SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE

01/25/2007 05:08 PM

The West and Islam

"Hurray! We're Capitulating!"

By Henryk M. Broder

The prevailing feeling among Muslims is that they are being abused by the West. What should we do about it? We might as well surrender. After all, we're already on our way.

This essay is an excerpt of Henryk M. Broder's book "Hurra, Wir Kapitulieren," ("Hurray! We're Capitulating") published by Wolf Jobst Siedler Verlag in 2006. The book spent a number of weeks atop the DER SPIEGEL bestseller list.

Buring an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI in Baghdad. But then again, he did offend them.
AFP

Buring an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI in Baghdad. But then again, he did offend them.

Ten years ago, in the spring of 1996, the world still seemed more or less okay. The towers of the World Trade Center dominated the Manhattan skyline, the American president had an affair with an intern, the Helmut Kohl era was coming to an end in Germany, and intellectuals killed time by debating over whether Francis Fukuyama was right in claiming that we have reached the "end of history" and whether capitalism had truly triumphed or socialism had merely lost the first round. In those days few were aware of the fine distinction between Islam and Islamism.

One had to look very closely to recognize the first signs of a brewing crisis. In Berlin, the Rote Grütze theater group was performing an enlightening piece called "Who Said Anything About Love?" To advertise the play, posters depicting a young man and a young woman, naked and full of innocence, were handed out in schools.

The schools had no qualms about displaying the posters, until a school official from Berlin's Tiergarten district requested a permit from the city's education authority. The agency turned down the request, arguing that the poster could hurt "the feelings of non-Christian pupils." The education authority was acting preventively and with what amounted to exaggerated concern for a cultural minority that had yet to be integrated into permissive German society. No Muslim pupils had complained about hurt feelings, nor had their parents expressed concerns about immoral harassment.

That was 10 years ago. Today everything has changed, except the resolve not to hurt the feelings of Muslims. The issue today no longer revolves around a group of Berlin pupils with an "immigration background," but around 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide -- many of whom are thin-skinned and unpredictable. At issue is freedom of opinion, one of the central tenets of the Enlightenment and democracy. And whether respect, consideration and tolerance are the right approach to dealing with cultures that, for their part, behave without respect, consideration or tolerance when it comes to anything they view as decadent, provocative and unworthy -- from women in short skirts to cartoons they deem provocative without even having seen them.

The controversy over the 12 Muhammad cartoons that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and led to worldwide protests and unrest among Muslims was merely a taste of what is to come, a dress rehearsal for the kinds of disputes Europe can expect to face in the future if it does not rethink its current policy of appeasement. As was the case in the 1930s, when Czechoslovakia was sacrificed in the interest of peace under the Munich Agreement -- a move that ultimately did nothing to prevent World War II -- Europeans today also believe that an adversary, seemingly invincible due to a preference for death over life, can be mollified by good behavior, concessions and submission. All the Europeans can hope to gain in this asymmetric conflict is a temporary reprieve, a honeymoon period that could last 10, 20, or maybe even 50 years. Anyone on death row breathes a sigh of relief when his execution is postponed to some indefinite time in the future.

The uproar over the Muhammad cartoons was symptomatic precisely because what triggered it was so insignificant. The drawings themselves were unbelievably harmless.

Freedom of expression in conformity with Shariah

It took two weeks for "spontaneous" protests to begin. On Oct. 14, 2005, 3,000 Muslims staged a demonstration on Copenhagen's town hall square after Friday prayers. In a letter to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ambassadors from 11 Islamic countries demanded that he take the "necessary steps" to avert an abuse of Islam. Rasmussen responded that it was not his responsibility to discipline journalists, and he refused to schedule a meeting with the irate ambassadors. The Egyptian foreign minister got the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) involved soon after. The OIC had already made clear what it wanted in its "Declaration of Human Rights in Islam" in 1990: "All have the right to freely express their opinions in a manner that does not run counter to Shariah law." In essence, what the OIC wanted was to compel Western nations to bring their form of freedom of expression into conformity with Shariah law.

Then a delegation of Danish Muslims traveled to the Muslim world, carrying a folder with the 12 cartoons from Jyllands-Posten, as well as of three significantly more provocative drawings in their luggage. The three drawings portrayed the Prophet as a pedophile devil, with pigs' ears and having sex with a dog. Where the bonus material came from and how it found its way into the documentation remains unclear to this day. But clearly someone was interested in generating the appropriate reaction. Newspapers in Arab countries promptly wrote that the Danish media had portrayed Muhammad as a pig, the original 12 cartoons magically turned into 120 drawings, and the Danish government was accused of being behind the whole thing.

The West has values worth defending. Doesn't it?
AFP

The West has values worth defending. Doesn't it?

European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels on Jan. 30, 2006 to discuss the crisis. Some believed that Denmark had missed its chance to resolve the conflict on its own. The foreign minister of Luxembourg wasn't just speaking for his own country when he said that the entire affair was "more a Danish than a European problem." The Austrian foreign minister went even further when she said: "statements and actions that degrade a religion in an offensive way should be clearly condemned." Even the Americans abandoned their Danish allies. During the course of a single day, three State Department spokesmen used adjectives like "unacceptable," "offensive" and "objectionable." Muslims got the message.

