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Posted: 05-Feb-2006, 06:20 PM
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Commentary From Scotsman.com

Publish and be damned

IT WAS always intended to generate a debate about freedom of speech but, buried innocuously in the culture section of a newspaper, no-one guessed it would spark global protests, the burning of effigies and the unlikely cry of "Death to Denmark".

The subject matter, admittedly, was contentious, involving a writer's struggle to find an illustrator for his book about the Koran, and in particular the sacred prophet, Muhammad. There were warning signs. Three cartoonists turned down the job. One cited the murder in Amsterdam of film director Theo van Gogh, slain in broad daylight in 2004. Another complained that a lecturer in Copenhagen had been assaulted by a mob who disagreed with his decision to give a reading of the Koran to non-Muslims.

We now know that the worried cartoonists' reticence was well judged. That satire and religion can be an unholy partnership was never more clear than last week, when radical Muslims reacted with fury to 12 cartoons of the prophet that appeared in the Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten.

The artist behind the most 'offensive' cartoon, of Muhammad wearing a turban that looks like a suicide bomb, has reportedly gone into hiding. Fatwahs have been demanded; hatred has marched on streets across the world, including London, with billboards demanding beheadings and vengeance; Muslim children have been paraded in prams wearing "I love al-Qaeda" hats.

The contention of the protesters is simple: the prophet Muhammad had been portrayed as a terrorist. There appears no prospect of compromise. Leaders of the al-Ghurabaa group, members of which have previously praised terrorist attacks, including the London bombings last July, led a demonstration in the capital on Friday. "The only way this will be resolved is if those who are responsible are turned over so they can be punished by Islamic law, so that they can be executed," said protester Abu Ibraheem, 26, from Luton. "There are no apologies... those responsible have to be killed."

The crowd carried banners that read "Europe, your 9-11 will come", "Annihilate those who insult Islam" and "Freedom of speech, go to hell" as they marched past Harrods, in leafy Kensington. At the Danish Embassy, cheers were heard as protesters set two Danish flags alight and then tore down the remains. In Africa, tens of thousands of Sudanese demonstrators in Khartoum filled a downtown square, calling for a boycott of goods from Denmark.

Some shouted: "You Danish satan, the Muslim people are now out after you!" Some even shouted for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to retaliate for the insult to their prophet. "Strike, strike, strike, bin Laden," the frenzied group chanted. "We are ready to die in defence of you our beloved prophet."

There is much about the furious row that seems puzzling to those in the West who have been reared in a society that treasures free speech. But one of the strangest aspects is that the issue took so long to catch light. The original cartoons were published on September 30, last year.

It took Muslim ambassadors three weeks to complain to the Danish prime minister, and even then the anger was largely limited to Denmark. When the images were reprinted in Norway last month the row began to spread, igniting in violence when it became widely reported in the Middle East last month, leading Saudi Arabia to withdraw its ambassador from Copenhagen on January 26.

Any hope of a diplomatic resolution was quickly replaced with images of AK47-clad gunmen storming the EU compound in Gaza, partly in reaction to the decision of European newspapers to reproduce the controversial cartoons - an act of defiance in defence of free speech that was deemed by many Muslims as an overt act against Islam.

In response, a statement attributed to the Mujahideen Army calls on fighters to "hit whatever targets possible" in Denmark and Norway. Sweden has also warned its citizens against travelling to Gaza and the West Bank. The Swedish consulate in Jerusalem received a fax from a group claiming to be Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades demanding citizens of Sweden and Denmark leave. "All Swedes and Danes that exist on our soil have 48 hours to leave our country, or else," it warned.

Images of Muhammad have long been discouraged in Islam. To the faithful he was a prophet and religious reformer who united the scattered Arabian tribes in the seventh century, founding what went on to become one of the world's five great religions. To Muslims, he was the last in a line of figures which included Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but which found its supreme fulfilment in Muhammad.

They believe that he was visited by the Angel Gabriel, who commanded him to memorise and recite the verses sent by God which became the Koran - and that he completed and perfected the teaching of God throughout history.

But it is because Muslims believe Muhammad was the messenger of Allah, that they believe all his actions were willed by God. When speaking or writing, his name is always preceded by the title "Prophet" and followed by the phrase: "Peace be upon him." Attempts to depict him in illustration are strictly forbidden. Criticism of Muhammad is criticism of Allah himself, equated with blasphemy, which is punishable by death in some Muslim countries.

To many, last week's events have an unnerving resonance with the fatwah issued on Salman Rushdie, following his novel The Satanic Verses. The 1988 work depicted Muhammad as a cynical schemer and his wives as prostitutes. The impact of the fatwah has played a part in the decision of most of the British media not to follow their European counterparts in reproducing the cartoons - though the BBC did broadcast them on Thursday.

