When I receive an invitation to brunch or afternoon tea, before committing myself I always ask the hosts if any parents are going to be there with their children. If the answer is yes, I thank them for inviting me, say I’m otherwise engaged – and stay home.
I know how things are going to go at that brunch or tea. Bratty kids are going to be throwing food, climbing under and over the table and everywhere else, and terrorizing the adults with banshee screams. The adults for their part will do precisely nothing by way of toning things down because if they do the kids will act up even more.
I have nothing against children. But I do have a problem with parents who give in to their offspring and somehow seem to believe that this amounts to masterful childrearing.
I feel the same way when I see all the over-excited Muslims on TV, in Benghazi, Cairo, Khartoum, Islamabad, Jakarta and even Sydney, demonstrating against a movie they’ve heard insults the Prophet Mohammed. I ask myself: what do these men do when they’re not demonstrating? Don’t they have a family to feed? A job? Where do they get all the American or Israeli flags that they burn in front of CNN and BBC cameras? Do they whip them up on the sewing machine at home, or are there shops in Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, specialized in the manufacture of flags from enemy states?
Whatever the facts, one thing is clear: the demonstrators are behaving like children aware of their power. They know that nobody will dare stand in their way. What’s more, they know there will be plenty of adults who express sympathy for their vile behavior. In Germany, these would include Claus Kleber of the ZDF TV channel heute journal daily news, who attributed the escalation of the situation to "radicals on both sides of the issue." Or my colleague at Stern magazine, who titled his commentary on "a stupid video" that "has the Islamic world in an uproar:" "Sow Hate, Reap Hate." (By the way, after 9/11, peace-movement critics of the U.S. hit the streets using these same words.)
Flying off the handle
The sheer infantilism of the demonstrators, who communicate with each other on cell phones but otherwise live in the 7th Century, rubs off on such sympathizers. After the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses, people were saying that the book was not a literary masterpiece – that its main purpose was to offend the sensibilities of Muslims.
Similarly, the Muhammad caricatures that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten were called "primitive" and "without artistic merit." This time, it’s a "recklessly impudent, badly crafted movie using evil ideology to make fun of the Prophet Muhammedand Islam" – as if the quality of the film had anything to do with the rage it has unleashed in the Muslim world. Does anybody believe that the sons of Allah would be clapping enthusiastically if this "recklessly impudent," "badly crafted" movie had been some Pasolini or Tarantino masterpiece instead? (On Wednesday, French riot police were sent to guard the offices of controversial French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in preparation of their publication of cartoons mocking Muhammad.
Ethno-psychologists and Islam experts say this: Muslims have not yet reached the point where they can tolerate any sort of maliciousness or derision aimed at their religion without flying off the handle. We need to give them time. But one who espouses that argument is not only a cultural relativist but is exhibiting a form of racism. The logical consequence would be to advise Muslims to travel long distances by camel instead of taking a plane, or to forbid them access to the Internet, because they have not come far enough yet.
However, one can make the assumption that anybody who is capable of booking a flight on the internet, or flying to Munich or Zurich for treatment in a clinic, is also capable of not blowing their top if somebody makes fun of their religion.
A few weeks ago, the satirical German magazine Titanic ran a tasteless, recklessly impudent and cheap satire of the Pope that hardly anyone would have noticed if the Pope hadn’t tried to block sales of the issue. However, the Pontifex Maximus did not send his Swiss Guard forth to punish the editors, nor did he call on the faithful – some billion people after all – to rise up and storm embassies. He let his lawyers handle it. And then, a day before the deadline that had been set for an end to negotiations, he let the matter drop. That gave papal critics cause for a second round of jubilation. But there was no Catholic jihadist to take offense at that and call for a Holy War against the disbelievers. And that was no exception: it’s the rule.
This year, the German film Paradies: Glaube (Paradise: Faith) was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. The movie is about a missionary nurse named Anna Maria "who takes her love of Jesus to extremes," which is a nice way of saying she masturbates with a crucifix.
You don’t need a lot of imagination to conjure up the reactions in the Muslim world if Anna Maria hadn’t used a crucifix but some object holy to Muslims instead. No jury in the world would have dared even to show a movie with something like that going on. And you need even less imagination to anticipate the reactions of news commentators like those already mentioned – such a movie would not only be recklessly imprudent and primitive, but a downright provocation!
But where its own freedoms are concerned, the West uses double standards. We’re so morally sure of ourselves that we can take religious provocation. They, the Muslims, still have to learn. But since that might take a while, we need to step back. German Minister of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich announced that he would do "everything legally admissible" to prevent the film Innocence of Muslims from being shown in Germany, not because he wanted to protect German viewers from a cheesy, badly crafted movie, but out of concern not to throw "oil on the fire."
Only one thing helps -- a visit to an oasis of reason and good sense: Al Jazeera. The Qatar-based TV channel reports that ever more Syrians are wondering how a video about Muhammad could be causing more uproar in the Muslim world than the bloodbath in their country.