The Muslim-Danish cartoon controversy has provided an excellent teaching opportunity in which the West demonstrates to the Arab world how even insulting/silly/opportunistic/sycophantic speech is allowed expression in our world in the belief that Truth ultimately will prevail.
Exhibit A: Al Gore.
The former vice president spoke in Saudi Arabia last weekend at the 2006 Jeddah (not to be confused with Jihadist, though we're not sure why) Economic Forum, where he bashed the U.S. and made Kumbaya noises about all just-getting-along.
Which is fine. We'd all like to just get along, but could the Saudis go first?
Perhaps Gore, instead of slapping the U.S. for behaviors unbecoming a superpower, might have asked the Saudi monarchy to stop sponsoring terrorists. He might have asked them to stop funding Islamist schools that teach future terrorists that the U.S. is the Great Satan and that all Americans are infidels who need to be killed.
That would be a nice start to our keeping open channels of friendship and mutual understanding. On the other hand, it would probably be considered bad manners to bring up terrorism and that Wahhabi thing while a guest in the Host State. Better to bash the homeboys, who can be counted upon to resist the urge to behead people with whom they disagree.
Besides, Gore has every right to his opinion. We believe in that concept in the West. He also has every right to say that the U.S. committed terrible abuses against Arabs living in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks, even if it's not precisely true.
Terrible abuses? Gore apparently was referring to the detention of some 1,200 Arabs in the U.S. in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks. With a section of New York destroyed and the smell of burning human flesh still in the air, it seemed reasonable to try to prevent any more attacks.
I'm sure the government considered arresting as many elderly white women as possible, but opted for the politically risky alternative of detaining people of Arab descent whose papers didn't seem perfectly in order and who otherwise fit the description of the 9/11 attackers.
Some of those detained, regrettably, were held for a time without being charged or without speedy access to legal representation.
"This was unfortunate," Gore might have said, "and the U.S. doesn't countenance unfair treatment of any group. We hope in the future to operate more efficiently should the need, G-d forbid, arise again."
While he was sounding slightly presidential, Gore might have continued:
"Of course, we're counting on you, good Saudis, to help us ensure that no such atrocity is committed ever again. We know you can't be held accountable for the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. We don't believe in indicting nations on the basis of a few bad actors.
"But we sure would appreciate it if you'd consider closing down those hideous schools that teach children to hate and kill. And that 72-virgin gig? I mean really." (Urgent Note to Readers: This is not a cartoon.)
To his credit, Gore did urge his audience to join the West in condemning Iran's attempts to develop nuclear weapons. But he saved most of his criticism for his own country, also blasting the U.S. visa policy toward Saudis, which he curiously said was playing into al-Qaida's hands.
It is true that some Saudis have to wait longer-than-usual periods after applying to enter the U.S., presumably while every care is taken to ensure that they're coming for purposes stated rather than to take flight lessons.
No one wants this world we've inherited from the terrorists, least of all Americans who don't relish endless security checks. Nor does anyone want innocent people detained or denied access to a nation that welcomes all.
Were I an Arab-American detained for no good reason and denied my civil rights because of my ethnicity, I'd be furious. I'd raise Cain, write op-eds and maybe even file a lawsuit. And then, very quietly, I'd thank Allah that I live in the U.S., where such protests are encouraged and where a citizen can sue his own government.
However much we might wish otherwise, we're locked into this defensive mode for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, everyone is entitled to think and say what he pleases. The same free speech that permits dissent and controversial cartoons also allows fools to out themselves.
Surely even the Saudis see the true picture that Al Gore is a bitter politician who, sadly, seems to be one slice short of a loaf these days.