I had difficulty writing about the whole cartoon riots situation, because I've been too appalled at my children's fear that someone in Australia would publish the cartoons and then we'd have arsonist riots here, which is an idea they picked up from school somehow. The Cronulla riots and payback vandalism last December don't make that fear any easier to dispel.
I have however engaged on the subject on some discussion lists I belong to, and I've found it disturbing because a lot of people from whom I've been taking a contrary stance are clever people whose opinions I respect, and yet I find them at differing degrees of odds with me regarding a lot of the Western response to the initial provocation by the Danish newspaper and also what's happening now. Some disjointed excerpts from my posts in other forums below:
Most of Islam is not issuing death threats, or even shaking fists. But a lot of people in countries where Muslims are not doing either seem bent and determined on "showing 'em" that by damn we'll look at pictures of Mohammed in our newspapers if we want to (so there!), and why can't you towelheads be better-mannered?_____________________________________
Blame the religious leadership in those theocracies for being cynically jingoistic about exploiting their faith for the sake of politics, sure. But getting huffy about these particular death threats seems a tad disingenuous - the mullahs and imams in Syria and Iran will issue death threats at the drop of a hat, and Muslims in other countries have no control over that. I'm sure most Christians in the USA would like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to shut the fuck up too.
I believe that a fundamental part of this new event has been ignored: the question of whether it's fair to allow a religion to make requirements of non-believers.
Actually, I think that's the right-wing talking point they want us all to concentrate on to the exclusion of the question of common courtesy. Pretending that slaughtering a calf in the front yard across from the Hindu neighbours is a reasonable act of free expression rings hollow when one has trucked it in especially from the slaughterhouse yard in the next town after buying butcher-cuts from the supermarket for the last 20 years.
More substantive matters of restricted personal choice are simply not at issue here, and when and if they are is the time to address them.
Simple courtesy means that I don't abuse the hypothetical Muslim man down the street because his wife and daughter wear simple headscarf hijab. But human rights principles mean that if the daughter comes knocking on my door asking me to call the police to stop her father forcing her into an arranged marriage, you bet I'm going to protect her against any of her father's demands to send her back to him. There's no slippery slope from courtesy to some religious beliefs to capitulation to all of them.
The agenda on both sides of this represents publishing these pictures as much more than it actually is. The West's free-speechers say it's a bulwark against some nebulous but allegedly inevitable escalation in Muslim demands that non-Muslims restrict their lives in ways that the West will not stand, and in Islam the rabble-rousers say that it's the ramparts for a full out assault on the freedom of Muslims to worship at all.
I'd rather look at the men behind the curtain at how and why these two contrasting agendas seem to be deliberately pushing into a positive feedback cycle, because I'm noticing that if we the people of either West or Islam fully buy into the fear-mongers' agenda it's going to be that much easier to sell restricting our freedoms in the name of safety to us.
I'm not unaware or making light of fears that extremist Islamists want us all to live under Sha'ria law: some of the countries that are now theocratic fundamentalist states were once moderate and secular, so to fail to guard against theocrats taking power here would be foolish. Especially in light of their stance against any form of equal rights for women.
I just don't think it's as large a threat as some of the demagogues want me to think it is. At this point in time I'm much more afraid of the would-be-autocrats in my own democratically elected government, mostly made up of White Christian men, than I am afraid of Muslim immigrants in general.