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Jewish World Review
Feb. 13, 2006
/ 15 Shevat, 5766
Toon-deaf Europe is taking the wrong stand
From Europe's biggest-selling newspaper, the Sun: ''Furious Muslims have blasted adult shop [i.e., sex shop] Ann Summers for selling a blowup male doll called Mustafa Shag."
Not literally "blasted" in the Danish Embassy sense, or at least not yet. Quite how Britain's Muslim Association found out about Mustafa Shag in order to be offended by him is not clear. It may be that there was some confusion: given that "blowup males" are one of Islam's leading exports, perhaps some believers went along expecting to find Ahmed and Walid modeling the new line of Semtex belts. Instead, they were confronted by just another filthy infidel sex gag. The Muslim Association's complaint, needless to say, is that the sex toy "insults the Prophet Muhammad who also has the title al-Mustapha.''
In a world in which Danish cartoons insult the prophet and Disney Piglet mugs insult the prophet and Burger King chocolate ice-cream swirl designs insult the prophet, maybe it would just be easier to make a list of things that don't insult him. Nonetheless, the Muslim Association wrote to the Ann Summers sex-shop chain, "We are asking you to have our Most Revered Prophet's name 'Mustafa' and the afflicted word 'shag' removed."
If I were a Muslim, I'd be "hurt" and "humiliated" that the revered prophet's name is given not to latex blowup males but to so many real blowup males: The leader of the 9/11 plotters? Mohammed Atta. The British Muslim who self-detonated in a Tel Aviv bar? Asif Mohammed Hanif. The gunman who shot up the El Al counter at LAX? Heshamed Mohamed Hedayet. The former U.S. Army sergeant who masterminded the slaughter at the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania? Ali Mohamed. The murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh? Mohammed Bouyeri. The notorious Sydney gang rapist? Mohammed Skaf. The Washington sniper? John Allen Muhammed. If I were a Muslim, I would be deeply offended that the prophet's name is the preferred appellation of so many killers and suicide bombers on every corner of the earth.
But apparently that's not as big a deal as Mustafa Shag. When Samuel Huntington formulated his famous "clash of civilizations" thesis, I'm sure he hoped it would play out as something nobler than shaggers vs. nutters. But in a sense that's the core British value these days. If it's inherent in Muslim culture to take umbrage at everything, it's inherent in English culture to turn everything into a lame sex gag. The "Mustafa" template is one of the most revered in the English music-hall tradition: "I've been reading the latest scholarly monograph 'Sexual Practices of the Middle East by Mustapha Camel.'" If they wanted to appease the surging Muslim demographic, the British could conceivably withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan but it's hard to imagine they could withdraw from vulgar sex jokes and still be recognizably British. They are, in the Muslim Association's choice of words, "afflicted" with shag fever.
In theory, this should have been the perfect moment for Albert Brooks to release his new film ''Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.'' Instead, life is effortlessly outpacing art. Brooks had an excellent premise and, somewhere between studio equivocation and his sense of self-preservation, it all got watered down, beginning with the decision to focus the plot on a trip to India. Which is a, er, mostly Hindu country. But the Arab world refused to let Brooks film there, and, even if they had, he'd have been lucky to get out alive. Needless to say, the movie doesn't mention that. So a film whose title flaunts a bold disdain for political correctness is, in the end, merely another concession to it.
You can't blame Brooks, not in a world of surreal headlines like "Cartoon Death Toll Up to Nine" (the Sunday Times of Australia). Instead of ''Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,'' the Muslim world's come looking for comedy in the West and doesn't like what it's found. If memory serves, it was NBC who back in the '70s used to have every sitcom joke about homosexuality vetted by a gay dentist in New Jersey. Apprised of this at a conference on censorship, the producer of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" remarked, "You mean there really is a tooth fairy?" Alas, the Islamist Advisory Commission on Quran-Compatible Humor will be made of sterner stuff, and likely far more devastating to the sitcom biz.
And the good news is that that body's already on its way. The European Union's Justice and Security Commissioner, Franco Frattini, said on Thursday that the EU would set up a "media code" to encourage "prudence" in the way they cover, ah, certain sensitive subjects. As Signor Frattini explained it to the Daily Telegraph, "The press will give the Muslim world the message: We are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression. . . . We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right."
"Prudence"? "Self-regulate our free expression"? No, I'm afraid that's just giving the Muslim world the message: You've won, I surrender, please stop kicking me.
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But they never do. Because, to use the Arabic proverb with which Robert Ferrigno opens his new novel, Prayers for the Assassin, set in an Islamic Republic of America, "A falling camel attracts many knives." In Denmark and France and the Netherlands and Britain, Islam senses the camel is falling and this is no time to stop knifing him.
The issue is not "freedom of speech" or "the responsibilities of the press" or "sensitivity to certain cultures." The issue, as it has been in all these loony tune controversies going back to the Salman Rushdie fatwa, is the point at which a free society musters the will to stand up to thugs. British Muslims march through the streets waving placards reading "BEHEAD THE ENEMIES OF ISLAM." If they mean that, bring it on. As my columnar confrere John O'Sullivan argued, we might as well fight in the first ditch as the last.
But then it's patiently explained to us for the umpteenth time that they're not representative, that there are many many "moderate Muslims.''
I believe that. I've met plenty of "moderate Muslims" in Jordan and Iraq and the Gulf states. But, as a reader wrote to me a year or two back, in Europe and North America they aren't so much "moderate Muslims" as quiescent Muslims. The few who do speak out wind up living in hiding or under 24-hour armed guard, like Dutch MP Ayaab Hirsi Ali.
So when the EU and the BBC and the New York Times say that we too need to be more "sensitive" to those fellows with "Behead the enemies of Islam" banners, they should look in the mirror: They're turning into "moderate Muslims," and likely to wind up as cowed and silenced and invisible.
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