Canterbury and Other Tales From the Dark Side

Posted: Feb 15, 2008 12:01 AM
Canterbury and Other Tales From the Dark Side

Traveling to Europe's Dark Ages, one might expect to find newspaper headlines like these:

-- Archbishop of Canterbury says sharia law to be incorporated into British laws.

-- A Danish cartoonist is placed under indefinite police protection as three would-be assassins are arrested.

-- Renegade Muslim author seeks country to protect her from Islamist fanatics promising to kill her.

Alas, these are headlines from the past few weeks in modern-day Europe, where ancient values continue to collide with Western civilization.

One does not have to be anti-Islam to be concerned as radical Islam clashes with Modern Europe. One does have to be blind

-- or in dangerous denial -- not to be concerned that threats and violence from religionists, coupled with incremental accommodations and submissions by the soon-to-be "formerly" dominant culture, are leading to a darker age.

Is that the land of Mordor in the distance?

No, it's Denmark, where the cartoon controversy that caused Muslim outrage in 2005 continues to draw fire from the lunatic fringe. Three Muslim men have been arrested for plotting to kill one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, whose drawing showed the prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-turban with a lit fuse.

Westergaard's intention, he has explained, was to illustrate how fanatics have co-opted the prophet for their murderous purposes. But literal-minded, fundamentalist Muslims, who apparently have no understanding of satire or the irreverence that underpins Western humor, saw only disrespect.

Wednesday, newspapers in Denmark, Sweden and Spain republished one of the infamous cartoons in solidarity with the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, which originally published the cartoon, one among a dozen, as an exercise in free speech.

Replaying the events that previously caused so much trouble may be viewed as unnecessary -- and many American editors apparently see it that way. With only a few exceptions, most U.S. newspapers elected not to run the cartoons, sending readers to the Web for more information and, it would seem, self-defeat.

But if you were Westergaard, now under indefinite police protection -- or author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who needs protection wherever she travels -- you might think that the debate over free expression needs to be relentlessly aired no matter what the immediate fallout.

Hirsi Ali, author of "Infidel" -- an autobiographical critique of Islam and the religion's oppression of women -- has been on the run since her co-filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, was murdered on the streets in Holland.

Stabbed to his chest was a note for Hirsi Ali promising that she was next.

In the wake of van Gogh's killing -- and threats against Hirsi Ali and the cartoonist -- one could easily make the safer decision to self-censor.

Death for doodling seems hardly worth it. But giving in to intimidation inevitably leads to greater demands for special accommodation down the road.

Which leads where?

Follow the yellow brick to Canterbury, where the archbishop recently made a case for redefining the relationship between religious conscience and law to allow people to opt out of laws that contradict their teachings.

Under that redefinition, sharia laws that permit gender inequality could be given a place within existing British code.

The archbishop has been word-bombed with criticism, deservedly, though he characterized the response as an overreaction.

No, an overreaction is a man who kills his wife -- or a brother kills his sister -- for dishonoring the family under sharia law. Overreaction is murdering a filmmaker for exploring the abuse of human rights that can be justified under strict interpretations of sharia law. Overreaction is plotting to assassinate a cartoonist for Allah's sake because you don't get it.

Underreaction to radical Islam and jihad gets Paris burned, artists killed, thousands incinerated by detonator airplanes, and archbishops advancing religious exemptions to enlightened law.

Europeans seem to understand this better than Americans in spite of 9/11, primarily because they have already underreacted -- or reacted too late. A recent Gallup poll for the World Economic Forum found that a majority of Europeans believed relations between the West and the Muslim world are worsening. This is owing in varying degrees to a lack of Muslim assimilation, a dying non-Muslim European population whose birth rate is being outpaced by Muslims three-to-one, and the sense that European culture is being usurped.

The brightest light in the Western world -- the one that flickers now in pockets of Europe -- is the freedom of expression that makes all other freedoms possible. Once that light is extinguished, then it may be too late, or too deadly, to react.