The chronicle of the cartoon caper gets weirder and weirder. Actually it gets more and more obvious. Is there anyone who does yet know that the cartoons were first published in the fall, ran in an Egyptian newspaper at the time, were supplemented with fakes by Danish Muslims on a stir-up-the-rage tour, conveniently timed to divert attention from Iran's spot of nuclear bother with the IAEA and Syria's perpetual trouble with everyone?
Anybody? Anybody? Of course, you knew there would be. Take, for example, John Esposito of Georgetown, on his never-ending ‘Jihad is the inner struggle, like quitting smoking' tour. Here he is at the University of Central Florida:
Esposito also addressed the recent developments with the cartoon controversy regarding the prophet Mohammed. He pointed out that in September, when the original cartoons were printed in a Danish newspaper, almost no one cared. The issue took on its current hostility only after other papers throughout Europe reprinted the cartoons.
Yes, it is true, European papers reprinted the cartoons, but only after the Danish Muslims hit the road to Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Saudi Arabia. Details, details.
Slightly more to the point, but only slightly, is Sanam Vakil, assistant professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies:
"They are allowing people to unleash their anger on foreigners rather than on their leaders," Vakil said. "You have to understand that many of these protests are sanctioned by their governments, and many of these governments are autocratic dictatorships."
This correctly appreciates the cynical manipulation by governments, but doesn't address the cynical manipulation by religious leaders, or the wholly religious character of the protests themselves. Still, points will be awarded for awareness of reality.
"The Islamic world is mad at the West, they are furious at the West," said William O. Beeman, an anthropologist at Brown University who has worked extensively in Iran. "For people in the Muslim world, it seems like we're condemning all Muslims. And most Muslims don't feel that they deserve it."
I'm sure the people who worked in various incinerated embassies in Lebanon and Syria didn't think they deserved it either. But what can you do? The street has spoken. Hence the title of the Baltimore Sun piece "Deep Anger, Not Cartoons, Spurred Muslim Protests."
What we really see here is apologetics, a kind of interpretive sleight of hand wherein the self-evident – a manipulated controversy over cartoons that successfully mobilized hundreds of thousands of Muslims to take to the streets, and some to cause violence – is twisted like a pretzel to be all about ‘rage' and ‘tolerance' and other root causes that we didn't even know were there.
But it is true, things are not always as they seem. Take for example Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University, who bemoans the "pebble that started a tsunami." Yes, bad taste, lack of respect, and all that. But here are events –rioting, arson, incitement and calls for murder- that seem to undermine the thesis of Professor Klausen's new book The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe:
The voices in this book belong to parliamentarians, city councillors, doctors and engineers, a few professors, lawyers and social workers, owners of small businesses, translators, and community activists. They are also all Muslims, who have decided to become engaged in political and civic organizations. And for that reason, they constantly have to explain themselves, mostly in order to say who they are not. They are not fundamentalists, not terrorists, and most do not support the introduction of Islamic religious law in Europe - especially not its application to Christians. This book is about who these people are, and what they want.
This book is based on three hundred interviews with European Muslim leaders from six European countries: Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, and Germany. The question of Islam in Europe is not a matter of global war and peace but raises difficult questions about the positions of Christianity and Islam in public life, and about European identities. Europe's Muslim political leaders are not aiming to overthrow liberal democracy and to replace secular law with Islamic religious law. Those are the positions of a minority. There is not one Muslim position on how Islam should develop in Europe but many views, and most Muslims are rather looking for ways to build institutions that will allow European Muslims to practice their religion in a way that is compatible with social integration.
Some of the voices she was hearing, could they have been saying one thing and doing another? Isn't there just the tiniest reason to think that calling for the murder of cartoonists is really "aiming to overthrow liberal democracy"? Nah. This cartoon business is just part of trying to "build institutions that will allow European Muslims to practice their religion in a way that is compatible with social integration." You know, institutions, ethnic separatism, the imperial extension of Islamic law and custom onto everyone else through violence and intimidation, restrictions on free _expression agreed to by brainless but oh-so-well-intentioned atheist bureaucrats, abetted by power-hungry international human rights juggernauts, stuff like that. Maybe she was just hearing what she wanted to hear.
As usual, the academic elites and intellectual classes are not only off the mark, at least as far as empirical reality goes, but they are engaged for a variety of reasons in mass deception, both deliberate and as an extension of systemic self-deception. Reality does not comport with certain rules (paradigms? models? the hermeneutic circle? the gravy train? the personal interpretation in which I have invested my entire career and prestige and to which I owe my second house in Vermont and my Saab?), therefore reality must be ignored, or abused. Lather, rinse, repeat. For this we had an Enlightenment?
As sometimes happens, young people capture the problem best:
An Iranian blogger, Yasser, a 21-year-old microbiology student at Azad University in Tehran, has written about his admiration for Western freedoms but recently posted an entry about the Danish cartoons under the title "Because of freedom you can insult me."
"I really bewildered when I see these paradoxes," he wrote in his blog, Under Underground.
I really bewildered too my friend. But get used to it, for bewilderment and paradox are the modern condition, and the essence of reality. We do the best we can, and sometimes being bewildered is better than being certain.
PS-note to Henry Balfour. You talk to your mother with that mouth?