The central issue of the “cartoon jihad”–the Muslim riots and death threats against a Danish newspaper that printed 12 cartoons depicting Mohammed–is obvious. The issue is freedom of speech: whether our freedom to think, write, and draw is to be subjugated to the “religious sensitivities” of anyone who threatens us with force.

That is why it is necessary for every newspaper and magazine to re-publish those cartoons, as I will do in the next print issue of The Intellectual Activist.

This is not merely a symbolic expression of support; it is a practical countermeasure against censorship. Censorship–especially the violent, anarchic type threatened by Muslim fanatics–is effective only when it can isolate a specific victim, making him feel as if he alone bears the brunt of the danger. What intimidates an artist or writer is not simply some Arab fanatic in the street carrying a placard that reads “Behead those who insult Islam.” What intimidates him is the feeling that, when the beheaders come after him, he will be on his own, with no allies or defenders–that everyone else will be too cowardly to stick their necks out.

The answer, for publishers, is to tell the Muslim fanatics that they can’t single out any one author, or artist, or publication. The answer is to show that we’re all united in defying the fanatics.

That’s what it means to show “solidarity” by re-publishing the cartoons. The message we need to send is: if you want to kill anyone who publishes those cartoons, or anyone who makes cartoons of Mohammed, then you’re going to have to kill us all. If you make war on one independent mind, you’re making war on all of us. And we’ll fight back.

But the issue of freedom of speech is too clear, and too well settled, in the West, to be worth spending much time debating it. What is far more interesting is the fact that such a debate is occurring, nonetheless.

This is a fact from which the Western world can draw some crucially important conclusions.

The West has long been aware that, while we hold freedom of speech as a centerpiece of our liberty, the Muslim world does not recognize this freedom. Before now, however, our worlds have rarely collided. The Muslims have not usually dared to extend their dictatorial systems to control our own behavior within our own cities. The Salman Rushdie affair–the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 death edict against the “blasphemous” novelist–was an ominous warning, but Americans did not take it seriously.

Now, seventeen years later, the Muslim fanatics are making it clear: you don’t have to come to our country, you don’t have to be a Muslim. Even in your own countries and under your own laws, you will not be safe from our intimidation.

For the whole Western world, this is an opportunity to learn an important truth about the goal of the Islamists. Their goal is not to achieve any specific political demand or settlement. Their goal is submission: our submission to their will, to their laws, to their dictatorship–our submission, not just to one demand, but to any demand the Muslim mobs care to make.

Europe particularly needs to learn this lesson. The Europeans have deluded themselves into thinking that this is our fight. If only Israel weren’t so intransigent, if only the US weren’t so belligerent, they told themselves–if only those cowboys didn’t insist on stirring up trouble, we could all live in peace with the Muslims. And they have deluded themselves into thinking that they can seek a separate peace, that having the Danish flag on your backpack–as one bewildered young Dane described it–would guarantee that you could go anywhere in the world and be regarded as safe, as innocuous.

Now the Europeans know better. With cries of “Death to Israel” and “Death to American” now being joined by cries of “Death to Denmark”, every honest European can now see that they are in this fight, too–and they are closer to the front lines than we are. Threats against American cartoonists, when anyone bothers to make them, are toothless; there is no mob of violent young Muslims in the United States to carry them out. European writers and filmmakers, by contrast, are already being murdered in the streets. The first people to find themselves living under the sword of a would-be Muslim caliphate are Europeans, not Americans.

The lesson here is not just that the Islamist ideology of dictatorship is a threat to Europe. It is also that the dictatorships themselves are a threat. The advocates of cynical European “realpolitik” deluded themselves into thinking that, if they just made the right kind of deals with Saddam Hussein, or with the Iranian regime, or with the Syrian regime, then the dictatorships over there would have no impact on us over here.

But we can now see that the anti-Danish riots did not explode spontaneously: they were instigated by the dictators, by the regimes in Iran and Syria. To their credit, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and now US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been pointing out this connection. The lesson for Europe: if you accommodate and appease the dictators, they won’t leave you alone. Having gotten some of what they want, they will come after you and take the rest. Europe ought to have learned that lesson, at terrible cost, in 1939; this ought to refresh their memory.

If we want to know why these lessons have not been learned before now, the cartoon jihad also gives us clues to the answer. Note that those who are supposed to help us learn those lessons–the left-leaning intellectuals and newspaper editors, the people who have traditionally posed as the brave defenders of free speech–have been the first to collapse in abject submission to Muslim sensibilities. The New York Times, for example, dismissed the cartoons as “juvenile” and explained that refusing to publish even a single image of the cartoons “seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols.”

Note how the New York Times–like many other left-leaning newspapers–hides behind the evasion that the Danish cartoons are “silly” or “juvenile.” On the contrary: the best of the Danish cartoons provided a far more serious, hard-hitting, thought-provoking commentary than has been provided in the pages of these same newspapers. While the mainstream media has drooled that Islam is “a religion of peace”–in the midst of yet another Muslim war–it was left to a Danish cartoonists to suggest that Mohammed himself, and the religion he represents, might be the bomb that has set off all of this violence. (To see these cartoons, go to the simply named website muhammadcartoons.com).

But the prize for most abject surrender to Muslim dictatorship has to go to the leftist academics. The first to decry the Bush administration as a creeping “fascist” dictatorship, they are, perversely, the first to fawn in admiration before the world’s actual fascists. If you think that’s an exaggeration, read an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times by Stanley Fish, a famous “Postmodernist” university professor and defender of “political correctness.” Fish writes:

“Strongly held faiths are exhibits in liberalism’s museum; we appreciate them, and we congratulate ourselves for affording them a space, but should one of them ask of us more than we are prepared to give–ask for deference rather than mere respect–it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments that for the last week have filled the pages of every newspaper in the country

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Robert W Tracinski

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.