February 9, 2006


The Cartoon Jihad (The Forward, February 10, 2006)

If history had turned out differently, Iranian troops might now be patrolling the alleyways of Chicago and Las Vegas, busily confiscating pornography, breaking up drug gangs, checking teenagers' skirt lengths and helping us to recapture the moral core we lost a generation ago. Some Americans, dismayed at the relentless coarsening of our public and private lives, might have welcomed the Iranians as liberators and joined forces with them in hopes of building a new, more moral society. But most of us would probably be in the streets, screaming bloody murder and perhaps sowing mayhem. We'd be joined — or so we'd hope — by masses of fellow democrats marching in solidarity around the globe, from Paris to Sydney.

Viewed that way, it shouldn't be too hard to understand the rage of the Muslims marching this month in mass rallies across Asia and Africa. On the surface, the marchers are protesting the unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published last fall in a Danish newspaper. The caricatures were intended to tweak the religious sensibilities of Denmark's Muslim minority, and they succeeded. Nobody, least of all members of another religious minority, should take such an injury lightly. But the anger clearly has deeper roots than a handful of cartoons.

Speaking of which, Robert Ferrigno's new dystopian novel, Prayers for the Assassin, has as its a premise a future Islamic States of America at war with a rump Christian Republic in the South. It's obviously pretty implausible, but you get some sense of the psychic dislocation that imposition of such a foreign culture would cause -- at one point the Superbowl is interrupted for evening prayers. It's kind of a Red Dawn for the Aughts.

Interview with Muslim Leader Tariq Ramadan on the Caricature Conflict: "We Have to Turn Up the Volume of Reason" (Der Spiegel, 2/09/06)
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Muslim world's reactions to the publishing of the Muhammad caricatures first in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and then in other European publications have not done much to improve the image of Islam in the West. Are Muslims overreacting?

Tariq Ramadan: Of course. The reaction has been way too severe. I traveled to Denmark back in October and I told Muslim leaders there not to react emotionally, because it would be the reactions and the emotions of the Muslims that would become the center of attention. The best thing would have been for us to take an emotional distance. But now, all you see is angry faces, crying and rage on the television. This is not the way forward for the Muslims.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But clearly there are deeper reasons for this enormous outburst of emotions than just a handful of offensive cartoons. It's as though huge amounts of pent up frustration are finally being released. Is there something larger going on here?

Ramadan: Of course it started with a few people being hurt by the cartoons. But then a few people took the cartoons to the Middle East. Some governments there were very happy to present themselves as the great champions of Islam. One reason, of course, was to gain legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. But secondly, it was to direct the attention of the people, living under these dictatorial governments, toward the West and to provide their people with a vent for their own frustrations. And it worked -- it became Muslims against the West. All the first reactions from the Islamic majority countries came from those countries (and places) where there is a difficult relationship with the West: Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Gaza, and then Iran. It's more than just the cartoons. It's part of a broader picture that we have to keep in mind.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where does this intense resentment against the West come from?

Ramadan: There are a number of countries, like Syria or Iran, in the Islamic world which are under tremendous pressure from the West. The governments present themselves as victims and turn their people against the West. In Gaza, to take another example, there is a perception that the West is speaking about democracy, but when the votes are tallied, it considers the result unacceptable. There is also a perception that Israel is supported to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. So there are many things that add up and the result is a perception that the war on terror isn't only against terror but it is also against Muslims. The cartoon showing the Prophet's turban as a bomb didn't help.
At Mecca Meeting, Cartoon Outrage Crystallized (HASSAN M. FATTAH, 2/09/06, NY Times)

As leaders of the world's 57 Muslim nations gathered for a summit meeting in Mecca in December, issues like religious extremism dominated the official agenda. But much of the talk in the hallways was of a wholly different issue: Danish cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.

The closing communiqué took note of the issue when it expressed "concern at rising hatred against Islam and Muslims and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the media of certain countries" as well as over "using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame religions."

The meeting in Mecca, a Saudi city from which non-Muslims are barred, drew minimal international press coverage even though such leaders as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran were in attendance. But on the road from quiet outrage in a small Muslim community in northern Europe to a set of international brush fires, the summit meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference — and the role its member governments played in the outrage — was something of a turning point.

After that meeting, anger at the Danish caricatures, especially at an official government level, became more public. In some countries, like Syria and Iran, that meant heavy press coverage in official news media and virtual government approval of demonstrations that ended with Danish embassies in flames.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 9, 2006 3:19 PM

"Red Dawn" . . . one of the best Swayze movies ever. How can you go wrong teaming Patrick with Jennifer 'No one puts Baby in a corner' Grey. And the Cuban general in charge of the Soviet invaders was a nice touch. That said, Swayze's performance in "Roadhouse" was far more nuanced and textured.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at February 9, 2006 4:34 PM

Um, the marching isn't over the cartoons. It's because certain parties want to (a) destabilize western governments and keep them from cracking down on Islamic groups, and (b) certain muslim regimes are trying to throw a smoke screen up to keep them out of the west's gaze - Syria, Iran, etc.

Spontaneous my foot!

Posted by: Mikey at February 9, 2006 4:51 PM

Why should we not wage pyschological warfare on our culture-enemies? Let them flail away: controversy may help them work out their contradictions, to mutual advantage, or it may provoke them to destruction, to our advantage.

Islam squandered the advantages its failed civilization may have possessed in the past through social and political dysfunction, as did China. Its troops do not patrol our cities, but ours, theirs, and not by accident.

Thank you for the book referral. It is on the list

Red Dawn wasn't without flaws, but had many strengths. "Partisan Rock," had a bit more to it. We saw that movie in a theater just off the base down at Camp LeJeune. The theater emptied very slowly at the end, with many remaining in their seats, leaving at length, with reddened eyes.

You see, many of us had had friends whose names were thus graven.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 9, 2006 5:04 PM

Culture-enemies? Lou, I know what an enemy pointing a gun at me or urging others to kill me is, but I confess the notion of a culture-enemy is a little vague. Can you help? Try and be precise.

Posted by: Peter B at February 9, 2006 6:12 PM


I too doubt the spontaneity. Where the heck does one get Danish flags in Gaza?

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at February 9, 2006 6:13 PM