"Hurray! We're Capitulating!"
By Henryk M. Broder
The prevailing feeling among Muslims is that they are being abused by the West. What should we do about it? We might as well surrender. After all, we're already on our way.
Ten years ago, in the spring of 1996, the world still seemed more or less okay. The towers of the World Trade Center dominated the Manhattan skyline, the American president had an affair with an intern, the Helmut Kohl era was coming to an end in Germany, and intellectuals killed time by debating over whether Francis Fukuyama was right in claiming that we have reached the "end of history" and whether capitalism had truly triumphed or socialism had merely lost the first round. In those days few were aware of the fine distinction between Islam and Islamism.
One had to look very closely to recognize the first signs of a brewing crisis. In Berlin, the Rote Grütze theater group was performing an enlightening piece called "Who Said Anything About Love?" To advertise the play, posters depicting a young man and a young woman, naked and full of innocence, were handed out in schools.
The schools had no qualms about displaying the posters, until a school official from Berlin's Tiergarten district requested a permit from the city's education authority. The agency turned down the request, arguing that the poster could hurt "the feelings of non-Christian pupils." The education authority was acting preventively and with what amounted to exaggerated concern for a cultural minority that had yet to be integrated into permissive German society. No Muslim pupils had complained about hurt feelings, nor had their parents expressed concerns about immoral harassment.
That was 10 years ago. Today everything has changed, except the resolve not to hurt the feelings of Muslims. The issue today no longer revolves around a group of Berlin pupils with an "immigration background," but around 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide -- many of whom are thin-skinned and unpredictable. At issue is freedom of opinion, one of the central tenets of the Enlightenment and democracy. And whether respect, consideration and tolerance are the right approach to dealing with cultures that, for their part, behave without respect, consideration or tolerance when it comes to anything they view as decadent, provocative and unworthy -- from women in short skirts to cartoons they deem provocative without even having seen them.
The controversy over the 12 Muhammad cartoons that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and led to worldwide protests and unrest among Muslims was merely a taste of what is to come, a dress rehearsal for the kinds of disputes Europe can expect to face in the future if it does not rethink its current policy of appeasement. As was the case in the 1930s, when Czechoslovakia was sacrificed in the interest of peace under the Munich Agreement -- a move that ultimately did nothing to prevent World War II -- Europeans today also believe that an adversary, seemingly invincible due to a preference for death over life, can be mollified by good behavior, concessions and submission. All the Europeans can hope to gain in this asymmetric conflict is a temporary reprieve, a honeymoon period that could last 10, 20, or maybe even 50 years. Anyone on death row breathes a sigh of relief when his execution is postponed to some indefinite time in the future.
The uproar over the Muhammad cartoons was symptomatic precisely because what triggered it was so insignificant. The drawings themselves were unbelievably harmless.
Freedom of expression in conformity with Shariah
It took two weeks for "spontaneous" protests to begin. On Oct. 14, 2005, 3,000 Muslims staged a demonstration on Copenhagen's town hall square after Friday prayers. In a letter to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ambassadors from 11 Islamic countries demanded that he take the "necessary steps" to avert an abuse of Islam. Rasmussen responded that it was not his responsibility to discipline journalists, and he refused to schedule a meeting with the irate ambassadors. The Egyptian foreign minister got the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) involved soon after. The OIC had already made clear what it wanted in its "Declaration of Human Rights in Islam" in 1990: "All have the right to freely express their opinions in a manner that does not run counter to Shariah law." In essence, what the OIC wanted was to compel Western nations to bring their form of freedom of expression into conformity with Shariah law.
Then a delegation of Danish Muslims traveled to the Muslim world, carrying a folder with the 12 cartoons from Jyllands-Posten, as well as of three significantly more provocative drawings in their luggage. The three drawings portrayed the Prophet as a pedophile devil, with pigs' ears and having sex with a dog. Where the bonus material came from and how it found its way into the documentation remains unclear to this day. But clearly someone was interested in generating the appropriate reaction. Newspapers in Arab countries promptly wrote that the Danish media had portrayed Muhammad as a pig, the original 12 cartoons magically turned into 120 drawings, and the Danish government was accused of being behind the whole thing.
European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels on Jan. 30, 2006 to discuss the crisis. Some believed that Denmark had missed its chance to resolve the conflict on its own. The foreign minister of Luxembourg wasn't just speaking for his own country when he said that the entire affair was "more a Danish than a European problem." The Austrian foreign minister went even further when she said: "statements and actions that degrade a religion in an offensive way should be clearly condemned." Even the Americans abandoned their Danish allies. During the course of a single day, three State Department spokesmen used adjectives like "unacceptable," "offensive" and "objectionable." Muslims got the message.
A year ago on Feb. 3, 2006, a "Day of Anger" was proclaimed. Across the Muslim world, the Muhammad cartoons were the focus of Friday prayers. Millions of Muslims who couldn't even locate Denmark on a map demonstrated against these insults to the Prophet, incited by their imams. The embassies of Denmark and Norway were set on fire in Damascus, the Danish embassy was torched in Beirut, firebombs were hurled at the Danish consulate in Tehran, and Danish and Norwegian flags were burned in Nigeria and Algeria.
In the past, an attack on an embassy would have been reason enough to go to war. But this time the affected countries did their utmost to "de-escalate." The victims were repentant and begged the perpetrators for forgiveness. Indeed, the West was intent on not doing anything that could possibly give offense and cause these fanatical Muslims to become even angrier.
Sadly, Broder is rarely translated into English. That is, I guess, because he mainly writes about German affairs and even more so because his sarcasm is difficult to catch in translation.
I attempted it and you'll find my translation (approved by the author) of his 2002 essay "Your wonderful capacity to endlös conflicts", likewise published in the original at SPIEGEL ONLINE, HERE at my main website Editrix' Office.
To read the complete article click HERE.