Monday, February 06, 2006


More on the Saudis and the Cartoons

Here's more on the whole affair. Juan Cole weighs in, apparently trying to argue that the protests were spontaneous, but all he really does is add Syria/Lebanon and Egypt to the list of countries with something to gain from hyping the furor over these cartoons -- and show how this would have died off on its own, were it not for constant (and expensive, and planned) reinforcement at key stages (such as the creation of fake cartoons that are now being circulated as among the "real" ones). To state that this is totally organic is not only untrue, it is unfair to Muslims because now non-Muslims will think that all of the faithful are psychotic nutjobs who freak out at little or no provocation -- and who therefore should be extirpated. And while it is true that there was SOME reaction when the cartoons first were published, nobody in September was burning down embassies over them -- or distributing faked new "cartoons" that were falsely touted as being among the original cartoons. The key thing is, how come it took four months before people started burning down embassies? As Soj says in the Kos diary linked above, when Newsweek printed an article about how American guards at Guantanamo Bay were urinating on the Qur'an, that article prompted worldwide protests immediately. The crowds in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Indonesia did not need four months to be angry enough to take to the streets. They did not need months of sermons by their religious leaders to be properly offended. The reaction was natural and immediate. This is in complete contrast to the Danish cartoons, not counting the peaceful protest in Denmark itself. Pakistan has a number of opposition fundamentalist parties (including the MNA) who hold protests regularly, including against women running in the marathon races in Pakistan. Their outrage, like the Danish Muslims themselves, was natural and more or less spontaneous, complete with hand-lettered signs. The reaction outside of Denmark and England? Lots of expensively-printed signs being held by people who don't own (and likely couldn't afford) offset printers. Lots of faked cartoons that were much more offensive than those actually published. Lots of powerful people looking to take advantage of a situation to distract from their own problems. [UPDATE: Three most offensive of the fifteen cartoons currently being circulated by the Islamic Society of Denmark are blatant fakes that were not among the twelve originals published in September of last year: Here they are. (Yeah, I know, it's a right-wing site. They aren't always wrong about everything. And really, since it's to Bush's benefit to depict Muslims as irrational folk who riot without provocation, this blog is actually hurting Bush's cause by showing that the rioters were/are being bamboozled by slick liars -- who as Soj points out are likely allied with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt -- who invented some seriously nasty provocations.) Any Westerner who saw only the first twelve legitimate cartoons is probably wondering what the fuss is all about. But what's not being mentioned widely is that three additional cartoons were faked and then falsely proclaimed to be part of the original group that was printed five months ago.]

Hadn't seen the fake ones before. I don't doubt that the governments are using this incident for their own ends, what government doesn't use anything it can think of?

That many Islamic countries have a large number of people who can be worked up by this kind of stuff is part of the unavoidable back ground to relations with them. It's not something that can be changed.

Remember that PBS show, Death of a Princess about twenty-five years ago? About an execution of a Saudi princess for adultery. There were major repercussions threatened by the Saudi royals if it was shown here. I think it was Elizabeth Drew who, when asked if PBS shouldn't be more sensitive to Saudi cultural feelings and not show it, said that they should also be expected to show some sensitivity to our culture including press freedom.
In that case the film was based on an incident that really happened and on the reporter who found it difficult to find the truth. Watching it taught me a lot about Saudi culture, politics and gender relations that I hadn't known. In that case I was with showing it. It had some value. I don't think these cartoons did.

The case that the story is being used by governments in the area seems to be a strong one but they know what will get people there in an uproar.
Something is afoot, but it's very far from clear what.

The fact that right-wing sites are so interested in this story makes me wonder.

