As many readers are no doubt aware, a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed published in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, has brought about a great deal of outrage in the Muslim world. It’s easy to understand why the Muslims might be upset: the cartoons were offensive and in poor taste. Simply said, they allegedly broke a religious tenet of Islam by depicting Mohammed. But although I criticize the newspaper and stand firmly opposed to its views, the virulent reaction in the Muslim world has brought to issue an ideal in more dire need of defense and a problem far more in need of critique.
The ideal is free speech. Yes, we do not agree with what the Danish xenophobes who published the article are trying to say, but we should still defend their right to say it. The notion that they might be censored because they offend someone is a notion running directly contrary to the successful ideals upon which much of the Western world has been built, and a notion that leads to situations such as the one in Iran, where their leader calls the holocaust a sham, advocates the extermination of the Jews, blames all their problems on the Americans and eliminates those who disagree by calling them heretics. In fact, were I in the business of publishing materials offensive to society, I would re-publish the cartoon to display our free speech solidarity with the Danish newspaper, but I am not, and that is no longer the primary issue anyhow.
The primary issue, the problem in dire need of critique, is the extent to which the Muslim world, and popular opinion, is manipulated by various dictators and elites. Indeed, the current “outrage” is not at all indicative of popular Arab sentiment. To the contrary, it is a carefully manipulated, manufactured response born from the highest corridors of power in the Muslim world. The articles themselves were published in October. Since then, Western Muslims have calmly expressed their outrage by not buying the newspaper, circulating a petition, and telling people that they find it offensive. Arab Muslims hardly responded at all until after the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Conferences, which consists almost entirely of dictatorial Islamic states, met and decided to create an outrage. This might sound ridiculous, but they’ve done it. They created and circulated new, doubly offensive cartoons. Utilizing a vast network of media outlets such as Al-Jazeera and a religious system dominated and funded by various Islamic oil-states, they further fanned the flames. In Dubai, the leaders even bussed in protesters to strengthen their Muslim credentials. In Iran and Syria the governments allowed for otherwise illegal mobs to gather. Now all across the Muslim world, the Islamic dictators have brought about violence which has led to the burning of embassies, the creation of embargoes, the murder of a Catholic priest in Turkey, and the death of dozens in rioting.
Why? Denmark is about to become the head of the UN security council, the same body that is to consider sanctions on Iran next month. These riots effectively delegitimatize it while rallying Muslims around their leaders when they most need public support.
Therein lies the real offense in this whole affair, the extent to which Islam and the Muslim world is being manipulated by those who are using religion to further their own agendas. The scarier thing is that the cartoon incident, in which many have already died, is the least of their crimes. They use the same system that has turned this non-issue into an outrage to incite terrorism, to pilfer their countries’ oil wealth, and to oppress their people. Thus, although we condemn the cartoon, the Danish violation of Islam pales in comparison to the crimes committed against the religion every day by the Muslim elites.