It was insensitive and inappropriate for the Danish and Norwegian press to print political cartoons that were disrespectful of Muhammad, in particular, and stereotypical of Muslims, in general.
We Jews know how painful, and dangerous, such images can be, especially since the Arab press has been filled with vicious anti-Jewish cartoons for years now. And not only the Arab press: To give just one example, in 2003, a British paper printed a cartoon depicting Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating the head of a Palestinian child as a city burned in the background. The cartoon won the newspaper’s annual political cartoon society competition. Israel is still waiting for an apology from the paper’s editor. No violence. No riots. Not even cartoon comebacks attacking Anglican belief or British history in the papers. And not because we couldn’t do so, but we wouldn’t do so.
(By the way, are we Jews the only ones who see the hypocrisy and villainy in Iran’s plan to run a Holocaust cartoon competition to get back at Denmark? Do you think it is because Denmark was one of the few countries to save almost all of their Jews in the Holocaust?)
But the real question is why are we shocked that the Arab world has broken out in riots, destroying an embassy, killing at least four (as of the time of this writing)? According to an NPR report, the rage was consciously fanned by Denmark’s Muslim clerics, who distributed throughout the Muslim world not only the cartoons in question but also much more graphic and offensive cartoons and coupled them with hate-inciting propaganda. If no one in any of our Western intelligence agencies knew what was going on, we are in more trouble than we think. Jack Bauer, where are you when we need you?
Another real question is why isn’t the world more shocked at this Muslim rioting, shocked enough to demand more from our Arab allies to quiet the tide (or has it become impossible for them to control the mob-inflamed monster they created)?
Maybe it is not only a question of intelligence but a question of Western ambivalence. We read in Ethics of the Fathers, Nittai the Arbelite said, “Consort not with the wicked.” But that is what we in the West have done by continuing to support the nations that support the schools and mosques that train the Muslim on the street to hate us (both as Jews and Westerners).
Ultimately, Western ambivalence will continue until we free ourselves from the temptation and stranglehold of Arab oil. For that we need a much more aggressive energy policy than the one President Bush unveiled in his State of the Union speech. We need a combination of tax incentives, stricter mileage standards on autos (the technology for which is now achievable), and a Manhattan Project on serious alternative energy sources like solar, rather than pork-barrel programs like ethanol that will use more energy than it creates. As we also read in Ethics of the Fathers, Hillel used to say, “If not now when?”