Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Triumph of Thuggery

May 2006


The key issue at stake in the battle over the twelve Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad is this: Will the West stand up for its customs and mores, including freedom of speech, or will Muslims impose their way of life on the West? (Daniel Pipes) 

What the furor about the Danish cartoons has exposed is the double standard applied by the mainstream media. They like to pride themselves on being courageous defenders of our basic freedoms. But when the crunch is on and when real courage is called for in the face of Muslim fury, the very same defenders of freedom turn tail.  

They enthusiastically defend the freedom of artists to offend Christians by “artwork” that ridicules the most sacred elements of the Christian faith. Furthermore, the same media is quite prepared to depict Christians as a threat to the public interest and therefore unsuited for public service. There is no risk in that, for Christians will not issue bloodcurdling fatwas or send out suicide bombers. 


In contrast, the very same critics of Christianity have developed very sensitive feelings toward Muslims, especially Muslims aroused to anger over what they consider to be insults to their religion. At least a few in the media are forthright enough to admit that they are motivated by fear. The editors of the weekly Boston Phoenix had the honesty to admit that their decision not to publish the Danish cartoons was based on: 

fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history. 

This is a remarkable statement for two reasons. First, it is a chilling description of the depth of humiliation suffered by a major American organization, which in its own words has been forced to betray the very reason of its existence. It is painful to see this event described as possibly “the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.”  

This surrender to the fear of violence is the more offensive for taking place in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” This is the country that has dispatched many thousands of soldiers who at the risk of their lives are helping to free other countries from the very same tyranny to which the Boston Phoenix felt compelled to capitulate.    

Second, it is this very honesty of this editor that deserves respect. To write as he does about “bloodthirsty Islamists,” “being terrorized”, and about bending to “maniacal pressure,” in the current climate is itself an act of courage. It reminds us of that Italian man who was taken captive by Iraqi terrorists but refused to beg for mercy and died while defying the criminals who murdered him in cold blood. 

 I realize this analogy does not quite work, but one should respect courage wherever it is found on the side of the good. That’s why I find the media’s explanations for not publishing the cartoons so hypocritical, especially when they claim that their decision rests on respect for the sensitivities of Muslims.  


In an editorial on February 4, the Toronto Star proclaimed its abiding belief in our hallowed freedom of expression, even the freedom to offend. It found the violent outbreak of destruction and invective by crowds of rioting Muslims in many parts of the world “out of proportion to the offence.”  

But it considered the cartoons “problematic for another reason,” namely, they “bait Muslims and risk inciting hatred by equating Islam with terror and evil.”  The editor also found the cartoons “gratuitously offensive,” and therefore did not print them, though he affirmed the paper’s right to do so.  

The editorial proceeds nicely to balance the hate-filled anti-Semitic cartoons in Arab countries with the offending Danish cartoons. The former are extreme in their visceral contempt of the Jewish people all the while inciting their readers to destroy Israel.

The disputed Danish cartoons are mild in comparison. (The National Post of February 7, 2006 displayed a page of the kind of demeaning and cruel cartoons that are a regular feature in the Arab press.)  

 In true moral-equivalence fashion, the Toronto Star refuses to denounce in plain language the Islamist-orchestrated rampage of destruction and the threats on the lives of Danish citizens. All it can muster in the face of such evil is to say that it is “out of proportion to the offence.”  

It’s bad enough that a paper refuses to come to the aid of its own endangered kind and take a stand against the enemies of freedom, but then to claim for itself the moral high ground is doubly insulting. Compared to that, the Boston Phoenix’s admission that it acted in fear is refreshing for its honesty, especially since it then proceeds to describe exactly the evil it is up against, namely Islamist-inspired terrorism. 

The Media’s Priority

What should be a priority for the media is simply to speak truthfully about events. On that score it does not take brilliance to sense that this cartoon controversy was deliberately exploited to fire up Muslim crowds into a frenzy of hatred and violence.  

Muslim leaders, including the Danish imam Ahmed Akkari, contrived to make matters worse by displaying three cartoons that were never published, but they were degrading and far worse than the ones in the Jylland Posten. The instigators have gone out of their way to inflame crowds of protesters who called for the death of cartoonists, destroyed the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, began boycotting Danish products and  beating up shopkeepers who sell them, and generally, unleashed a mindless fury that is part and parcel of an ongoing campaign of contempt for the democratic West.  

It needs to be stressed that the main issue in the Danish cartoon controversy is not the cartoons themselves, whether they are well crafted, wise or foolish, or even whether they strayed into the area of religion where cartoons should not enter. 

The real issue is the one articulated by Daniel Pipes at the outset of this article.  Flemming Rose, the editor of the Danish paper in which the cartoons appeared, similarly pointed out that if Muslims insist “that I, as a non-Muslim, should submit to their taboos…they are asking for my submission.”  

