Daniel Pipes: The Clash to End All Clashes?

Roundup: Historians' Take

Editors' Introduction: In belated response to a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish paper and subsequently reprinted across Europe, scenes of outrage filed out of London, Beruit, and Damascus, among other cities this weekend. Flags and embassies burned. Placards (in London!) read:"Behead those who insult Islam."

In light of the anger unleashed, National Review Online asked some experts on Islam and/or the Mideast for their read on what's going on and what can/should be done. We asked each:"Is this a clash of civilizations we're watching? What can be done? By Muslims? By everyone else?"

Daniel Pipes's Introduction: Click here for responses by Mustafa Akyol, Zeyno Baran, Rachel Ehrenfeld, Mohamed Eljahmi, Basma Fakri, Farid Ghadry, Mansoor Ijaz, Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Clifford May, Ramin Parham, Nina Shea, and Bat Ye'or.

It certainly feels like a clash of civilizations. But it is not.

By way of demonstration, allow me to recall the similar Muslim-Western confrontation that took place in 1989 over the publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and the resulting death edict from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. It first appeared, as now, that the West aligned solidly against the edict and the Muslim world stood equally with it. As the dust settled, however, a far more nuanced situation became apparent.

Significant voices in the West expressed sympathy for Khomeini. Former president Jimmy Carter responded with a call for Americans to be"sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims. The director of the Near East Studies Center at UCLA, Georges Sabbagh, declared Khomeini" completely within his rights" to sentence Rushdie to death. Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote that"the book should not have been published" and called for legislation to proscribe such"excesses in the freedom of expression."

In contrast, important Muslims opposed the edict. Erdal Inönü, leader of Turkey's opposition Social Democratic party, announced that"killing somebody for what he has written is simply murder." Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, called Khomeini a"terrorist." A Palestinian journalist in Israel, Abdullatif Younis, dubbed The Satanic Verses"a great service."

This same division already exists in the current crisis. Middle East-studies professors are denouncing the cartoons even as two Jordanian editors went to jail for reprinting them.

It is a tragic mistake to lump all Muslims with the forces of darkness. Moderate, enlightened, free-thinking Muslims do exist. Hounded in their own circles, they look to the West for succor and support. And, however weak they may presently be, they eventually will have a crucial role in modernizing the Muslim world.

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John Edward Philips - 2/11/2006

It ought certainly to be possible to condemn both the cartoons and the attempt to censor them. When Nazis sought to march in Skokie, Illinois, a town with many Holocaust survivors living it it, the ACLU and many others defended their right to do so. I don't recall anyone accusing the ACLU of being Nazi sympathizers.

One problem here is that many in the Middle East cannot even imagine a free press. In their experience all publications are allowed by the government, and most are directly government controlled. They assume that these cartoons are approved by western governments in a deliberate attempt to insult Muslims.

That said, there is a wider issue: If Muslims claim that they have the right to do as they wish, including imposing stricter and less traditional forms of Shari'a law even to Christians in their countries, they should realize that they cannot then seek to impose their press standards on Western countries.