WASHINGTON -- Contemplate this: A Danish newspaper in September publishes some cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Four months later Muslims, mostly Arab, get wind of this event and riot, burning Danish flags and attacking embassies, mostly Danish, but thus far also an Austrian Embassy. Apparently geography is one of the many subjects not studied very attentively in Arab schools. At any rate, as the riots intensify local governments can apparently do nothing. Most of these governments, for instance the Syrian, are famously repressive. Yet in this instance they are impotent against the dirty-necked galoots burning flags and howling in the streets of their cities. Some of the governments issue diplomatic demands to the Danish government.
Now here is the kicker. From Tehran comes word that Iran's best-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, has announced a cartoon competition. The cartoon competition will endeavor to find the best cartoon about the Holocaust. You might well ask: How did the Holocaust become entoiled in this controversy? What do six-million murdered Jews have to do with Danish cartoonists depicting a Prophet who lived 1,400 years ago? Officials at the Iranian newspaper also dragged America and Israel into their rants. Are America and Israel the real powers behind Denmark?
Analysis of this irrational outburst will continue for weeks. Already the point has been made that there are depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in museums throughout the world and that many of the depictions were created by pious Muslims. So the claims that it is sacrilegious to depict the Prophet are nonsense. And the point has been made that throughout Islam's long history Muslims have joked about religion. So the claims that it is sacrilegious to joke about Islam are nonsense.
Other earnest analysts will tussle with the chronology of these events, the persona involved, and their various explications of the cartoons, of the demonstrations, and, who knows, possibly of the attack on the Austrian Embassy. Back in Tehran, editors at Hamshahri might wonder aloud: "Did not the demonstrators know that the Austrian Embassy is sacred soil? Was not the late Adolf Hitler an Austrian before he met his 72 maidens?" But there is a larger matter to contend with as the mobs of young men rage through the streets, even trying to mount their protests in places such as London. That is that Islam, particularly Islam as practiced in Arab countries, embraces a vast number of very angry young men.