The riots currently engulfing the Islamic world, prompted by a Danish newspaper’s decision to caricature the Prophet Mohammed, require two responses. The first is easy: horror. In the physical assault on Denmark’s embassies and citizens, and in the diplomatic assault on Denmark’s government–all because a free government won’t muzzle a free press–multiculturalism has become totalitarianism. Religious sensitivity, say the zealots marching from Beirut to Jakarta, matters more than liberty. Indeed, it matters more than life itself. To which the only answer, from democrats of all religions and of none, must be: In this matter, we are all Danes.
So responding to the thuggishness is easy. Responding to the cartoons themselves is harder. It is hard to condemn them when the barbaric response in parts of the Islamic world so vastly dwarfs the initial offense. And yet, the cartoons should be condemned nonetheless. Of course, the Danish newspaper had the right to publish them. But, in doing so, it revealed a particularly European prejudice, one that the United States must take care not to repeat.
The prejudice is not simply against Islam. Rather, it stems from Europe’s–or at least Western Europe’s–inability to take religion seriously at all. As my colleague Spencer Ackerman has written (“Religious Protection,” December 12, 2005), one reason Muslims find it harder to integrate in Western Europe than in the United States is that, in Western Europe, integration is often presumed to mean secularization. In defending his decision to print the cartoons, the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten declared, “This is about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society.” In defending its decision to reprint them, the French paper France Soir wrote, “No religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society.”
But most Americans–like most Muslims–do not think “modern” and “democratic” equal secular.
more from TNR here.