With every new riot over the Danish cartoons, it becomes clearer that the protests are no longer about the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, but about the demagoguery of Islamic extremists. The demonstrators are undeniably outraged by what they perceive as blasphemy. But radical Islamists are trying to harness that indignation to their political goals and their theocratic ends by fomenting hatred for the West and for moderate regimes in the Muslim world. These are dangerous games, and they require the most resolute response.
It is not the West that is most threatened in this crisis. The voices of moderation in the Muslim world are the ones that are being intimidated and silenced. Those few journalists and leaders who have spoken out against the rioting have been vilified and assailed, and even jailed. According to a report by Michael Slackman and Hassan M. Fattah in the New York Times, 11 journalists in five Islamic countries face prosecution for printing some of the Danish cartoons, even when their purpose was to condemn them.
In most of these cases, the legal action represents attempts by cowed authorities to appease the Islamists. But the effect - in Yemen, Jordan and other countries - has only been to give extremists a dollop of legitimacy, and to encourage them to turn up the heat. . .
It is time for moderate Muslims to abandon the illusion that they can placate the Islamists by straddling the fence. It is they who must explain to their people that the cartoons were an isolated incident, and not the face of hostile crusaders. It is they who must make it clear to their people that blowing up mosques, beheading hostages and strapping on belts of explosives are far, far greater evils than a few drawings in a distant paper.