The weekend edition of Le Monde carried on its front page a startling photograph of a masked protester in London, holding up a placard demanding the death of those who insult Islam. Policemen flanked him on either side, as if protecting him from the vicious assaults of cartoonists.
Nothing could have captured better the cowardly and pusillanimous response of the British government to the crisis deliberately stirred up in many Muslim countries four months after the publication in a Danish newspaper of 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad (only one of which was remotely funny).
In condemning the cartoons, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a man with all the qualities of Neville Chamberlain except his fundamental decency, attempted to curry favor with the Muslim world, or at least to avoid its wrath. Revealing the practical value of such appeasement is the way in which Muslims burned down the Danish consulates and embassies even after the Danes, with equal cowardice, had apologized. But at least the Danes have the excuse of being a very small nation indeed—although their country produces far more, oil excepted, than the whole Arab world put together.
Instead of protecting the protester (whose placard, incidentally, was comparatively moderate compared with some others), the police should surely have arrested him for incitement to murder. After all, the cartoonists who had “insulted” Islam were individuals known to the public: in the context, the protester must have been referring to them. Even if the subsequent prosecution did not ultimately succeed, it would remind Muslim extremists in Britain that they remain subject to the law of the land just like anyone else.
This, of course, is not the first time the British government has allowed Muslim extremists to incite murder in Britain. When Muslims marched through the streets of Bradford to demand the implementation of Ayatollah Khomenei’s thuggish fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the British government did nothing, giving the impression—so far an impression that has proven fully justified—that it is too weak and lacking in self-belief to defend itself. Two thirds of a century later, the lessons of Munich have not been learned.
The supposition that the kind of people who call publicly for beheadings, or tell Europe to prepare itself for the real holocaust (the connection between Muslim extremism and Holocaust denial being a very strong one), will feel placated by a few expressions of sympathy for their supposedly offended feelings is psychologically preposterous and demonstrably false empirically. It is the reductio ad absurdum of the Clintonian propensity to feel other people’s pain as a substitute for a policy.
At some point, we shall have to confront the threat directly, unapologetically and vigorously. If we don’t, it will be our own pain that we shall feel, not the pain of other people. And, in a sense, we shall have got what we asked for.