Cartoon riot

Quite a few people in the Islamic world are unclear on the concept of how we do things here in the non-Islamic world. That kind of confusion is often present when cultures collide, but in the current state of things, a great many Muslims who live in the non-Islamic world seem to think their rules should apply to people who don’t share their view of things, or even live in the countries where their rules do apply.

Some of those Muslims want people to kill cartoonists in Denmark and in France, guys who had the temerity to depict the prophet Mohammed in their drawings. These Muslims became so incensed that they engaged in rallies devoted to desecration of the Danish flag and other displays of the kind of advanced pique Muslims are more and more noted for. They danced around and fired their weapons in the air and acted, in general, as if they were crazy. Still, no one in the Western world signed out any death slips on them for the disrespect they showed to a great nation.

If Muslims want to believe that people who draw cartoons should be beheaded, we will not only allow them to live among other people, but we will allow them to practice their faith, so long as they don’t actually carry out those threats. We allow them to practice their religious beliefs, including the right they have to not depict Mohammed all they want. They can, in fact, never depict Mohammed for all we care, and they’re still welcome.

But when they ask the rest of us to enter into their belief system, and to abide by rules they’ve set for themselves, that’s where they’re a little foggy on the concepts that guide people in a free society. Perhaps they don’t know that when we see hordes of them in their own countries, ululating and dancing in celebration at the death of infidels, we find that rather offensive. When we hear those chants of “death to the Jews” and “death to America,” we find that rather offensive, too. But only our nuttiest preachers call death down on those people who are ululating and dancing, and none of those nutball preachers have the power to send out zealots to kill people.

In our countries, people get to believe as they please, and they get to express those beliefs without fear. We’re kind of wedded to the principle that the free exchange of ideas—even ideas some people might find odious—is the best way to go. But Dalil Boubakeur, the imam of the Mosque of Paris, and president of the French Muslim Council explained western ways to westerners in the following words: “Freedom of expression cannot be the freedom to lie.”

That’s where he’s wrong. In matters governed by faith, the truth is subjective, and the freedom to “lie” in this context merely means the freedom to think or believe differently. In such matters, absolute truth is considered to be unknowable. This religious leader is not alone in failing to understand the ways of western secular thought. Former President Bill Clinton, speaking before an audience in Qatar, compared the work of these Danish cartoonists to anti-Semites. Franco Frattini, the vice-President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security, called the publication of the 12 cartoons “thoughtless and inappropriate” in a time when European animosity towards Islam is said to be on the rise.

But the Danish paper that touched off this current round of Islamic outrage still honors the traditions of freedom of expression in its reply to the hate that has been directed its way. Courageously, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, the catalyst of this controversy, wrote: “The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price …”

On Jan. 30, Palestinian extremist groups demanded that all Scandinavians leave the country immediately. On Jan. 30, an Islamic organization, the Mujahedeen Army, called for terrorist acts against “all available targets” in Denmark and Norway. On Jan. 31 bomb threats were made against the newspaper’s offices in Århus and Copenhagen. On Feb. 5, embassies were set to the torch and a Dutchman was killed in Lebanon because he was mistaken for a Dane.

Bill Clinton, Dalil Boubakeur, or Franco Frattini have not issued any condemnation of these exercises of Islamic free speech.