and ideological clashes is making it extremely difficult for them to understand that Muslim protests are inspired not by a hatred of press freedom or a rejection of northern European liberal values, but by resentment at the impunity and insensitivity of Europe’s press. For Jyllands-Posten, publishing the cartoons was simply an exercise in provocation, while journalists living under dictatorships are literally dying for such freedoms – and that risks undermining the significance of press freedoms in general.

What can be done to avoid a similar situation in the future? Jyllands-Posten and her newspapers in solidarity are trying to frame this as a fundamental difference between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures, but the cartoons themselves express how blatantly and deliberately provocative they are. "The editorial team of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs", reads one caption. Another says: "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel south Jutlander."

The controversy has shamelessly stoked the flames of Samuel Huntington’s "clash of civilisations " fallacy in little more than a publicity stunt when, by this point, it has more to do with posturing than any ideological confrontation. The fact is, both the European editors and the protesters are demanding the same thing: a basic respect of boundaries. Respecting boundaries does not mean that free speech is under threat, nor does it mean that journalists are being allowing to get away with blasphemy, it simply means appreciating the responsibilities that come along with certain freedoms.