The West and Islam "Hurray! We're Capitulating!"

By Henryk M. Broder

Part 2: Part II: Cowardice, fear and an overriding concern about the trade balance


In the past, an attack on an embassy would have been reason enough to go to war. But this time the affected countries did their utmost to "de-escalate." The victims were repentant and begged the perpetrators for forgiveness. Indeed, the West was intent on not doing anything that could possibly give offense and cause these fanatical Muslims to become even angrier.

Objectively speaking, the cartoon controversy was a tempest in a teacup. But subjectively it was a show of strength and, in the context of the "clash of civilizations," a dress rehearsal for the real thing. The Muslims demonstrated how quickly and effectively they can mobilize the masses, and the free West showed that it has nothing to counter the offensive -- nothing but fear, cowardice and an overriding concern about the balance of trade. Now the Islamists know that they are dealing with a paper tiger whose roar is nothing but a tape recording.

As different as the West's reactions to the Muslim protests were, what they had in common were origins in feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Critical souls who only yesterday agreed with Marx that religion is the opium of the masses suddenly insisted that religious sensibilities must be taken into account, especially when accompanied by violence. The representatives of open societies reacted like the inhabitants of an island about to be hit by a hurricane. Powerless against the forces of nature, they stocked up on supplies, nailed doors and windows shut and hoped that the storm would soon pass. Of course, whereas such a reaction may be an appropriate response to natural disasters, such a lack of resistance merely encourages fundamentalists. It completely justifies their view of the West as weak, decadent and completely unwilling to defend itself.

Should the age of consent be 12?

Those who react to kidnappings and beheadings, to massacres of people of other faiths, and to eruptions of collective hysteria with a call for "cultural dialogue" don't deserve any better.

"The West should desist from engaging in all provocations that produce feelings of debasement and humiliation," says psychoanalyst Horst-Eberhard Richter. "We should show greater respect for the cultural identity of Muslim countries. ... For Muslims, it is important to be recognized and respected as equals." In Richter's view, what the Muslims need is "a partnership of equals."

But Richter neglects to describe what this partnership might look like. Does achieving such equality mean that we should set up separate sections for women on buses, as is the custom in Saudi Arabia? Should the marrying age for girls be reduced to 12, as is the case in Iran? And should death by stoning be our punishment for adultery, as Shariah law demands? What else could the West do to show its respect for the cultural identity of Islamic countries? Would it be sufficient to allow Horst-Eberhard Richter to decide whether, for example, a wet T-shirt contest in a German city rises to a level of criminal provocation that could cause the Muslim faithful in Hyderabad to feel debased and humiliated?

The discussion over which provocations WE should put an end to so that THEY do not feel upset inexorably leads to the realm of the absurd.

Should devout Jews be entitled to demand that non-Jews give up pork? And should they have the power to impose sanctions if their demands are not met? Can a Hindu in India run amok because the Dutch do not view cows as sacred beings? Those who believe Muslims have the right to be outraged by the Danes failing to abide by an Islamic prohibition -- especially when it's not even clear that such a prohibition even exists -- must answer such questions clearly in the affirmative. Even illiterates must then be allowed to ransack bookstores; in a world in which anyone is entitled to feel offended and humiliated, anyone can also choose which provocations he is unwilling to accept.

The comments made by German pastor Burkhard Müller on Feb. 11, 2005 on "Wort zum Sonntag," a weekly Christian program aired on the ARD public television network, demonstrate just how far we are willing to go when it comes to denying reality. "Islam is a great religion," Müller said, only minutes after the previous news program had shown scenes of burning flags, devastated embassies and holy warriors yelling "death to the infidels!" Where does it come from, this determination to disregard the facts or conveniently distort them so that they cloud our perception of reality?

A natural tendency to avoid conflict

It comes from fear. Fear may be a poor counselor, but when it comes to educating the masses, there is no more effective tool. Mao famously said: "Strike one to educate one hundred" -- an axiom that helped him solidify his power.

It is not respect for other cultures which influences behavior, but rather the awareness of just how fanatic and ruthless our adversaries are. The wilder and more brutal they appear to be, the more likely they are to attract attention and gain respect. Whether venturing into unfamiliar territory means taking a walk in a different neighborhood or visiting a foreign culture, our natural tendency is to avoid conflict.

"Nowadays acts of terrorism are not committed for their own sake, but in the name of an ideology one could call Nazi-Islamism," Romanian-American author Norman Manea told the German daily Die Welt in March 2004. The only difference, in Manea's view, is "that this ideology invokes a religion, whereas the Nazis were mythical without being religious." Manea believes that what he calls a "World War III" has already begun. "The Europeans are putting off the recognition -- as they did in the 1930s -- of the tremendous tragedy that awaits them and that has, in fact, already arrived."

This sounds like an extreme exaggeration, conjuring up visions of a Day of Judgment, of an Apocalypse Now! Of course, in 1938 hardly anyone could have imagined where the policy of appeasing the Nazis would lead. History does not repeat itself, and yet there are parallels that do not bode well. The willingness to submit to self-deception is as widespread today as it was in the years leading up to World War II.

In late June 2006, every German paper reported the sensational news that Hamas was willing to recognize Israel. But the reports were not based on a binding declaration issued by the ruling prime minister and member of Hamas, but on a document drawn up by Palestinians in Israeli jails who were seeking to re-establish "national unity" between the warring Hamas and Fatah groups. The headline on the front page of Die Welt read: "Hamas Indirectly Recognizes Israel." The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote: "Hamas Apparently Ready to Recognize Israel." "Hamas Gives Way -- Indirect Recognition of Israel," wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The Frankfurter Rundschau rejoiced over the "Recognition of Israel in the Middle of a Crisis," which the paper's Jerusalem correspondent described as a "manifesto for a state within the 1967 borders, which can be seen as an indirect recognition of Israel." The Berliner Zeitung went a step further when it wrote "Hamas Recognizes Israel," commenting in the corresponding article on the "realization of a necessity" and that Hamas had come to terms "with Israel's existence" and would accept a "two-state solution."

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