Remember the days of post-9/11 civilizational war, of weltkampf between Islam and Christendom? You might recall the braying mobs, with their misspelled signs and limitless supply of Danish flags, burning embassies and murdering their co-religionists because some octogenarian in Århus sketched Muhammad.
Man, those were the days, when many mobilized in defense of free speech and many more intellectuals and politicians went weak-kneed in the face of threats, deciding that the possibility of murder and mob violence was reason enough to caution against “abusing” certain rights. It’s so 2006 to draw a cartoon of Mohammad and retreat to a cabin in Saskatchewan, change your name, and travel with a security detail because you think superstition deserves mockery. Those days are gone, aren’t they? I mean, everyone’s gotten over it—that low, dishonest, and utterly stupid decade—when cartoons (cartoons!) turned people into bloodthirsty psychopaths.
Well, not really.
We were reminded of the bad old days in January when American halfwit Colleen “Jihad Jane” LaRose, whose career path forked at meth addict and amateur Salafist, was sentenced to ten years for plotting to kill Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist whose entire body of work (like his breathtaking sculpture “Nimis”) has been supplanted by a pen-and-ink drawing of Muhammad as a dog. And we were reminded on Tuesday, when Swedish police rushed to Vilks’ house and cordoned off the area after a suspicious package was found on his lawn (it was a voltage meter left by an electrician).
Or a few months ago and a few miles south of Vilks, when 18-year-old Palestinian Danish poet Yahya Hassan, a critic of religious radicalism, was beaten in a Copenhagen train station for his denunciations of Islamic extremism. After he read a poem on Danish public television, Hassan received a modest 27 death threats from “offended” viewers. Too dumb to argue, they are rather eager to decapitate.
Had you switched on the BBC's Newsnight last week, you might have seen Jeremy Paxman interviewing an unknown illustrator, his voice and face anonymized by distortion, pixelation and shadow, about his innocuous drawing of “Jesus and Mo.” And what was the news hook here? Well, Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist turned parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats, tweeted the “Jesus and Mo” image, attracting the usual mix of opprobrium from supposed moderates and death threats from touchy radicals.
This is small beer compared to events in Tunisia, that first domino to fall in the Arab Spring era, where illustrator Jabeur Mejri was arrested and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail for posting drawings of Muhammad on Facebook. In a country freshly liberated from the authoritarianism of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mejri and his friend Ghazi Beji, both strident atheists, were convicted of “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order.” Mejri was granted asylum in Sweden last week, though will not be released until a presidential pardon is granted.
Way back in 2006, we were engaged in two wars in the Muslim world, the issue of jihadism still mattered and fired the average American. But we’ve retreated from Afghanistan and Iraq, have a president often at odds with the Israeli government, and a military that avoided direct intervention in Syria and Libya, but the problem of hyper-religious ratbags persists. We just pay less attention now. Because still, no American publisher will touch the memoir of Flemming Rose, the man who commissioned the infamous “Muhammad cartoons” in Denmark, because of his demand that those life-changing cartoons be included in any printing. Still South Park wouldn’t be allowed to show Muhammad in bear costume, as they tried unsuccessfully to do in 2010.
It continues. Because it works. And I recommend the Islamist tactic to all of those people who clot Twitter, complaining about columnists and bloggers who have “offended” them: consistently and loudly threaten to kill them for their transgressions. Periodically make good on your promise. And no one will ever offend you again.