A year ago on Feb. 3, 2006, a "Day of Anger" was proclaimed. Across the Muslim world, the Muhammad cartoons were the focus of Friday prayers. Millions of Muslims who couldn't even locate Denmark on a map demonstrated against these insults to the Prophet, incited by their imams. The embassies of Denmark and Norway were set on fire in Damascus, the Danish embassy was torched in Beirut, firebombs were hurled at the Danish consulate in Tehran, and Danish and Norwegian flags were burned in Nigeria and Algeria.

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."

Part III: Self deception at least offers some succor

At least one of the Berliner Zeitung's assumptions wasn't entirely made up. Hamas had expressed a willingness to accept two Palestinian states, one in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967 and one on Israeli territory within the 1967 borders. But the prisoners' document did not even suggest a "recognition" of the Zionist state, no matter how "indirect." It existed solely in the minds of commentators. Fortunately various Hamas spokespeople quickly provided much-needed clarity, assuring the world that Hamas had absolutely no intention of recognizing Israel, directly or indirectly, and in fact was determined to continue its armed struggle to liberate Palestine.

The Europeans' wishful thinking stems from their need to avoid conflicts, coupled with a strong survival instinct. They may perceive reality, but they do so selectively.

The Berlin office of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has published a paper describing the consequences of an American nuclear strike against Iran. According to its scenario, more than 2 million people would die within the first 48 hours, and another million would suffer serious injuries. Ten million would be exposed to high levels of radiation. But one question the paper neither poses nor answers is this: What would be the consequential damage of an Iranian nuclear attack once the country is capable of producing and using a nuclear bomb?

No one wants to address this question, and for good reason: No one knows how to prevent an Iranian nuclear attack, or even how to influence the Iranians' policies. In contrast, there is a very small but real possibility that public pressure can be used to influence the American government to move in one direction or another. The proponents of peace whose protests are directed against America's plans to attack Iran and not against the mullahs' nuclear policies are well aware of this difference. They are not blind in one eye, as they are often accused of being, but instead have a clear view of everything that is happening. And they are as delighted as children discovering a surprise. "Peace Signals from Tehran," the Berliner Zeitung wrote ecstatically in early July, when Iran did not for once flatly reject one of the European Union's many proposed compromises, but instead declared that it would "give it serious consideration."

"We capitulate"

For those facing a hopeless situation and powerless to change it, self-deception offers at least some succor.

Another option is "change through ingratiation." Oskar Lafontaine, a one-time chairman of the Social Democratic Party and German chancellor candidate, sees "commonalities between leftist policies and the Islamic religion." In an interview with Neues Deutschland, he says: "Islam depends on community, which places it in opposition to extreme individualism, which threatens to fail in the West. The second similarity is that the devout Muslim is required to share his wealth with others. The leftist also wants to see the strong help the weak. Finally, the prohibition of interest still plays a role in Islam, much as it once did in Christianity. At a time when entire economies are plunging into crisis because their expectations of returns on investment have become totally absurd, there is a basis for a dialogue to be conducted between the left and the Islamic world."

Lafontaine called upon the West to exercise self-criticism ("We must constantly ask ourselves through which eyes the Muslims see us") and expressed sympathy for the "indignation" of Muslims. According to Lafontaine, "people in Muslim countries have experienced many indignities, one of the most recent being the Iraq war. What we are seeing here is resource imperialism."

In examining similarities between Islam and the European left, though, Lafontaine ignored an important point: how long he would survive without his beloved Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc if a union between leftist politics and the Islamic religion truly came about. His dialogue with the Muslim world would have to be conducted while sipping fruit juice and mineral water. "If you can't beat them, join them!"

All the events of last spring are only a foretaste of something much bigger, something still unnamed. And when it ends, those who have managed to escape will ask themselves: Why didn't we see the handwriting on the wall when there was still time? If Muslim protests against a few harmless cartoons can cause the free world to capitulate in the face of violence, how will this free world react to something that is truly relevant? It is already difficult enough to see that Israel is not merely battling a few militants, but is facing a serious threat to its very existence from Iran. All too often it is ignored that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already taken the first step by calling for "a world without Zionism" -- a call that pro-Israel Europeans only managed to condemn with a mild, "unacceptable." How would they react if Iran were in a position to back up its threats with nuclear weapons?

In 1972, more than three decades ago, Danish lawyer and part-time politician Mogens Glistrup had an idea that brought him instant fame. To save taxes, he proposed that the Danish army be disbanded and an answering machine be set up in the defense ministry that would play the following message: "We capitulate!" Not only would it save money, Glistrup argued, but it would also save lives in an emergency. On the strength of this "program," Glistrup's Progress Party managed to become the second-most powerful political party in the Danish parliament in the 1973 elections.

Glistrup had the right idea, but he was a number of years premature. Now would be the right time to set up his answering machine.

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