Clash of Civilization

Wall Street Journal February 11, 2006; Page A8

As a way of addressing the Islamist threat to civil liberties in Europe, the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad were hardly ideal. The right to mock a religion may be absolute, but so is the right to publish most forms of pornography: Neither is appropriate in a serious publication. That applies whether the religion is Islam, Christianity or any other, and whether the cartoons are being published for the first time or reprinted elsewhere as acts of solidarity in the face of an implied threat.

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15 thoughts on “Clash of Civilization”

  1. According to the article:

    Yet mass demonstrations almost never represent mainstream public sentiment in the West. Why then should we take it as given that they do among Muslims? Every society has its silent majorities, but it’s only in democracies that those majorities exercise a decisive influence. If Islamic societies seem premodern and violent, this surely has something to do with the fact that most Muslim countries today are places where there is no democracy;

    But wait, isn’t Turkey a democracy? In fact, isn’t Turkey the very model of a Muslim democracy?

    Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has added his voice to those that are condemning the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet. On Friday, he called the images an attack on the spiritual values of the Muslim people.

    Late last year, during an official trip to Denmark, Mr. Erdogan criticized images that depict the Prophet Muhammad in different guises.

    On Friday, he went further. He was quoted by the Turkish media as saying there should be a limit to freedom of the press. He said caricatures of Islam fuel conflict at a time when the world is seeking to establish an alliance between civilizations.

    Mr. Erdogan’s latest comments came as Muslims around the world staged demonstrations against the caricatures that were first published in one of Denmark’s largest daily newspapers, the Jyllands-Posten.

    In Turkey, hundreds of demonstrators burned the Danish flag after Friday prayers and pelted the Danish consulate in Istanbul to protest the cartoons. The 12 images published four months ago include one of Mohammed turning away suicide bombers from paradise saying there are no more virgins left. Mr. Erdogan, a devout Muslim, said he found the images unacceptable.

    Analysts say Mr. Erdogan’s remarks about limits on press freedom are sure to draw criticism from the European Union. Turkey opened membership talks with the 25 nation alliance in October but has faced mounting censure over the continued prosecution of academics, journalists and writers, including the world famous novelist Orhan Pamuk, for expressing views deemed to insult the Turkish identity.

    So, in Turkey which is a democracy, the elected government used this opportunity to condemn freedom of the press and Muslims protested anyway, one even killed a priest, even though they are free to vote in elections.

    Hmmm, that’s interesting. Of course, some of the most violent protests actually occurred in Europe in the very heart of liberal democracies where the Muslims protesting have democratic representation (provided they are citizens). Political activism doesn’t seem to be quieting them down, but the author has a reason for that. They’re alienated from European society. Imagine that! A writer in a conservative website excuses violence and atavism on the basis of societal alienation. And you thought only liberal bedwetters made such justifications for violence!

    Of course, the protests were pretty bad in the Gaza and West Bank where Hamas was recently elected.

    And then again, Lebanon just had free and fair elections that made Hezbollah the largest party in Parliament. I wonder how that went?

    Thousands of Muslim protesters, enraged over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, set ablaze the Danish Embassy on Sunday and rampaged through a predominantly Christian neighborhood, escalating sectarian tensions in a country whose melange of faiths can sometimes serve as a microcosm of the world’s religious divide.

    The unrest, which involved as many as 20,000 protesters, was some of the worst in Lebanon in years, and leaders from across the political and religious spectrums appealed for calm. In vain, some Muslim clerics tried to step into the hours-long fray to end the clashes, which news agencies said left at least one demonstrator dead and 30 wounded.

    But in the streets, fistfights broke out between Christian and Muslim Lebanese after protesters threw rocks at a Maronite Catholic Church, broke windows at the Lebanese Red Cross office and shattered windshields of cars. Bands of Christian youths congregated with sticks and iron bars, promising to defend their neighborhoods.

    May be the Cedar Revolution wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be? I mean, the Syrians are gone, the Lebanese are liberated, but they still keep acting like premoderns. May be the silent majority should speak up?

