One of the most significant books of the past decade is Jytte Klausen's The Cartoons That Shook The World.
My copy bears a review from Baroness Kishwer Falkner, a member of Britain's House of Lords. "This tells a story that has to be told," says the Baroness, and she's right, for it describes the murderous Islamic fury that erupted in 2006 following publication in Denmark of 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.
More significant still, however, is that the book contains none of the cartoons (although it does feature other illustrations). Its publishers, Yale University Press, were simply too frightened.
Right there you've got basically all you need to know about Western timidity in the face of Islam's absurd grievance culture, which demands and receives knife-point compliance in societies that otherwise revel in free speech.The threat of violence is only one factor. Many who are otherwise fearless over religious issues are silent when it comes to Islam, out of spineless concern they'll be labelled bigots.
Melbourne comedian Catherine Deveny, for example, happily trashes Christianity in her subtly titled stage show God Is Bullshit. You'd think Saturday's Sydney riots would have offered the perfect opportunity to make the same observation about Islam, but instead Deveny decided on a different, more conciliatory approach. "Protests," she tweeted yesterday, "are a healthy byproduct of free speech and democracy."
Healthy? That wasn't the first word that came to mind on seeing the most popular sign at the riots, which demanded: "Behead all those who insult the prophet." Its most telling deployment was in the hands of a toddler posing for his mother's photograph. Baby's first decapitation threat! He's a chopper before he can even read.
It might have been worse, of course. Kid Jihadi could have carried a sign calling Prime Minister Julia Gillard a witch. That level of incivility deeply offends sensitive cultural leftists. It'll be fascinating to read those who denounced "ditch the witch" banners at carbon tax protests as they try to explain away views slightly more strongly expressed.
Carbon tax protests evidently weren't considered "healthy byproducts of free speech and democracy". Prepare for some dodgeball-worthy ducking and weaving from Q & A types such as Deveny, plus repeated mentions of the film that is said to have incited Sydney's rioters and also the murders last week of US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three of his staff.
Australia's United Muslim Women Association put out a note yesterday on Facebook "clearly and unequivocally" condemning the views and violence at the protest before beginning the second paragraph: "Whilst there is no doubt that the film, which was the subject of this protest, is highly offensive to Muslims all over the world."
Ladies, give it up. The "film" is just a laughably shot and edited 14-minute YouTube clip. It's been online for months without causing any trouble, merely waiting to be seized upon as an excuse for mayhem.
The internet is an absolute boon for grievance-mongering Islamic leaders who have become aware that at any moment, someone on earth is doing or saying something offensive about old Muhammad. Their jobs are so much simpler now that they've worked out Google's search function.
Back in 2006, by contrast, imams had to go to all the trouble of adding several further images to their dossier of Danish cartoons before they could be certain of creating the desired uproar. One was a completely unrelated photograph of a contestant in a French pig-squealing contest, complete with comical plastic ears and snout.
More than 100 people were killed in subsequent protests. Dying for drawings was this century's most pathetic means of departing the Earth right up until the current YouTube War, which has already claimed at least 10 lives.
Pathetic, but not pointless. The clear aim of this manufactured fury is to further consolidate Islam's exceptional status immune from the sort of examination (including mockery) endured by other religions and cultures. If critics aren't intimidated by the threat of being marginalised as racists, they might be silenced by threats (and acts) of actual violence.
Which leaves Australia and Sydney in a fascinating position. Look at almost any media report of Saturday's riots and note the caution, bordering on self-censorship. The Sydney Morning Herald's online headline late on Saturday summed up that paper's trembly, eyes-averted alarm. In the wake of attacks on police and property, and with the city astonished by the views expressed, the Herald went with: "Police gas Sydney protesters."
Compare that attitude with that of the protesters, who are presently so bold that they'll cheerfully walk along Sydney's streets carrying signs calling for non-Muslims to be decapitated. If we're now at this point, what next? And when will Australians and the West in general feel confident in denouncing such vicious, primitive hatred?