Let's take your original link to Gateway Pundit, a LGF fan. He in turn sources Wikipedia. One important Wiki reference is questionable, using the Jyllands-Posten to describe what BBC World said rather than providing a direct link. The key Wiki link is to The Brussels Journal, which claims to be a right-libertarian publication. It's editor, Paul Belien claims to have very high level contacts inside the European right, having co-authored a book with Lady Thatcher. This does provide a useful chronology, however, and (citing what appears to be an official website) dates the threats of violence to 10/22/05, whereas Wikipedia does not describe threats of violence as precursors. The Brussels Journal reports on the fake cartoons in mid-January, and sources this to Ekstra Bladet. However, the report Ekstra Bladet claims contained the fake cartoons appears to be 404ed. This is suprising, if only three images were offensive.

The fake cartoons themselves are stated by GatewayPundit to be at Ekstra Bladet, but I got a 404 on one that I clicked on. Not speaking much Danish, I can't characterize Ekstra Bladet. But the story is very odd. Perhaps someone who speaks Danish can clarify it for me, but I am surprised that a Danish news source would get ahold of a report being distributed by Danish imams in the Middle East. I have to wonder about its authenticity and about the accuracy of translation, since it appears to have been removed from the site. I looked in Google cache for one page (tegninger10.jpg) and didn't find it. The 12 originals are said to be these.

At present, my interpretation is this:
1. The enraged Muslim reaction and threats of violence pre-dated the discovery of the fake cartoons.
2. There may have been previous incidents for which the cartoons were simply a catalyst.
3. The three fake cartoons are stated to have been submitted anonymously not as cartoons printed in Jyllands-Posten, but as examples of Danish hate.
4. It's difficult for me to believe that an imam would deliberately present a cartoon he knows is actually fake. Therefore, I presume that these were received from people believed by the imams to be reliable.

There is more to this story than we can see. I am doubtful that the hand behind it is Saudi Arabia or to Al Qaida. The big winner in this is the US, which has seen European support for its wars decline.

If I were a betting man, that's where I would place my money. But I'd certainly agree that reasonable people might come to a different conclusion based on the facts at hand. One point that might answer the question is when blogs like Powerline pick up the story. If it's a US oppo, they'd probably be using the megaphone early and often.
There is a very good point made in a letter in today's Boston Globe. I'll post it in its entirety:

February 7, 2006

THE GLOBE'S editorial (''Forms of Intolerance," Feb. 4) rightly argued that cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a terrorist could offend and don't need to be published simply because they can be published.

But when the Globe observed that these Mohammed cartoons are as offensive to Muslims as Nazi anti-Semitic cartoons would be to Jews, the paper missed the elephant in the room: Virulent, graphic anti-Semitic cartoons appear daily in the Arab and Muslim media. These cartoons routinely ridicule Jews' ethnic traits and religious practices. They also spread ancient libels about Jews, deny that the Holocaust occurred, and incite hatred and violence. All of this is permitted in the name of ''politics" and ''free expression" in countries where these freedoms are limited at best to begin with.

Indeed, leaders of regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have virtually ignored appeals from the United States to end incitement in their media. We would like to see leaders of Arab and Muslim countries turn all of the anger now being aimed at Europe into a larger lesson for their own people about the power of images and the responsibility to reject all forms of bigotry against all religions. And we'd like to see the Globe acknowledge that anti-Semitic political cartoons are hardly mere educational relics of the Nazi past.

Regional board chairman
Regional director
Anti-Defamation League, New England Region
Yeah, there's no excuse for some of the trash that is published in the Arab press, EPT. The thing is, the Arab countries are not world leaders. When minor nations like Yemen and Libya or even Egypt publish trash, it simply lowers their already minimal reputations. When European powers or, worst, the US does it, it sends the signal that it's acceptable.


By the way, I did check the appearance of the cartoon story on Powerline and Instapundit. They appear to have picked it up in early February. That argues against my hypothesis that stirring the pot is a Bushco activity.

It doesn't refute it, of course-- there are too few facts to reach *any* conclusion. But admitting that one's hypothesis *could* be wrong is essential to the pursuit of truth.
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