A Danish newspaper has apologized for any offense that was given when it published the infamous “Mohammad cartoons,” which provoked a bunch of ignorant yokels to torch an embassy, kill some nuns, and threaten to murder the artists who drew the pictures. The newspaper, Politiken, apparently re-printed one of the cartoons in the wake of a recent attempt on Kurt Westergaard’s life and was immediately slapped with a lawsuit by “eight Muslim organizations” that “represent 94,923 of Muhammad’s descendants.”
Of course, the real problem here isn’t that some newspaper issued an “apology.” The real problem is that the discourse on Islam is increasingly being dictated by cowardly, cynical, and ignorant Muslims whose actual belief in the tenets of their own religion is questionable at best. Such people — whether they’re the Saudi lawyer representing 95,000 of Muhammad’s putative descendants or Muammar Ghadaffi — know that Western governments, corporations, and individuals are afraid — justly or unjustly — of “Islamic terror” and use their religion as an implied threat whenever they perceive a need to influence the situation. It’s a way of punching above their weight, as it were.
It’s become a bit passé to speak of such figures as Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps as being people who wrap themselves in piety and use religion for essentially political (or economic) purposes. Yet Westerners, perhaps out of fear of being perceived as being culturally insensitive, have tended to be more reluctant to criticize political leaders of other faiths (with the possible exception of Jews) for acting in a similar manner. Instead, such figures are treated as “authentic” voices of whichever religion they happen to adhere to and the public is treated to a lot of tiresome rhetoric about “building bridges” and “engaging in dialogue” with people who clearly do not speak for the majority of their co-religionists.
When Pat Robertson publicly attributes earthquakes in Haiti with Satanic pacts and Fred Phelps blames… well, just about everything on homosexuals, no one talks about “dialogue” and “building bridges.” No one (excepting, of course, their followers) accepts their words as being authentically Biblical. Yet when reactionary Muslims raze embassies and kill defenseless women because of their supposedly religious outrage, we are much less willing to condemn them as the acts of outlaws and lunatics. Instead, we wonder if apologies are in order and worry about the offense we have apparently given.
The views of those countless Muslims who are not carrying on like a reactionary mob out in the streets or issuing press releases on behalf of one “Islamic” organization or another are seldom taken into account. The most extreme voices thereby are taken to be the most authentic voices.
We have heard the phrase “…then the terrorists will have won!” countless times over the last few years. In a sense, it is true — though not in the way the phrase is usually meant. By capitulating to the demands of the Pat Robersons and the Fred Phelps’ of the Muslim world, we are legitimizing them. We are conceding that they have a right to speak for all Muslims and it is made implicit that, if we fail to comply, the wrath of their religion will be turned against us.
We would never accept such terms from Christian fundamentalists and we should not accept such terms from their Muslim (or Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu, or…) brethren.
Politiken may have issued their “apology,” but the real cowards and the real cynics are those who are so insecure and ignorant of their own faith that they have to wrap themselves in a green flag and attempt to silence, through lawsuits or violence, people who say things they don’t like.