Throughout history Muslims have cast out, destroyed or denounced all images, whether carved or painted, as idolatry. Despite that, hundreds of images of Muhammad have been created over the centuries. Today, iconic pictures of Muhammad are sold openly on the street in Iran. The creation, sale or owning of such images is illegal, but the regime is known to turn a blind eye.

The current fury stems from the belief that the cartoons published first in Denmark set out to ridicule the prophet. As such, they helped fuel the feeling, encouraged by radical Islamists, that Muslims across the globe are threatened and routinely picked-upon by the world's great powers. Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), said: "The decision by papers in other countries to reproduce these cartoons is unprecedented. Anti-semitism in 1930s Europe, although rife even in the British press, did not simply replicate Nazi propaganda. The level of systematic hatred that the replication of these caricatures evidences is, we fear, now part of an inevitable prologue to systematic violence against Muslims in Europe."

Shaykh Ibhrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain and an imam in Leicester, added: "This is the most offensive thing - even the vilification of God is not as offensive as this."

The tone of world leaders is more measured but no less serious or condemnatory. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, an ally of the West and a moderate Muslim leader, said: "Any insult to the Holy Prophet is an insult to more than one billion Muslims."

Muslim groups applauded the sacking of the managing editor of France Soir, one of the newspapers that carried the cartoons, on Wednesday night. Jacques Lefranc said he may challenge his dismissal. Circulation of the newspaper, which is being sold out of bankruptcy, almost doubled to 100,000 copies after publishing the images of Muhammad.

Robert Menard, secretary-general of Reporters Sans Frontieres, said "the government should be standing up for France Soir's right to publish" the cartoons, and criticised Tunisia and Morocco for putting bans on the newspaper. In Britain, newspapers indicated that their decision not to print the cartoons was an attempt to balance the freedom of the press with the principle of not gratuitously insulting those with whom you disagree.

World figures tended to agree. Former US president Bill Clinton described the cartoons as "appalling" while Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went further. He said: "The republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong."

The climate of protest and threatened reprisals upon Danes and Norwegians have forced Jyllands-Posten into a qualified apology. A leader article in the newspaper last Friday said: "If we had known that it would end with death threats and that the lives of Danish people could be put at risk, we would naturally not have published the drawings. It is clear that the price for this journalistic initiative in the light of this background is too high."

But it added: "We could not have known that a group of imams would travel to the Middle East and spread lies and disinformation."

According to a poll taken among 1,047 Danes last week, 57% of the nation supports Jyllands-Posten's decision to publish the cartoons, while 31% disagrees. Almost two out of every three men and 61% of those aged between 18 and 25 years supported the decision. But the government is in retreat. The prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, met ambassadors on Friday - something he refused to do when the pictures were originally published. The issue has gone beyond Denmark to become a clash between Western free speech and Islamic taboos - a struggle the latter's protagonists now appear to be winning.


CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS Author and polemicist.

"I am glad there has been a confrontation. In my old neighbourhood in Finsbury Park there is a mosque run by a man with no hands and an eyepatch who allegedly calls for the murder of non-believers. I am just about willing to tolerate that but I am not willing to put up with their protests that they have been offended by those who speak about, but do not share their beliefs."

MARTIN ROWSON Cartoonist and novelist.

"This is a typical example of religious leaders using the excuse of being offended to go on the attack and to make themselves immune to any kind of criticism. Some followers of Islam are insist-ing on a monopoly of being offended. I am just as offen-ded by their taking offence."

Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.

"I don't think the pictures should have been published. It only widens the gulf between Islam and the West. Maybe they don't appreciate the reverence Muslims have for the prophet."

Convener of the Kirk's Church and Society Council.

"It would be wrong to ban or prevent, through legislation or otherwise, the expression of opinion just because it is in poor taste or causes offence. Belief itself is not threatened or undermined by this sort of exposure. Faith can withstand insult. There will be times when the better judgement is not to publish something when it is known that it will cause offence. But that judgement should never compromise the fundamental value of free speech."

President of the Islamic Centre in Glasgow.

"The people who published these cartoons have taken liberty too far. Muslims hold the prophet sacred in their heart. His face should not be shown."

Professor of the study of religions at the University of Southern Denmark.

"[Muslims] have managed to prove they want to be resp-ected. They don't want to be second-class citizens. They don't want people to say what they like about Muslims."

This article: http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=183562006

Last updated: 05-Feb-06 01:10 GM

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Posted: 05-Feb-2006, 07:08 PM
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I've been following this closely. It seems that for these middle-eastern countries to boycott danish products is really not going to accomplish anything but make the divide between these peoples even greater. After all, it was the newspapers, not the Danish people, that published the cartoons.

Evenso, you have to wonder where we are headed when cartoons can set off such rage and violence.

Over the years I have seen many cartoons poking fun at Christianity amd while it did cause outrage, it did not cause rage.