    And then again, isn’t Afghanistan ‘liberated now?’ Isn’t it a plural democracy? How did things go there:

    On Tuesday, protesters armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the NATO base in the northern city of Maymana, which is manned by peacekeepers from Norway, Finland, Latvia and Sweden, local officials said.

    Sayed Aslam Ziaratia, the provincial deputy police chief, said three protesters were shot and killed by Afghan and Norwegian forces and that 22 others were wounded. However, NATO said it only fired live ammunition into the air and rubber bullets. Five Norwegian peacekeepers suffered minor injuries.

    Provincial governor Mohammed Latif said he suspected al-Qaida may have had a hand in the unrest. He said two men from eastern Afghanistan were arrested during the protest and were being interrogated.

    “The violence today looked like a massive uprising. It was very unusual,” Latif said.

    On Monday, about 2,000 protesters tried to storm the main U.S. military base at Bagram, the hub of the operations for some 20,000 American forces in the country. Police shot dead two protesters. A top local official said al-Qaida and Taliban militants incited the crowd.

    Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told The Associated Press by telephone Tuesday that it was possible militants egged on the demonstrators, but he stressed the government has no evidence.

    “Once these crowds get together, they often get out of control, here and in other countries,” he said. “But if this goes on, we’re going to have to take a closer look to see if there is more behind it.”

    The unrest in Maymana prompted NATO to send 150 British troops to help secure the base, and two American A-10 attack aircraft were flown to the city. The U.N. evacuated nonessential staff.

    Okay, that doesn’t seem to be going so well either.

    Isn’t it interesting that when thousands take to the streets to protest something the WSJ thinks should be protested, we have ‘people power’ or a color coded revolution (Orange, Rose, Cedar, etc.). But when thousands take to the streets saying things the WSJ finds inconvenient, they are a vocal minority that doesn’t represent the ‘silent majority?’

    I find that just fascinating. Every election in the Muslim world has been won by religiously affiliated parties, many of whom were active in these protests, yet the WSJ and the neo-conservative right keep pretending that more democracy will cure all this.

    As the WSJ put it:

    Put simply, what we have witnessed isn’t the proverbial rage of the Arab street. It’s an orchestrated effort by illiberal regimes, colluding with fundamentalist clerics, to conjure the illusion of Muslim rage for their own political purposes.

    But as I noted, a whole boatload of violence happened in countries that are supposedly democratic and ‘liberated.’ How is that possible that in a ‘democracy’ the opinion of the public would be such putty in the hands of foreign autocrats that major violence could be conjured up on the whim of Damascus or Teheran? And if that is the case, then how could such a democracy ever be stable?

    And then again, what of the situation in Turkey? Are the Turks being manipulated by Iran also?

    Finally, the WSJ article mentions the muted response in Iraq. Well, part of that muted response might be the fact that 135,000 plus U.S. troops are on hand that would shoot any protestors who got too out-of-hand. Still, even in Iraq the following happened:

    In Iraq, about 4,500 people protested in the southern city of Basra, burning the Danish flag. Some 600 worshippers stomped on Danish flags before burning them outside Baghdad’s Abu Hanifa Mosque, Sunni Islam’s holiest shrine in Iraq. Demonstrators also burned Danish journalists in effigy and torched boxes of Danish cheese.

    Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the publications as a “horrific action.”

    Yes, I suppose that’s muted compared to British Muslims carrying signs demanding executions, but I don’t see it as being very positive.

    The WSJ mentions Muslims in the United States. Muslims here are a tiny minority and let’s be real about this, okay? They understand that a large number of Americans would be happy to shoot them. That is a fact of life. Muslims in the U.S. getting too far out of line is an open invitation to get shot. Seen the ‘9-11 Terrorist Hunting Permit’ on the backs of pickups with shotgun racks lately? Those boys mean it. I know, a lot of them are my cousins. If Muslims in Europe lived in that kind of fear, then they’d be quieter as well. Europeans will put up with this guff, we won’t.

