The Magazine

Laugh Riot

Fun and games in Europe.

Feb 20, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 22 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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I AM JUST NOW CHOPPING up my Danish modern coffee table and throwing the pieces into the fireplace. I want to show my support for Muslims outraged by publication of Prophet Muhammad caricatures in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper. All over the Muslim world there are riots and boycotts of Danish products. And I join the Muslims in solidarity (although, come on, you're Muslims, you shouldn't be drinking Carlsberg anyway). Next into the flames go my kids' Legos, invented in Denmark. They'll be followed by the satisfying smash of my wife's Royal Copenhagen dinner plates.

I haven't actually looked at the satirical drawings. Mainstream American media, recognizing that the First Amendment encompasses the right to shut up, have left them unpublished. I guess I could find them on the Internet except our computer was attached to Bang & Olufsen speakers. I seem to have crashed the system while yanking wires. But I'm sure these depictions of Muhammad will infuriate me as much as they infuriate Muslims, if for somewhat different reasons. The cartoons are badly drawn and not very funny. I know that sight unseen, because the cartoons are European.

I feel sorry for the angry mobs setting fire to the embassies. They should at least have gotten a good chuckle before they set out with their matches and gas cans. However, on a personal and professional note, I want to thank the angry mobs for showing up. I've put in some time as a satirist myself. It is the fondest dream of every wiseacre to get a really dramatic reaction from the public. Nothing is as disheartening to a humorist as having his most sardonic jibes, his most telling thrusts "laughed off." And the violent protests against Denmark, which have now become violent protests against almost all the nations of Old Europe, prove that humor truly is a form of communication that transcends all languages and cultures. The Europeans have made their little joke. The Muslims get it.

What sort of reaction did Jyllands-Posten expect to its comic strip? Europeans consider Americans stupid, but if the Washington-Posten printed a cartoon showing Martin Luther King in a Sambo get-up being chased around a palm tree by the tiger of identity politics, Don Graham would know what happens next.

That the Europeans didn't think anything would happen illustrates the state of European thought. Ideas have consequences, as Europeans, of all people, should know. Consider the dire consequences of their previous ideas, such as nationalism, colonialism, Marxism, anti-Semitism, Freudian analysis, and the social welfare state. But Europeans just keep having deep thoughts that never include anything so obvious as "God exists" or "faith is powerful." According to Jyllands-Posten's cultural editor, Fleming Rose, the Muhammad caricatures were inspired by the comments of a Danish comedian (that transcendent form of communication again!) who said he had no problem urinating on the Bible but wouldn't dare do so on the Koran. The Danes might want to examine the first part of that statement before labeling other people's religious sensibilities "extremist."

I'd also like to thank the angry mobs for giving the Europeans a lesson in free speech. Europeans are unclear on the concept. It's against the law in Germany to deny the Holocaust. (A little late, I'd say.) Many European countries have laws against "hate speech" that don't seem too different in intent from what Muslim protesters want to do to Danish cartoonists--although the penalty phase of the trial probably would be less dramatic in Europe. Europeans suppose free speech is harmless--nattering in cafés. Americans know that the right to self-expression, like the right to bear arms, is dangerous. That's why we keep a firm grip on those rights. In America the worst kind of people can shoot their mouths off. And they can get shot.

Not shooting the worst kind of people is, of course, the cornerstone of European foreign policy. Now we see the fruits of this nuanced and sophisticated diplomacy all over the Muslim world. I haven't been so satisfied by a policy outcome since half the cars in France were set on fire last year. But if the past is anything to go by, the Europeans will learn nothing from any of this. (Although the French are these days, maybe, less inclined to ridicule the American obsession with finding a good parking place.)

The Europeans are the perfect target. They could have helped bring freedom, democracy, and law to the Muslim world, but they'd rather be smartasses. Meanwhile, my family and I will be participating in a little religious extremism ourselves this weekend--or so going to church is regarded by many Europeans. And after Mass we won't be eating Danishes. We'll be having "Prophet Pastries."

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author, most recently, of Peace Kills (Atlantic Monthly Press).