That wascally wabbit.
A more serious analysis from Stratfor impressed me this morning. It’s subscriber-only so I’ll quote the more relevant bits.
It must be emphatically pointed out that the Muslim rejection of the cartoons does not derive from a universalistic view that one should respect religions. The criticism does not derive from a secularist view that holds all religions in equal indifference and requires “sensitivity” not on account of theologies, but in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. The Muslim view is theological: The Prophet Mohammed is not to be ridiculed or portrayed. But violating the sensibilities of other religions is not taboo. Therefore, Muslims frequently, in action, print and speech, do and say things about other religions — Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism — that followers of these religions would find defamatory. The Taliban, for example, were not concerned about the views among other religions when they destroyed the famous Buddhas in Bamiyan. The Muslim demand is honest and authentic: It is for respect for Islam, not a general secular respect for all beliefs as if they were all equal.
In terms of the dialogue over the cartoons, there is enough to amuse even the most jaded observers. The sight of Muslims arguing the need for greater sensitivity among others, and of advocates of laws against racial hatred demanding absolute free speech, is truly marvelous to behold. There is, of course, one minor difference between the two sides: The Muslims are threatening to kill people who offend them and are burning embassies — in essence, holding entire nations responsible for the actions of a few of their citizens. The European liberals are merely making speeches. They are not threatening to kill critics of the modern secular state. That also distinguishes the Muslims from, say, Christians in the United States who have been affronted by National Endowment for the Arts grants.
These are not trivial distinctions. But what is important is this: The controversy over the cartoons involves issues so fundamental to the two sides that neither can give in. The Muslims cannot accept visual satire involving the Prophet. Nor can the Europeans accept that Muslims can, using the threat of force, dictate what can be published. Core values are at stake, and that translates into geopolitics.
In one sense, there is nothing new or interesting in intellectual inconsistency or dishonesty. Nor is there very much new about Muslims — or at least radical ones — threatening to kill people who offend them. What is new is the breadth of the Muslim response and the fact that it is directed obsessively not against the United States, but against European states.
One of the primary features of the U.S.-jihadist war has been that each side has tried to divide the other along a pre-existing fault line. For the United States, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the manipulation of Sunni-Shiite tensions has been evident. For the jihadists, and even more for non-jihadist Muslims caught up in the war, the tension between the United States and Europe has been a critical fault line to manipulate. It is significant, then, that the cartoon affair threatens to overwhelm both the Euro-American split and the Sunni-Shiite split. It is, paradoxically, an affair that unifies as well as divides.
Welcome to the future, where the United States decries cartoon violence with no irony whatsoever.