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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Why the Muslims will lose the cartoon war

As the cartoon kerfuffle spirals out of control and the death-toll increases, it is clear that this is one battle that the Muslims will lose.

I recently wrote that the reason that Arabs are so absurdly upset over the publication of the Mohammed cartoons was because it showed Arab impotence. Because their initial protests were not reacted to instantly the way that Europe usually does, they keep upping the ante until they get noticed and treated with respect. Recent history shows that threats of riots bring this bizarre respect that is craved, and the illusion of relevance.

The centuries-long slide into irrelevance of the Arab world that I described hit two major speedbumps in the middle of the 20th century:
  1. Oil became the most important fuel in the world, and the Arab countries ended up on top of it.
  2. The liberal backlash against European colonialism turned into a religion of its own where anyone who is not from old Europe is automatically presumed to have a moral advantage.
It took a couple of decades for Arabs to use oil as a weapon, but they wasted no time to take advantage of their newfound allies on the Left, painting their billion adherents as an oppressed minority.

Either way, these two developments gave the Arabs a taste of what they had been losing for so long - the feeling of power, the impression that they can influence world events again. Oil made the Arab world an economic power and their liberal friends gave them a way to start to literally take over Europe with little protest.

Their power over European colonial guilt became close to absolute, turning tiny Israel into a perceived colonialist state and shielding the Arabs themselves from most criticism. The European liberal press was a major component of their brief rise to relevance and perceived power.

Their friends in the Europress might be willing to go along with their agenda as long as it is only indirectly anti-semitic and anti-American (remember, the Europeans are chafing under their relative irrelevance since World War II as well), but when the Arab world starts attacking the freedom of the press in the Western world, they don't stand a chance.

After all, the press has its own religion, with only one commandment: We shall publish whatever we want.

Freedom of the press is far more difficult to limit than other freedoms, because in our increasingly connected world it is easier to read the newspapers from China on the Internet than to go outside and pick up the one delivered to your house. The almost total voluntary ban on the Mohammed cartoons in US newspapers is meaningless when anyone can find them online with a single click. (It is still instructive that the AP refuses to even distribute the pictures to its member newspapers for them to make theie own choice of publishing them.)

When Iran publishes its Holocaust denial cartoons, the reaction from blogs will be not just publishing mild caricatures of Mohammed. They will create cartoons of Mohammed screwing camels and raping little girls. The Muslim world will get an idea of what real bad taste is, comparable to the explicitly anti-semitic cartoons that they see daily in their mainstream newspapers. In comparison, the Danish cartoons will look like they published the Koran in Arabic.

While there will be speedbumps (such as Google's capitulation to Chinese censorship), the Internet will ensure that everything will be available to everyone, and the Arab world will get more and more used to it the way everyone else has.

And their allies in the European press are already thinking twice about their support for regimes that are so opposed to their own holy mission.

In the end, the middle-east Muslims (who are the only ones violently protesting the cartoons) will lose the cartoon war, just as their short stewardship over the world's energy reserves will disappear in a few decades. Unfortunately, there will be many more casualties before that happens.

UPDATE: When I predicted what the blogs would do, I wasn't aware that they already were doing it.