The most successful form of intimidation, because it is the most economical for the party doing the intimidating, is preemptive intimidation. It works like this: You get the party being intimidated to do all the heavy lifting. They supply whatever element of coercion is needed, which is often very little. They make the concessions, often without a murmur. Overt threats or acts of violence are mostly in the past. Every now and then, a ritual show of power might erupt to keep memories fresh, but for the most part the really successful intimidator relies on his victims to provide the stick with which to keep themselves cowed. They don't call it a stick, of course. They call it "prudence," being "responsible," acting with "sensitivity towards the feelings of others."
Remember, to take one example, the action of Yale University Press (and the university itself) over The Cartoons That Shook the World, Jytte Klausen's book about the Danish caricatures of Mohammed. We've written about that sorry episode in this space before. As all the world knows, Yale insisted at the last moment that the book be stripped of any representations of that seventh-century religious figure—not just the cartoons that were published in September 2005 in a Danish newspaper, but also various artistic representations of Islam's main man. Yale's stated reason for its sudden conversion to censorship and extraordinary interference into the business of a scholarly press was fear. University administrators said they were afraid of Muslim violence if they allowed a university press to publish images that were already familiar the world over. Why did Yale wait until the eve of the book's publication to make this determination? As we suggested in this space in October, we suspect that it had a lot to do with Yale's desire for Arab money, but that's not to say that a large dollop of politically correct, reflexive capitulation didn't enter into the equation, too. Cowards can be cunning. They can calculate the odds even as they watch their backs.
And now there's the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Last month, The New York Post reported that museum officials seem to have a bad case of "jihad jitters." The museum, the Post revealed, has "quietly pulled images of Mohammed from its Islamic collection and may not include them in a renovated exhibition area slated to open in 2011." Why? Museum spokesmen said that the "controversial images" were "objected to by conservative Muslims who say their religion forbids images of their holy founder."
Controversial images"? What, in the context of a Western museum of art, is "controversial" about artworks that happen to include representations of a medieval religious figure? Granted, there may be prudish types who object to the quantity of female flesh on display in Déjeuner sur l'herbe or the Venus of Urbino, not to mention a thousand other works. What do you suppose the Met is going to do about the offense they might give? Maybe atheists object to all those depictions of Jesus Christ and his mother that festoon the walls of certain galleries in the Met. How is the Met going to respond to those "controversial images"?
There's more. Just recently, the Post reported, the Met decided that its Islamic Galleries will be given a new name before they reopen in 2011: "Visitors will stroll around rooms dedicated to art from 'Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Late South Asia.'" Someone please call the Office of Circumlocution! The Post quoted Kishwar Rizvi, a historian of Islamic Art at Yale, who interjected a bit of common sense into the discussion. Museums "shouldn't shy away from showing [images of Muhammed] in a historical context," she said, noting that it was a shame the Met dropped Islamic Art for a cumbersome and problematic rubric.
The columnist Diana West was correct when she noted that to speak of avoiding controversy in this context is "9/10 talk." "It is," she said, capitulating to "Islamic blackmail." Yes, but the really scary thing is that the blackmail was performed without threats or malicious innuendo. There were no offers that the Met couldn't refuse. They themselves supplied the entire cycle: the intimidation as well as the capitulation. If this is blackmail, then the Met is the culprit as well as the victim. At a moment when we have been taught to translate "jihad" as "a striving for inner perfection" and to call terrorism perpetrated by Muslims as "anti-Islamic activity," a great museum's unforced self-surrender to a barbarous, freedom-hating ideology is a potent warning of how far down the road of dhimmitude—that's Muslim for "second-class citizen"—we have traveled.