The Right Coast

February 05, 2006
Cartoon kerfuffle
By Tom Smith

Those darn Islamofascist nutballs are at it again. Mark Steyn captures it as usual. When this started, I was inclined to think, well, you can't blame people for being upset when their religion is insulted. I didn't like "Piss Christ" or the BVM with elephant excrement on her either. I thought it was just dandy that Mayor Guiliani made life a little difficult for the Brooklyn Museum. But that was before crazed mobs started burning embassies and calling for murder of anyone who dares insult them. If there were a very large segment of Roman Catholicism that wanted to take over a large bit of the world, make all women dress like nuns, eat fish on Friday, never miss Mass, and punish heretics by burning them at the stake, and had been busy murdering innocent people by the thousands in order to bring the neo-Medieval world about, I would not be too shocked if somebody published an editorial cartoon criticizing it. If it showed the baby Jesus as a ticking time bomb, I would think, well, that's what I get for burning people alive. But then, maybe I lack the spirit of the true fanatic.

I think to view this whole episode as raising any serious questions about free speech is silly. The only question it raises is whether free speech is possible in a country that has a substantial number of people in it who do not believe in free speech. The answer appears to be, maybe not. Some Labour MP has opined that, if the women holding the placards saying "Those Who Insult Islam Should Be Butchered" can lawfully be deported, they should be. Sounds about right to me. That's a little bit of diversity we can do without.

What we are running up against here are the limits of tolerance. Open societies can tolerate a lot, maybe even special restrooms for the transgendered, but not large numbers of people who want to kill anyone who speaks critically of their benighted vision of the much desired future One Party Religious State. My view is that open, liberal societies have to be careful about how much of the politics of intimidation they put up with. They can't put up with much. Most people are easily frightened, and who can blame them. Not everywhere can be, say, Montana or all of Australia, where a good fight is appreciated. Once the politics of violent intimidation catches hold, it spreads, like a panic. But so far, thankfully, the Europeans seem to be holding up pretty well.

Not all Muslims, of course, are nutballs. There are the reasonable Muslims, some of whom are actually speaking up now, which is certainly welcome. But I suspect there are also sophisticated people in places of power in Saudi Arabia and Syria and other such places, quite happy to see the mobs unleashed to rattle the confidence of poor old Europe. These are not the people throwing firebombs, but rather the people making phone calls to tell the police chiefs in Damascus to go easy on the demonstrators. It is a strange, little controversy, but it does give the Muslim world an opportunity to demonstrate its strength, for the Muslim Street to flex its muscles.