Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A carnival of stupidity

The conflagration over Danish cartoons of Islam's prophet reveals that Europe's balance of freedom, mutuality and coexistence is at a trigger-charge moment, says Neal Ascherson.

The affair of the Danish cartoons is both a scandal and a storm signal. It is scandalous, as a horrific carnival of stupidity, hypocrisy and manipulated outrage celebrated with equal enthusiasm in the Muslim world and in "liberal" Europe. It is a storm signal of worse to come. Five people in three countries have already died in the last two furious days of riotous confrontation. But even if the tumult soon peaks and begins to subside, the world has been left a more dangerous place.

Millions of peaceful Muslims, small farmers in Sumatra or Bengali waiters in European cities, are now inclined to listen more respectfully to those who tell them that the west and its leaders intend to exterminate Islam by slander and humiliation as preludes to war. Millions of Europeans, reading posters like those carried by demonstrators in London on 3 February ("UK, you must pray – 7/7 is on its way", with calls for the killing of British editors and broadcasters) are reluctantly wondering if any compromise is possible between democracy and the religious dogmatism of a minority. The city authorities of Rotterdam are about to decree that only Dutch may be spoken in their streets. This week, rather fewer Dutch people will see this for the imbecile provocation that it is.

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