Editor's Notes: Turban-bomb tragedy

The dominant response to publication of the Muhammad cartoon only underlines the original illustrated barb.

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
Among the most potent of the 12 cartoons that have so enraged many of the world's Muslims is the one that shows the Prophet Muhammad with a lighted bomb in the folds of his turban. While several of the "offending" cartoons were in any case entirely benign, this one is particularly powerful because of the very simplicity and clarity of its message - that some of the prophet's purported devotees are invoking his name, his teachings, his faith, to kill fellow human beings; they are asserting that it is in the fulfillment of his will that they commit murder. Cartoons and caricatures often hold up a kind of looking glass to society - like one of those concave and convex mirrors you see at the circus that distort your body proportions - to highlight and skewer what the artist deems worthy of visual comment. But the pity of the turban-bomb prophet cartoon lies in the very lack of distortion needed to make its all-too-valid point: Islam has been hijacked. Many of its professed spiritual leaders and their adherents invoke Allah in declaring their lust to kill their fellow humans and themselves, and many of those who insist that this is a terrible perversion of a gentle, humane religion have, nevertheless, been cowed into reticence, even silence, by the extremists. That the dominant response to publication of these cartoons has been incandescent anger, the burning of flags, the torching of embassies and legations, deaths and injuries in clashes with security forces and dire threats of murderous revenge only underlines the original illustrated barb. Leveling accusations of insensitivity and bias and blasphemy, responding with violence and vowing more, the would-be defenders vindicate the very critique they claim is so outrageous. It would be ironic were it not tragic. Muslims who feel themselves to be misunderstood and misrepresented, adherents who subscribe to a benign faith and lament its growing image as a vicious one, might reasonably respond to these caricatures with sorrowful acknowledgement of the damage the extremists are doing to the good name of their religion, and a determination to rectify that harm via a publicized reassertion of humane and moderate values. Some Muslim leaders and opinion-shapers, to their credit, have done precisely that. A "we are sorry" Web site founded by Muslims in Scandinavia is extolling Islamic tolerance. And it is worth highlighting the common sense of Jihad al-Momani, editor of a Jordanian weekly, Shihan, who printed some of the cartoons and who, in an editorial headlined "Muslims of the world, be reasonable," wondered: "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?" His answer was not long in coming. He was fired. UNSURPRISINGLY, IRAN is attempting to remake the cartoonists' pen-and-pencil indictment of Islamic extremism as yet another plot hatched by us Elders of Zion - "a conspiracy by Zionists who were angry because of the victory of Hamas," in the words of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Only slightly more surprising, given their track record, is the effort by some in the West to assist in Teheran's deception rather than endorsing the critical need for Islamic introspection and change and condemning the deplorable surge in violence. The Jerusalem Post chose not to republish the incendiary cartoons. We had no desire to provide ammunition for Islamic extremists to place Israel at the heart of their latest display of brutal intolerance. At the same time, while the cartoons are readily accessible on various Web sites, we felt that the readers of our print edition ought to have some sense of what it was that people in our region were burning embassies and threatening massacres over. And so, as you may have seen, on an inside page of our Monday paper we carried a one-column wide reproduction of the original page of the offending Danish daily Jyllands-Posten - the cartoon page, that is, scaled down to perhaps a fortieth of its original size. Ma'ariv, incidentally, had done the same a day before. (Israel TV's Channel 1, by contrast, prominently showed the cartoons.) Britain's Guardian newspaper, which this week has carried reams of copy from its correspondent here examining the "explosive comparison" between Israel and apartheid South Africa, promptly and inaccurately reported on its Web site that "The Jerusalem Post today became the first Israeli newspaper to publish the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that have sparked furore across the Muslim world." The Guardian's excited effort to haul Israel to the center of the cartoon battlefield on the strength of what it acknowledged, lower in its text, was "A facsimile of the original page from the Danish paper... one column wide and about two-and-a-half inches high," was dwarfed, however, by the hysterical reaction of the Norwegian press and government. Two leading Norwegian newspapers not only asserted, as the lead item on their Web sites, that the Post had published the cartoons, but were so kind as to manufacture our reason for doing so. "The English-language paper says it is publishing the drawings to enable people to understand the Muslim reaction," one of the sites reported, quite unperturbed by the fact that "the English-language paper" had not said anything at all. If distance may have bred confusion for the Norwegian media, at least Norway's diplomats in Israel knew the truth. Indeed, a Norwegian diplomat even telephoned our office to inquire politely whether we did intend to publish the full-sized cartoons in the paper at a later stage, and was told that we had no such plans. Curiously, this did not prevent Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, no less, from rushing to issue a statement criticizing the Post for its unwise publication of the caricatures, noting the insult to Muslim religious beliefs and values, and reminding us that freedom of speech is to be used with sensibility. This is the same Norway, of course, whose Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen recently urged a boycott of Israeli goods to underline displeasure at Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians. (She subsequently reversed the demand.) And this is the same foreign minister who, also last month, declared that Norway would no longer follow the EU's lead in designating terrorist organizations - a move that means Norway may no longer apply EU-style restrictions on dealings with the likes of Hamas and the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Norway explained at the time that its "continued alignment" with the EU risked jeopardizing its role as a potential peacemaker. "The government wants to intensify these efforts," Store noted, "and we must therefore avoid a situation that makes it more difficult for us to have contact with any of the parties to a conflict." With Norwegians like these on board as honest brokers, determinedly exploring relations with groups of gunmen the benighted rest of us insist on calling terrorists, surely the quelling of Islamic ire at cartoonists, Danes, Zionists et al, not to mention Iranian legitimization of Israel, the annulment of the Hamas charter, the disarming of Hizbullah, and a new era of coexistence and Middle East harmony, cannot now be far away.