It’s been two years since I ran down the street from my flat in Damascus to see the Danish and Norwegian embassies burning, because of a cartoon published two thousand miles away. Now Danish newspapers have reprinted the same cartoons, of the Muslim prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his head, despite the controversy and lives that were lost because of it.
Note the repeated word because, and its implications. As so often, it is confidently suggested that the cause of the deaths, intimidation and property destruction was the publication of cartoons, rather than the actual perpetrators of those acts, who chose to respond to unflattering illustrations with arson, violence, murder, even threats of genocide. Hold that thought. Linger for a moment on the displacement and curious moral inversion, and note just how readily, and how often, this contortion is performed.
Mr al Yafai offers no analysis of preceding events and no reflection whatsoever on the moral incontinence of Islamist indignation, or its deranged disproportion, or its coercive intent. Nor does he pause to consider whether those who do commit atrocities in the name of Islam – say, by detonating babies, or children, or the mentally disabled – do so because they believe they’re following Muhammad’s own teachings and example. Which is, after all, an implied point of the cartoons. Needless to day, Mr al Yafai chooses to disregard the 80 or so known jihadist groups whose actions helped prompt the illustrations, and those, like Mukhlas Imron, the Bali bombing ‘mastermind’ and leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, who explain their actions as advancing Islamic imperatives. On his capture, Imron repeatedly cited Muhammad as his mandate and inspiration:
You who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward above no other? Aren’t you aware that the model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary activities, and that the Prophet waged jihad operations 77 times in the first 10 years as head of the Muslim community in Medina?
Also disregarded is the stated reason for the cartoons’ republication – i.e., an affirmation of free speech following the arrest of three Muslims accused of plotting to kill one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard. Such trifling details are, apparently, not to be thought about. Instead, Guardian readers are encouraged to believe that the only conceivable motives are trivial and malicious:
There are so many sacred cows to be slain in the name of freedom of speech: Barack Obama’s colour, the private life of Princess Diana, Kylie Minogue’s chemotherapy. Why pick on just one? Don't be respectful and discuss these things in private: shout them from the rooftops! Instead of a few cartoons on one theme every couple of years, the Danes could run a new one every day… So come on, Danish newspaper editors, let’s see some cojones. Desecrate a few idols, push some old lady icons down the stairs and damn the consequences. Then we can all revel in how modern and free and European we all are. But don’t just pick on one weak minority over and over: there’s a word for that and it’s called bullying.
Again, pause for a moment to consider the assertion that the cartoons must constitute the deliberate “bullying” of a “weak minority”, albeit one that claims around a billion or so members. Here, al Yafai echoes a number of his Guardian colleagues, including the chronically disingenuous Karen Armstrong, who denounced the same cartoons as both “aggressive” and published “aggressively”, and Tariq Ramadan, who implied a parity of extremism between those who published the cartoons, or argued for the right to do so, and the devotees of Muhammad who made homicidal threats and set fire to occupied buildings. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that unflattering cartoons can hurt a person in exactly the same way that, say, fists, bricks and fire do.
But what is perhaps most curious about Mr al Yafai’s piece is that it shows a familiar and conspicuous disinterest in whether the cartoons do in fact depict some truth about Muhammad, his teachings and how they are used. A detail which might help explain why they arouse such preposterous rage.
Oh, yes. I forgot.