    All-in-all, more trash from the WSJ’s neoconservatives – just ignore any inconvenient facts and generalize about everything that you don’t understand.

  2. Glen, trouble near Dearborn

    The largest concentration of Muslims in the United States is in Dearborn, Michigan. Just recently national airline pilots reported that their cockpits were flashed with laser light coming from the ground in the Dearborn area. The idea is to blind the pilot and cause a crash. Authorities, of course, are taking a low-key approach and suggesting that it might have been “kids” playing a prank. Some prank.

    We have had about 8 Baptist Churches in the South burned, about 4 were white churches and about 4 were black churches. Police are looking for white males. No serious discussion of whether this is an anti-Christian hate crime.

  3. Missourian –

    The things you mention are truly troubling. And I suppose that is part of what I was trying to say. The author of the piece assumes that Muslims in the U.S. are relatively quiet because they are upscale and highly mobile. In short, the Muslims here are different than the Muslims in Europe.

    I don’t buy it. I think that as a whole, Muslims are diffused enough among highly militant Americans that they simply keep their activities more circumspect. Assuming you could get a fairly large crowd in Dearborn, would the Muslims really, really want to put themselves out there and risk confrontations with a whole lot of armed citizens and angry police?

    Naw, I don’t think so. But if we had Dearborn-size populations in every single major city, they would be more apt to try it. In the absence of that kind of people power, they seem to be contenting themselves with carping on CNN, shooting lasers at pilots, and doing other surreptious things out of the public eye.

    Which makes me wonder why we are tolerating the presence of so many illegal alien Muslims? While fighting a war primarily directed at Muslim extremists, we are doing precious little about the extremists we have in our midst.

    Add that lackadaiscal attitude to the licensing of an Arab company controlled by the government of the UAE to provide port security for our busiest ports, and you have me completely blinkered as to why Americans actually believe that ‘W’ and frieds are actually doing something to make us safer.

  4. Glen,

    I agree with all of your comments. It is amazing, simply beyond belief that America is left so vulnerable for so long after 9/11. It just gives me an ulcer to think about it.

    One small ray of hope. A number of countries in Europe (yes, hard to believe) are finally speaking up and insisting that immigration from Muslim countries be curtailed or ended. This is being discussed in France and Denmark. It is far from government policy yet but at least some politicians are discussing it in public, the taboo has finally been broken. Some French newspapers showed some real spine with respect to the cartoons, bless them (although they probably wouldn’t accept it because they are secular).

    Most Americans probably in excess of 80% would vote for an end to all Muslim immigration to the United States, to close the border with Mexico, to deport illegals of every stripe.

    Bush is going to get bit hard on this, as I hear that some Dems are drafting legislation to stop the transaction regarding the ports. He had better wake up or he will take a fatal blow to his strongest asset, the belief on the part of Americans that he is a strong defender of America.

    Sheesh, I need to disentangle myself from this, it is really giving me an ulcer

  5. Glen, Monumentally Suicidal Political Move; Hillary Outflanks Bush on the Right

    Can you believe that Chertoff is trying to defend the UAE port sale to the public? Even Democrats are beginning to talk about promoting legislation to block this sale. What in the name of everything that is good is Bush thinking?His political strength is the belief on the part of the American people that he is serious and vigilant in protecting our interests (whatever the reality may be, it is generally believed by many people). Promoting the sale of a major interest in American ports to any entity connected with the UAE is sheer insanity both in fact and as a political move.

    I think this move, unless it is rescinded quickly, could literally kill his Presidency. Every living politician should distance himself or herself from this move as soon as possible. This should be done BOTH as a political strategy and as a sincere decision to protect America. Sheesh, Bush is letting Hillary Clinton, of all people, outflank him on the right. This could be terrible for the 2006 elections.

    I need an aspirin and some anti-ulcer medicine immediately.

  6. I need an aspirin and some anti-ulcer medicine immediately.

    Missourian, you might want a little extra as you ponder Mr. Bush’s level of care for our borders and enforcement of our immigration laws.

