The response to the publication of some anti-Muslim cartoons in a French magazine has been swift. The West has quickly condemned the drawings while Muslims are making more threats. France has closed its embassies in 22 countries and the world is bracing for another round of violence in which the hurt feelings of offended followers of Islam will prevail over the right of free speech. But the only proper response to this latest entry in the unending cycle of apologies and atrocities is to say: enough. It is time for the West to stop treating Muslim complaints about their sensibilities as if these were serious arguments. They are not. As even the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman wrote this morning, Arabs and Muslims who are whining about not getting any respect should look in the mirror.
Let’s agree that gratuitous insults directed at any faith are inappropriate at best. At worst, they serve to help stir up hatred against targeted faiths and peoples. But the point of the cartoons published this week in Charlie Hedbo is pretty much the same as the satiric graphics that ran in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005: to skewer the self-censorship of the West in talking about an Islamist world that responds to any criticism with deadly force. That is a very different cup of tea than the vile garbage that emanates from official broadcast media and newspapers in the Arab and Muslim world about Christianity but most especially Judaism, Jews and Israel. It’s time for some Western leaders, especially those whose governments have been bending over backwards to speak of their concern for Muslim sensibilities, to make it clear that they are no longer interested in playing this game.
We don’t agree with tasteless insults aimed at Islam. But the Muslim mobs and those that rationalize their actions as a reasonable response to Western imperialism and Third World powerlessness have no standing to gripe about anybody else’s behavior and must be bluntly told as much. The problem is not just Islamic intolerance that treats their feelings as somehow taking precedence over the rights of others to free expression. It is that pusillanimous reactions to Muslim violence have served to encourage and enable repetitions of this same tired story.
It is understood that perhaps the man in the Arab street who riots when he hears or reads rumors about an insult to Islam being made somewhere doesn’t understand the Western concept of freedom of speech. But the problem with the constant demands for Western apologies and prosecutions of critics of Islam is that the stream of regrets is strictly one way. As we have noted numerous times here at Contentions — and as Friedman writes today — anyone who visits the Memri.org website can see that insulting Judaism and Christianity in the Arab world is part of these countries’ mainstream discourse and not the work of isolated extremists or satirists as is the case in the West. In particular, anti-Semitism is so deeply ingrained in the Muslim media that it is merely a matter of routine more than anything else.
That’s why Western governments should resist the apology game this time.
The Muslim world must understand that it cannot impose its skewed values on the rest of the world. And the way to start that process is for Western leaders to send them a harsh message warning Arab and Muslim governments that we are aware that they don’t have clean hands on this issue. It should be made plain that monitoring Western speech about Islam is not their concern. And it should also be made perfectly clear that violence against Western targets will be punished severely.
We don’t doubt that some on the left will say that a harsh Western answer to Muslim violence will only inflame Muslim feelings. But such arguments miss the fact that terrorists merely use these controversies as a pretext. At some point the cycle has to end. The French cartoons should be the moment when this process must begin.