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What to Think, Not How

Fire Starters

Today brings further confirmation that the Guardian’s moral compass is performing as normal, if not, alas, properly. Jakob Illeborg tells us,

Over the weekend numerous schools in Denmark have been set on fire and one completely burned down. Every night for almost a week the sky in Danish city centres has been lit up by burning cars and bonfires started in the middle of the high streets.

Indeed. For some pious souls, arson and death threats are very cheap currency. But first a detail. Note that the link chosen for the passage above is headlined, Cartoons Blamed for Danish Riots. If headlines are to be believed, the cause of the current riots is the publication of a cartoon drawn by a 73-year-old who is now forced to live in hiding in fear of his life, and the lives of his family. The cause is not, one notes, the individuals who chose to take part in those riots and burnings, and nor is it the absurd theological vanities that, for some, validate such behaviour. This strange causal manoeuvre is one that Mr Illeborg, like many others, has embraced with shameless enthusiasm. In his previous Guardian column, Illeborg argued that,

Once again the Danes could, with some justification, be seen as fire starters, even if all we were trying to do was to stand up for freedom of speech and democratic rights.

In case you missed that, here it is again.

the Danes could, with some justification, be seen as fire starters.

We’ve been here before, of course, and more than once. Last year, Newsweek ran an article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, accompanied by a sidebar with the extraordinary heading, A Bombthrower’s Life. As Christopher Hitchens remarked,

The subject of this absurd headline is a woman who has been threatened with horrific violence, by Muslims varying from moderate to extreme, ever since she was a little girl. She has more recently had to see a Dutch friend butchered in the street, been told that she is next, and now has to live with bodyguards in Washington, D.C. She has never used or advocated violence. Yet to whom does Newsweek refer as the “Bombthrower”? It’s always the same with these bogus equivalences: They start by pretending loftily to find no difference between aggressor and victim, and they end up by saying that it’s the victim of violence who is ‘really’ inciting it.

Quite. But back to Mr Illeborg.

The fire starters are frustrated young Muslim men who claim that their action is sparked by the re-publication of one of the prophet cartoons –

Yes, that does seem to be the perpetrators most commonly stated motive.

although it probably has little to do with religion,


and much to do with an entire generation of young migrants who have not been integrated into Danish society.

Well, when you think about it – and, please, let’s – that may well amount to much the same thing. Certainly the two aren’t easily disentangled. A more integrated Danish society would not, one hopes, be faced with an inassimilable minority of a minority trying to violently impose its superstitious vanities on others. That would, I think, be a plausible marker of an integrated Western society. Indeed, it was also a point of the original Jyllands Posten article, published some two years ago. However, Mr Illeborg is in too much of a rush to linger on such details.

Anti-Danish sentiment seems once again to be gathering pace both locally and around the Muslim world. On Friday 1,000 of Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters were demonstrating in Copenhagen. In Gaza more than 5,000 protesters were on the streets and in Teheran the Danish ambassador was summoned to meet the government… The odd thing is that all this was very predictable from the moment the Danish press insisted on making a headstrong idealistic response to the murder threats towards a Danish cartoonist by immediately printing / reprinting the cartoon that depicts the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban…

Well, yes. But the predictable nature of the lunacy doesn’t address the issue of the lunacy itself, or its grotesque disproportion and coercive, non-reciprocal intent. It doesn’t address the issue of whether those complaining, or demanding, or setting fire to something, have any sane and legitimate reason to do so. This is quite an important point, and one that Mr Illeborg seems determined to avoid. And it’s somewhat odd for him to describe the publishers of a cartoon as “headstrong” for doing something which is perfectly legal, while avoiding such pejoratives when referring to the people actually breaking the law and burning down schools

The Danish editors say they are making a stand for freedom of speech and many readers of CiF in their response to my article felt that the action was both brave and justified. But if, as the current press rumours in Denmark would have it, the accusations against the three suspects are less than waterproof, the quick and firm response may come to look clumsy and silly at best. Most of us agree that the Danish newspapers have the right to print / reprint the cartoons, but they don't have an obligation to do so.

One wonders, then, what kind of right one has – say, to publish an unflattering cartoon – if that right cannot be exercised for fear of riots, arson and death threats - and then of being blamed by Guardian columnists for the actions of those who actually did the rioting, burning and threatening. And, again, another fundamental point whistles by, unregistered. Whether or not the individuals arrested last week are ultimately found guilty, they are merely the latest suspects in a series of violent acts spanning decades and continents, and which are intended to intimidate and cow the free-thinking world - including, lest we forget, quite a few liberal Muslims.