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

Is Islam The Enemy? #2—No!

December 28, 2008

[First published in April 19, 2006] Building on the article that I just posted, “Is Islam The Enemy?,” in which I quoted from the Boroumand sisters, I would like to address a critical question, “In the context of our War on Terror, is Islam the enemy?”
First, I should reveal my own biases. I am not a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim or an adherent of any standard religion. I am not a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, a liberal or a conservative. Fundamentally, I am a secular freedomist. My approach is like that of a hypothetical anthropologist from Mars who is trying to evaluate earthly matters without favoritism, a man from Mars who believes, based on empirical evidence, that the solution to many of humanity’s problems is democratic freedom.
By “enemy,” then, I mean anyone who is in violent opposition to such democratic freedom. So the question becomes, “Is Islam the enemy of democratic freedom?”

Now, when we read about the third class citizenship of Muslim women and their victimization in “honor” murders; Muslims dancing in the street, joyful over 9/11 attacks on America; the repeated sing-song of “Allah Akbar” (“Allah is the Greatest”) while Muslims murder “infidels;” the absolute anti-Semitism and barbarism in the speeches of public Muslim figures, coupled with genocide against Jews; Muslim judgments under Shari’a law that homosexuality and conversion to Christianity are capital offenses; Muslim intolerance of all that is non-Muslim; death threats against those who criticize Islam, or who simply express their opinions; the anti-American, anti-Israeli screeds of many Muslim leaders; and the seeming lack of moral outrage among the vast majority of Muslims over terrorists murdering human beings by the hundreds, destroying mosques with their bombs, even murdering fellow Muslims…..Enough. Doubtless, much more could be added to this litany of grievances, and to cast Islam as the enemy might seem to be only common sense. But this would be to mistake cultural epiphenomena for the real terrorist enemy.

I need to be perfectly clear here: Culture consists of the patterns of behavior, beliefs, religion, norms, and mores of a people, and what we are seeing in the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa is attachment (or even reversion) to the Islamic culture of the middle ages. There is nothing strange about this, except that it is happening today, in what Westerners consider a more modern, rational and secular age. After all, if one studies the history of Christianity during the centuries before the Renaissance, Reformation and Age of Enlightenment, one sees largely similar cultural epiphenomena: mistreatment of women as third class citizens; mass murder in God’s name, especially of Jews; rigid and absolute belief in religious precepts; negative attitudes toward science and secularism; self-righteous intolerance of differences; and the murder by religious authorities of anyone who expressed independent thought or criticism of the Catholic Church. 

I will call those Muslims whose culture is rooted in the Islamic middle ages traditionalists. These comprise a large number of today’s Muslims, many of whom are active and visible. Islam and its precepts reside at the center of their lives, thus their culture clashes with modernism, secularism, and today’s moderate Christianity
Those Muslims who are aligned with violent and terrorist Islamic groups I will call Islamofascists. They are fighting for political, not religious, power. And in this battle, they have hijacked Islam, since it provides justification, both for their terrorism and for their political goals. They have been heavily influenced by fascism and by Marxism-Leninism, and their goal is a totalitarian world in which they rule and control all—society, economics, Islamic culture, and the minutest family matters. The rule of these Islamofascists would closely resemble the rule of the former Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Islamofascists are the enemies of all Middle Eastern governments except one—Iran. And that is because the government of Iran is controlled by a gang of Ayatollahs who are themselves Islamofascists and who support and supply Islamofascists throughout the Middle East. The methods of these Islamofascists are the same methods the world witnessed in fascist and communist controlled countries during the last century—Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot conducted terrorist campaigns against their own peoples, with mass murders in the millions.

By invoking Islam’s most holy sayings, by exploiting the traditionalists’ fear of Western cultural hegemony and by fanning the flames of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment, Islamofascists have misled many traditionalists into supporting and joining them, even to the extent of becoming suicide martyrs for the cause. And they have misled Westerners into believing that the Islamofascists represent Islam.

