If you wish to get along with a man, you do not insult his faith. And if you seek to persuade devout Muslims that al-Qaeda is our enemy, not Islam, you do not condone with silence insults to the faith of a billion people.
Understanding this, President Bush ceased to call the war on terror a “crusade.” Visiting a mosque, he removed his shoes. He has hosted White House gatherings for the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan. He sent Karen Hughes to the State Department to improve our dismal image in the Islamic world. He has declared more times than many of us care to recall, “Islam is a religion of peace.”
President Bush knows we are in a struggle for the hearts and minds of Islamic peoples, and if we are to win this struggle we must separate the Muslim monsters from the masses. For as that great American military mind Col. John Boyd defined it, strategy is the appending to oneself of as many centers of power as possible and isolating your enemy from as many centers of power as possible.
This is what makes the Mohammed cartoons so stupid and self-destructive. They have given Islamic extremists visible proof to show pious Muslims that the West relishes mocking what they hold most sacred: the prophet. They have united Muslim moderates with militants in common rage against us. They have added to the hatred of the West in the Islamic world as friends like King Abdullah of Jordan, Presidents Mubarak of Egypt and Karzai of Afghanistan, and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey warned us they would.
One wonders. Did the cynical Europeans learn nothing from the Salman Rushdie episode? Did they learn nothing from the firestorm that erupted in the Islamic world when Christian ministers in the United States, post-9/11, called Mohammed a “terrorist”?
Why then did they do this? Why did the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten publish cartoons it knew to be so blasphemous to Muslims? Why did Le Monde, France Soir, Die Welt, El Pais, Il Stampa republish them—on their front pages? If a European newsman was oblivious to the probable effect among Muslims of plastering a cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban on page one, he is too stupid to be an editor. But if he did know the near-certain effect of such an in-your-face provocation, why would he do it? Is this the reflexive secularist hostility of the Europress to all religious faiths on display here or something else?
And so we come to the heart of the matter. Why? What was the motive here? What is the game that is afoot? The rationale of the imams who ensured that all Muslims knew of the cartoons and their contents and called for demonstrations and assaults on Western consulates and embassies is evident. They hate us, and they wish to drive us out of the Middle East. But what propelled our own ideologues to prod U.S. editors to republish the cartoons in “solidarity” with the Europeans? Who pushed George W. Bush and Condi Rice not to condemn the cartoons but to “stand up” for the freedom to publish and defy any “intimidation” by the Islamic world?
Answer: our cultural warmongers, who seek the same goal as their cultural warmongers—to ignite a war of civilizations. Both want the “long war” of which the Pentagon speaks, the “World War IV” against “Islamofascism” that is the dream of neoconservatives and the nightmare of their countrymen.
As has been evident for some time, bin Laden and the neocons both seek the same thing: a fight to the finish, no matter how long, no matter how many invasions it takes, no matter how many lives are lost. For if peace were reached between the Islamic world and the West, even a cold peace with Iran and Syria, what would they do then?
As the provocations of Ahmadinejad are music to the ears of neocons, for they rule out dialogue and diplomacy, the escalation of the cartoon wars into an all-out culture war between Islam and the West has made their day. But it has also wiped out much of the goodwill that George W. Bush has sought to rebuild in the region.
As one explores the arguments of the provocateurs in the West for what they are doing, on inspection all appear hollow. “We believe in the First Amendment!” comes the blustery reply of journalists when asked why they published the cartoons. The First Amendment protected the right of Trent Lott to toast Strom Thurmond. But that did not save Lott from the savagery of the neocons who demanded and got his ouster as Senate majority leader. Yet which is the more egregious offense? To pay a birthday tribute to a century-old man who was once a segregationist or to insult deliberately the most revered figure in the faith of a billion people?
Daily, U.S. editors decline to publish ethnic slurs and obscene remarks and cartoons that might offend a race or religion. This is not censorship. It is editorial judgment. The motto of the New York Times, which declined to publish the offending cartoons, is “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”
Conservatives contend that Islamic nations tolerate cartoons and TV shows far more viciously anti-Semitic than these cartoons were anti-Islamic. They are right. But Western newspapers never publish such cartoons, first, because they are outrageous, second, because publication would cost them advertisers, readers, and maybe their jobs. Insulting Muslims and Mohammed is a less risky and less expensive hobby than insulting Judaism or Jews. Indeed, if you insult Islam, you can make out credentials as a moral hero.
Though State initially condemned the cartoons—“Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is unacceptable”—the neocons rapidly re-seized control of the message. In hours, State was in retreat: “While we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view.” Of course we do. But do we believe freedom of the press was responsibly exercised when these idiot editors used it to incite a religious war?
And when it comes to press freedom, Europeans are world-class hypocrites. British historian David Irving has spent months in a prison in Vienna awaiting trial for two speeches he made 15 years ago. In Europe, skeptics and deniers of the Holocaust are fined and imprisoned with the enthusiastic endorsement of the press.
Unfortunately, Bush let slip an opportunity to show respect for the Islamic world and faith and, instead, let himself be intimidated into silently condoning an insult to both. Standing beside the King of Jordan, Bush denounced the violence the cartoons had ignited but declined to condemn the cartoons. Condi Rice denounced Iran and Syria for exploiting the rage over the cartoons but did not condemn the cause of that rage. If there is a double standard here, Bush is the guilty party. He rightly denounced Iran’s president for mocking the Holocaust but would not denounce the European press for mocking the prophet.
If Bush and Rice cannot muster the moral courage to condemn the insulting content of the cartoons, as well as the violence being promoted by anti-Western agitators and demagogues, our wars for democracy in the Middle East are in vain. For we can never win the friendship of these people if they believe our words of respect for their religion cover up a sneering contempt.