February 7, 2006
The War Behind the Cartoon War

By Jack Kelly

The Cartoon War began innocently enough. Kare Bluitgen, a Danish writer of childrens' books, complained he couldn't find anyone to illustrate the book he was writing about the Prophet Mohammed. The Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten invited cartoonists to offer their own interpretations. A dozen accepted. Jyllands Posten published their work last Sept. 30th.

Extreme Muslim sects, such as the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, regard any depiction of Mohammed as blasphemy. (The Koran prohibits only "idolatry," and throughout the last millenium Muslim artists have painted likenesses of the Prophet.) Radical Muslims in Denmark issued death threats, and the cartoonists went into hiding. On Oct. 20th, ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries asked for a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Andres Rasmussen to complain about the caricatures. Mr. Rasmussen said he was sorry the cartoons had given offense, but refused to meet with the ambassadors because "as prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media, and I don't want that kind of tool."

There matters rested until last month, when four Muslim clerics from Denmark, led by Abu Laban, who has terrorist connections, toured the Middle East. They had with them the 12 original cartoons, plus three truly vile ones (one depicts Mohammed with a pig's snout; another shows him as a pedophile) apparently of their own concoction.

On January 29th, gunmen in Gaza took over the offices of the European Union. In response, some newspapers in Norway, Germany and France published the cartoons to show solidarity with their Danish colleagues. This led to massive protests in the Middle East and among Muslims in Europe.

The editor of Jyllands Posten has apologized for publishing the cartoons, and the leader of the largest Muslim association in Denmark has accepted the apology. But it may be too late to put the genie back into the bottle, because radical Muslims seek to fan the flames.

"We want blood on the streets of England," said Muslim protestors in London, though no British newspaper has yet published the offending cartoons.

Saudi Arabia promoted the controversy to distract attention from the trampling deaths of 345 pilgrims in Mecca Jan. 12th, said "The Religious Policeman," a Saudi Web logger. The deaths attracted little attention in the West, but were big news in the Arab world.

Most of the anti-Western violence has taken place in Syria and Lebanon, where the Danish and Norwegian embassies were burned down.

Syria is a dictatorship. A mob could not have burned the building where the Danish and Norwegian embassies were located without the tacit permission, if not the encouragement, of the regime.

Syria also retains considerable influence in Beirut, where the rioting was not spontaneous. Syria would love to distract attention from the UN probe into the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, in which Syria is implicated.

Iran has been, after Saudi Arabia, the nation most active in promoting the boycott. The International Atomic Energy Agency has referred Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions against its nuclear weapons program. The nation that will chair the Security Council when the IAEA recommendation is taken up, British Web logger David Conway noted, is Denmark.

"Suddenly the pieces fall into shape," he said. "The rumpus suddenly escalated, complete with fabricated offensive cartoons, to so inflame Muslim opinion that Denmark could be intimidated...into voting in favor of Iran."

Most of Europe's political leaders would like to respond with more appeasement. But ordinary Europeans wonder why they must accommodate the demands of bullying immigrants who have swollen their crime rates and welfare rolls.

Muslims deserve to have their faith respected, wrote Tony Parsons in the left wing British newspaper the Mirror.

"But when someone starts carrying placards in my city gloating about 9/11 and 7/7, when men with big mouths start promising death and destruction, when you tell us that we will be massacred if we offend you, then our tolerance is pushed to the breaking point," he said.

"If (the protestors) want a Muslim country, then perhaps they should go and live in one," Mr. Parsons said.

A Muslim member of the Danish parliament echoed that sentiment.

Speaking of the radical clerics who stirred up the cartoon controversy, Naser Khader asked: "If these imams think it is so terrible to live in Denmark, then why do they remain here?"

Jack Kelly

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