February 8, 2006 | Scripps Howard News Service

The Cartoon Intifada

Muslim demonstrators have been torching embassies, stoning churches and threatening mass murder – to protest cartoons characterizing Muslims as violent extremists.

They have been burning flags and stomping on crosses and Stars of David – to express their outrage at those who say they are intolerant. 

The damage these demonstrators are doing to the image of Islam is incalculable, far beyond what any poison-penned cartoonist could accomplish. So why are they doing it?

Machiavelli provided the answer more than 500 years ago. For those who would rule, he said, it is better “to be feared than loved.”

By now, all but the most self-deluded among us recognize that Militant Islamists are waging a War Against the West, a deadly jihad against Christians, Jews, Hindus and moderate Muslims. These religiously inspired fascists have no interest in being loved by “infidels.” They do, however, want to inspire fear – and they do want to rule.

The international intifada that has erupted — ostensibly in response to 12 cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper in September — is merely the Militant Islamists' latest tactic. The charge most frequently leveled against the protestors is hypocrisy. How can they be up in arms over a few cartoons lampooning Muslims when, in many Muslim societies, Jews and Christians are routinely characterized in the most vicious terms and images? But that misses the point. 

The Militant Islamists are not demanding equality. They are demanding superiority. They are Muslim supremacists — ideological heirs to those who, in the 20th century, fought for Aryan supremacy and white supremacy.

Yousef Al-Qaradhawi — leader of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and president of the International Association of Muslim Scholars – is seen by some as the “hidden hand” behind the protests. He has candidly declared: “Islam will return to Europe as the conqueror.” 

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda commander in Iraq, has elaborated:  “Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute.” 

And in fact, for years the West has paid tribute, not least to Saudi Arabia's theocratic rulers. We have allowed mosques in America and Europe to be taken over by Saudi agents who see to it that their radical brand of Islam is both preached and practiced. 

At the same time, we have meekly accepted that there can be not a single church or synagogue on Saudi soil. We accept, too, that while Americans and Europeans may convert to Islam, in Saudi Arabia abandoning the faith is a crime punishable by death.  

The Saudis were the first to recall their ambassador from Copenhagen in response to the publication of cartoons in Danish newspapers. And here the plot thickens: It now appears that three faked cartoons – of a far more obviously offensive nature than those published in Denmark — also were distributed in the Middle East, to make sure the fabled “Muslim street” would rise up as instructed. 

The mainstream media appears little interested in this alleged manipulation. Indeed, most Western news outlets are not even giving readers and viewers the opportunity to judge for themselves whether the cartoons that were published in Denmark do insult the Muslim faith — or whether they only ridicule the Militant Islamists who offer Heavenly virgins to those willing to suicide-bomb children.

News executives claim they want to avoid giving offense. But if they were practicing self-censorship out of fear would they admit it? 

More than a few moderate Muslims understand what is really going on. A Jordanian editor published some of the Danish cartoons to show they are not as offensive as advertised. He was promptly fired and arrested.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistanti, Iraq's leading cleric, was scathing about those who “have exploited this …to spread their poison and revive the old hatreds with new methods.” 

But, in the end, there is little that liberal Muslims can do. They don't have the oil money. They don't control the Middle East's mosques, media or governments. And they, too, can be intimidated by the threat of violence.

Militant Islamism is least of all about religion. It's mostly about power. The Cartoon Intifida has not been a spontaneous uprising in response to a gratuitous insult. It's one front in an expanding war of arms and ideas being waged against the West.

And it appears to be working. If, in the process, the reputation of Islam is muddied and bloodied, that's a price the Militant Islamists are more than willing to pay.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Read the Spanish translation.



Al Qaeda