Uproars over criticism of radical Islam almost always follow the same ironic trajectory. First, someone makes an observation about the violent character of Mohammed or Islam. Then what follows? Violent protests and rioting, which serve to illustrate and confirm vividly the criticism that occasioned them.
Only radical Muslims would consider rioting a rational rebuttal to descriptions of Islam as violent. What other religious group riots or issues death threats after it is criticized? It is precisely because Christianity is so tame that Western liberals often feel safe to lampoon its history as violent. They wouldn't dare level similarly harsh criticism of Islam.
One of the unstated reasons for hesitating before calling radical Islam violent — the reason the fog of political correctness thickens around it — is that it does contain elements of violence. Western society falls silent lest its criticism of Islam result in an explosion of anger validating the criticism.
Still, here and there, a few politically incorrect nonconformists do blurt out the obvious, and then chaos ensues, not to mention the usual fatuous and fashionable outrage, which invariably comes from journalists who report the maverick's criticism as "inflammatory" and then make sure that Muslims are properly inflamed by broadcasting to the ends of the earth the criticism under the most unfavorable and polemical light.
In recent years, Brigitte Bardot and Orianna Fallaci, among others, have been the targets of intense backlash by Muslims for daring to call Islam intolerant. Yet as the press reported these controversies, usually hot with anger at this "western insensitivity," it never occurred to these journalists that the backlash they were dousing — Muslim clerics called for Bardot and Fallaci to be imprisoned — simply added evidence to Bardot's and Fallaci's case.
Now this disturbingly ironic spectacle is on display in Scandinavia. In early January, Magazinet, an obscure evangelical Christian newspaper in Norway, reprinted cartoons depicting Muhammed as a dangerous man of arms. Even before embassies burned this weekend, one could have just looked at the picture above last week's Washington Post story about the controversy to figure Magazinet had a good point: Palestinian militants were screaming and burning a Danish flag, all because of a cartoon in a Scandinavian journal few people have seen. According to the Post's story, the editor of the newspaper, Vebjoern Selbekk, had by then received "15 death threats and more than 1,000 hate letters." Boy, how could he have ever thought that Islam is a religion that spread by force of arms?
By liberalism's standards, Islam, as it is understood by some of its chief clerics, is easily the most illiberal religion on earth. But most European liberals manage to overlook this stark incongruity, even as they cast Christianity, which looks soft in comparison to Islam, in a malign light. The doctrines of Islam are often interpreted by liberals in the most generous manner possible while their own historic religion enjoys no such benign interpretation from them.
But it is notable that Scandinavia, the most liberal of regions, is producing at least a few liberals who are able to see the plain truth: that radical Islam is fundamentally incompatible with their cherished secular humanism. Italian journalist Orianna Fallaci, an old-style liberal, has been banging on this drum for quite some time. Most European liberals, however, have studiously ignored her. Perhaps Denmark, with a reported 200,000 Muslims who have shown little to no interest in integrating into its liberal society, has grown weary of sustaining the illusion that radical Islam poses no threat to liberalism.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has so far refused to apologize for the cartoon, according to the press, and has commented pointedly that "freedom of speech is absolute. It is not negotiable."
Carsten Juste, the editor of the Danish daily that originally published the cartoons of Mohammad (from which Magazinet reprinted them), is showing some fight too. He says the cartoons were "within the constitution, the Danish penal code and international convention....It is not a dictatorship like Saudi Arabia that is going to dictate our editorial line here in Denmark."
Meanwhile, Saudi supermarkets are banning Danish products. Arla Foods, a Danish company, told the Washington Post that its sales have come to a "standstill." But will Islamic fury at these cartoons mean that Muslim immigration into Scandinavia may come to a standstill? Whether or not radical Muslims are that upset remains to be seen.
Yes, crude caricatures of Islam are improper. Yes, multitudes of Muslims are peace-loving and decent. But it is hard not to notice that Islamic protests whipped up by militants such as this one are more opportunistic than sincere, and that they are designed to stifle legitimate criticism of radical Islam's undeniably violent history and designs — criticism that receives fresh evidence from the wildly intemperate anger it stokes.
George Neumayr is a writer living in the Washington, D.C. area.
By George Neumayr
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online