Understanding The Cartoon Riots

January 15, 2009

[First published February 8, 2006] Muslim riots over the Danish media’s cartoons that demeaned Mohammad; wild demonstrations; the burning and trampling of the Danish flag; the destruction of Danish embassies; and huge crowds of madly waving signs and fists. And Muslims are getting killed.

Of course, these outbursts reflect a double standard — Muslims debase other religions, call for the extermination of Jews, and every day publish hate cartoons and articles against other religions and people. It is clear that they have no appreciation of what freedom of speech means.

Correct? It this how we should see this madness? As a clash of civilizations?

No, as common as this view is, it is wrong headed. True, Muslims are largely stuck in distant centuries. Not much imagination is needed to consider what Christians would have done about such cartoons in centuries long gone, had they disparaged Jesus. There was a time when Christians murdered witches by the thousands, Catholics and Protestants slaughtered each other over their beliefs, Catholics led crusades against each other over doctrinaire disputes, the Spanish inquisition burned heretics at the stake, and Jews were blamed for any disaster, such as the Black Plague, and murdered wholesale.

What has happened to change Christianity and Christian attitudes was the growth of a rational secular view encouraged by economic development, the growth of science, and the evolution of a liberal democratic culture — in brief, democratic modernity. Much of that has yet to permeate the Middle East. So we have a profound religiosity, and fundamental values imbedded in clans that emphasize tradition — authoritarian leadership, male authority, family, and childbearing.

But, these traditional, nonsecular, and irrational values are background and have always been there. They are a constant, and a constant cannot explain a change in behavior. They simply provide the fuel for the cartoon riots. The riots themselves were provoked by the Syrian and Iranian dictatorships to draw Western attention and pressure away from them, and they are led by their street warriors, the imans and mullahs, who are always eager to stir up believers against the West and its threatening infidel values.

Rather than looking at the riots as a clash of civilizations, consider them a tactic in political warfare. They remind me of the Soviet engineered anti-nuclear and anti-American mass demonstrations in Europe during the Cold War. Much was made of them being a reflection of popular opinion, when in reality they were well planned and executed by local communists who on orders from Moscow played on the nuclear fears and fundamental ignorance of the young and excitable. The cartoon riots are similar and should be looked at in the same way — as war by other means.

What can be done? In the short run, we have to understand that this is political warfare, so condemn it, and continue our pressure on Syria and Iran. In the long run, the democratization and economic development of the Middle East and other Muslim dominated nations will gradually shift their people toward secular, rational, and democratic values.

In the meantime, don’t let such riots and demonstrations fool you, as they are intended to do.

Links to Share

” Cartoon Riots”:

Widespread street demonstrations and riots are produced historically by propaganda for specific political purposes, beginning with the storming of the Bastille and murder of Ancien Regime officials in 1789. Steve Kellmeyer provides illuminating historical perspective on today’s Islamic riots ostensibly protesting religious intolerance in Danish newspaper cartoons.

“Islam and Freedom and Democracy (Updated, Revised Data)” Dean is someone who looks at the data, and we all benefit by it.

“Learn about Islam through pictures “ Not your usual travel pics.

“When People Freely Choose Tyranny” By Michael Ledeen:

Those of us who advocate democratic revolution are often criticized for an excess of naïveté, for failing to recognize that the passion for freedom is not universal, and that there are many people — perhaps even many peoples — who despise democracy. Given half a chance, these self-proclaimed ‘realists’ say, much of the world will choose tyranny. True enough, I know it well. But it doesn’t lead me to be more tolerant of tyranny, it reinforces my passion for democratic revolution.

RJR: I disagree with Ledeen’s whole assumption that if given a true choice between freedom and tyranny at the ballot box, people will choose tyranny.

“The Myth of a Moderate Hamas” By Barry Rubin:

A few months ago I was invited by an embassy to meet a visiting delegation to discuss European policies toward Hamas and Hizballah.
     “Before I decide,” I asked, “tell me what you think about this issue.”
     “Oh,” replied the diplomat, “we’ve already decided to deal with them.”
     “If you already have made up your minds,” I answered, “why should I come to talk about it?”
     Now, as the Financial Times says in a January 18 article, the European Union is preparing to do business with Hamas despite the fact that it is on their list of banned terrorist groups because they worry “that heavy handed actions by the EU could prove counterproductive, pushing Hamas further from the political mainstream.”

An expert on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Barry Rubin is always worth reading.

” United States: The Congress and Democracy Promotion” On the 2005 Congressional “Advance Democracy Act,” still pending in the Senate. A very important act, but being held up by the usual suspects.

Read them and weep