A slight variation on an old Basil Fawlty line would
seem to be the guiding principle of the current
debate on cartoons and Islam: "whatever you
do, don't mention the suicide bombings".
doubt, if he hadn't been butchered on a street in
Amsterdam, Theo van Gogh would have appreciated
the almost comedic perversity of that.
weeks now, presidents, prime ministers, church leaders
and an assortment of politicians and writers from
the West have been tripping over themselves to register
their disgust at the Danish cartoons and offer grovelling
apologies to Muslims for the offence they have caused.
their cowardly compliance, they have acted as though
the sketches are representative of nothing more
than the irreverent and twisted imaginings of a
few caricaturists. They have been meticulous in
isolating the drawings from everything that gave
rise to them.
one western leader has had the courage even to hint
at, never mind give voice to, a blindingly obvious
truth. That is, whatever else about the cartoons,
they reflect a widely-held view. For the reality
is that most non-Muslims do indeed associate Islam
with terrorism, brutality and coercion.
could it possibly be otherwise? For years now, the
wider Islamic community has chosen either to sit
mute or, at best, heavily qualify any expression
of disapproval whenever acts of mass murder have
been carried out in its name.
numerous occasions, murderous religious fanatics
have invoked the name of Allah and pointed to the
Koran in spurious justification of their outrages,
without as much as a squeak of protest from the
vast majority of their co-religionists.
the only Islamic voices that westerners hear are
those of the imams, with their threatening and hate-filled
sermons, and their heaping of praise and conferring
of martyrdom on suicide bombers, decapitators and
often, atrocities are carried out in the name of
the Muslim religion and then attempts made to justify
or explain them in the context of totally unrelated
cannot possibly have escaped the notice of our leaders
that Muslim outrage at a few cartoons is in stark
contrast to the absence of any similar reaction
from Islamists to suicide attacks and on-line beheadings.
Or that calls for the West to be sensitive to deeply-held
religious beliefs sit somewhat oddly with placards
that celebrate mass murder and threaten more of
rather than risk angering Muslims any further, our
spokespeople remain wilfully blind to the double
standards on parade and choose to pretend that the
cartoons have come from thin air. They have, instead,
lambasted the cartoonists and those who published
their work while muttering darkly about their publication
being an abuse of freedom of expression. As if,
as British foreign secretary Jack Straw has suggested,
publishing the cartoons breached the boundaries
of free speech simply because some felt them to
have been "insulting", "inflammatory",
"insensitive" and "disrespectful".
If those indeed marked the parameters of free speech,
then, essentially, we would be free to do little
opinion, of any note, can be expressed without being
adjudged by someone or other to have been insulting,
inflammatory, insensitive, or disrespectful? Besides,
freedom of expression is already ring-fenced by
rafts of defamation and anti-hate legislation to
ensure it is not abused.
spokespeople, from right across the spectrum, have
been queuing up to condemn the publication of the
cartoons and complain that the West does not understand
them or their religion.
hard experience, and irrespective of what our leaders
might say, many in the West feel they understand
today's Islam only too well.
the wildly disproportionate reaction of Muslims
to these caricatures did do, though, was hand a
gilt-edged opportunity to those who purport to speak
on our behalf.
should have grabbed the chance to tell Muslims how
they and their religion are viewed in the West;
that they have no one but themselves to blame for
the negative perceptions of both; and what they
must do if they want to change things.
should have made clear that Sharia law applies only
to those who freely agree to abide by it and, crucial
in a liberal democracy, only in circumstances where
it does not run counter to the law of the state.
should have told the Muslim community that those
who really do insult and bring shame on their religion
are the people who commit blood-chilling atrocities
in its name, and the religious and political leaders
who act as their cheerleaders.
of course, they did none of those things.
capitulated instead, and, in doing so, signalled
once again that the West can be blackmailed and
threatened into falling into line with the dictates
of Islamic religious extremists.
with permission from the author.