03 January 2010

And They're Off

Remember a few years back when Muslims around the world elected to throw a hissy-fit over a handful of cartoons, some of which allegedly depicted the historical figure Mohammed? To judge from the accounts of the attempted murder of one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, the other day, most people don’t. A casual reading of more than a dozen news stories, blog entries, and other ephemera, turns up the following “facts”—
  • Kurt Westergaard drew cartoons of Mohammed;
  • These cartoons depicted Mohammed as a terrorist;
  • The publication of his cartoons “sparked a storm of protest and violence across the Muslim world.” [see The Guardian and The Hot Joints for examples]
Well, that may be how people remember it, but it ain’t how it happened. First, Kurt Westergaard drew one—count it—one caricature of the popular conception of Mohammed. The image was depicted with a bomb-shaped turban—an obvious reference to the prophet being used to justify violence. There were eleven other cartoons in the series, but they were not drawn by Westergaard; they were drawn by other artists. At least one of them did not depict Mohammed (the prophet) at all, but rather a schoolboy bearing the same name. The publication of the cartoons occurred without incident; it was only later that Muslim riots occurred. They appear to have been organized by activists with an agenda; the images shown to the Muslim world included three concoctions (one supposedly depicting Mohammed as a pig) that were not part of this or any other published cartoon series.

Anyway, it seems that a deranged Muslim fanatic broke into Kurt Westergaard’s home wielding an axe and a knife with the attention of murdering him—this during a visit by the cartoonists five-year-old granddaughter. This (alleged) assassination attempt is only one in a series committed by Muslim fanatics in the past few years over this or that fancied grievance. (Anybody else remember Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, and Hitoshi Igarashi? [“Publish and Be Damned”]) Various media accounts are now saying that the unidentified 27-year-old Somali man had “ties” to al Quada (who doesn’t?) and may have been involved in a plot to murder Hilary Clinton, but I’m skeptical of these tidbits. Nothing about this suggests the hallmark precision of an al Quada attack; it seems more like the result of a single deranged man who—like John Lennon’s assassin—has been fed on religious propaganda for too long. Time will tell. Danish Muslims don’t want anything to do with the guy, apparently: “The Danish Muslim Union strongly distances itself from the attack and any kind of extremism that leads to such acts,” at any rate [The Guardian].

A spokesman for a radical Somali group cheered him on, however—from a safe distance. “There could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shebab or other Islamic organisations, but I tell you that this incident is not something that could be related only to Shebab or other Islamic organisations. It is a general obligation for all Muslims to defend their religion and the prophet. He really did what was to be done by any other Muslim.” [“Somali Group hails attack on Danish cartoonist”]

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