In other words, what is at stake here is the imperialistic ambitions of a certain kind of Muslims who trace that ambition directly to the Koran, their final and absolute authority in all things, including the affairs of state. They believe that it is their sacred duty to follow their revered prophet in seeking to convert the whole world to the will of Allah.  

In such a world, democracy is really a form of blasphemy, and Christians and Jewish people are the chief obstacles. The good news is that a few in the Western media and among the political leadership are aware that the real conflict is between the free (as yet) West and a tyrannical form of Islam. They refuse to submit. 

An Appalling Precedent

The bad news is that a great many in the West do not want to confront this ugly reality. Many are prepared to cave in while thinking that at least they will be able to enjoy peace in their time. Even the Danish paper has apologized for publishing the cartoons, no doubt influenced by the boycott of Danish goods sold in the Muslim world. In fact the surrender of the Danish authorities was complete in the form of an agreement that will end the boycott. And herein lies a message that is deeply unsettling. 

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a terrorist apologist who led the anti-Denmark campaign, recently announced an end to the boycott of Danish products. This announcement came at an “International Conference for Supporting the Prophet” in Bahrain, attended by some 300 Muslim clerics. Also in attendance were representatives of Arla Foods, the Danish company that reportedly lost millions of dollars in forfeited sales.

This company published a groveling statement of respect for Islam in Saudi newspapers. In addition, on March 26, it inserted a full-page advertisement in 25 countries, including the claim that because the company had gained insight into the Muslim culture and values over many years, it had been able to provide high quality products to its customers in the Middle East. 

But there is more along this line. The terms of the deal with these Muslim countries had been decided at a conference of the Danish Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen. There, Amr Khaled, an Egyptian preacher had indicated that the boycott could end if the Danes would show their goodwill by financing initiatives in the Middle East, such as help for small businesses or health care.  

Khaled had made his intentions very clear by stating on his Web site: “We will not accept a symbolic apology. We want them to take actions that prove their respect for the Prophet.” Arla got the message and offered to start such humanitarian projects as helping disabled children and cancer sufferers.  

While this shakedown was happening, the Danes received no help from other countries. They were on their own, and their humiliation was complete. The pious clerics proved themselves to be masters in the practice of bald-faced extortion. As Andrew Apostolou put it: “The beauty of the deal for supposed men of religion like Qaradawi is that the victim, Arla, is shaken down for the privilege of no longer being unfairly targeted.” (National Post, April 26, 2006)

Apostolou rightly described this episode as “a victory for thuggery and extortion over free speech.” And he predicts that the “lack of resistance to the vilification of Denmark by Middle Eastern regimes and their pet theologianssets an appalling precedent.” 

A Phony Accusation

Closer to home, the upstart magazine, Western Standard, headed by the feisty Ezra Levant and editor Kevin Libin was the lonely Canadian publication that published the contested cartoons (in its February 27 edition). The magazine was inundated with thousands of letters and e-mails – most in support, though also a substantial number against. 

The response from others in the media was a mixture of off-the-record admiration and a high-minded claim of moral superiority for not publishing the cartoons out of respect for the Muslim faith. Leading politicians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper,  criticized the magazine, and major book outlets refused to carry the issue in which the cartoons were published. There was much clucking of tongues and shaking of heads. 

 The Western Standard took some precautions and hired extra security, but it did not encounter any violence or threats. Instead, it is now faced with the charge of hate mongering lodged by imam Syed Soharwardy, a Saudi trained imam who now heads the impressive sounding Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.   

Soharwardy first unsuccessfully tried to lay a charge against Western Standard with the Calgary police. The imam had more success with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which has agreed to pursue this complaint. This means that Western Standard is now forced to defend itself against a complaint that even according to Alan Borovoy, architect of the human rights commissions in Canada, amounts to abuse of this legislation.  

If the Western Standard eventually wins this case, it is still forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars and an untold number of hours to defend itself. If it loses, it will mean a loss not only for that magazine but something much worse. 

It will mean that we are responsible for squandering the precious freedom for which thousands sacrificed their lives in the past and some are doing so even till this day. It will be an utterly shameful day, most all because we will have bargained away the future of our children. 

However, I find it hard to believe that this charge against the Western Standard will be upheld, though it is troublesome that it is not rejected out of hand. So let’s assume for the moment that this frivolous complaint will be dismissed. Even when that happens, the enemies of freedom will still score an important point; this complaint will have a chilling effect on all future public discussions about Islam. This kind of experience tends to make cowards out of most of us, as the public debate about this controversy has made abundantly clear.  

In short, the Western Standard is right in defending itself against those who, bolstered by an imperialistic religious zeal, seek to curtail the freedom of belief and expression in this country. What is doubly annoying is that in their efforts to control and intimidate, these Muslims exploit the legislation and procedures that are rooted in our tradition of freedom and fairness.

This is not to condemn all Muslims, but to draw attention to the fact that there is a branch of radical Islam that seeks to impose a system of government totally alien to the best in Western tradition.  

Three cheers for the men and women of the Western Standard.

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