05. February 2006 · Comments Off on Kinda, Sorta 9/11ish · Categories: European Disunion, General, GWOT, Pajama Game, War, World

All this last week I have been returning, almost obsessively to certain blogs for continuing updates on the Danish cartoon story. It is a marvel of jaw-dropping proportions of how a dozen fairly innocuous sketches, published in a comparatively small national newspaper, in a small European country have gotten the goat, so to speak, of seething mobs a good few countries or continents away. I rather suspect some of the rioters are only vaguely aware, in a kind of trivial pursuit/jeopardy question obscure factoid sort of way that there is a Denmark, and even fewer could find it on a map, but there they are, howling away and waving weapons and signs— invariably neatly lettered in English, how curious is that?!… and burning flags again… where the heck did they get all those Danish flags— is there some sort of “Flags R’ US” big box chain store serving Damascus, Jakarta and Gaza with all their banner barbeque needs?

It’s the fabled Muslim Street again, at a full roiling, furiously bubbling seeth, parked in front of an embassy, intimidating and threatening diplomatic staff, business interests and free-lance do-gooders, all alike. For more than two decades America (AKA “The Great Satan”) pretty much had a lock on that gig, as a focus for the Muslim ire, and it is initially passing strange and going into Outer Limits territory to see it happening to some other national interest, especially to a tidy, comfortably inoffensive little country like Denmark. The original action is so minor in comparison to the snowballing reaction—it’s rather like seeing the Animal Regulation people backed up by a tactical SWAT team go after the neighbor down the street on account of a unlicensed and unleashed teacup Chihuahua. You just keep scratching your head and wondering ‘what the f**k brought all that on?’ Or alternately, ‘what the f**k doesn’t set off the seething Muslim Street?’Or daringly, even ‘Since anything and everything sets off the seething Muslim Street, may as well publish and be damned!’

I personally confess to a great deal of appalled sympathy for the Danes, and the Norwegians, and all those other Europeans and Britons who see this issue clearly, just now. The whole issue of intellectual and press freedom, and open discussion of anything and everything, won for us with such great struggle and with so many setbacks, is a central value. All the previous little kerfuffles, all those spats about artist-poseurs smearing themselves with chocolate, or a canvas with elephant dung, or some tiresome leftist with a captive university audience, or some writer-pseud striking a daring pose by sticking it to the bourgeoisie; All that before was just a pose, a trivial and momentary diversion; this now, this is for real. Are we now willing to publish, or write about, or talk about an issue that might have permanent and fatal consequences, over a principle that we have had so long been accustomed to? Now that a threat has been issued that we must perforce obey the dictates of a religion, a religion alien to most of us? A dictate backed up by threats of murder and violence?
” Nice little country you got here, be a shame if anything happened to it.”

The demand, couched as a seemingly reasonable request to be “respectful” and understanding of a particularly belief is put reasonably, counting on us to be reasonable, courteous… but the implications are huge and only just dawning on those who have been not been following this, admittedly in a desultory way, for the last four months.

If we value the soul of Western democracies, of a free press, of being able do discuss anything at all in the media, old and new, print and TV, in the halls of universities and governments, in coffee shops and around office water coolers, without fear or favor, we cannot yield on this. Because being once constrained by Moslems, under threat, there is no reason to deny it to any other special party that may raise a complaint, backed by a similar threat. Once debate can be shut down on the grounds of “being respectful” to one belief, once criticism can be howled down on that ground, it can be done on behalf of any other religion or party, or group… and then what you have is no longer free. It may be something… but it is no longer free. Once the exception is made, we are pretty much lost, as much as the media outlets in the Mexican border towns are, when it comes to publishing anything about narco-trafficking , or independent Russian media is, about anything to do with the oligarchy.

And this is the realization that suddenly, and with a great deal of horror, that a lot of people in Britain and in Continental Europe may have come to this week, of how close they stand to the abyss, and how easily they may be struck a near-mortal blow, a blow at the intellectual heart, rather than the physical one struck on 9/11 to the US, for nothing more than being who they are in the eyes of Moslem extremists, rather than anything particular that they might have done.

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