Though the world marks today as the most infamous calendar date of the year, perhaps in retrospect the murderous hijacking of four passenger airliners had less historical significance than a series of cartoons of Mohammed drawn by a few Danes four years later.
Here's a story, via Mark Steyn, that might be funny if it were not so disturbing:
Having commissioned a book on the subject, Yale University Press has decided that it will appear without any illustration of said subject matter. The author is not a scaremongering blowhard like Ezra and me but a respected Brandeis University professor, Jytte Klausen. Insofar as I understand the thesis of The Cartoons That Shook The World, Professor Klausen argues that the crisis was artificially whipped up for political purposes and that, therefore, one should draw no broader conclusions about Muslim culture and its relationship with the west. You could hardly ask for a more telling comment on that thesis than the publishers' decision to yank the illustrations.
It's certainly rich in irony - professor writes book to show how Muslim culture is not violent, and the very subject of the book cannot be illustrated for fear of violence.
Despite, I seem to remember, one moron in Halifax or Doncaster attacking a Sikh temple by mistake, September 11 did not cause a massive outpouring of Islamophobia in this country; nor, even, did July 7 - British Muslims were overwhelmingly disgusted by the attacks, and the posters of all the victims, from every far flung corner of the globe, showed how incredible multi-racial London could be at its best. But the Danish cartoon controversy, and the behaviour of British Muslims, was a turning point in the public mood, and it was not just a small group of nutters outside the Danish embassy. The following Saturday I went along with a friend to watch the enormous demonstration at Trafalgar Square. Pious Muslims that day probably thought they were coming to defend their religion and honour, but to the people watching it looked quite obviously like a threat and a demonstration of raw power - and an assertion that Islam had special status in Britain.
It demonstrated the tragic failure of Britain's immigration and integration system. Twenty years after Ray Honeyford's martyrdom, it was quite clear that multiculturalism, and our seeming inability to want to de-hyphenate British citizens, was a cause; simple numbers was the other major factor - thanks to insane immigration policies that seem to ignore any understanding of human nature and sociology, Britain's Muslim population has grown from 500,000 in 1980 to well over 2m today. A group that comprises 1 per cent of a nation's population can pretty much do whatever they like and believe what they like, and bother no one, but when a group reachs 5 per cent any separateness, or mutual hostility between majority and minority, becomes a serious problem. When that number passes 10 per cent life in Britain will become very interesting.
Worldwide the controversy was also significant because it seemed like the first time in several hundred years that the East was able to push around the West. With a few brave exceptions Europe crumbled before the bullying of fanatics and dictators. As Steyn points out, 9/11 was a raw military attack on the United States, which is an act of suicide in more ways than one; the cartoon demonstrations were a far more effective attack on the willpower and moral strength of Western civilsation's weaker half - and it showed that the balance of power has shifted. Europe will never dare to upset the Islamic world again.
We all know why Muslims were upset by the cartoons. It has been explained to us that idolatory is offensive to their religion, and to insult their prophet is unforgivable. I can understand that, and respect it. But no one has so far explained to the Muslim world that to Europe - and this includes many European Muslims - free speech is as sacred as any prophet and the threats made against those who threatened people exercising that right were blaspheming. The question is - are Europeans, as Americans clearly are, prepared to kill and die for their freedoms?