  7. Augie, I’m pretty familiar with the immigration issue.

    Yes, Augie, I think I am pretty familiar with that issue. It is a terrible problem and Bush’s obstinatenous on that issue is inexplicable.

    If for no other reason that public health, we need to close the borders. For the first time in the history of America we have cases of leprosy, Hanson’s disease. It was never indigenous to America, it was brought in by illegal aliens.

    Over and out, I need to think about something else.

  8. CBS Blames the Danes on 60 Minutes: Self-censorship is good for non-Muslims

    I just share the subtle smear job that 60 Minutes did on Fleming Rose, the newspaper editor who published the cartoons in Denmark. It was disgusting and disgraceful.

    First, CBS interviewed the children’s book author who was looking for an illustrator of the life of Mohammed and they DID explain that he couldn’t find an illustrator. BUT, CBS did not make reference to Theo Van Gogh or Pym Fortyn. CBS COMPLETELY ignored the state of terror that non-Muslims in Denmark live in because of Muslims. The ILLUSTRATOR was asked how HE felt being the “cause” of the deaths and violence. The illustrator didn’t kill Pym Fortuyn or Theo Van Gogh and he doesn’t make Ayaan Ali Hirsi live in fear of death.

    Second, CBS interviewed the rabble rousing Imam who stirred up the controversy 6 months after their initial publication. The CBS reporter noted that the imam had ADDED three addtional cartoons. WHAT CBS DID NOT SAY, was that the IMAM himself had FABRICATED an inflammatory cartoon that was much worse than anything the newspaper had published. CBS sat at this guy’s feet and was totally conciliatory.

    Third, CBS interviewed Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen who explained that he would not meet with ambassadors from Islamic countries because Rasmussen stated that he had no power to control a free press. CBS claimed that Rasmussen was looking to his re-election and didn’t want to antagonize an influential paper and that Rasmussen didn’t mind antagonizing the 2% of the population which is Muslim.

    Lastly, they ended with an interview with a former Danish politician who stated that “maybe a little self-censorship is good.”

    That’s it, folks. CBS believes that we should “self-censor” when it comes to Muslims. They said themselves. I am not making this up.

  9. Blatantly Anti-White Racism: It isn’t O.K. for Danes to be, well, Danes

    During the CBS cartoon story, the reporter engaged in a little aside about “Fashion Week” in Copenhagen. Fashion isn’t really a big thing for me, but, I don’t mind if other people enjoy such things.

    CBS pointed out that during the time that this controversy was raging, there was still a “Fashion Week” in Copenhagen. During Fashion Week different fashion manufacturers had runway shows with fashion models. CBS noted that: get this—- ALL THE FASHION MODELS WERE OF DANISH EXTRACTION. They were all the tall, skinny, blue-eyed blonds you would expect. CBS is apparently unaware that genetically indigenously Danes are blond and blue-eyed. This was clearly a multi-cultural dig. Now Danes are supposed to be ashamed of being Danish. Now it is supposed to be a bad thing for groups of indigenous Danes to congregate together.

    Perhaps CBS didn’t note that Muslim women could hardly have been expected to have worked as fashion models. Perhaps the Danes should end their fashion shows because Muslims can’t or won’t participate. After all a “little self-censorhsip” is O.K.

    Amazing, I hope that they get tons of letters. It was a total outrage.

  10. Watch the editing of 60 Minutes closely. You will notice that the the faces of the interviewees are always pushed against the screen, while the interviewers are posed more at ease, with smaller head shots. A viewer reacts with a sense of discomfort toward the former but relaxes with the latter.

  11. Missourian –

    The only thing I can say is – time for tinfoil hat theories on this. The standard political thinking doesn’t jive anymore.

    The standard conspiracy theory line on the Bush clan is that they are out for themselves and their own power. That, and only that, drives their policy initiatives. Illegal immigration from Mexico and Latin America?

    That’s a plus for the future, since Jeb Bush is married to a Latin American and his attractive son is named Prescott (after the senator) and is slated to win the presidency in the second decade of this centuary. Since the Bushes, so the thinking goes, are prepared to win Hispanic votes big, the thing to do is make sure that they have a huge number of Hispanics to vote for them.

