National Review Online asked me and others for short contributions to a symposium on the Danish cartoon controversy. They didn’t use mine for whatever reason (maybe it was the tongue-in-cheek proposal at the end), so I offer it below.
There are excitable mobs in every great Muslim city, and the Danish cartoons have given them an excuse for riot and pillage. But is there more to it than that? Who is playing the role that Ayatollah Khomeini played in the Rushdie affair, fanning the flames in specific directions?
Seek the answer in the palaces, not the streets. Some Muslim governments have come under intense pressure from the Transatlantic alliance. They have reacted by seeking to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe. Iran needs a divided West to avoid sanctions over its nuclear program. Syria needs it to escape accountability for the Hariri assassination. Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood allies need it to break an embargo of the new Hamas principality. Egypt and Saudi Arabia need it to escape Western demands for reform.
Since the United States refuses to be intimidated, the focus has been on Europe. And for embattled regimes, the cartoon affair has been an Allah-send. The palace-dwellers aren’t interested in Danish apologies or expressions of media regret. They want to be paid off in political coin for dousing the fire. Until they are, Danish and other embassies will burn. Syria and Iran especially need a Europe cowed into meek submission, which may be why the worst violence rocked Damascus and Beirut.
Europe must stand firm and united, lest it become a tributary of despots and fanatics. European states should close their embassies in Damascus and Beirut, in solidarity with the Danes. The Danish government should emulate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Under fire for his Holocaust remarks, he announced Iran would convene a conference to delve into the historicity of the Nazi genocide. Denmark should offer to convene a conference in Copenhagen, comparing histories of religious tolerance and free speech. For the main event, I propose a disputation between Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Christopher Hitchens. May the best civilization win.
Update: The French scholar of Islamism, Olivier Roy, has reached the identical conclusion: “Il est évident que ces manifestations sont entièrement manipulées par les autorités.” Full interview here.