In Czechoslovakia, under communism, it was common to see signs that read "Workers of the world, unite" in the windows of fruit and vegetable stores. Vaclav Havel, in his book "Living In Truth," discerned the significance of those signs.
As elaborated by Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, Mr. Havel believed the shopkeeper does not believe the sign. He puts it up because it was "delivered from the headquarters along with the onions." The grocer thinks nothing is at stake because he understands that no one really believes the slogan. The real message, according to Havel is "I'm behaving myself … I am obedient, and therefore I have the right to be left in peace."
But Mr. Havel shrewdly points out that even a modest shopkeeper would be ashamed to put up a sign that literally read "I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient." He is, after all, a human being with some sense of dignity. Havel concludes that the display of the sign "workers of the world, unite" allows the green grocer "to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power." (As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian theologian hanged by the Nazis for conspiring to try to kill Hitler observed: The failure of the people to speak small truths leads to the victory of the big lie.)
I would argue that this Czechoslovakian parable of the self-deceiving green grocer goes a long way to explaining the decision of most American news outlets not to re-publish the Danish cartoons currently stirring up so much of Islam.
As of yesterday afternoon, the following is, I believe, a complete list of major U.S. daily newspapers that have republished any of those cartoons: The Philadelphia Inquirer.
There has been intense debate in the blogs and elsewhere on whether newspapers and television networks should republish or not. The quite plausible, expressed argument against re-publishing is that: 1) just because one has the right to speak doesn't mean one must, 2) restraint is often exercised, particularly when being respectful of other religions or cultures, 3) tensions are particularly high amongst Muslims now, 4) only a madman or, if there is a difference, those who want to instigate the "clash of civilizations" would pour gasoline on that already raging fire.
That argument would be not only plausible, but persuasive, if the cause of the violent Muslim reaction to the cartoons was merely a transitory phenomenon -- a brief, spontaneous, bizarre overreaction.
In the same way, if Hitler's demand for Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland in October 1938 had in fact been his last territorial demand, then Britain's decision to appease that demand would have been sensible -- if selfish. But, of course, the appeasement did not buy peace, it only encouraged further Nazi aggression -- because Nazi demands were unlimited and non-negotiable.
Similarly, the reaction to the Danish cartoons is merely the latest predictable, intolerant response of radical Islam to any opposition to their view of man and God. (In fact, I did predict a Muslim insurrection against blasphemous European art in the first chapter of my recent book, "The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?").
Those who argue for republication of the Danish cartoons are not "instigating" a clash of civilization. Nor are they pouring gasoline on a fire. Rather, they are defending against the already declared and engaged radical Islamist clash against the Christian, Secular, Jewish, Hindu, Chinese world by expressing solidarity with the firemen.
In this case, the firemen, perhaps surprisingly to some, is the European press. French socialist newspapers, The BBC, and other major secular European media stand shoulder to shoulder with a right-wing Danish newspaper against what they correctly see is an unyielding demand by radical Islam that Europe begin to start living under Sharia law.
The American media is proud of its alleged tradition of speaking truth to power and reporting without fear or favor. Every year journalists give awards to one another under those banners. But in truth, it doesn't take much courage to criticize a president, corporation, Catholic priest or labor union boss in America. A president is powerless to adversely effect a reporter or news organization that criticizes him.
But today, the Danish cartoonists are in hiding. Many who have spoken out against radical Islam -- Muslim and non-Muslim alike -- are dead or in hiding. Instant Muslim boycotts of Danish products already threaten Danish prosperity.
Hirsi Ali, the black, Muslim, female co-producer of assassinated Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, talked about western journalists to Der Spiegel this week, while in hiding: "They probably feel numb. On the one hand, a voice in their heads is encouraging them not to sell out their freedom of speech. At the same time, they're experiencing the shocking sensation of what it's like to lose your own personal freedom. One mustn't forget that they're part of the post-war generation, and that all they've experienced is peace and prosperity. And now they suddenly have to fight for their own human rights once again ...
"The [Islamists] call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech ... Islamists don't allow their critics the same rights … After the West prostrates itself, the [Islamists] will be more than happy to say that Allah has made the infidels spineless."
Like the Czechoslovakian green grocer, the mighty American media doesn't want to think itself spineless. So they close their eyes, rationalize their fear and call it the responsible thing to do.
As Winston Churchill watched the British government sleepwalk to disaster in the 1930s he would sometimes recite:
"Who is in charge of the clattering train? The axles creak and couplings strain, And the pace is hot, and the points are near, And sleep has deadened the driver's ear; And the signals flash through the night in vain, For Death is in charge of the clattering train."