Not Too Sweet

The book has arrived, and the result was an immediate and dramatic improvement in the weather. So that’s the end of that tedious story, at last.

But this piece brought a little of my colour back, even before I opened the mailbox at midday (the post comes late around here).

Among those who decline to show the caricatures, only one, the Boston Phoenix, has been forthright enough to admit that its editors made the decision “out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy.”

Well there you go. I’ve been thinking that all along. I wouldn’t mind so much all this self-censorship if the self-censorers just said ‘we won’t publish them because we’re scared’ instead of all the sinister bilge about being thenthitive. Just for one thing, with the first explanation, everybody is clear that that’s not a good situation, that no one should be pleased and happy about it, whereas with the second, all too many people are pleased – and say they are pleased, and throw little parties to prove it – that everyone is getting more thenthitive. The first situation will not persuade many people that self-censorship is a good thing; the second will.

…what’s at work here is not the Muslim street’s spontaneous revulsion against sacrilege but a calculated campaign of manipulation by European Islamists and self-interested Middle Eastern governments. If the images first published in Jyllands-Posten last September are so inherently offensive that they cannot be viewed in any context, why did Danish Muslims distribute them across an Islamic world that seldom looks at Copenhagen newspapers? As Bernard-Henri Levy wrote this week, we have here a case of “self-inflicted blasphemy.” Then there’s the question of why there was no reaction whatsoever when Al Fagr, one of Egypt’s largest newspapers, published these cartoons on its front page Oct. 17 – that’s right, four months ago – during Ramadan…Thursday, CNN broadcast a story on how common anti-Semitic caricatures are in the Arab press and illustrated it with – you guessed it – one virulently anti-Semitic cartoon after another. As the segment concluded, Wolf Blitzer looked into the camera and piously explained that while CNN had decided as a matter of policy not to broadcast any image of Muhammad, telling the story of anti-Semitism in the Arab press required showing those caricatures. He didn’t even blush.

Incoherent? Double standards? Oh, surely not! No, it’s pure sensitivity; really it is.

Aamer Ahmed Khan takes a look at some hidden meanings and agendas in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s religious parties, who had been calling for mass demonstrations against the cartoons since the controversy first flared up, have disowned the violence. But they have stopped well short of a categorical condemnation of the rioters while vowing to continue with their “peaceful protests”…Most of the vehicles set alight were motorbikes, which are owned mostly by lower middle class people. Such targets have nothing to do with the cartoons but have historically been the target of choice for religious activists whenever they have had a reason to take to the streets. Why motorbikes and cars? Because they are readily available – parked on roadsides and unprotected – burn easily and provide the media with fiery images.

Right. Same way, if you’re going to rob somebody, it’s cleverer to rob somebody small and weak who won’t hurt you, rather than somebody big and strong and heavily-armed, who will. If you’re going to rape somebody, you wait until there’s no one around to help her. It’s only sensible.

Attacking such properties makes for a powerful statement of the cultural agenda pursued by almost every Pakistani religious organisation…Pakistani observers point out that while the protests may have done little to bring the alleged blasphemers under pressure they have certainly conveyed the destructive potential of injured religious sentiment to the outside world…Pakistan’s religious leadership may not be averse to the idea of demonstrating to the world that Pakistanis remain a deeply religious people despite Gen Musharraf’s liberal rhetoric. And if demonstrating this requires arson and looting, it may be a small price in the mind of the country’s religious leadership for emphasising an orthodox cultural agenda which has been under consistent pressure since the September 2001 attacks on the US.

Which should remind the sensitive types, yet again, that Muslims (excuse me, ‘the Muslim community’) don’t all think alike, and that religious zealots don’t speak for all Muslims, much less all people who live in majority-Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Indonesia. They don’t speak for everyone any more than Pat Robertson speaks for me just because we’re both part of the US community. The sensitive types need to realize that religious zealots scare the hell out of a lot of people, including people who are also Muslim, but not so conservative about it as the motorbike-burners. Pay attention, now, sensitives. Take notes.

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