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I long ago lost count of the number of times I've switched on the TV and seen crazy guys jumping up and down in the street torching the Stars and Stripes and yelling "Death to the Great Satan!" Or torching the Union Jack and yelling "Death to the Original If Now Somewhat Arthritic And Semi-Retired Satan!" But I never thought I'd switch on the TV and see the excitable young lads jumping up and down in Jakarta, Lahore, Aden, Hebron, etc., etc., torching the flag of Denmark.
Denmark! Even if you were overcome with a sudden urge to burn the Danish flag, where do you get one in a hurry in Gaza? Well, okay, that's easy: the nearest European Union Humanitarian Aid and Intifada-Funding Branch Office. But where do you get one in an obscure town on the Punjabi plain on a Thursday afternoon? If I had a sudden yen to burn the Yemeni or Sudanese flag on my village green, I haven't a clue how I'd get hold of one in my corner of New Hampshire.
Say what you like about the Islamic world, they show tremendous initiative and energy and inventiveness, at least when it comes to threatening death to the infidels every 48 hours for one perceived offense or another. If only it could be channeled into, say, a small software company, what an economy they'd have.
STILL, THIS small detail alone suggests a degree of careful contrivance about this latest explosion of the famously incendiary Muslim street - even before one takes into account the fact that the most offensive "Danish cartoons" of the Prophet Mohammed disseminated by the mullahs to their excitable young followers were three fakes added to the 12 published by Jyllands-Posten, presumably because the originals weren't offensive enough.
Incidentally, a question for those demonstrators calling for the cartoonists to be beheaded: Do you want the fellows who drew the three fakes beheaded, too? Presumably they're Muslims, and surely if it's offensive for a non-Muslim to draw Mohammed, it's an act of apostasy for a believer to do so. Will they be beheaded extra slowly? Using the rusty scimitar?
Meanwhile, back in Copenhagen, the Danes are a little bewildered to find that this time it's plucky little Denmark who's caught the eye of the nutters. The cartoons aren't particularly good and they were intended to be provocative. But they had a serious point.
Before coming to that, we should note that in the Western world "artists" "provoke" with the same numbing regularity as young Muslim men light up other countries' flags. When Tony Award-winning author Terence McNally writes a Broadway play in which Jesus has gay sex with Judas, The New York Times and company rush to garland him with praise for how "brave" and "challenging" he is. The rule for "brave," "transgressive" "artists" is a simple one: If you're going to be provocative, it's best to do it with people who can't be provoked.
THUS, NBC planned to celebrate Easter this year with a special edition of the gay sitcom Will & Grace, in which a Christian Conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes - "Cruci-fixin's." On the other hand, the same network, in its coverage of the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of "respect" for the Muslim faith.
Which means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice-president's home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.
Jyllands-Posten wasn't being offensive for the sake of it. It had a serious point - or, at any rate, a more serious one than Britney Spears or Terence McNally. The cartoons accompanied a piece about the dangers of "self-censorship" - i.e., a climate in which there's no explicit law forbidding you to address the more, er, lively aspects of Islam but nonetheless everyone feels it's better not to.
That's the question the Danish newspaper was testing: the weakness of free societies in the face of intimidation by militant Islam.
ONE DAY, years from now, as archeologists sift through the ruins of an ancient civilization for clues to its downfall, they'll marvel at how easy it all was. You don't need to fly jets into skyscrapers and kill thousands of people. As a matter of fact, that's a bad strategy, because even the wimpiest state will feel obliged to respond. But if you frame the issue in terms of multicultural "sensitivity," the wimp state will bend over backwards to give you everything you want - including, eventually, the keys to those skyscrapers. Thus Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, hailed the "sensitivity" of Fleet Street in not reprinting the offending cartoons.
No doubt he's similarly impressed by the "sensitivity" of Anne Owers, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, for prohibiting the flying of the English national flag in English prisons on the grounds that it shows the cross of St. George, which was used by the Crusaders and thus is offensive to Muslims. And no doubt he's impressed by the "sensitivity" of Burger King which withdrew its ice cream cones from its British menus because Mr. Rashad Akhtar of High Wycombe complained that the creamy swirl shown on the lid looked like the word "Allah" in Arabic script. I don't know which sura in the Koran says don't forget, folks, it's not just physical representations of God or the Prophet but also chocolate ice-cream squiggly representations of the name, but ixnay on both just to be "sensitive."
AND DOUBTLESS the British foreign secretary also appreciates the "sensitivity" of the owner of France-Soir, who fired his editor for republishing the Danish cartoons. And the "sensitivity" of the Dutch film director Albert Ter Heerdt, who canceled the sequel to his hit multicultural comedy Shouf Shouf Habibi! on the grounds that "I don't want a knife in my chest" - which is what happened to the last Dutch film director to make a movie about Islam: Theo van Gogh, on whose "right to dissent" all those Hollywood blowhards are strangely silent. Perhaps they're just being "sensitive," too.
And perhaps the British Foreign Secretary also admires the "sensitivity" of those Dutch public figures who once spoke out against the intimidatory aspects of Islam and have now opted for diplomatic silence and life under 24-hour armed guard. And maybe he even admires the "sensitivity" of the increasing numbers of Dutch people who dislike the pervasive fear and tension in certain parts of the Netherlands and so have emigrated to Canada and New Zealand.
Very few societies are genuinely multicultural. Most are bicultural: On the one hand, there are folks who are black, white, gay, straight, pre-op transsexual, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, worshipers of global-warming doom-mongers, and they rub along as best they can. And on the other hand are folks who do not accept the give-and-take, the rough-and-tumble of a "diverse" "tolerant" society. When one gently raises the matter of their intolerance, they threaten to kill you, which makes the question somewhat moot.
One day the British foreign secretary will wake up and discover that, in practice, there's very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and Shari'a. As a famously sensitive Dane once put it, "To be or not to be, that is the question."
The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.
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