Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jyllands-Posten

The Mormons, Benghazi, and Charlie Hebdo

The biggest hit on Broadway for the last few years has been The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical comedy that mocks the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But rather than venting outrage, organizing protests, or seeking to shut down the play in New York or on its national tour, Mormons have commendably turned the other cheek. Unfortunately, many Muslims around the world are not as easygoing or wise. As the terror attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reminds us today, Islamists are determined to enforce a ban on offenses to their sensibilities. Those who draw mocking cartoons about Islam’s prophet or leaders of terror groups understand that they are taking their lives into their hands. There is a reason that the same team that produced the South Park television series chose the Mormons as the butt of their Broadway joke rather than Muslims. But while that choice was understandable, the question we need to be asking ourselves today is whether the West is prepared to go on tolerating the offense to our values of free speech that lies behind the tragedy in Paris.

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The biggest hit on Broadway for the last few years has been The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical comedy that mocks the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But rather than venting outrage, organizing protests, or seeking to shut down the play in New York or on its national tour, Mormons have commendably turned the other cheek. Unfortunately, many Muslims around the world are not as easygoing or wise. As the terror attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reminds us today, Islamists are determined to enforce a ban on offenses to their sensibilities. Those who draw mocking cartoons about Islam’s prophet or leaders of terror groups understand that they are taking their lives into their hands. There is a reason that the same team that produced the South Park television series chose the Mormons as the butt of their Broadway joke rather than Muslims. But while that choice was understandable, the question we need to be asking ourselves today is whether the West is prepared to go on tolerating the offense to our values of free speech that lies behind the tragedy in Paris.

All faiths and creeds are entitled to a degree of respect. Yet the conundrum at the heart of this issue is the belief on the part of Westerners that anyone may question or insult their faiths but that many Muslims seem to take it as a given that they should be exempt from such treatment. While Muslim nations may unfortunately be prepared to suppress criticism or mockery of Islam in their own societies, the issue in the last decade has increasingly been one of whether they are entitled or will be allowed to extend that ban to the West.

This issue first came to the world’s attention in 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten decided to try to do something about the efforts of Muslims to force Westerns to observe their religious taboos. But their decision to publish 12 satirical cartoons about the Prophet Mohammad proved their point in an unfortunate manner. The violence throughout the Muslim world about something printed in a Danish newspaper and the fact that those involved in the publication were forced into hiding showed us that far from being willing to stand up to Islamic censorship, most of the West preferred to kowtow to it.

Since then the same drama has been played out over and over again as the Islamist campaign against free speech about Islam in the West has won more battles than it has lost. In particular, the willingness of the Obama administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to apologize for the creation of a video about Islam’s founder and to wrongly focus the blame for the September 11, 2012 terror attack on American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya on this bogus issue was another indication that the Islamists were winning. When Clinton reportedly promised that the maker of the video would be punished (he was subsequently arrested on an unrelated charge), it sent a signal to the world that even the United States was more worried about offending Islam than in defending the basic right of all Americans to free speech.

While the controversy about the Benghazi attack has become mired in American partisan politics and the Obama administration’s ability to deflect criticism for its failures, we should have gleaned something else that was important from that tragedy. It was that when push came to shove, the instincts of the leaders of the free world were quicker to apologize for Western freedoms than they were to defend it.

That is what brings us to today’s tragedy. One needn’t approve of offensive videos about a faith practiced by more than a billion people. Nor should we insist that satirists skewer Muslims rather than Mormons. But the plain fact of the matter is that French editors and writers who were brave enough to mock Islamists who threaten the freedoms of the world were gunned down today in Paris while those who take aim at easier targets rake in profits without fear of being attacked. If that doesn’t constitute a clear and present danger to free speech, then nothing does.

The proper response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo involves greater vigilance in the West about homegrown Islamist terror. The effort by some, especially in the liberal mainstream media, to shut down discussions about the danger from Islamists living in the West has helped create an atmosphere in which police and intelligence officials may be deterred from doing what is necessary to defend us. The myth of a post-9/11 backlash against American Muslims has played a role in promoting a false narrative in which radical Islam is made the victim of the story rather than the religious inspiration for terrorism. But we need more than better police work. What the West needs more than ever is a willingness on the part of our leaders and opinion makers to tell the truth about the danger from radical Islam. We should make it clear that while we are not at war with Islam, neither will we tolerate a war on democracy and free speech by European Islamists or their allies in the Middle East.

What we should be thinking about today is whether at long last the West is prepared to stand up and defend its civilization and its values against a growing sense on the part of the Muslim world that it has the right to censure speech with which it disagrees. Until Europe and America stop apologizing and engaging in self-censorship out of fear of offending Islamists, the slaughter in Paris won’t be the last such outrage.

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The Muhammad Cartoons and the Jews

The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.

The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.

Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.

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The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.

The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.

Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.

The Muhammad cartoons were not part of a general campaign against Islam but rather a specific pushback by one publication against the efforts by Muslims to prohibit any reporting or discussion about terrorism motivated by Islam. Islamists around the globe have sought not merely to silence those who pointed out that the actions of Muslim terrorists stem from their religious beliefs but to brand any discussion of their faith or culture that is not laudatory as blasphemy that must be banned by law. The Muhammad cartoons were an attempt to answer a campaign against free speech with humor.

By contrast, the Dagbladet circumcision cartoon was part of a specific campaign aimed at banning a religious practice of both Jews and Muslims. The goal there was not, as with Jyllands-Posten, to defend free speech but to demonize Judaism and Jews in a manner highly reminiscent of the Nazis.

The reactions to the two cartoons are also very different.

The response to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons was a wave of riots and murders of non-Muslims across the Middle East and an intensified campaign of intimidation in Europe aimed at silencing those who criticize Islamist terror and its religious inspiration. Some of the cartoonists and editors involved are still in hiding in fear for their lives.

By contrast, the protests about the Norwegian cartoon, or, indeed any of those against the wave of anti-Semitism around the globe have resulted in nothing more than a few stern letters to the editor. The Dagbladet’s cartoonist isn’t in hiding and if no other newspaper will run it—except as an example of anti-Semitism—it isn’t because they fear Jews will kill them for doing so. While Muslims claim that the world is suffering from Islamophobia, what has really happened in the last few years is a process by which those who wish to criticize Islamists have been intimidated and which has also given anti-Semites impunity to demonize Jews.

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