I long ago lost count of the number of times I’ve switched on the TV and seen crazy guys jumping up and down in the street torching the Stars and Stripes and yelling “Death to the Great Satan.” Or torching the Union Jack and yelling “Death to the Original If Now Somewhat Arthritic And Semi-Retired Satan.” But I never thought I would see the excitable young lads jumping up and down in Jakarta, Lahore, Aden, Hebron, etc., etc., torching the flag of Denmark.
Denmark. Even if you were overcome with a sudden urge to burn the Danish flag, where do you get one in a hurry in Gaza? Well, OK, that’s easy: the nearest European Union Humanitarian Aid and Intifada-Funding Branch Office. But where do you get one in an obscure town on the Punjabi plain on a Thursday afternoon?
If I had a sudden yen to burn the Yemeni or Sudanese flag on my village green, I haven’t a clue how I would get hold of one in this part of New Hampshire. Say what you like about the Islamic world, they show tremendous initiative and energy and inventiveness, at least in threatening death to the infidels every 48 hours for one perceived offense or another. If only it could be channeled into, say, a small software company, what an economy they would have.
Meanwhile, back in Copenhagen, the Danes are a little bewildered to find that this time plucky little Denmark caught the eye of the nutters. Last year, a newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published several cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, whose physical representation in art is forbidden by Islam.
The cartoons aren’t particularly good and they were intended to be provocative. But they had a serious point. Before coming to that, we should note that in the Western world “artists” “provoke” with the same numbing regularity as young Muslim men light up other countries’ flags.
When Tony-winning author Terence McNally writes a Broadway play in which Jesus has sex with Judas, the New York Times and co rush to garland him with praise for how “brave” and “challenging” he is. The rule for “brave” “transgressive” “artists” is simple: If you’re going to be provocative, it’s best to do it with people who can’t be provoked.
Thus, NBC is celebrating Easter this year with a special edition of the homosexual sitcom “Will & Grace,” in which a Christian Conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes — “Cruci-fixin’s.” On the other hand, the same network, in covering the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of “respect” for the Muslim faith.
That means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice-president’s home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.
Jyllands-Posten wasn’t being offensive for the sake of it. The paper had a serious point — or, at any rate, a more serious one than Britney Spears or Terence McNally. The cartoons accompanied a piece about the dangers of “self-censorship” — i.e., a climate in which there’s no explicit law forbidding you from addressing the more, er, lively aspects of Islam but nonetheless everyone feels it’s better not to. That’s the question the Danish newspaper was testing: the weakness of free societies in the face of intimidation by militant Islam.
One day, years from now, as archaeologists sift through the ruins of an ancient civilization for clues to its downfall, they’ll marvel at how easy it all was. You don’t need to fly jets into skyscrapers and kill thousands of people. As a matter of fact, that’s a bad strategy, because even the wimpiest state will feel obliged to respond. But if you frame the issue in terms of multicultural “sensitivity” the wimp state will bend over backward to give you everything you want — including, eventually, the keys to those skyscrapers.
Thus, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw hailed Fleet Street’s “sensitivity” in not reprinting the offending cartoons.
No doubt he’s similarly impressed by the “sensitivity” of Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, for prohibiting the flying of the English national flag in English prisons on the grounds it shows the cross of St. George, used by the Crusaders and thus offensive to Muslims. And no doubt he’s impressed by the “sensitivity” of Burger King which withdrew its ice cream cones from its British menus because Rashad Akhtar of High Wycombe complained the creamy swirl shown on the lid looked like the word “Allah” in Arabic script. I don’t know which sura in the Koran says don’t forget, folks, it’s not just physical representations of God or the Prophet but also chocolate ice-cream squiggly representations of the name, but ixnay on both just to be “sensitive.”
And doubtless the British Foreign Secretary also appreciates the “sensitivity” of the owner of France-Soir who fired his editor for republishing the Danish cartoons. And the “sensitivity” of the Dutch film director Albert Ter Heerdt who canceled the sequel to his hit multicultural comedy “Shouf Shouf Habibi” because “I don’t want a knife in my chest” — which is what happened to the last Dutch film director to make a movie about Islam: Theo van Gogh, on whose “right to dissent” all those Hollywood blowhards are strangely silent. Perhaps they’re just being “sensitive,” too.
And perhaps the British foreign secretary also admires the “sensitivity” of those Dutch public figures who once spoke out against the intimidatory aspects of Islam and have now opted for diplomatic silence and life under 24-hour armed guard. And maybe he even admires the “sensitivity” of the increasing numbers of Dutch people who dislike the pervasive fear and tension in certain parts of the Netherlands and so have emigrated to Canada and New Zealand.
Very few societies are genuinely multicultural. Most are bicultural: On the one hand, there are folks who are black, white, homosexual, straight, pre-op transsexual, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, worshippers of global-warming doom-mongers, and they rub along as best they can. And on the other hand are folks who do not accept the give-and-take, the rough-and-tumble of a “diverse” “tolerant” society, and, when one gently raises the matter of their intolerance, they threaten to kill you, which makes the question somewhat moot.
One day the British foreign secretary will wake up and discover that, in practice, there’s very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and Sharia.
As a famously sensitive Dane once put it, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
© Mark Steyn, 2005