A timely letter to the Danish Prime Minister

Posted: Feb 22, 2006 12:05 PM

Nice civilization you got here. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.

That was the sinister subtext of a letter addressed to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, asking him to "take all those responsible to task under law" for the infamous Mohammed cartoons. The letter is remarkable for when it was sent and for who sent it.

The letter was signed by the eleven ambassadors of Islamic or heavily-Islamic countries. Libya, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Palestine, Indonesia, Morocco, and Bosnia-Herzegovina complained about the Jyllands-Posten cartoons on October 12, long before the current round of protests.

It is, of course, their right to complain, but demanding legal action is pretty arrogant. It’s also depressing, because it shows that these worldly ambassadors don’t even know how a free country works. Asking an executive to restrain lawful speech in a free country is like asking him to kindly restrain the rotation of the moon. 

But that’s not the surprising part. The surprise is the implied extortion at the end of this paragraph:

We strongly feel that casting aspersions on Islam as a religion and publishing demeaning caricatures of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) goes against the spirit of Danish values of tolerance and civil society. This is on the whole a very discriminatory tendency and does not bode well with [sic] the high human rights standards of Denmark.  We may underline that it can also cause reactions in Muslim countries and among Muslim communities in Europe.

"Reactions?" Whatever could they mean by that?

Peaceful protests? Harsh language? Nothing to worry about in a democracy with a strong free speech tradition, thanks. All in a day’s work. Not worth warning us about.

No, the ambassadors anticipated "reactions" sufficiently dangerous that they thought Denmark ought to be warned about them.

Even though it is written in English, the significance of the ambassadors’ thinly veiled threat has escaped the attention of the English-speaking media. I only saw it, because a Danish friend sent it to me. To see the letter for yourself, you can download it from the Danish newspaper Berlingske on this page, next to the word "Grafik."

The nations involved in this undiplomatic bit of diplomacy saw some of the largest protests and the worst violence of the Comic Jihad on February 6 and 7 of this year.  Curious, because they had seen this coming back on October 12. They had plenty of warning about it—in fact, they gave us plenty of warning about it. And yet they took no steps to prevent violence and chaos.

Indonesia saw an attack on the Danish Embassy in Jakarta, and the American consulate in Surabaya (and there was another attempt to storm America’s embassy in Jakarta on the 19th). Turkey saw, in addition to large scale protests, the murder of a Catholic priest on the 6th. In Tehran, protesters burned the Danish embassy and stoned the Austrian embassy. In Libya, a little later, protesters set fire to the Italian consulate. Pakistan has seen several huge protests and deadly riots, as well as a tragicomic assault on KFC and Pizza Hut.

Funny how these countries demanding that Denmark crack down on unpopular expression have so much trouble doing so themselves, even when things turn bloody, and even when they see it coming for three months. Not "funny-ha-ha." The other kind.

Which leads to two possible interpretations of the Comic Jihad. These states are unwilling to stop the violence, or they are unable to do so.

The first interpretation suggests that at least some of the states involved in this travesty have manipulated it from the beginning for their own interests. While a lot of blame has rightly fallen on Denmark’s deceptive agitators Ahmed Abu Laban and Ahmed Akkari, they have clearly had the collaboration of receptive states in getting their message out—states that don’t mind cracking down on dangerous thoughts when it suits them. 

Among the signatories of the letter, Iran has the most to gain from radicalizing the Muslim world right now. As America and Israel contemplate military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, the smart play for Iran is to poison any efforts at cooperation between the United States and countries in the region—and specifically Turkey, which has already refused to serve as a staging area for American troops during the Iraq invasion. If Iran can convince Turkey to withhold its support again, the mullahs will have neutralized our 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik without firing a shot.

If that state-security scenario sounds too conspiratorial for you, the alternative is no more reassuring: these signatories of the letter know that their nations are not in control at all. Radical Islamists are calling the shots, and there is nothing Islamic states can do to stop them.

If that is the case, it is a surprising and devastating indictment of global Islam. It is one thing for American pundits and politicians to say the Religion of Peace has been hijacked by violent extremists; it’s far more frightening when the warning comes from the governments that know it best.