Tuesday, February 7, 2006

The violence spreading across the Muslim world raises an important question: How did 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, originally printed in an obscure Danish newspaper last September, suddenly inflame Muslim sensibilities four months later? Danish Muslims and Muslims in a handful of countries didn’t ignore the cartoons when they first appeared, but the controversy remained in the region. The spontaneous appearance over the past few days of dozens of Danish flags ready for the burning raises further questions about where the flags came from.

A lot of this “spontaneity” was clearly staged. The cartoons gained a wider audience when radical Danish clerics toured the Middle East last month, showing the offending cartoons to the heads of several of the major Islamist groups in the region. Just in case the originals weren’t offensive enough, the clerics also supplied a few of their own cartoons, ever more inflammatory, and said they sprang from the pens of the infidels. One of the clerics, Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Ladan, explained in an interview that the tour was meant to “internationalize this issue.” The clerics told their hosts that Muslims do not have the right to build mosques in Denmark, and repeated other ridiculous lies to foment discord and ridicule the Danish government.

The radical clerics in Denmark have succeeded, a fact pundits and analysts on both sides have largely missed. The focus has been on the assault on freedom of expression in the name of religious tolerance, as it should be, but that was not what Abu Ladan and his travelers had in mind when they toured the Middle East. They wanted to create a groundswell of discontent among Muslims in Europe, put pressure on Denmark — and other nations — to abide by sharia law and to build a sympathetic base for further terrorist attacks. The placards of British Muslims, demanding more “7/7s,” a reference to the London subway bombings on July 7, went straight to the point of the clerics’ Middle East tour. This was an exercise in agitprop to further the goals of Islamofascism, and it worked.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration bought the ruse, and now must make up for lost time. The initial equivocating at the White House and the State Department undermined the early European determination to confront the assault on Western civilization. Now, with platitudes about “press responsibility” and condolences to the Muslim community out of the way, Washington must play a more forceful role in bucking up the European governments bearing the brunt of the assault. An awakened Europe, after all, is exactly what the United States has been waiting for — reinforcements in the war against the terrorists.

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