Namely, while the overall effect in Europe is negative (as moderate muslims feel drawn closer to the extremists as their feeling of being under a cultural siege intensifies), a positive effect of emboldened moderates in the middle east may be developing. To re-quote Abu Aardvark,
The only bright side is that voices of reason are beginning to assert themselves in the Arab media, even if they may be having trouble getting traction in the hyper-politicized environment. I've seen at least a dozen op-eds in the last few days saying some variation of "shame on you for offending the Prophet, but shame on Muslims for reacting as they did." A lot of ordinary Muslims - not extremists - are genuinely upset about this, and their legitimate anger should not be conflated with the manufactured "rage" of the extremists.
Count me among the genuinely angry - though my anger at the deliberate insult is because of the manner in which the Prophet SAW was depicted, not the fact of his depiction. I reprinted several depictions myself and I also endorse this one, which is quite beautiful for its elementary geometric aesthetic. And this is just too clever to spoil.
But the images of the Prophet SAW with a bomb in his turban, or informing bombers that heaven is fresh out of virgins, or even just represented as a fat and pudgy guy holding a sword - these seek not just to depict, but to perpetuate stereotypes about Islam and Muhammad SAW that are patently false. Islam is not a religion of war (nor peace - but rather, justice). Muhammad SAW would never sanction terrorism, murderers of children are not rewarded in heaven and virgins are not a prize for piety. And above all, Muhammad SAW was not a warmongering conqueror who sought domination via the sword. THAT is why the non-telegenic muslims like myself are angry, and why our entire premise in Iraq is fundamentally threatened.
There is irony in that the muslims who rioted and committed violence on pretext of these cartoons are in fact living up to all the stereotypes of Islam I decried above. But they lack the faculty to even perceive Islam in its beauty; they only see Islam as a code by which they benefit, crudely, in their societies, primarily over their women. Their passion is not insult to a deep faith, but a tool in the hands of their tyrants who thereby keep them enslaved, and I pity them more than I resent them.
But while the fools ruled the TV footage, in print a quiet pushback has been building. Jane Novak's superb article was printed in numerous outlets including the Middle East Times, the Bangladesh Daily Star, the Arab Times in Kuwait, and translated to Arabic in the Yemen al-Shoura. Dean also pointed out a thoughtful piece by Amir Taheri, who has been writing pro-freedom articles for the Arab News for many years. And Bill at INDC has a comprehensive (and righteously snarky) roundup of condemnations of violence from Islamic organizations both at home and abroad. Of particular note is Ayatollah Sistani's comments:
Al-Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, made no call for protests and suggested that militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting Islam's image.
He referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."
"Enemies have exploited this ... to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods and mechanisms," he said of the cartoons.
The pushback against the obscene protests in Britain is also notable:
Asghar Bukhari said the demonstration in London on Friday should have been stopped by police because the group had been advocating violence.
The chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said the protesters "did not represent British Muslims".
More protests over cartoons of Muhammad on Saturday passed off peacefully.
Mr Bukhari told the BBC News website: "The placards and chants were disgraceful and disgusting, Muslims do not feel that way.
"I condemn them without reservation, these people are less representative of Muslims than the BNP are of the British people."
Across much of the Islamic world, a debate has indeed been sparked - about free speech, about religion, and above all, about tyranny.
And there is a counterpart to that debate occurring here in the non-muslim world, arising in reaction to the shameful xenophobia of those conservatives who see the entire cartoon episode as an opportunity to advance their agenda - which includes cessation of all muslim immigration to the United States and the opposition to Turkey's admittance to the European Union. And I won't even link to or reproduce what Ann Coulter said, though I think that this call for conservative organizations to distance themselves from her is wise.
The above examples, like the muslim violence and rioting,is simply not representative of the debate. For a more balanced discussion, see this thread at Gene Expression, which starts out poorly but then has this masterful observation, a true diamond in the rough (hat tip: matoko-chan). The parent post, by Matt McIntosh (and x-posted with discussion at Winds of Change, kudos to Joe Katzman for inviting it), is a very thoughtful analysis which is best summed as: the "Muslim problem" is just a special case of the "human problem." Essential reading! Over at Abu Aardvark, Prof. Lynch patiently engages Diana Moon in the comment thread, though ultimately Diana can't seem to move beyond her focus on anti-semitism (an important and acknowledged symptom of the malaise fomented by political tyranny in the middle east, but rather tangential to the broader issues). There's a sort of follow-up debate in this thread at GNXP. Finally, also see this debate at Sepia Mutiny (which incidentally was nominated for Best Group Blog in the 2nd Annual Brass Crescent Awards. Voting ends Friday!).
Ultimately, the cartoons were a pretext for all concerned. If the extreme fringe can make use of it, let us also do so for opposite ends. There is indeed a Clash of Civilizations brewing, but in it, the frothing conservative fringe and the seething Islamic fringe are allies, against we, the true scions of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance. The cartoons have therefore served a useful purpose indeed, by revealing clearly who is for an Enlightenment, and a Renaissance in the Islamic world, and those who are not.
I close with this wisdom:
"Do you know what guerrillas often say? They claim that their rebellions are invulnerable to economic warfare because they have no economy, that they are parasitic on those they would overthrow. The fools merely fail to assess the coin in which they must inevitably pay. The pattern is inexorable in its degenerative failures. You see it repeated in the systems of slavery, of welfare states, of caste-ridden religions, of socialising bureaucracies in any system which creates and maintains dependencies. Too long a parasite and you cannot exist without a host." -- Leto II, God-Emperor of Dune