Thursday, February 09, 2006

Time to End It?

Alan Stewart Carl says The Muhammad cartoons have jumped the shark.

The mass republishing of the cartoons also served a good purpose as it showed the radical Muslims that our culture of free speech cannot be subdued—that we as Westerners are united in our commitment to freedom and condemnation of radical Islam.

I am glad for the original publication of these cartoons and glad they were republished all over Europe, America and elsewhere.

But the usefulness of these cartoons has ended. We’ve proved how incompatible much of Islam is with Western values. We’ve proved our commitment to free speech. Now we’re just poking a rabid dog with a sharp stick. There’s no sense to that.

It's an honest and heartfelt statement from one who is no appeaser.

And the always-worthwhile Bruce Bawser says, as long as the protests keep happening, keep running the toons.

[W]hat’s happening here is that a gang of bullies—led by a country, Saudi Arabia, where Bibles are forbidden, Christians tortured, Jews routinely labeled “apes and pigs” in the state-controlled media, and apostasy from Islam punished by death—is trying to compel a tiny democracy to live by its own theocratic rules. To succumb to pressure from this gang would simply be to invite further pressure, and lead to further concessions—not just by Denmark but by all of democratic Europe. And when they’ve tamed Europe, they’ll come after America.

After all, the list of Western phenomena that offend the sensibilities of many Muslims is a long one—ranging from religious liberty, sexual equality, and the right of gay people not to have a wall dropped on them, to music, alcohol, dogs, and pork. After a few Danish cartoons, what’s next?

Carl writes, correctly, that we're going to have to stop reprinting them at some point, and whenever that happens the Islamists will claim they won and we backed down.

Step back and look at this "row" for a minute. How will we know when to stop fighting? There's no measure of victory in this; there's no arbiter who will say "the West has won." And there can be no flag-lowering, no surrender by the other side here, because we're not really fighting in any real sense. The secular West and Islam are merely barking at one another at the length of their chains. It's more like an Internet message board troll brouhaha than a real global clash. "Flame War of Civilizations"?

Wars you can win. Arguments, where the two sides don't even listen to one another, where the values of one side are completely bewildering to the other (and where the Muslims have a very different set of cartoon evidence than we have), you can't.

It would be nice to say, "we've made our point," and move on, as Carl advocates. But the West never will speak with one voice, and when things like this are happening, it's clear that the Islamic civilization will regard us, again, as weak and divided in contrast to their awesome expression of single-minded rage. In the West, we bickered among ourselves -- as they will see it, while in Dar al'Islam, the faithful burned and chanted, while the weak stayed home with the curtains drawn.

I think Carl is right. This is not our best fight; it's not a battleground we wish to stand on for a long time. It works best for us as a quick demonstration of liberties. It's probably time to move on.

But the clash has exposed something in us. Tolerance, and the sort of cultural politeness that now is lumped under the heading "political correctness," truly are Western values. The ominous absence of them on the other side is now clear to every one of us. The Right often scorns these words as shibboleths of the Left, for it is in some quarters on the left that they have, in fact, been set up as supreme values, trumping even freedom of expression.

But the Right is mistaken. Tolerance and cross-cultural respect are not our supreme values. But neither are they false gods. Tolerance underlays the entire American experience. It is no less necessary to us than our liberty.

Yet the contradiction lurking in the heart of Western tolerance never has been resolved. It makes liberals squirm, but conservatives should take no pleasure in that unless they, too, have an answer:

How do you tolerate the intolerant?