    The UAE deal? Well, there is probably a boatload of cash in it, if not for the family, then certainly for the family’s political allies. This deal will spin off enough money to make everyone happy. And what if a terrorist strike does occur? That will almost certainly happen during the next president’s term in office, as ‘W’ can’t run again.

    If the U.S. gets hit hard, then Jeb Bush can run in 2012 on the platform that his family knows how to ‘deal with terrorists.’ Will the electorate trace the problem back to the ports deal?

    Who knows? Average people connecting the dots is always a dicey business, better to take the money and hope for the best.

    Is this cynical view of the Bush family on target? A lot of people a lot smarter than me think it is. And their behavior just keeps re-inforcing it. If the goal of the administration were really to fight terrorism, then its moves over the past six years are totally illogical on so many levels.

    If, on the other hand, the president’s goals are something else and the ‘Global War on Terror’ is a smokescreen, then perhaps ‘W’ is being quite rational after all.

    I don’t pretend to know, by the way, truly what that hidden agenda really is. I assume it is there, because otherwise it all makes no sense. I don’t know if it is just ideologically motivated, if there is a dynastic angle, or if there is something I just can’t begin to fathom.

    All I know is this – Hillary and Schumer are coming out as better on national security than the Republicans.

    Could I get off this ride, now? I don’t want to be here anymore.

  12. Glen, Assuming my permission is needed?

    Assuming that somehow my permission is needed, you have it. You may “get off the ride.” It is all beyond me. Tired. Must. Sleep.

  13. It has been my experience that despite protestations to the contrary, most people are really more comfortable with some form of tyranny than they are with freedom. Since one major component of original sin was the desire for power, it is not surprising that governments, or rather the people in them, attempt to accrue more and more power to themselves. IMO, it is not possible for any government to exist for long with out giving into the temptation of tyranny. That is perhaps why Thomas Jefferson said words to the effect that a little revolution now and then is a good thing.

    On the other hand, the temptation to tyranny (both to exercise the power and to give into it) is balanced by the Godly state of freedom. Real freedom only comes to those who “Know the Truth” , i.e., Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, such freedom does not come from mere intellectual assent to the idea of Jesus. Only through living a life of repentance, prayer, worship, and almsgiving can we taste of the freedom Jesus offers. Most often, in my experience, it comes through participation in the sacraments. Most of the time, however, I am still a slave to my passions.

    It is one of the antinomical realities of Christianity that we can know freedom only through obedience. If we are free, it does not matter what political system we live under, what form of tyranny the ruling class is practicing today or planning for tomorrow. If we are not free, then we are part of the tyranny one way or another. We either serve mammon or we serve God.

    I have studied enough history to know that conspiracy theories are just that– theories. They generally serve the purpose of keeping people distracted, sort of like what magicians do on stage or even worse inflaming our passions in such a way that we don’t act. The Christian life is an individual life, lived in community. The Holy Spirit creates the community and calls all people to participate in the life of God. One of the great dangers of political involvement is to substitute the political community for God’s community. It is easier than it looks to make that mistake. When that happens, we are living in the midst of tyranny with a tyrannical mindset no matter what part of the political spectrum we believe we are inhabiting, no matter how otherwise righteous our cause might be.

    Jesus tells us, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”. We have to decide whether or not to believe Him and live our lives accordingly. St. Luke also instructs us to “Praise God in all things” and St. Paul that “All things work for good to those who love God”. These words are either meaningless pious platitudes good for putting on inspirational calendars, or profound spiritual insight. In the Divine Liturgy, we Orthodox offer “a sacrifice of praise” to our Lord. Such sacrifice is difficult when one is in the midst of severe personal pain, or when one sees injustice and the pain of others, but it can be done. It is the life of witness, martyrdom, to which we are called as Christians. It is the priestly act we can participate in every moment. When we do, our actions in the world will be more effective, even if we do not see the effect or it is different than we have planned in our own minds.

  14. Matthew 28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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