TCS Daily

The Cartoon that Broke the Camel's Back

By Nidra Poller - February 7, 2006 12:00 AM

PARIS -- In the space of ten short days Europeans discovered they have been donating $500 million a year to the Palestinian Authority, were rewarded for their no-questions-asked generosity by a landslide victory of Hamas, and became persona non grata in the Palestinian territories because a Danish newspaper published some funny drawings of the prophet Mohamed. History in the making.

Europeans have been walking on eggshells for the past five years for fear of offending Muslims; now all the goodwill goes up in flames because the irreverent Danish tweaked the prophet's beard. The EU and its member states conducted foreign relations with one eye on the local Muslim population and the other on the explosive Arab street. America became the whipping boy, accused of stirring up Muslim anger by its intrusive, bellicose actions in the Middle East. Synagogues were burned, Jews were beaten, shot, or stabbed to death, but European governments found no words too kindly to soothe that famous Muslim rage. Yes, they murmured, anti-Semitic violence is regrettable, but European Jews should understand that as long as Muslims in Palestine were victims of Israeli brutality, use of excessive force, land grabbing, and refusal to make concessions, Muslims in Europe would be stirred to action. French media chuckled over Uncle Sam's black eye and basked in Islamic sunshine. Released French captives boasted of their near immunity. "Take me to your leader" was replaced by "I am not American, I am French, pro-Palestinian, and opposed to the Iraq war."

Suddenly, a gigantic non sequitur has replaced the carefully constructed narrative that contained the facts without ever truly examining them. The consistent misreading of the conflict is exploding in European faces. Cruel justice. If the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount could explain five years of atrocities and an ever-increasing determination to destroy the State of Israel, twelve caricatures can explain the current outburst of mob warfare against Europeans. The Gaza offices of the European Union and the French cultural center were among the first targets. EU officials, aid workers, and all sorts of tender helping hands were thrown out on short notice by masked gunmen. People who only a short while ago would have defended the Palestinians on all counts, people who used to boast about living in "Palestine," had to pack up in haste and escape. Via Israel, of course.

When anti-European violence flared in the Palestinian territories, the shock was so intense that it produced some authentic news on French TV! Gaza had been off limits since the Israeli pullout, except for a spate of pre-election coverage, slanted in favor of Hamas. Now the usual insipid pre-cut and sliced prime time news has been replaced with open-eyed coverage of events as they unfold, sparing no jihad vandals. And this coverage reveals a stunning paradox: not only has Muslim rage turned with a vengeance against erstwhile European allies, but that vengeance is far more brutal than anything we had seen in the buildup to the 2003 intervention in Iraq.

The freedom that is under attack this time directly concerns the media. In a spontaneous gesture of solidarity, newspapers all over Europe reproduced some or all of the Jyllands-Posten drawings. France Soir, an ailing national daily, was the first in France to publish the drawings. The paper's French-Egyptian owner fired his editorial manager, but by then the prestigious Monde and persnickety Libération came forward to defend freedom of the press. The tide is turning. Europe without borders, its heart fluttering with multicultural rapture, can still say ouch when someone steps on its toes. The more brutal the attacks against European embassies, flags, products, and governments, the sharper the awakening...notwithstanding pseudo-reasonable calls for self-imposed respect for religious beliefs, snide criticism of the artistic qualities of the drawings, and steadily increasing pressure from Muslims within and without.

But there is more to be learned from these incidents, the latest in a series of escalating skirmishes in a war that has been thrust upon us. We are faced with a jihad conquest that parades as the legitimate revolt of the oppressed. Instead of bearing down on us with thundering hooves and neck-slicing scimitars, the jihad conquerors cry out with uplifted arms and beg for a crust of comprehension. Posing as victims of racism, discrimination, and unemployment in the Western nations that have welcomed them with open arms, victims of colonization, post-colonization, exploitation, occupation, and Zionism in their own vast countries, they are using a pincer movement to impose conquest, Shari'a, dhimmitude.

The forces that are orchestrating spectacular mob violence in Muslim countries are simultaneously organizing legalistic attacks in Western nations. In a typical reversal of cause and effect, the Jyllands-Posten drawings are attacked as a provocation when they are in fact a reaction to creeping tyranny in Europe, from the murder of Theo van Gogh to the insidious imposition of Islamic law within Muslim communities in Denmark, notably in Aarhus where Jyllands-Posten is published, and the instrumentalization of those communities to exert pressure on society at large. Instead of presenting themselves as a special interest group at home or an enemy abroad, Muslims use their exquisite susceptibility as an offensive weapon. Dalil Boubaker, rector of the Paris Mosque and model of moderation, hand-picked by the government to lead the French Muslim umbrella organization, expressed shock and indignation at the publication of the Danish illustrations. With the pained expression of injured innocence, he put a subtle kink in the notion of freedom: instead of my freedom ending where yours begins, it stops, according to Boubaker, at the limits of his freedom to believe and to have his beliefs respected. This confusion between an effectively guaranteed religious freedom and a non-existent protection against anything that might offend it is established, precisely, in Islamic law, or Shari'a, which forbids criticism of Islam.

Meanwhile every sort of freedom and all the rules of civilized international relations are outrageously trampled in Muslim countries, where mobs are allowed to attack embassies with savage rage. Self-elected French Muslim spokespersons do not honestly condemn those violations of international law, they explain them away, placing the blame on Danish provocation relayed by irresponsible European media. Simultaneously they attack from within, with specious arguments and intimidating legal actions, bolstered by the subtle threat of violence from European Muslims.

The Danish are the most irreverent of all European nations. Unpretentious, frank and forthright, no frills, no superficial politeness, no overweening ambition. Public opinion was largely pro-Palestinian and anti-Iraq war. True to the Scandinavian social democratic tradition, Danes were more likely to serve in NGOs and defend the oppressed than to close their borders or their welfare offices. But their good faith has been sorely tried. Jyllands-Posten dared to challenge the creeping self-censorship that was undermining precious freedoms. The editors put out a challenge to more than 40 illustrators -- will you dare to draw the prophet Mohamed? -- and to its Muslim citizens -- can you take a joke? Even a rude joke? The answer is surely far worse than what they bargained for. But this small courageous nation is not known for caving in to tyrants.

A word about the three apocryphal cartoons added to the 12 Danish sketches carried to the Middle East by a group of Danish Muslims in view of fomenting international protest. One of the images seems to be borrowed from an unrelated source; nothing indicates a relation to Islam. Another is vague. But one image, a lewd crude sketch of the prophet as pedophile, is obviously drawn by a Muslim. A Muslim who did not respect the taboo against representing the prophet? Is this what's meant by reforming Islam?

The Danish illustrators went beyond the task that was assigned to them. They have drawn the battle lines in Europe...and worldwide. The real moderate Muslims, the masses of people who yearn to live free, will, it is hoped, come forth and take their place on this side of that line.

The author is a TCS contributing writer.


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