Due to the fact that this editorial in the Wall Street Journal is viewable only through subscription, I will take the liberty in reprinting it here, due to its overwhelming importance concerning the publishing of the pictures of Mohamed. KGS
Saturday, February 11, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
As a way of addressing the Islamist threat to civil liberties in Europe, the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad were hardly ideal. The right to mock a religion may be absolute, but so is the right to publish most forms of pornography: Neither is appropriate in a serious publication. That applies whether the religion is Islam, Christianity or any other, and whether the cartoons are being published for the first time or reprinted elsewhere as acts of solidarity in the face of an implied threat.
But after the attacks on Western embassies in Beirut, Damascus and Tehran, the murder of a Catholic priest in Turkey, the death of at least a dozen people throughout the Middle East in anti-Danish rioting and protests in Europe in which Muslim demonstrators urged a “real Holocaust” on the West, questions about press freedom seem almost quaint. What we are dealing with here is something else entirely.
That something else might be called the premodernism of much of modern-day Islam, meaning the apparent unwillingness of too many Muslims to place reason above “honor” and deal proportionately with intellectual provocations. The Western philosophical tradition is founded on the belief that the execution of Socrates for blaspheming the gods of Athens was an injustice. When British Muslims carry placards reading “Butcher those who mock Islam,” they are making their differences with that tradition depressingly plain.
Such premodernism is also on display among those Muslims who have forgotten the reciprocal obligations that the principle of “respect for religion” requires. We’ll take the Islamic clerical establishment at its word that Islam forbids pictorial depictions of Muhammad–and look forward to their fatwas against the anti-Semitic caricatures routinely featured in the Arab and Persian press.
Yet mass demonstrations almost never represent mainstream public sentiment in the West. Why then should we take it as given that they do among Muslims?
Every society has its silent majorities, but it’s only in democracies that those majorities exercise a decisive influence. If Islamic societies seem premodern and violent, this surely has something to do with the fact that most Muslim countries today are places where there is no democracy; where silent majorities stay silent; where, to adapt W.H. Auden, “only the man behind the rifle has free speech.”
So it has been in the case of the cartoons, which were first published in September, to the fairly muted protests of Danish Muslims. Ambassadors of 10 Muslim countries demanded that the Danish government “take all those responsible to task,” apparently forgetting that, unlike in their own countries, Danish authorities do not serve as press censors. Around the same time, an Egyptian newspaper reprinted the cartoons without drawing any noticeable wrath from Muslim clerics.
It was only after a December meeting of the 56 member states of the Organization of Islamic Conferences–all but a handful of which are dictatorships or absolute monarchies–that the “outrage” really took wing. No surprise here: as Sari Hanafi of the American University in Beirut told the New York Times, these autocracies made use of the cartoons (the most offensive of which were fabrications) as a way of showing that the expansion of freedom and democracy in their countries would lead inevitably to the denigration of Islam. From there it was but a short hop to the airwaves of al-Jazeera (owned by the Emir of Qatar), whose in-house cleric, Yussuf Qaradawi, a member of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, issued a fatwa calling for a “day of anger.”
Put simply, what we have witnessed isn’t the proverbial rage of the Arab street. It’s an orchestrated effort by illiberal regimes, colluding with fundamentalist clerics, to conjure the illusion of Muslim rage for their own political purposes. The Iranian mullahs seek to discredit Denmark as it assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, where Iran’s nuclear program is being discussed.
The secular Allawite regime in Syria wants to shore up its ties with the Sunni religious establishment, especially now that Bashar Assad’s former vice president has declared a government in exile. The Saudis want to put behind them the latest stampede at the annual Hajj, where some 350 pilgrims were killed.
And in Europe, clerics and self-styled “community leaders” with close links to the Saudi government or the Brotherhood want to assert their dominance over populations that have yet to find their social or economic place in the mainstream of European life, as November’s riots in France showed. The fact that European governments seem easily cowed by threats of violence has only made the problem worse.
In all the uproar, we find it telling that the two places where Muslim communities have shown restraint and moderation is in the United States and Iraq. American Muslims are overwhelmingly middle class, upwardly mobile and not very susceptible to the atavistic urgings of distant dictatorships. In Iraq, an unsilent majority has repeatedly made its views plain about the religious fanatics who demand to speak in their name. Just imagine the kind of anti-Western protests that would be taking place there now if Saddam were still in power.
There’s a lesson in this for those who would have us believe that what this cartoon conflagration represents is a conflict of civilizations. There is a conflict all right, not between civilizations, but within one, and it pits those who would make Islam barbaric and those who would keep it civilized. In that struggle, the heirs of Socrates and the heirs of al-Farabi must make common cause.