With all the attention the world has devoted to the Danish newspaper, Jylands-Posten’s, cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed, there are – it seems to me – several conditions surrounding this matter that deserve further elaboration.
First, and perhaps most noteworthy, is the self censorship many Western observers have imposed on themselves when the riots began. This form of preemptive subservience satisfies Islamists intent on global domination. As many observers have pointed out, freedom of the press has in many instances retreated before selective moral indignation.
The reasons for this response are manifold: fear, sympathy, anti-Western animus, and sensitivity to Muslim beliefs. What the sympathizers ignore is that without religious mandate they have supinely accepted dhimmitude, the subservience Muslims demand of nonbelievers.
While the appropriate stance should be the affirmation of Western principle, namely freedom of speech, many cower, fearful of offending marauding religious adherents. Instead of meeting speech that may be offensive with counter speech, Islamists threaten – and in extreme instances engage in murder, e.g. the killing of Theo van Gogh after he made a film depicting the mistreatment of Muslim women.
Yet even the threats are rationalized. Pat Buchanan noted that these cartoons deserve to be censured and implied that there is justification for the riots. His response is reminiscent of John Le Carre, who after learning of a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for the publication of Satanic Verses, said, “there is no law in life or nature that says great religion may be insulted with impunity.” Yet Le Carre has not been heard when Muslims routinely call Jews monkeys and pigs. Apparently what is good for Muslims is not good for those Muslims deplore.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Canadian Justice Louise Arbour responded to a complaint from the Organization of The Islamic Conference by arguing, “I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the belief of others.” She proceeded to launch an investigation into “racism” and “disrespect for belief” and asked for an official explanation from the Danish government. It is instructive that the U.N. Human Rights Commission has been conspicuously silent on the vicious portrayal of Jews in the schoolbooks distributed in the Palestinian territory and in many Muslim nations.
While the examples cited here do not necessarily constitute a morally flaccid West, they do suggest moral hypocrisy on the part of many on the left who for decades claimed to be seeking liberation from artificially imposed social barriers. Christianity was seen as superstition; taboos as mere synthetic constraints against sexual expression.
Now, however, the left has embraced a position of high dudgeon over the criticism of Islam. Not only is freedom sacrificed on the crescent of Islam, but the left has been willing to repudiate its own position in order to be a bedfellow of Islamists.
Feminists, who have fought for women’s rights in the United States, have been silent over the abusive treatment of Muslim women. I would have thought acolytes of Betty Friedan would be demonstrating in front of every capital of every Muslim nation. Yet the moral fervor they directed against middle class American men has been converted into moral osteoporosis, alas moral hypocrisy, when it comes to Islam.
Apparently any anti-western sentiment is worthy of support if it is consistent with a reflexive anti-western view of the left. The enemy of my enemy is my friend has become a refrain. Curiously the libertarians of the left have been willing to embrace fascism of the most reactionary variety.
This red-green nexus is not a Christmas decoration. It is a threat that could undermine basic freedom in the West. The episode over the cartoons is a test. Islamists has fomented riots in an effort to see how the West will respond.
There will be other tests and with each one Islam will demand further observance of dhimmitude. The question that remains is whether the West will stand up to this challenge with fortitude and coverage. As I see it there isn’t any backing down, lest our civilization is put at risk.
Herbert London is President of the Hudson Institute and Professor Emeritus at NYU. He is also author of the book Decade of Denial (Lexington Books).