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Posted: 05-Feb-2006, 08:13 PM
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It would seem that people simply have NO sense of humor when it comes to their religion.

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Posted: 06-Feb-2006, 05:19 PM
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It shows that a government, religion, cult or whatever you have, can use just about anything to incite the " followers " of that entity by using any means or excuse to legitamize the "cause".

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  Posted: 07-Feb-2006, 03:38 PM
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Posted: 07-Feb-2006, 05:33 PM
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Shaykh Ibhrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain and an imam in Leicester, added: "This is the most offensive thing - even the vilification of God is not as offensive as this."

??? Not to get on a religious topic but ....They don't care if God is offended? Only Muhammad? unsure.gif

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Posted: 07-Feb-2006, 06:26 PM
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More Commentary on this issue from Strategic Forecasting, Inc.

The Cartoon Backlash: Redefining Alignments
By George Friedman

There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. We just couldn't help but open with that -- with apologies to Shakespeare. Nonetheless, there is something exceedingly odd in the notion that Denmark -- which has made a national religion of not being offensive to anyone -- could become the focal point of Muslim rage. The sight of the Danish and Norwegian embassies being burned in Damascus -- and Scandinavians in general being warned to leave Islamic countries -- has an aura of the surreal: Nobody gets mad at Denmark or Norway. Yet, death threats are now being hurled against the Danes and Norwegians as though they were mad-dog friends of Dick Cheney. History has its interesting moments.

At the same time, the matter is not to be dismissed lightly. The explosion in the Muslim world over the publication of 12 cartoons by a minor Danish newspaper -- cartoons that first appeared back in September -- has, remarkably, redefined the geopolitical matrix of the U.S.-jihadist war. Or, to be more precise, it has set in motion something that appears to be redefining that matrix. We do not mean here simply a clash of civilizations, although that is undoubtedly part of it. Rather, we mean that alignments within the Islamic world and within the West appear to be in flux in some very important ways.

Let's begin with the obvious: the debate over the cartoons. There is a prohibition in Islam against making images of the Prophet Mohammed. There also is a prohibition against ridiculing the Prophet. Thus, a cartoon that ridicules the Prophet violates two fundamental rules simultaneously. Muslims around the world were deeply offended by these cartoons.

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.

The response from the West, and from Europe in particular, has been to frame the question as a matter of free speech. European newspapers, wishing to show solidarity with the Danes, have reprinted the cartoons, further infuriating the Muslims. European liberalism has a more complex profile than Islamic rage over insults. In many countries, it is illegal to incite racial hatred. It is difficult to imagine that the defenders of these cartoons would sit by quietly if a racially defamatory cartoon were published. Or, imagine the reception among liberal Europeans -- or on any American campus -- if a professor published a book purporting to prove that women were intellectually inferior to men. (The mere suggestion of such a thing, by the president of Harvard in a recent speech, led to calls for his resignation.)

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.

The Fissures in the West

It is dangerous and difficult to speak of the "European position" -- there really isn't one. But there is a Franco-German position that generally has been taken to be the European position. More precisely, there is the elite Franco-German position that The New York Times refers to whenever it mentions "Europe." That is the Europe that we mean now.

In the European view, then, the United States massively overreacted to 9/11. Apart from the criticism of Iraq, the Europeans believe that the United States failed to appreciate al Qaeda's relative isolation within the Islamic world and, by reshaping its relations with the Islamic world over 9/11, caused more damage. Indeed, this view goes, the United States increased the power of al Qaeda and added unnecessarily to the threat it presents. Implicit in the European criticisms -- particularly from the French -- was the view that American cowboy insensitivity to the Muslim world not only increased the danger after 9/11, but effectively precipitated 9/11. From excessive support for Israel to support for Egypt and Jordan, the United States alienated the Muslims. In other words, 9/11 was the result of a lack of sophistication and poor policy decisions by the United States -- and the response to the 9/11 attacks was simply over the top.

Now an affair has blown up that not only did not involve the United States, but also did not involve a state decision. The decision to publish the offending cartoons was that of a Danish private citizen. The Islamic response has been to hold the entire state responsible. As the cartoons were republished, it was not the publications printing them that were viewed as responsible, but the states in which they were published. There were attacks on embassies, gunmen in EU offices at Gaza, threats of another 9/11 in Europe.

From a psychological standpoint, this drives home to the Europeans an argument that the Bush administration has been making from the beginning -- that the threat from Muslim extremists is not really a response to anything, but a constantly present danger that can be triggered by anything or nothing. European states cannot control what private publications publish. That means that, like it or not, they are hostage to Islamic perceptions. The threat, therefore, is not under their control. And thus, even if the actions or policies of the United States did precipitate 9/11, the Europeans are no more immune to the threat than the Americans are.

