The Coming Trade War with China, Part Four:
The Prop Man Sets the Stage
There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. We just couldn't help but open with that - with apologies to Shakespeare. Nonetheless, there is something exceedingly odd in the notion that Denmark - which has made a national religion of not being offensive to anyone - could become the focal point of Muslim rage. The sight of the Danish and Norwegian embassies being burned in Damascus - and Scandinavians in general being warned to leave Islamic countries - has an aura of the surreal: Nobody gets mad at Denmark or Norway. Yet, death threats are now being hurled against the Danes and Norwegians as though they were mad-dog friends of Dick Cheney. History has its interesting moments.
Ok, I did say he loves the written word, did I not?
It must be emphatically pointed out that the Muslim rejection of the cartoons does not derive from a universalistic view that one should respect religions. The criticism does not derive from a secularist view that holds all religions in equal indifference and requires "sensitivity" not on account of theologies, but in order to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.
The Muslim view [on religious criticism] is theological: The Prophet Mohammed is not to be ridiculed or portrayed.
But violating the sensibilities of other religions is not taboo. Therefore, Muslims frequently, in action, print and speech, do and say things about other religions - Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism - that followers of these religions would find defamatory. The Taliban, for example, were not concerned about the views among other religions when they destroyed the famous Buddhas in Bamiyan.
Long story short. You want R-E-S-PECT? Give a little up, dude!
In terms of the dialogue over the cartoons, there is enough to amuse even the most jaded observers. The sight of Muslims arguing the need for greater sensitivity among others, and of [European] advocates of laws against racial hatred demanding absolute free speech, is truly marvelous to behold. There is, of course, one minor difference between the two sides: The Muslims are threatening to kill people who offend them and are burning embassies - in essence, holding entire nations responsible for the actions of a few of their citizens. The European liberals are merely making speeches. They are not threatening to kill critics of the modern secular state. That also distinguishes the Muslims from, say, Christians in the United States who have been affronted by National Endowment for the Arts grants.
Implicit in the European criticisms [of recent American foreign policy] - particularly from the French - was the view that American cowboy insensitivity to the Muslim world not only increased the danger after 9/11, but effectively precipitated 9/11.
Now an affair has blown up that not only did NOT [emphasis added] involve the United States, but also did not involve a state decision. The decision to publish the offending cartoons was that of a Danish private citizen. The Islamic response has been to hold the entire state responsible. [...] There were attacks on embassies, gunmen in EU offices at Gaza, threats of another 9/11 in Europe.
From a psychological standpoint, this drives home to the Europeans an argument that the Bush administration has been making from the beginning - that the threat from Muslim extremists is not really a response to anything, but a constantly present danger that can be triggered by anything or nothing.
It becomes increasingly difficult for Europeans to distinguish between their own relationship with the Islamic world and the American relationship with the Islamic world. A sense of shared fate emerges, driving the Americans and Europeans closer together. At a time when pressing issues like Iranian nuclear weapons are on the table, this increases Washington's freedom of action. Put another way, the Muslim strategy of splitting the United States and Europe - and using Europe to constrain the United States - was heavily damaged by the Muslim response to the cartoons.
With enemies like that, who needs friends?
Still, there are two clear beneficiaries. One is the United States: The cartoon affair is serving to further narrow the rift between the Bush administration's view of the Islamic world and that of many Europeans. Between the Paris riots last year, the religiously motivated murder of a Dutch filmmaker and the "blame Denmark" campaign, European patience is wearing thin.
9/11 changed the world. We saw it and immediately recognized it. Now the world, or at least the rest of the Western world, is finally poised to get on the same page. I just wish the Democrats could get over their Deaniac and dailyKos and moveon.org and mooreis(use)less insanity for a minute and see the world for what it has become. But if they did, they just might start winning elections. So let's just leave that one alone for now.
The other beneficiary is Iran. As Iran moves toward a confrontation with the United States over nuclear weapons, this helps to rally the Muslim world to its side: Iran wants to be viewed as the defender of Islam, and Sunnis who have raised questions about its flirtations with the United States in Iraq are now seeing Iran as the leader in outrage against Europe.
So, now that we have passed through the Decade of Lost Opportunities as Clinton wasted the Peace Dividend on shoring up the Democrats' political fortunes following the end of the Cold War (who do you think really balanced the budget in the 90s? Well, there you go again...), now that the finishing touches on the preliminaries to a new more dangerous World Order are nearly complete - and not the New World Order your Daddy preached, now that the posturing and rhetoric have been played out and the jockeying for global pole position (a la Franco's Spanish Civil War and el Duce's African adventures and Tojo's resource grabs in China) begins in earnest, it is time to get out the brass knuckles and get serious.
The cartoons have changed the dynamics both within Europe and the Islamic world, and between them. That is not to say the furor will not die down in due course, but it will take a long time for the bad feelings to dissipate.
Here is where I depart from Friedman's rhetoric. There is just too much energy tied up in this. The relation between the "offense" and the reaction to it, is just too way out of proportion. I believe this will be nothing more and nothing less than kindling for the larger conflagration yet to come. When the flames do die down on the Danish Cartoon Caper, it will leave behind some very potent embers.
It's hard to believe that a few cartoons could be that significant, but these are.
Again, 'xactly. They are just a dozen cartoons. Published in a non-Muslim country! Four months ago!!
Gentleman, start yer engines. The new New World Order is here and it is heating up fast.
And now to my whole point: this is merely a prelim fight before the main event. The Dogs of War are waking up.