Four years ago today, a small Danish newspaper named Jyllands-Posten printed a page (above) of cartoons of Islam's prophet Mohammed by twelve Danish artists. In so doing so, the newspaper was breaking multiple Islamic laws. But the newspaper, indeed, the country of Denmark, does not operate according to Islamic laws. This cultural, historical and legal fact was the very point of the publishing exercise.
The decision to publish the cartoons of Mohammed came about due to rising confusion on this same point. A Danish publisher of a children's book about Mohammed had been unable to find Danish artists to provide illustrations. The artists, it seemed, were afraid of Islamic consequences, and were thus submitting to Islamic prohibitions on depictions of Mohammed, which stem from Islamic prohibitions on depictions of "animate life." Flemming Rose, the features editor of Jyllands-Posten, astutely realized the crucial need to affirm hard-won, long-won Danish rights to draw and write in freedom, and thus commissioned the twelve Mohammed cartoons.
This was and remains within any Dane's rights in accordance with Danish law. End of story?
Hardly, and herein lies the significance of the "cartoon crisis." Political cartoons of Mohammed are explicitly not in accordance with Islamic law. As it says in Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, a text approved by assorted Islamic authories including Al Azhar University (1991), "Every maker of pictures will go to the fire, where a being will be set upon him to torment him in hell for each picture he made" (p.958). On top of that, acts that "revile Allah or his Messenger," acts that are "sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law," are two of the many, no, "nearly limitless" (p.598) acts that come under the rubric of leaving Islam, or apostasy -- "the ugliest form of unbelief" (p. 595) for which a person "deserves to be killed" (p. 595).
But again, such religiously-inspired totalitarian limits on expression are not and should not be of Danish or wider Western concern given our own cultural basis in liberty. But somehow, as the cartoon crisis has starkly revealed, such limits have become very much our concern, and for one cataclysmic reason: We in the West are actively allowing ourselves to observe Islamic limits on Western speech.
The rest is not, as they say, history, because the cartoon crisis is far from over -- as we have lately seen with the craven decision by Yale University and the Yale University Press to pull the Danish cartoons from a new book about the Danish cartoons.This (below) is what the sharia-compliant cover looks like:
With paltry few exceptions (The Weekly Standard and the Philadelphia Inquirer are two in this country), Western media has been cowed by the same Islamic prohibitions on depicting Mohammed, failing to reproduce even the most famous of the cartoons, Turban-Bomb Mohammed by Kurt Westergaard, in the countless news stories on the Islamic diplomatic pressure brought to bear on Denmark's government, the Islamic boycotts of Danish products, and the Islamic threats, violence and destruction, all actions taken in an effort to bring Denmark and its press to the heel of Islamic law.
These actions failed. Indeed, last year, in the aftermath of a foiled Islamic assassination attempt on the life of Kurt Westergaard, many Danish newspapers simultaneously reprintined his cartoon in solidarity.
In the same spirit of solidarity, the International Free Press Society (with which I am affiliated) is declaring today International Free Press Day. IFPS is marking the occasion by sponsoring Kurt Westergaard in his first public appearances in the United States. He will be speaking at the Manhattan Institute and Princeton today, and tomorrow -- at Yale.