Jest a Bit and Harvest Trouble

Do not think that by now you have heard all that there is to say about the “Danish cartoon” crisis. Last September, a Danish paper noticed that some cartoonists were frightened to depict Near Eastern topics. They seem to have sensed that being funny leads to serious trouble. So the paper made some effort to get such material. The result was twelve drawings [see them here, halfway down the page].

Some are good, others so-so. Still others are not especially funny. When perusing the material before the cartoons became the story, I thought that they depict an “Islamic type” in different situations. The best one seemed to be a scene at the gates of heaven. Incoming suicide bombers (“martyrs” if you insist) are told by the gate-keeper: “Stop, we ran out of virgins.” Another favorite is several women in burkas that follow a turbaned fellow. The rectangular eye-hole cut out of the black cloaks is transferred over the eyes of the (unenlightened?) man. In time it was discovered that the caricatures show the Prophet. That is a no-no if you are a Moslem. As time passed there was, rather than boos, a bit of protest. When it intensified, other papers reprinted the cartoons to show what the outcry is all about. Thereupon the insulted protestors defending the messenger of peace became violent. Considering that Islam claims to be a creed of mercy, peace and benevolence, its discontented are surprisingly violent. All of which makes one wonder what would happen if the faith would not have peaceful forgiveness in its core.

While this is written, “instant mobs” are storming Danish embassies, burn churches and even besiege the EU’s office in “Palestine.” Apologies and the punishment of the culprits is being demanded by throngs that skillfully burn Danish and other European flags – here the training on Israeli, British and US banners must come in handy. While flag-makers thrive as the demand rises, diplomats insist rather undiplomatically that “justice” be served – or else. Before Europe has a chance to follow its instinct to cave, therefore before the subject is changed, the implications, more than the event as such, should be discussed.

One of these is that it reveals the limited understanding of Moslems and their leaders of the modus operandi of developed democratic countries. Certainly, the point is valid that a Head of Government of a state that has no censorship and that, furthermore, guarantees the freedom of the press, can not apologize for cartoons. Nor is such a leader in a position to coerce someone for upsetting folks that are easily insulted. This is the more so because no Danish, British and German law has been violated. This inability to comprehend is of significance. Iran’s nuclear policy and crisis management is likely to suffer from a comparable inability to decipher the smoke signals that are emitted to warn her.

Much could be said here about the asymmetrical nature of the “respect” demanded from, and the esteem given to, the faithless “unbelievers.” Comparisons for the tolerance demanded as a right for the Faithful when they are a minority, and the scarcity of privilege extended to outsiders in Islamic countries, also come to mind. Just think of the right to erect a mosque in, let us say Rome, and trying to raise a church in, well, why not, Mecca. Or for a foreign woman to…  Well, as stated, a long list could be compiled. And it would still, along with evaluations of the quality of the drawings, miss the main point.

So, what then might be the central issue? It amounts to a sign that points to a worrisome conclusion. At this moment it is still so outlandish that most people are likely to be unwilling to consider the thought.

A demand the cartoon-crisis provoked is that, advanced countries which generally have Western Civilization in common, proceed on their own turf according to a dictate reflecting an alien culture’s concepts. The separation of church and state, basic freedoms, the idea of the supremacy of laws are a part of what this civilization has produced to cherish and to be proud of. Precisely those, who justify practices that outsiders find reprehensible by proclaiming the sovereignty of their culture, are now outing themselves with demands on others that contradict the norms they claim for themselves.

This double standard is now being extended into new dimensions. Till now those who spoke for Moslems demanded tolerance from others – that being their principle – while they asserted the right to be inflexible as exemplified by the sharia – this being their own principle. Furthermore, “respect” was demanded which meant silent acceptance. This respect was based on the allegation that all civilizations are equal. Only that, naturally, the civilizations that crystallized around other faiths were inferior because they were Godless. Needless to add, that as such, these are predestined to fail after some pushing and shoving. The void created by their collapse is to be filled by those who act as God’s messengers.

At this juncture Islam’s official spokesmen go as far as to demand that the critique of the Prophet be suppressed abroad. The danger is that the next step will be that Islam as a religion be exempt of criticism in the terminology of other beliefs, secularism, agnosticism or atheism. The justification could be that if the Prophet can not be questioned then his faith, and the men who represent it, also deserve deference. The escalation is likely to lead to a demand to prohibit open disapproval of actions taken by the faithful in the name of their religion. An implied consequence is the kind of “extraterritoriality” for Moslems that is already being asserted in Europe. Indeed, the immunities from the laws applying to the majority are on the rise.

At some stage of the above process, the narrowing of the definition of what constitutes a verbal insult of Moslems, regardless of whether they are indigenous or an (uninvited) guest minority is likely. The “logic” that leads to the extension of what becomes defined as forbidden verbal critique is likely to spread over to deeds. A good number of the practices and way of life that evolved in western and other cultures are offensive to the Prophet’s followers. Even if practiced “abroad” where a majority of the blasphemous unbelievers are at home – be that in food, art and lived values – the norms of Islam are violated. The cultural relativists will be quick to label this as being an “insult” and also an avoidable provocation. Therefore the call will be made that, in the interest of peaceful coexistence, even those who believe otherwise should, nevertheless, desist and adjust their open life style to the pronouncements of someone else’s imam. Once this is accomplished it will be a small step to raise the demand of full active compliance in all areas.

It was long ago that the first lines drawn in the sand were crossed. The process continues. Now a new and larger step is being taken. As admitted earlier, for the average person the entirety of the prognosis is, at this moment, not likely to be credible. The seed is still so small that it is hard to see the oak in it. Extrapolating incrementally from one hypothetical stage to the next one is, once the process is repeated several times, understandably suspect as speculation. Let us hope that the sceptics will be right. On the other hand we should remind ourselves of an old marching song. It talks about controlling the alley, then the boulevard and thereafter the city. The country will be next and the world is the final stage. There is also a new German proverb that reacts to a dramatic experience that country made in the last century. It advises good people: “Wehret den Anfängen!” The translation, namely that one should begin to “resist the beginnings” in time, might be clumsy. Even so, the point made is hard to dismiss.