Ladies and gentlemen, it seems the world has gone crazy.Yigal Walt is News Editor of Ynetnews
A series of offensive cartoons have sparked a global wave of Muslim fury against Denmark - previously known mostly for its colorful soccer fans and local beer - with Danish citizens all of a sudden becoming a prime target for the forces of radical Islam.
The mere notion of the hitherto sleepy nation of Denmark issuing terror-related advisories to its citizens was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, but there it was last week, a stern warning to all Danish citizens to leave Indonesia due to "significant and imminent" terror threats.
I mean, it is one thing for me as an Israeli national to be subjected to unpleasant glares coming from airport officials at Heathrow or refrain from speaking Hebrew overseas on the advice of security officials, but Danish citizens feeling uncomfortable abroad? What is this world coming to?
Yet there it was right before my eyes, embassies stoned and burned, masses rioting in the streets, and people dying (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), all while vowing to defend Islam and its prophet against the apparent dishonor bestowed upon it by vicious Danish cartoonists – and this while the Muslim world has established a solid reputation as the Mecca of horrid, vile, anti-Semitic-and-otherwise caricatures targeting all things non-Muslim.
But then again, perhaps I should not be so surprised by the apparent irrationality of it all.
After all, as an Israeli I'm used to being lectured about the imperfections inherent in my country's democracy – by citizens of countries where women are forbidden to drive, for example.
As an Israeli, I have also watched with dismay the United Nations dedicating countless hours and unimaginable sums of money to discussing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a limited conflict that even at its very worst claimed no more than hundreds of lives a month, while millions were being slaughtered in Africa and millions of others denied basic human rights and freedoms in such exotic locales as China.
Being an Israeli, I also watched with alarm eloquent Palestinian spokespersons make the most utterly ridiculous accusations against Israel ("Jenin massacre," anyone?), only to have seemingly reputable media outlets repeat the fabrications as if they were the whole truth and nothing but, in some cases comparing the Jenin battle scene to the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Incredibly, even after it was proven beyond any doubt that hundreds of Palestinian civilians did not die in Jenin during the IDF's 2002 Operation Defense Shield, and even after images surfaced of Palestinian "dead" falling off stretchers and hopping right back on, most media outlets did not shun the Palestinian propaganda machine and continue to treat it with reverence to this day.
Just ask Saeb Erekat, who spoke of at least 500 dead in Jenin during a CNN interview and promised to apologize should the figures he was providing with such reckless abandon prove incorrect – apparently, lying on American television did not compromise good ol' Saeb's status as a sought-after interviewee.
More recently, Syria last week publicly accused Israel of spreading bird flu in the region in order to "harm Arab genes," while a PA representative surprised Israeli U.S. envoy Danny Ayalon during a debate on CNN by claiming the cartoon outrage was in fact a Likud scheme aimed at pitting the international community against Muslims.
Holocaust-denial coming next?
The latest cartoon rage is perhaps not so odd and irrational after all, but it nonetheless constitutes a grave cause for concern, not only because of the violent Muslim reaction but more so in light of the international community's response to the events.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw lashed out at the Danish newspaper for publishing the cartoons, which he termed "unnecessary," "insensitive," "disrespectful" and "wrong." French President Jacques Chirac condemned "all manifest provocation that might dangerously fan passions." Former President Clinton went with "appalling" and "totally outrageous" (speaking about the cartoons of course, not the ensuing violence.)
To quote Marcus Gee, writing in Canada's Globe and Mail, western leaders' feeble response "showed a profound lack of understanding of the struggle that the democratic world is facing."
As other observers noted, beyond the embarrassing utterances spewed forth by politicians, no less concerning is the silent self-imposed censorship many in the Western world may resort to as to avoid mixing up with "those crazy mullahs."
Instead, they can just focus on slamming Israel, for example. (The Jews may bombard newspapers with explosive letters maybe, but are unlikely to resort to bombs or explosive belts and will not burn your flag or slit your throat.)
Indeed, behind the scenes we may see the emergence of a slippery slope where some issues are increasingly censored whereas others gain more prominence in order to cater to the tastes of flag-burning, gun-toting radicals.
Today it may be cartoons, but down the road it could open the door for all sorts of notions – questioning the Holocaust, for example. This time around, Britain has declined an Iranian invitation to attend a Holocaust-denial conference, which Prime Minister Tony Blair characterized as "shocking, ridiculous, and stupid," but who knows, maybe next time someone else may see fit to send a representative. After all, we would not want to be "insensitive" or "disrespectful," particularly if by that time Ahmadinejad and Co. are able to back up their claims with the cold honesty of nuclear weapons.
But as not to end on a pessimistic note, perhaps the words of reputed scholar and writer Victor Davis Hansen offer a glimmer of hope.
Characterizing Islamic extremists as "our generation's book burners," Hansen observes that "the entire controversy over the cartoons is ludicrous, but often in history the trivial and ludicrous can wake a people up before the significant and tragic follow."
For the sake of my country, and of western civilization as a whole, let us hope we all wake up before it is too late.