- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In Czechoslovakia under communism it was common to see signs reading “Workers of the world, unite” in the windows of fruit and vegetable stores.

Vaclav Havel, in his book, “Living In Truth,” discerned the significance of those signs.

As elaborated by Stanley Hauerwas, professor of Theological Ethics at Duke School of Divinity, Mr. Havel believed the shopkeeper does not believe the sign. He puts it up because it was “delivered from the headquarters along with the onions.” The grocer thinks nothing is at stake because he understands that no one really believes the slogan. The real message, according to Mr. Havel, is “I’m behaving myself… I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.”

But Mr. Havel shrewdly points out that even a modest shopkeeper would be ashamed to put up a sign that literally read “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.” He is, after all, a human being with some sense of dignity. Mr. Havel concludes that the display of the sign “Workers of the world, unite” allows the green grocer “to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power.” (As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian theologian hanged by the Nazis for conspiring to try to kill Hitler observed: The failure of the people to speak small truths leads to the victory of the big lie.)

I would argue that this Czechoslovakian parable of the self-deceiving green grocer goes a long way to explaining the decision of most American news outlets not to republish the Danish cartoons currently stirring up so much of Islam.

As of yesterday afternoon, the following is, I believe, a complete list of major U.S. daily newspapers that have republished any of those cartoons: the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There has been intense debate in the blogs and elsewhere about whether newspapers and television networks should republish or not. The quite plausible, expressed argument against republishing is that: 1) just because one has the right to speak doesn’t mean one must; 2) restraint is often exercised, particularly when being respectful of other religions or cultures; 3) tensions are particularly high among Muslims now; 4) only a madman, or, if there is a difference, those who want to instigate the “clash of civilizations” would pour gasoline on that already raging fire.

That argument would be not only plausible, but persuasive, if the cause of the violent Muslim reaction to the cartoons was merely a transitory phenomenon — a brief, spontaneous, bizarre overreaction.

In the same way, if Hitler’s demand for Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland in October 1938 had in fact been his last territorial demand, then Britain’s decision to appease that demand would have been sensible — if selfish. But of course, the appeasement did not buy peace; it only encouraged further Nazi aggression because Nazi demands were unlimited and non-negotiable.

Similarly, the reaction to the Danish cartoons is merely the latest predictable, intolerant response of radical Islam to any opposition to their view of man and God. (In fact I did predict a Muslim insurrection against blasphemous European art in the first chapter of my recent book, “The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win The Clash of Civilizations?”)

Those who argue for republication of the Danish cartoons are not “instigating” a clash of civilization. Nor are they pouring gasoline on a fire. Rather, they are defending against the already declared and engaged radical Islamist clash against the Christian, secular, Jewish, Hindu, Chinese world, by expressing solidarity with the firemen.

In this case the firemen, perhaps surprisingly to some, are the European press. French socialist newspapers, the BBC, and other major secular European media stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a right-wing Danish newspaper against what they correctly see is an unyielding demand by radical Islam that Europe begin to start living under sharia law.

The American media is proud of its alleged tradition of speaking truth to power and reporting without fear or favor. Every year journalists give awards to each other under those banners. But in truth, it doesn’t take much courage to criticize a president or corporation or Catholic priest or labor-union boss in America. A president is powerless to adversely effect a reporter or news organization that criticizes him.

But today the Danish cartoonists are in hiding. Many who have spoken out against radical Islam — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — are dead or in hiding.

Instant Muslim boycotts of Danish products already threaten Danish prosperity.

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