The Magazine

Oh, the Anguish!

The cartoon jihad is phony.

Feb 20, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 22 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The original illustrations, September 30, 2005.The original illustrations, September 30, 2005.

"U.N., E.U. and Muslims link in call to curb protests," read the Financial Times headline last week. A "U.N.-brokered statement," the paper reported, was issued "in an effort to curb days of protests, some violent some peaceful, at the publication and republication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. 'The anguish in the Muslim world at the publication of the offensive caricatures is shared by all individuals and communities who recognise the sensitivity of deeply held religious belief,'" the statement said.

Oh, the anguish! And why not? You remember--don't you?--the wave of bloody pogroms against Muslims living in Denmark following the Jyllands-Posten's publication, on September 30, 2005, of 12 cartoons depicting (in most cases) the prophet Muhammad. (The newspaper was testing freedom of speech in Denmark, and challenging "the self-censorship which rules large parts of the Western world.")

Then, on October 17, some of these Danish cartoons were reprinted on the front page of a major Egyptian paper, Al Fagr. And you surely must remember the anguish that provoked. Tens of millions of Egyptians were so tormented they could barely refrain from attacking Israel, slaughtering all foreign businessmen, and destroying the pagan Sphinx. So anguished was President Mubarak that he announced he would return his $2 billion in "infidel U.S. foreign aid." For his part, the chief Islamist televangelist on Al Jazeera, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, was so anguished he repudiated the financing his branch of the Muslim Brotherhood receives from the "hatemongering European Union." Meanwhile in Iran, the nuclear program ground to a halt, as anguished engineers found they could no longer in good conscience consult technical manuals produced by Zionist and Crusader scientists.

None of these anguished reactions actually occurred, of course--no pogroms, no renunciation of U.S. and E.U. aid, no hiccup in the Iranian nuclear program. Because there was no real "anguish." In truth, by December nothing much had happened because of the cartoons.

So a group of Danish imams took off for the Middle East to try to cause trouble. To do this, they added three cartoons to their roadshow that they seem to have ginned up--crude propaganda pieces that would be guaranteed to stir a mob, just in case the original illustrations didn't produce the effect they were after.

The militants' trip was a success. Various extremist groups and terror-connected Islamists decided to use the cartoons as yet another weapon in the radical Islamist attempt to intimidate the West, and various Arab dictatorships saw a political opportunity in starting some anti-European riots.

And you can understand their calculation. Since 9/11, the West has gone on offense against radical Islamists and Middle Eastern dictatorships. That assault has apparently been more threatening to them than many of us realized. From Iraq to Palestine to Iran, from Islamist enemies of liberty to dictatorial opponents of democracy, those who are threatened by our effort to help liberalize and civilize the Middle East are fighting back with whatever weapons are at hand, and with whatever invented excuses and propaganda ploys they can discover.

As Olivier Guitta reports elsewhere in these pages, "The actions of Islamist agitators and financiers have deliberately drummed up rage among far-flung extremists otherwise entirely ignorant of the Danish press. The usual suspects--the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran--have profited from the spread of the disorders."

This is a moment of truth in the global struggle against Islamic extremism. Will Hamas succeed in creating a terror state on the West Bank? Will a terror-sponsoring Iranian regime succeed in its quest for nuclear weapons? Will Danish imams succeed in intimidating Europe--or the free world as a whole?

With respect to Hamas, Iran, and the cartoons, the response of Western leaders hasn't been particularly encouraging--with the notable exception of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark. Robert Frost said of liberals that they're incapable of taking their own side in a fight. We will see how deeply a degenerate form of liberalism has penetrated our souls. Will we anguish? Or will we fight?

--William Kristol