This combines with the Paris riots last November and the generally deteriorating relationships between Muslims in Europe and the dominant populations. The pictures of demonstrators in London, threatening the city with another 9/11, touch extremely sensitive nerves. It becomes increasingly difficult for Europeans to distinguish between their own relationship with the Islamic world and the American relationship with the Islamic world. A sense of shared fate emerges, driving the Americans and Europeans closer together. At a time when pressing issues like Iranian nuclear weapons are on the table, this increases Washington's freedom of action. Put another way, the Muslim strategy of splitting the United States and Europe -- and using Europe to constrain the United States -- was heavily damaged by the Muslim response to the cartoons.

The Intra-Ummah Divide

But so too was the split between Sunni and Shia. Tensions between these two communities have always been substantial. Theological differences aside, both international friction and internal friction have been severe. The Iran-Iraq war, current near-civil war in Iraq, tensions between Sunnis and Shia in the Gulf states, all point to the obvious: These two communities are, while both Muslim, mistrustful of one another. Shiite Iran has long viewed Sunni Saudi Arabia as the corrupt tool of the United States, while radical Sunnis saw Iran as collaborating with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cartoons are the one thing that both communities -- not only in the Middle East but also in the wider Muslim world -- must agree about. Neither side can afford to allow any give in this affair and still hope to maintain any credibility in the Islamic world. Each community -- and each state that is dominated by one community or another -- must work to establish (or maintain) its Islamic credentials. A case in point is the violence against Danish and Norwegian diplomatic offices in Syria (and later, in Lebanon and Iran) -- which undoubtedly occurred with Syrian government involvement. Syria is ruled by Alawites, a Shiite sect. Syria -- aligned with Iran -- is home to a major Sunni community; there is another in Lebanon. The cartoons provided what was essentially a secular regime the opportunity to take the lead in a religious matter, by permitting the attacks on the embassies. This helped consolidate the regime's position, however temporarily.

Indeed, the Sunni and Shiite communities appear to be competing with each other as to which is more offended. The Shiite Iranian-Syrian bloc has taken the lead in violence, but the Sunni community has been quite vigorous as well. The cartoons are being turned into a test of authenticity for Muslims. To the degree that Muslims are prepared to tolerate or even move past this issue, they are being attacked as being willing to tolerate the Prophet's defamation. The cartoons are forcing a radicalization of parts of the Muslim community that are uneasy with the passions of the moment.

Beneficiaries on Both Sides

The processes under way in the West and within the Islamic world are naturally interacting. The attacks on embassies, and threats against lives, that are based on nationality alone are radicalizing the Western perspective of Islam. The unwillingness of Western governments to punish or curtail the distribution of the cartoons is taken as a sign of the real feelings of the West. The situation is constantly compressing each community, even as they are divided.

One might say that all this is inevitable. After all, what other response would there be, on either side? But this is where the odd part begins: The cartoons actually were published in September, and -- though they drew some complaints, even at the diplomatic level -- didn't come close to sparking riots. Events unfolded slowly: The objections of a Muslim cleric in Denmark upon the initial publication by Jyllands-Posten eventually prompted leaders of the Islamic Faith Community to travel to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon in December, purposely "to stir up attitudes against Denmark and the Danes" in response to the cartoons. As is now obvious, attitudes have certainly been stirred.

There are beneficiaries. It is important to note here that the fact that someone benefits from something does not mean that he was responsible for it. (We say this because in the past, when we have noted the beneficiaries of an event or situation, the not-so-bright bulbs in some quarters took to assuming that we meant the beneficiaries deliberately engineered the event.)

Still, there are two clear beneficiaries. One is the United States: The cartoon affair is serving to further narrow the rift between the Bush administration's view of the Islamic world and that of many Europeans. Between the Paris riots last year, the religiously motivated murder of a Dutch filmmaker and the "blame Denmark" campaign, European patience is wearing thin. The other beneficiary is Iran. As Iran moves toward a confrontation with the United States over nuclear weapons, this helps to rally the Muslim world to its side: Iran wants to be viewed as the defender of Islam, and Sunnis who have raised questions about its flirtations with the United States in Iraq are now seeing Iran as the leader in outrage against Europe.

The cartoons have changed the dynamics both within Europe and the Islamic world, and between them. That is not to say the furor will not die down in due course, but it will take a long time for the bad feelings to dissipate. This has created a serious barrier between moderate Muslims and Europeans who were opposed to the United States. They were the ones most likely to be willing to collaborate, and the current uproar makes that collaboration much more difficult.

It's hard to believe that a few cartoons could be that significant, but these are.
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Posted: 07-Feb-2006, 08:13 PM
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Yes, the boycott of countries does indeed widen the divide between them, however, division is not the ultimate goal of these people. The most radical among them are likely plotting their revenge at this very hour, and the least radical calling for revenge. Of course revenge comes in many forms, but violence seems to be their forte.

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.
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