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Having passed the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I can now say with certainty that something major was missing from all of the ceremonies, the symbolism and the media coverage. It was something that not only captures the meaning of the attacks themselves, but better defines our response to them than any other single thing. It is the face of the age itself, and it is not Osama bin Laden’s.
I refer to the most familiar of the 12 Danish Muhammad cartoons, the one by Kurt Westergaard. I always think of this world-famous drawing as “Bomb-head Muhammad,” for the lit bomb that serves as Muhammad’s turban. (This is no fantastical image, as we learned last month when Afghan President Hamid Karzai prevailed upon local imams to implore their flocks to stop putting bombs in their turbans after three separate assassinations via turban bombs took place.)
I say “world-famous drawing,” but have you ever actually seen this cartoon printed in a newspaper, or shown on a news broadcast? No. With exceptions to be counted on one hand, this ultra-potent image has never received mainstream media display, despite its almost continual newsworthiness.
Yes, the media have covered the most violent eruptions of jihad that Muslims still wage against Denmark for having a free press with the temerity to function in dereliction of Islamic law. These have ranged from Islamic rioting that killed more than 100 people, to Islamic attacks on Danish interests, to Islamic boycotts of Danish products, to Islamic plots against the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, to this week’s Islamic security threat against Westergaard that sent him home early from a trip to Norway.
But Western media have almost never dared flout Islamic law (Shariah) to show what “the fuss” was all about. They have almost never published the Westergaard Muhammad, which not only depicts Muhammad, Islam’s prophet (verboten) but also illustrates the violence of Islamic jihad – an implicit criticism of Islam, also verboten.
Instead, the free press of the West has accepted and enforced Islamic limits on expression by voluntarily censoring this skillfully executed, pointed political cartoon. Even when on Jan. 1, 2010, Westergaard was almost assassinated inside his home in Denmark, along with his 5-year-old granddaughter, by an ax-wielding Muslim, Western media again bowed to Shariah by omitting the “offending” cartoon from coverage of the attack. It is that censorship, that bow to Shariah, that defines the post-9/11 age. It also makes the Westergaard Muhammad its poster child.
Little did Westergaard imagine in 2005 that he was drawing an image for all time when he sat down to contribute a sketch to an artists’ page full of Muhammads for Jyllands-Posten – an exercise editor Flemming Rose specifically devised to demonstrate that Denmark wasn’t under Islamic law, which prohibits such drawings.
But more than any shot of Osama bin Laden, the Westergaard Muhammad symbolizes our age. Bin Laden was a mass murderer, an external threat to ward off, hunt down and kill like an uncommon criminal. But the Westergaard Muhammad turned out to be one Westerner’s mirror on the 9/11 attacks, and the wider West flinched at the reflection. From government to the academy, from media to the military, we couldn’t – and can’t – look at it in public. To this day, we refuse to face the history of jihad to extend Islam’s law that the 9/11 attacks exemplify and that this cartoon so sharply symbolizes. Instead, we avert our eyes from the face of jihad and accept Islam’s law.
This tells us that 9/11 wasn’t a crisis about security. Rather, it was a crisis about our own insecurity – our inability to stand up and defend the liberties that made us who we are – or, rather, who we were, or at least tried to be. Even worse, it exposed our inability as a society to emulate, let alone celebrate, those who would fight for those liberties with just their pens and brushes, their cameras and voices.
For the decade after 9/11, we chose the dhimmitude that the taboo on the Westergaard Muhammad symbolizes. It may seem like a lot to put on a quickly sketched newspaper drawing, but not until we assert our right to publish the Westergaard Muhammad will the West ever be free again.