Then there are the corrupt, sometimes tyrannical, dictators who rule the various Muslim regimes—Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and so on. Decades ago these regimes were moving towards modernization and democratic reform, but after Khomeini’s 1979 revolution in Iran, they were besieged by Islamofascists whose goal is totalitarian, Leninist revolution. The dictators of the Middle East fought back with a counter-ideology of nationalism, coupled with a savage terrorism of their own, that preserved their political power and the benefits of their associated elites. Through absolute control over the economy, society, and culture, particularly education and the mosques, these dictators made common cause with the traditionalist Muslims against the Islamofascists. This was a war of a different kind, a war that pre-9-11 Western realists participated in by deciding not to weaken such regimes through demands for reform, and by deciding to support them with economic and military aid.
Finally we must consider a most important group of Muslims, the moderate, liberal, nonradical Muslims whom I will call modernists. These are the critics of the traditionalists, the Islamofascists and the dictators. They favor modernization and acceptance of the best of Western culture.
Few modernists have been willing to speak out in Muslim countries, because they risk arrest or execution. Often their statements will, of necessity, appear to support the traditionalists or the dictators, despite the fact that these two groups are their enemies. How many of these brave Muslim modernists reside in the Middle East? No one knows.
Most of the modernists we hear from live in Western countries, such as France, Britain and the United States. These modernists expressly believe in human rights and democracy, and some claim the support of silent, frightened majorities in their countries of origin.
Among Muslims, there are then four groups relevant to the War on Terror–the traditionalists, the Islamofascists, the dictators and the modernists. These groups are engaged in four overlapping struggles: that of the traditionalists to maintain their cultural-religious values and beliefs against modernizing forces from within and Western cultural hegemony from without; that of the Islamofascists who wish to conquer all and achieve absolute world power; that of the dictators and their associated elites, who struggle to hold onto power and benefits; and that of the modernists, who struggle to survive in a hostile environment and whose desire it is to bring Muslim countries, and Islam itself, into the modern age.
In conclusion, the traditionalists are not our enemies, as they mainly want to be left alone to worship and live as they choose. The ruling dictators are not our enemies, since the West provides critical support against the Islamofascists who would overthrow them. And, it is not the modernists who are our enemies, as they generally support Western democratic ideals. The true enemies of democratic freedom are the Islamofascists, whose ideological homeland is Iran.

The policies that flow from this analysis are clear:
1./ We must contain, and ignore when possible, the traditionalists and traditional Islam. Although traditional Islamic culture may outrage liberal democratic sensibilities, Islam by itself is no danger to the national interests of the Western democracies. Provided we can buy sufficient time, the reformation and transformation of traditional Islam by modern science, global technology, communications, business, and a growing educated Muslim middle class, is inevitable.
2./ Since democracy will tend to speed reformation of the most regressive aspects of traditional Islamic culture, we must do everything possible to encourage democracy in the Middle East. Islam does not stand in the way of democracy, as is evident from surveys taken of Muslim opinion. (Please see my blog, HYPERLINK “http://freedomspeace.blogspot.com/2006/01/muslim-arabs-favor-democracy.html” “Muslim Arabs Favor Democracy”.) Some Muslim liberal democracies already exist—Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, and Indonesia—and with the advent of democracy in the Middle East dictators will no longer hold sway.
3./ We must do everything possible to empower the modernists, who are our allies in the War on Terror. We must avoid condemning everything Islamic, which might deliver them into the hands of their domestic enemies, the traditionalists and the dictators. The modernists can offer evolving Islamic societies a better future than any other group.
4./ Only the Islamofascists are the true enemies of democratic freedom. And, as the Boroumand sisters so eloquently demonstrated, Islamofascism is not so much an Islamic excrescence as it is an inheritor of the worst of the 20th Century—fascist and Marxist-Leninist ideologies that spawned totalitarian regimes responsible for the murder of millions of their own people. Islamofascism must be exposed as the evil that it is, and we must be committed to fighting and destroying it, just as we disposed of the evil ideologies of the past century.
In the context of our War on Terror, our enemy is Islamofascism, not Islam.